A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

OAKLAND — The A’s have offered glimpses this season of the top-notch baseball they’re capable of playing.

This weekend provided another of those snapshot moments as the A’s polished off an improbable four-game sweep of the Yankees, sending away a large, vocal segment of New York fans with nothing but disappointment as they filed out of the Coliseum.

The wins grew more impressive as the weekend unfolded. Oakland won in fluky fashion Thursday night on Khris Davis’ blooper-turned-walkoff single. Rookie Matt Chapman delivered the go-ahead single late in Friday’s game for a comeback victory. Then over the weekend, before two of their biggest home crowds of the season, the A’s simply beat the American League East leaders with stellar pitching and some early offense that they made stand, including in Sunday’s 4-3 win.

“This was awesome baseball to be a part of,” right fielder Matt Joyce said, “to see our team go out there and not only keep up with, but beat one of the best teams in baseball.”

Joyce dusted off the “Jekyll and Hyde” cliche to describe Oakland’s play, but nothing more perfectly describes this club. The A’s are 22-13 at the Coliseum but just 9-25 on the road.

But taking four in a row from a Yankees team that leads the league in runs and boasts an MVP candidate in rookie Aaron Judge provides a substantial boost as the AL West-leading Houston Astros arrive Monday for a four-game series.

“This feels really good,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “To put four games together against a team that’s that good, one of the best teams in the American League, and come away with a four-game sweep is really big for us.”

The topic of the 2012 A’s came up in manager Bob Melvin’s media session before and after the game. That team began a mad rush to the AL West title with help from a four-game sweep of the Yankees at home in late July. That team had young players such as starter Jarrod Parker, right fielder Josh Reddick and All-Star reliever Ryan Cook, who all grew up fast as that season progressed and were instrumental contributors to a playoff team.

Some parallels can be drawn with this year’s crop of up-and-coming players — among them infielder Chad Pinder, Chapman and Sunday’s winning pitcher, Jharel Cotton.

The difference is this year’s team faces a much steeper climb if it’s to make headway in the standings. That 2012 club finished its sweep of the Yankees to improve to 51-44 and was in great stalking position at 5 1/2 games out of first place. The 2017 A’s are 31-38. They’re 15 games off the pace in the division, and though they’re just 4 1/2 games back for the second Wild Card spot, there are nine teams ahead of them. But that’s not the point. With the A’s emphasizing a youth movement, the rest of this season is about the growth and the journey more so than the final destination.

“If you’re a Matt Chapman, a Chad Pinder, a Jaycob Brugman, guys that are just getting here, to know you can have a series like this gives you a lot of confidence, not only in yourself but as a team,” Melvin said.

The A’s finished off their first series sweep of any length since September of last season, and they did it with a mix of veterans and youngsters sharing the load Sunday. Cotton gritted his way through six innings of three-run ball on a day that registered as the hottest at the Coliseum in nine years based on the first-pitch temperature (90 degrees).

Pinder came through with a terrific at-bat in the A’s four-run third, driving a 1-2 pitch to the opposite field for a two-run double. Two batters later, Khris Davis snapped a power drought by hammering a two-run homer deep to center, his first long ball since June 4. That put the A’s up for good, 4-2. And for the second day in a row, with closer Santiago Casilla unavailable, Doolittle slammed the door in the ninth for the save.

Manaea wins fifth in a row, restores order to A's rotation

Manaea wins fifth in a row, restores order to A's rotation

Stability has been in short supply for the A’s starting rotation this season.

There have been injuries, inconsistent stretches and necessary trips to the minor leagues.

Sean Manaea used to qualify as one of the question marks on Oakland’s staff. Lately he’s the answer.

After a tough walk-off loss in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, the A’s came through with a crisply played 7-2 victory in the nightcap to earn a split at Tropicana Field. Manaea poured the foundation for the victory with seven strong innings, holding the Rays to two runs on six hits and winning his fifth start in a row.

Over those past five outings, the lefty is 5-0 with a 1.97 ERA and a .193 opponents’ batting average. Manaea (6-3) lowered his overall ERA to 3.67.

A’s manager Bob Melvin in particular liked the way his second-year starter navigated his way through traffic in the seventh inning, with his pitch count approaching 100. Manaea’s first two batters reached on a walk and single, but Manaea then coaxed a 4-6-3 double play from Jesus Sucre and ended the inning by getting leadoff man Steven Souza on a groundout.

“Everybody knows he has this in him,” Melvin told reporters after the game. “It’s just about getting on a roll. And I’ve said this before. I think what impressed me most about him is he’ll have a tough first inning and then recover. Then in the seventh (Saturday), when we needed him to go a little bit deeper, he puts the first guy on and then gets a double-play ball. So that’s just a sign of maturity that he doesn’t let things snowball on him like we saw last year at times maybe.”

