OAKLAND — The A’s got the Khris Davis home run Saturday that seemed guaranteed to come, given the rate at which he’s cleared the fences this month.
The contributions from another source weren’t quite so predictable.
It was Billy Butler who kicked the A’s hit parade into gear during a 12-3 romp over the Detroit Tigers at the Coliseum. He lined a go-ahead two-run single into right field that snapped a 3-3 tie in the sixth and sent the A’s on their way to season highs in both runs and hits (17).
Butler’s three-RBI day also included his first home run of the season, a missile he launched deep into the seats in left-center off Matt Boyd in the second.
Afterward in the clubhouse, Butler’s teammates teased him as reporters closed in waiting to talk to him. But those same teammates also scattered respectfully, happy to direct the spotlight to a player who has seen his role on the A’s shrink considerably from a year ago.
“It feels good to contribute to the team,” Butler said. “You’re just waiting your turn, and it feels good to come through in a tight ballgame there in the sixth.”
Butler got the word from manager Bob Melvin early in the season that he would mostly be playing against left-handed starters only. That’s meant precious little time in the lineup given that the A’s faced right-handers in 32 out of 34 games during a stretch that ran April 7-May 14. He’s started just 18 of the A’s 50 games, and that puts him in an unenviable position: A player who is a target for criticism for not producing up to the standards of his three-year $30 million contract, but also someone not playing enough to do anything to change that right now.
“You get in the cage, you take swings,” Butler said when asked how he tries to stay ready. “You have to do more stuff in there than you normally do — than I’ve ever had to do as an everyday player. When you’re playing every day you just get in there, get loose and get ready for the game. When you’re in a system that you’re not getting that many at-bats, you don’t really know what to work on because you don’t have much to go off of.”
He found a way to deliver on Saturday, as his two-run single in the sixth was one of five consecutive hits the A’s tagged off Detroit’s bullpen to spark a five-run rally. They continued pouring it on in the seventh, when Davis blasted a 1-0 slider from Alex Wilson for a three-run homer, a no-doubter to left.
His 14 homers tie him with Robinson Cano for third in the American League, but Davis leads the majors with a whopping 11 homers in May alone. That’s the most by an A’s hitter in a single month since Jason Giambi hit 13 back in September 2000.
“That’s a good month,” Melvin said, adding dryly: “I did that one year, had 11. I wouldn’t know what to relate that too. Eleven homers in one month. Are we still going? Hopefully he’s not done.”
Danny Valencia, the other half of Oakland’s important 1-2 power punch, added his own tape-measure blast, a 456-foot solo homer to straightaway center. Valencia enjoyed a three-hit game.
Those two have been the headliners when the A’s offense has been clicking in recent weeks. But as Melvin noted, Oakland is a team that needs production from an ensemble cast. Were Butler to find a hot streak, it would add another dangerous bat to the lineup. First he’ll need to hit his way into more playing time.
But for one day at least, Butler took a lead role in an A’s victory.
“The guy’s hit for a long time,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “He’s capable of hitting anytime he’s in the box. We need him to get going and show up every day for us like that, and we’re going to win a lot of games.”