OAKLAND – There’s been one bulletproof plan for A’s manager Bob Melvin throughout this trying season — handing the ball to Rich Hill and pointing him toward the pitcher’s mound.
The 36-year-old lefty has been an every-fifth-day security blanket, the latest example coming with Monday’s 5-0 victory over Seattle at Safeco Field. Hill sliced and diced the Mariners’ lineup over eight scoreless innings, becoming just the fourth American League pitcher to reach the seven-win mark this season.
The dominant effort helped the A’s snap a four-game losing streak, as they broke open a 1-0 by batting around in a four-run eighth.
The A’s were the only team in the majors not to have a starter work more than seven innings. Hill ended that streak at a franchise-record 83 games. Before Monday, Sonny Gray was the last to work more than seven back on Aug. 22 of last season.
Hill took care of business in different fashion than most of his other outings in 2016. Usually a high strikeout guy who also racks up a high pitch count early, Hill instead pitched to contact and used that efficient approach to eat up the innings and take the load off of Oakland’s bullpen.
Hill (7-3) lowered his ERA to from 2.54 to 2.18. How important is it that he’s already notched seven victories? Consider that Hill — a journeyman now with his ninth major league organization — had just five major league victories from 2010-15.
Starting pitching report:
Hill’s seven wins are the most by an A’s pitcher before the end of May since Mark Mulder notched eight in 2003. He scattered eight hits, but this was no walk in the park for him early. He had to wiggle through a bases-loaded no-out jam in the second, sandwiching two strikeouts around a ground-ball force-out at home. Two double-play grounders helped him navigate through more traffic on the base paths. He didn’t issue a single walk in his 107-pitch outing and is now 6-1 with a 1.61 ERA over his last six starts.
It’s a good night for Melvin when he can pull his starter and go straight for his closer. Ryan Madson came on in the ninth to nail down the A’s second shutout of the season.
At the plate:
While Hill was cruising along, Mariners starter Taijuan Walker (2-4) was busy making quick work of the A’s. It was a scoreless game until Stephen Vogt drove a 3-1 pitch over the right field wall for his first homer since April 28. The A’s took all suspense out of it with their four-run rally in the eighth, which got going with help from two errors by Seattle shortstop Chris Taylor. Jake Smolinski had an RBI single, then reliever Vidal Nuno entered and hit Vogt with a pitch to force in a run. Danny Valencia followed with a two-run double off Joel Peralta for a 5-0 lead.
In the field:
The A’s didn’t commit an error as Hill worked efficiently and kept his defense busy and engaged.
Kendall Graveman (1-6, 5.48) will take the mound Tuesday looking for just his second victory since last July. Nathan Karns (4-1, 3.33) goes for the Mariners. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.