OAKLAND – It wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Jason Hammel turned in 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his best start since joining the A’s, and Oakland beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0 on Tuesday night at the Coliseum.
It marked Hammel’s first victory after the All-Star break since Aug. 13, 2011, when he was with the Colorado Rockies. The right-hander came in with a 5.48 career ERA after the break. He’d also struggled mightily since joining the A’s, dropping all four of his starts since coming over in a trade from the Chicago Cubs.
He pitched with runners on base throughout his evening but left to a warm ovation from the home crowd in the sixth.
The victory increased the A’s lead in the American League West to two games over the Los Angeles Angels, who lost to the Dodgers.
Coco Crisp, making his first start in more than a week, drove in the game’s first run with an RBI single in the fifth, and the A’s tacked on two more runs in the sixth and let their bullpen bring it home in relief of Hammel.
Oakland will go for the series sweep in Wednesday afternoon’s finale behind Sonny Gray.
Starting pitching report
Hammel issued four walks. He put four leadoff men on base and allowed 11 total base runners over 5 2/3 innings. Somehow he kept the Rays off the scoreboard, and it represented his best start out of five since he joined the A’s in a July 5 trade.
The right-hander came in having gone 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA over his first four starts with the A’s. He received a vote of confidence from general manager Billy Beane last week, and despite his high-wire act of an outing Tuesday, the A’s brain trust had to breathe a little easier seeing Hammel eat up some innings and keep the opponent in check.
Hammel worked a 1-2-3 first but then had to navigate through traffic for the rest of his night. He stranded bases loaded in the second, getting Kevin Kiermaier on an inning-ending grounder. Two ground-ball double plays really helped off-set all the runners he allowed.
He’s talked of the need to command his slider better, but against the Rays, he showed a slower traditional curve that was effective, though he also had trouble controlling it at times.
Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle were terrific in relief of Hammel, not allowing a single base runner over the final 3 2/3 innings.
At the plate
Coco Crisp, recovering from a strained neck, drew his first start since July 26 and came through with the break-through hit in the bottom of the fifth. His single to right scored Alberto Callaspo to snap a scoreless tie. Nate Freiman made it 2-0 with an RBI double in the sixth and Josh Reddick followed with a run-scoring single later in the inning.
In the field
Several nice plays were turned in behind Hammel, including the two double plays turned. Josh Donaldson made a diving stop at third to get a force at second in the third, and shortstop Eric Sogard threw out a lead runner at third base to help Hammel escape the fifth unscored upon.
Not a single possum was spotted among the crowd of 16,335.
Sonny Gray (12-4, 2.59) has gone at least six innings and allowed one earned run or fewer over his past six starts. That’s tied for the longest such streak by an A’s pitcher since at least 1914 (Cory Lidle also went six straight in 2002). Gray will oppose Jeremy Hellickson (0-1, 3.29) in Wednesday’s 12:35 p.m. series finale.