OAKLAND – Quizzed about the many good things his team did over the weekend, A’s manager Bob Melvin cut right to the point Sunday about the biggest bright spot.
All seems right in the A’s world when their starting pitchers are locked in and dealing.
That was the constant theme in a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. And as the A’s make a push for their second straight American League West crown, the performance of their starting rotation is paramount.
It’s no coincidence that Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin all pitched well and everything fell into place for Oakland the past three days against the Rays.
“It’s where it all starts with us,” Melvin said following Sunday’s 5-1 victory. “Going against a pitching staff like they have over there, you know you’re not going to score a ton of runs. The whole series, up until the last inning of this game, you felt like you never know where it’s going. So for the starters to be able to get us that deep and pitch that well really makes it a lot easier to finish out those games.”
It’s impressive that the A’s find themselves one game out of first place considering the question marks involving their starting staff. Will Brett Anderson re-enter the rotation? Whose place would he take? Can Bartolo Colon get back to his All-Star form from the first half? Is rookie Sonny Gray cementing a spot in a potential playoff rotation?
The pieces will sort themselves out over the next four weeks, but Melvin has to like his options when he gets three performances like he did against Tampa Bay.
Parker, Gray and Griffin combined to allow just four runs over 20.2 innings, lowering the rotation’s ERA for the season to 3.84, tied with Boston for second in the American League behind Detroit (3.51).
Griffin’s effort Sunday was his best since the All-Star break. He allowed his major league-high 33rd homer in the second to James Loney, but that was it over seven innings. And to think the 12-game winner appears a possible candidate – Dan Straily would be the other -- to lose his spot in the starting five if Anderson rejoins the rotation.
Griffin (12-9) pitched Sunday like a man who deserves to stick. Before the game, he was the same laid-back character he always is, chatting with whoever was within earshot and serving as clubhouse DJ. But he says he took the mound a different man thanks to his work with pitching coach Curt Young.
“I’ve been feeling good lately, even if the results haven’t been there,” Griffin said. “Maybe I’ve almost been feeling too good lately, trying to become a pitcher that I’m not , like a power pitcher. Curt and I have just gotten on the same page. We found some stuff mechanically, keeping my head on line more. That helped tremendously today.”
When the starters do their job, it’s easier for the A’s to take advantage of the many other contributions they get.
Catcher Stephen Vogt tripled and homered from the No. 9 spot over the past two days. He also came up huge on a play at the plate Sunday, scrambling to tag out Wil Myers to preserve what was a 2-1 lead at the time.
His play was possible thanks to cutoff man Josh Donaldson, who corralled a bounced throw from left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and made the relay throw home.
“J.D. made an unbelievable play on that,” Vogt said.
Griffin credited first baseman Daric Barton with a diving stop in the sixth to keep a run from scoring.
It’s all come together nicely for the A’s, who have won seven of their last nine as the first-place Rangers arrive Monday to begin a three-game series. Straily, who pitched well against Detroit in his last start, gets a chance to pick up where the rotation left off over the weekend.
“We had a playoff atmosphere the last few days,” Vogt said. “It’s not gonna be any different. We just need to keep playing how we are, and not worry about who we’re playing or the implications.”