OAKLAND — Rich Hill was plenty occupied with his work on the mound Wednesday, but he wasn’t too busy to notice what was happening around him.
The A’s 8-1 victory over Texas was the sign of a team playing with renewed confidence and spirit.
“It was a complete game, again where everybody contributes and everybody continues to play with that conviction, and it’s a lot of fun to see,” Hill said. “You can see it coming around and we’re definitely in it right now.”
The A’s (19-22) have won four in a row and five of their past six, and there’s a lot to like about the way they’re doing it. They’re getting big production from some marquee guys in their lineup, notably Khris Davis and Danny Valencia. They’re combining that with subtle contributions from players who have taken on more of a supporting role, such as Billy Butler, who made an impact offensively and defensively during the series while drawing three starts at first base.
They’re also winning in diverse fashion. On Tuesday night, it was a late-inning come-from-behind thriller. But Wednesday’s sweep-clincher was much more dominant and methodical, where the A’s jumped ahead early and robbed the Rangers of any hope that they’d climb back in the game.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Hill, Davis power A's to sweep of Rangers]
Davis, who went deep again and is tied for the American League lead with 12 home runs, summed up the clubhouse vibe perfectly afterward.
“Very confident,” Davis said. “As long as we’re winning we’re building chemistry. Everybody’s in a good mood after we win. Just to see a smile on the boys’ faces after a game is satisfying.”
Hill (6-3) also was instrumental in the A’s ending a streak of 40 home series of three or more games without a sweep, dating back to July 2014. The lefty held the Rangers to three hits over six innings, winning his third consecutive start but notching his first career victory at the Coliseum.
He entered the day with an 0-3 record and 4.85 ERA at home, but he showed the excellent stuff Wednesday that’s been so evident in his road starts. The 36-year-old Hill was viewed as a question mark in the rotation entering the season, justifiably considering he had just four major league starts under his belt dating back to 2009. To this point, his signing on a one-year $6 million contract is looking like a steal for the A’s front office. And if Hill keeps up this level of performance, he’ll put himself in All-Star consideration as the summer unfolds.
Entering Wednesday night, Hill was tied for second in the American League in victories, ranked seventh in ERA (2.54), fifth in strikeouts (59), third in opponents’ batting average (.196) and tied for ninth in WHIP (1.13). His work has been even more important given the struggles of Sonny Gray.
“Rich has really been our guy, our No. 1,” Valencia said. “When he’s out there we feel a couple runs may win the game. It’s a testament to him. He’s put in a lot of hard work to get to this point and he’s been doing great.”
Coming into this homestand, A’s starters carried a 7.86 ERA over their previous 21 games. They’d completed fewer than four innings in four of the seven games leading into the homestand. But in the three wins over Texas, Hill, Sean Manaea and Jesse Hahn combined to work 19 1/3 innings and allow just five earned runs (2.33 ERA).
That was a big reason the A’s, who entered Monday 5-11 at home, were able to sweep Texas in front of the Coliseum fans. But Butler points to Sunday’s road-trip finale, when Valencia’s go-ahead homer in the ninth at Tampa Bay sparked a comeback victory, as being a springboard.
“Those types of (wins) give teams confidence, and it shows teams how to win games late,” Butler said. “That’s a really good attribute to have. Just like we did (Tuesday) night. And we came in (Wednesday) and played very fundamental today.”