MESA, Ariz. -– Danny Valencia hit cleanup Thursday in an A’s lineup that had a very Opening Night feel to it.
Then he went out and did what No. 4 hitters are supposed to do.
Valencia’s two-run homer in the first inning off Mariners lefty James Paxton punctuated Oakland’s hitting outburst that drove Paxton from the game by the third inning. Although Seattle staged a remarkable eight-run rally in the ninth, long after most of the regulars were out, the early offense was a promising sign for the A’s.
Valencia, penciled in as the everyday third baseman, has been a part of that. He’s hitting .333, and his homer over the center field wall was his third in eight spring games. He drove in three runs, and his three homers and seven RBI are both tied for the team lead.
“Sometimes you can see him make an adjustment in-bat, where he’s trying to pull a little bit too much, and he sets his sights back up to the middle of the field,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s doing a nice job for us.”
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The lineup Melvin ran out against the Mariners could very well be a standard one he applies aside from the leadoff spot, where Coco Crisp started Thursday instead of incumbent Billy Burns. Burns is slated to play Friday against the Cleveland Indians.
The batting order went: Crisp CF, Lowrie 2B, Reddick RF, Valencia 3B, Vogt C, Davis LF, Butler DH, Alonso 1B, Semien SS.
Valencia was a revelation after he was claimed off waivers last August from Toronto, as he hit .284 with 11 homers and 37 RBI in 47 games with Oakland. After spending much of the past several seasons as a platoon player seeing most of his time against lefties, Valencia finds himself in an everyday role with the A’s. It’s a position he relishes but doesn’t take for granted.
“I’ve never been one to get complacent, because I’ve rarely been in positions like this,” Valencia said. “It doesn’t change anything, doesn’t change my routine.”
Thursday’s game disintegrated on the A’s end with the late-inning meltdown, eventually ending in an 11-11 tie. But the A’s can take something away from roughing up Paxton, who walked four and was tagged for seven earned runs in two-plus innings. Oakland could see the lefty plenty if he lands a spot in Seattle’s five-man rotation.
NOTEWORTHY: Kendall Graveman worked into the fifth inning, and though he walked three and gave up three runs (including two homers), he chalked up the outing as a productive one toward getting him ready for the regular season.
“I built on the last one,” Graveman said. “I felt more in rhythm. … One focus was to throw the sinker and get some ground balls. And the defense played great behind me.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the right-hander is expected to begin the season in Oakland’s rotation.
Both of the homers Graveman allowed played out in crazy fashion. Rob Brantly’s drive to right hit off the foul pole in the fifth. An inning before that, Robinson Cano homered deep to right one pitch after whacking a dead-ball pitch for what would have been a single to left. Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth called time and stepped away from the plate, but Cano still took a hack and knocked Graveman’s pitch into left field.
“Cano got two hits in one at-bat,” Valencia said. “I’ve never seen that before.”
STOCK RISING: Patrick Schuster, a non-roster reliever, came on to relieve Graveman in the fifth and retired the only two hitters he faced, with a strikeout. He has yet to allow a run in four outings, and he’s impressed Melvin. There doesn’t appear a spot for him in the A’s stocked bullpen, but as Melvin noted:
“If you can get our attention here, you put yourself on the map. You never know what happens over the course of the season.”
Schuster, 25, signed a minor league contract in the offseason and is with his sixth organization in seven seasons. He has yet to appear in the majors.
LIGHTER SIDE: With the NCAA Tournament beginning Thursday, closer Sean Doolittle wandered through the clubhouse proudly displaying the colors of Virginia, his alma mater. The Cavaliers are the top seed in the Midwest Region and easily disposed of Hampton in the first round. Doolittle said a lot of his teammates are picking Virginia to go far in their brackets, but he’s identified one who roots on an ACC rival.
“Billy Butler for some reason is a UNC fan, and he’s pretty loud about that,” Doolittle pointed out.
ODDS AND ENDS: Jarrod Parker returned to the A’s after visiting an L.A.-based specialist Tuesday. He didn’t address the media, and Melvin said only that Parker would have surgery of some kind on his fractured elbow, which is no surprise. … Jed Lowrie went 2-for-3 and is hitting .429. Josh Reddick also had two hits to boost his average to .474. … John Axford and Ryan Madson each turned in a scoreless inning of relief. … Chris Bassitt struggled mightily in a minor league game Wednesday, when the A’s were off, allowing a grand slam and several walks in a 68-pitch outing. Both he and Melvin chalked it up to an “off” outing. … Reliever Marc Rzepczynski had a memorable day off Wednesday, proposing to his girlfriend, Lindzey. She said yes.