OAKLAND – Everyone agrees that Jesse Chavez is an asset to the A’s pitching staff.
There’s less consensus on what role he’s most effective in.
Is he a starter? A reliever? Some sort of hybrid, able to fill in wherever the need arises?
Chavez wants to be known as a starter, and a durable one. That’s why his standout effort on a sun-drenched Wednesday afternoon at the Coliseum meant so much to him. He logged eight innings for just the fourth time in his career, held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two hits and struck out six over a career-high 116 pitches in a 5-2 A’s victory that completed a two-game sweep.
“It gives me a good idea that the work that I put in will lead to results,” Chavez said. “That’s all I want to show is that I’m still working to get through this season, a full season, as a starter. And I wanna build off this.”
Chavez viewed his previous start in Toronto as a positive step, when he struck out nine over six innings in a 4-2 loss. Still, he entered Wednesday 2-6 with a 5.48 ERA over his previous nine outings. The narrative is that Chavez’s slender build makes him susceptible to wearing down over the rigors of a long season, and the numbers support the theory.
He came into this start with a 3.72 career ERA before the All-Star break, 5.97 after it.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Chavez propels A's to sweep of Dodgers]
“He’s on a mission to prove that wrong,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s had a couple tough outings, but for the most part he’s been consistent all year. And he really wants to get in a good, full season where he doesn’t wear down. He’s very aware of what’s happened in the past … so he’s doing all he can to combat that.”
Who would have guessed the pair of starters that would help propel a two-game sweep of the National League West-leading Dodgers?
Felix Doubront, cast off by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this season, matched up against Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday and threw six innings of one-hit ball, effectively working around his wildness. He’s earned himself another start, Melvin confirmed, which will come Monday at Seattle as the rotation currently shapes up.
Then Chavez followed up with eight strong innings Wednesday. Most impressive was that Chavez’s cutter, his go-to pitch, wasn’t dialed in like normal. He relied on other pitches, particularly his sinker and changeup, to keep the Dodgers at bay.
It was the cutter that Jimmy Rollins hit for a two-run homer in the third to give Los Angeles a 2-1 lead. But with the A’s leading 3-2 in the eighth, the tying run at second and Rollins batting again, Chavez got him swinging on a nasty curve, then let loose with an emphatic yell as he left the mound.
“He just competes every time he’s on the mound,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “Today, being able to make adjustments when his pitches weren’t quite what he wanted them to be, just shows he’s versatile. He’s got a lot of weapons.”
There are plenty of unknowns moving forward with the A’s rotation beyond ace Sonny Gray. Two rookies – Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman – are trying to prove they belong. Chavez wants to show his durability. And Doubront hasn’t been an effective regular starter in the bigs since 2013 with Boston.
Melvin acknowledged the possibility Wednesday that injured rookie Jesse Hahn will be shut down for the season. And A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker remain question marks as they’ve yet to return after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
But over the past two days, the starters came through, helping the A’s reverse the bad vibes from their recently completed 0-7 road trip. That was no easy task considering the A’s itinerary. They flew back from Baltimore in the middle of the night Monday, then opened their homestand Tuesday night against the Dodgers followed by a Wednesday matinee.
They’ll get a needed day off Thursday.
“I think winning the game (Tuesday) night … everybody was a little more invigorated this morning,” Melvin said. “Today was probably a little bit tougher. I know it’s the first time my alarm clock has woken me up in a long time. A win today, and we’re finally able to enjoy an off-day.”