ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – This time it was the A’s who showed a starting pitcher an early exit.
Led by Danny Valencia’s two-homer night, the A’s halted their five-game losing streak and beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3 to open a weekend series at Tropicana Field.
Coming off a four-game stretch in which the pitching staff was shelled for 51 runs, the A’s got six strong innings from Rich Hill, a stabilizing effort from the veteran lefty who’s emerged as Oakland’s best starter to this point in the season.
But the tone was set by A’s hitters, who worked Rays starter Jake Odorizzi (0-2) for 42 pitches during a four-run top of the first. That included Khris Davis’ three-run homer and Valencia’s first long ball of the season two batters later. Valencia would go deep to the opposite field in the sixth off former Athletic Dana Eveland for his third career multi-homer game.
Valencia had missed the previous two games after re-injuring his left hamstring, an injury that originally sent him to the 15-day disabled list. He’s an instrumental part to the A’s batting order, though he’s hitting sixth right now with Davis continuing to swing a hot bat in the cleanup spot.
Odorizzi lasted just four innings, a quick departure that flipped the script to the A’s delight. They had gone four games in a row with their starters failing to complete four innings. A’s pitchers had also set a franchise record by giving up at least 11 runs in each of the past four games. Since 1929, only four other major league teams had done that.
The A’s tied their season high with four home runs. Marcus Semien drilled a liner that cleared the left field wall in a hurry in the fourth to give the A’s a 5-2 lead. His nine homers are tops among American League shortstops, and Semien also tied the Oakland single-season record for home runs from the No. 9 spot. Ramon Hernandez also hit nine while batting ninth in 2000.
Starting pitching report
Staked to a 4-0 lead before he even took the mound, Hill (5-3) labored through a 32-pitch first inning in which he walked three and gave back two of the runs. Visions of recent blown early-game leads came to mind. But the lefty found his groove. He retired 12 in a row from the first to the fifth and issued only one more walk over his six innings. That snapped a streak of seven consecutive games in which A’s starters had failed to complete six innings, and it gave the bullpen some much-needed rest.
Hill gave up three runs and four hits with four walks and seven strikeouts.
Ryan Madson, in for his first save opportunity since April 30, made it a white-knuckle ninth. He loaded the bases with one out but got Evan Longoria to line out on a sensational play at third by Valencia. Then Steve Pearce flied out to end it.
It had been a while since manager Bob Melvin had been able to call upon a normal bullpen progression to salt away a victory. Fernando Rodriguez handled the seventh, Sean Doolittle struck out two in the eighth and Madson notched his ninth save in dramatic fashion.
At the plate
The A’s made life tough on Odorizzi right away. Coco Crisp worked him for an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the game, and Billy Burns followed by singling to conclude a 14-pitch at-bat. Two batters later, Davis launched a three-run homer – the fifth time he’s gone deep in his past nine games. Two hitters after him, Valencia hit a towering shot to left that struck one of the catwalks that ring the domed Tropicana Field. The ball fell back to the playing surface in left field.
Yonder Alonso went 3-for-4 and is hitting .328 (19-for-58) over his last 18 games.
In the field
Valencia’s play in the ninth to rob Longoria will be a top-five play this season for the A’s. He dove left and snared the liner headed for left that probably would have scored two.
A crowd of 14,604 showed up.
Kendall Graveman (1-4, 5.74) takes the mound Saturday looking to halt a three-start stretch in which he’s gone 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA and .397 opponents’ batting average. Right-hander Matt Andriese (1-0, 1.29) goes for the Rays. First pitch is 3:10 p.m.