On Saturday, Andrew Triggs was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a strained left hip. Triggs had been the only one of the A’s five season-opening starters to remain in the rotation uninterrupted since Opening Night. Sonny Gray, who began the year on the D.L., came back at the start of May, then the A’s lost Kendall Graveman to the D.L. at the end of May for the second time this season.

There’s a need for stability from someone. Right now Manaea is that guy.

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With a 7-for-10 performance in the doubleheader, first baseman Yonder Alonso raised his average from .299 to .314 in a single day. With 32 hits as a team, the A’s set an Oakland record for most hits in a doubleheader.

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Triggs would miss two turns through the rotation before he’s eligible to come off the D.L. on June 20. His next turn comes Wednesday at Miami. It’s worth noting that right-hander Daniel Gossett was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday for Triple-A Nashville, raising the possibility of Gossett being recalled for his major league debut in the coming days to fill Triggs’ rotation spot.

Healy's first two-homer game powers A's in rout of Nationals

Healy's first two-homer game powers A's in rout of Nationals

OAKLAND — In this season of adjustments for Ryon Healy, the proof of how he’s handling everything is found in the numbers he’s piling up.

No one filled up the box score Saturday quite like Healy, who went 4-for-4 and enjoyed his first career two-homer game as Oakland pounded the Washington Nationals 10-4 before a crowd of 23,921 at the Coliseum.

So much of the talk has centered on Yonder Alonso’s breakout year at the plate, Khris Davis’ continued ascension among the game’s power-hitting elite, and the injuries and defensive problems that have contributed to the A’s last-place standing.

When it comes to Healy, the conversation usually focuses on what position he’s playing, or the fact that he really doesn’t have a spot on the diamond to call home. He’s seen most of his time as Oakland’s primary designated hitter, and that’s been an adjustment for a young player who’s spent most of his professional career playing either of the corner infield spots.

“He’s handled it really well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s a very emotional guy, too, which plays into the whole dynamic. He wants to play, he brings a lot of energy to whatever he’s doing. For guys like that, it’s probably a little more difficult than for guys that are more reserved. But I’ll take him any day. He’s passionate about what he does and he swings the bat really well.”

Healy hit just .228 over his first 27 games, but since has been hitting at a .327 clip (35-for-107) over his last 27. With the A’s (24-31) just having passed the one-third mark of the season, Healy is hitting .279 overall with 11 homers and 27 RBI, putting the 25-year-old on pace for a 30-plus homer season in his first full major league campaign.

He shared top billing Saturday with Jed Lowrie, who went 3-for-5 with four RBI. But Healy tied a franchise record with four extra-base hits — two homers and two doubles — and the A’s as a team cracked double digits in runs for the first time all season.

After connecting for his first homer, a two-run shot to right-center off Nationals starter and East Bay product Joe Ross, Healy said he had some fun on the bench with teammate Trevor Plouffe.

“I said to Plouffe, ‘I’ve never had a two-homer game in pro ball,’” Healy said. “He goes, 'Well, today's a pretty good day to do so.’”

Healy hit a solo shot that hit above the camera well in center in the seventh, making it back-to-back shots with Yonder Alonso, who hit his 16th homer right before him.

With Alonso enjoying his own breakout season and commanding the majority of starts at first base, and the A’s currently committed to Plouffe at third, Healy has been relegated to DH, though he spelled Plouffe at third Saturday. Plouffe is signed only through this season as is Alonso, who’s already a rumored trade candidate. Healy could slide into one of their spots should the A’s part with either, though Oakland has other highly regarded corner infielders at Triple-A, notably third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson.

When asked if he’d prefer to settle at one spot, Healy said all the right things.

“I think time will tell,” he replied. “I'm happy where I'm at right now, being in the big leagues. I'm just going to continue working as hard as I can to potentially earn a role like that one day.”

It’s not often that an Alonso home run rates as a secondary note. He swung away on a 3-0 count in the seventh and drove an opposite-field shot to left-center off Nats reliever Jacob Turner. He and Davis are tied for second in the American League with 16 homers.

Alonso ranked second behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera at first base in the first round of All-Star fan voting. Does Melvin think Alonso belongs in the Midsummer Classic?

“I do,” the manager confirmed. “It’s usually a tough position to crack for the All-Star Game, as there’s many good hitters at that position. But he’s a plus defender on top of it and he continues to hit homers, and big homers. I’m probably a little biased, but yeah, I would say that’s the guy.”