Joe Stiglich

In shadow of controversy, Matt Joyce now drawing attention for right reasons

In shadow of controversy, Matt Joyce now drawing attention for right reasons

OAKLAND — The move from Royals manager Ned Yost came as no surprise to Matt Joyce as he waited in the on-deck circle.

Yost had a lefty on the mound in Mike Minor, who had fallen behind 2-0 to Rajai Davis. The intentional walk was ordered to load the bases to bring up the left-handed hitting Joyce with the A’s trailing by two runs in the eighth inning.

“I kind of saw the cards unfolding,” Joyce said.

He made the Royals pay, drilling a bases-clearing double off the wall in left-center for the go-ahead hit that made the difference in the A’s thrilling 10-8 victory Tuesday night.

In a game where Oakland needed so many big at-bats from so many different hitters, Joyce shined the brightest. He homered to lead off the bottom of the first, then capped his four-RBI night with the clutch three-run hit off Minor.

Earlier this season, it would have been tough envisioning Joyce barreling up a ball off a lefty in such a situation. He was hitting a meager .194 overall in his first 54 games in an A’s uniform. Before Tuesday, just two of his 46 RBI had come off left-handed pitchers.

“He’s been facing some (more) lefties, so he’s got some confidence against them,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s been hitting some balls hard against them and using the whole field and tracking it — seeing it the other way. He put a really good swing on that one” in the eighth.

Joyce grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons on the A’s last road trip, drawing a two-game suspension from the commissioner’s office for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan at Angel Stadium. He gave a heartfelt apology afterward.

That mistake has overshadowed the fact that he’s turning in a very strong August, resembling more of the offensive presence the A’s envisioned when they signed him to a two-year $11 million contract last winter.

Joyce is still batting just .234 overall. But he’s a .314 hitter this month (11-for-35). With 17 homers, he’s on track for the first 20-homer season of his career. At 50 RBI, he’s also within reach of his career high in that category (75) with 42 games to go.

After Tuesday night’s victory — when the A’s allowed five runs in the top of the eighth to relinquish a lead, only to score six in the bottom half to re-claim it — Joyce was most interested in talking about his teammates.

“I'm so proud of these guys,” Joyce said. “Obviously it's tough to give up the runs and give up the lead there late in the game. But to be able to come back and battle and have good at-bats and start a rally and just come away with the win, it speaks a lot to these guys’ ability to keep playing the game, not give up. It's really fun to watch a lot of these young, really talented guys play the game and play it the right way.”

With the A’s dedicating so much playing time to young guys, it would serve Joyce well to finish strong and show he’s an important piece of the outfield puzzle looking ahead to next season.

On Tuesday night, in one of the A’s most unpredictable victories, no one proved more essential.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's score six in eighth to beat KC

khrisdavis-homer-ap.jpg
AP

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's score six in eighth to beat KC

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — Why win a baseball game conventionally?

That was the A’s M.O. on Tuesday night, when they scored six times in the bottom of the eighth to register a come-from-behind 10-8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Actually, the A’s had to fall from ahead before they could come from behind.

The Royals homered three times in the top of the eighth to erase the A’s 4-3 lead and go up 8-4, only to see the A’s storm back with an offensive barrage of their own that included four hits in a row to start the bottom of the eighth.

All told, the teams combined for 11 runs in the eighth inning alone.

Matt Joyce delivered the key hit in the winning rally, clearing the bases with a three-run double that put Oakland up for good, 9-8.

Fitting that these two teams would stage such a back-and-forth affair in the late going. The A’s and Royals entered the night tied for the major league lead with nine wins when trailing after the seventh inning.

BIG GAME AT THE TOP: Joyce led off the bottom of the first with a homer off Royals starter Jason Hammel, his fourth leadoff homer of the season. He finished with four RBI.

SMITH DENIED ‘W’ — AGAIN: For the second time since joining the A’s rotation, Chris Smith left a game in line for a victory only to have his bullpen cough up the lead. The 36-year-old veteran has registered just one victory in his major league career, and that came back in 2008. He has yet to win as a starter. He steadied himself after giving up three runs in the first before he recorded a single out. But Kansas City would get just one more hit off of him before he left the game after 5 1/3 innings.

