OAKLAND – It was the typical gathering of folks in the home dugout Monday afternoon as the A’s went through batting practice.
Reporters, photographers, team P.R. officials … and A’s starting pitcher Jesse Chavez.
Unlike most other pitchers who lay low in the clubhouse on their days to start, Chavez prefers to take in the fresh air and experience the outdoor pregame scene. He even engaged in casual chit-chat with reporters Monday as he sat on the A’s bench.
Anything but the isolation of an empty clubhouse.
“If I’m in (there) for 20 minutes, I go bonkers,” Chavez said.
Whatever it takes to get him in the zone, and Chavez (3-1) certainly was dialed in during Monday’s 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox. He came within three outs of his first complete game and surrendered just five hits.
That his bullpen had some adventures nailing down the victory did nothing to negate Chavez’s mastery through the first eight innings. He struck out seven, and aside from solo homers by Dayan Viciedo and Jose Abreu, he allowed just one runner as far as third base.
It’s just the latest chapter in Chavez’s easy-to-root-for story. He’s been traded five times over his major league career, and after arriving to spring training as a reliever, he continues his smooth transition to the rotation. His 2.44 ERA ranks seventh among American League starters.
“The way he adds and subtracts (on his velocity) and moves the ball around, it’s really fun to watch,” said reliever Sean Doolittle, who earned Monday’s save. “He’s a guy who’s really reinvented himself. He used to be a late-inning bullpen guy --come in, throw 96, 97 98. He’s taken a step back and found something that really works for him.”
Not to mention a pregame routine that works. Chavez generally wanders out to the field around 4:30 p.m. for a night game. On the road, sometimes that means watching the opposing team go through pregame drills. But seeing his teammates go through their preparations genuinely inspires him.
“The most important thing is watching the boys work,” Chavez said. “It gives me that extra energy to come in and get loose and go back out there, because they did their job to get loose and get ready for the game, and it’s my turn to do that.”
He seemed to have a clear path to his first complete game Monday, taking the mound for the ninth with his pitch count at 90. But after he got ahead 0-2 on the leadoff man, Abreu, the A.L. home run leader mashed a cutter to the opposite field for a solo homer that cut the A’s lead to 5-2.
That’s when A’s manager Bob Melvin called on the bullpen.
“He had a great cutter, to both sides of the plate,” Melvin said. “He slows them down with his curve ball, and he had a good changeup at times. We tried to get him all the way through it. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
As the top of the ninth suggested, the A’s still are unsettled at the back of the bullpen. After Fernando Abad issued a walk in relief of Chavez, Jim Johnson -- who earned a save in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader -- gave up a double and RBI single to his only two batters faced.
Doolittle took over with runners on the corners, no outs and a 5-3 lead. He allowed Paul Konerko’s sacrifice fly, then struck out Tyler Flowers and Leury Garcia to nail down the A’s season-high fifth win in a row.
Chavez was asked if he was disappointed he didn’t get the chance to finish what he started.
“You always are, but at the same time you can’t really go out there and fight to stay out there,” he said. “I’m just fortunate to get the opportunity to go back out in the ninth.”
Spoken like a man who appreciates all the good things that have come his way this season.