THREE OF A KIND: The A’s commanded a 4-3 lead on the strength of a homer in each of the first three innings. Joyce’s blast was followed by Matt Olson’s in the second (his fourth homer in five games) and Khris Davis’ two-run shot in the third.

ADVENTURES OF SANTIAGO: Santiago Casilla had found a bit of a comfort zone since being demoted from the closer’s role. He entered Tuesday not having been charged with a run in seven consecutive outings. But he allowed Alex Gordon’s leadoff walk in the top of the eighth, then a two-run homer to No. 9 hitter Drew Butera that put the Royals ahead 5-4.

A’s closer Blake Treinen would enter with one out and give up Eric Hosmer’s two-run homer, then Mike Moustakas’ solo blast two batters later made it 8-4. But after the A’s rallied, Treinen came back to pitch a scoreless ninth to register the victory.

ANOTHER OPTION FOR THE ‘PEN: The A’s acquired right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher from the Dodgers for $500,000 in international bonus money. The 32-year-old has a 4.72 ERA in 193 career appearances, all out of the bullpen. The team made no announcement on whether Hatcher would join the big club or go to the minors.

What has happened to the Jharel Cotton that drew Pedro Martinez comparisons?

What has happened to the Jharel Cotton that drew Pedro Martinez comparisons?

OAKLAND — Jharel Cotton’s latest battle with the Kansas City Royals obviously didn’t go as smoothly as his previous one.

You’ll recall that April afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, when Cotton took the mound before a jam-packed crowd in the Royals’ home opener and handcuffed them over seven innings, surrendering just two hits.

That led Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to say that Cotton’s stuff reminded him of his own back in the day, a comparison that mushroomed into quite the big story.

Those statements made the A’s rookie gush with pride, and rightly so. But the hype that often swirls around him also has created expectations that don’t always match up with reality.

Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Royals demonstrated how Cotton is still a work-in-progress. He entered the sixth inning having allowed two runs — a solid outing in the works — before loading the bases with one out.

Cotton coaxed a pop-up from Alex Gordon. Then he fell behind 3-0 to No. 9 hitter Cam Gallagher. He fought back to a full count but then caught the inner half of the plate with a pitch Gallagher turned on.

Grand slam — and the A’s wouldn’t recover from that 6-1 deficit.

“It’s frustrating because I couldn’t finish the inning,” Cotton said afterward. “I wanted to get that guy out, that was my chance. I just couldn’t do that. He got a pitch to hit and took advantage of it.”

Before the 2017 season even started, Cotton was the victim of his own small sample size of success. The right-hander looked terrific in five September starts last season, posting a 2.15 ERA and showing command of a variety of pitches.

Suddenly, he was viewed as a potential front-of-the-rotation guy even though the typical bumps in the road inevitably lay ahead, as they do for most rookies. This season has been one of inconsistency, with some success but also plenty of failure.

He was sent to the minors for a short stint in May, then later landed on the disabled list for problems stemming from a blister.

Does he remain in the rotation after Monday’s six-run outing, which increased his ERA to 5.92? His 18 homers allowed are most among American League rookies.

“We’ll see where it goes,” manager Bob Melvin said when asked about Cotton’s status. “We obviously want to challenge him and see how he can do.”

The A’s rotation desperately needs to find some stability. Kendall Graveman showed signs of rounding back into form Sunday, but Sean Manaea is going through a very rough patch himself. Chris Smith has come back down to earth after a string of promising starts. Paul Blackburn, another rookie, has been the steadiest of the bunch lately.

At some point the A’s figure to take another look at Daniel Gossett, who struck out 10 in a sharp outing his last time out for Triple-A Nashville. Cotton made his feelings clear when asked if he maybe could benefit from a break.

“I want to continue to pitch,” he said. “I wanna go out there every five days and pitch for my team. I’ll get out of this funk just by pitching.”