Jesse Chavez is certainly doing his part to settle any concerns A’s fans may have had about the loss of Jarrod Parker in the rotation this season.
Chavez pitched his way to what should have been his first win of the season, were it not for a ninth inning melt down by closer Jim Johnson. The A’s finally came through in the 11th inning to outlast the Twins 7-4 and win their third straight game, as well as taking the first two games of the road trip.
Chavez, the 30-year old starter, and former long-man in the bullpen, has been brilliant since being stretched out to the start for the A’s this season.
His teammates gave him an early 4-0 lead to work with, and Chavez made the most of it through the next seven innings of work. The offense got going right away for Oakland with a lead-off walk to Sam Fuld, playing in place of Coco Crisp, to open the game. Jed Lowrie followed up with a walk of his own and then Josh Donaldson doubled for the first hit of the game, driving in Fuld. Brandon Moss immediately followed with a RBI single scoring both Lowrie and Donaldson. Yoenis Cespedes followed Moss’ single with a double of his own, moving Moss to third, making it five straight batters to reach base without an out being recorded.
Following a visit to the mound for the Twins, Alberto Callaspo followed with a RBI single, bringing in Brandon Moss and making the score 4-0. That would be the end of the A’s scoring as John Jaso struck out for the first out of the inning and Josh Reddick grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The only blemish on Chavez’s pitching line for the day came in the bottom half of the second inning. Chavez allowed a lead-off homer to Jason Kubel to cut the lead to 4-1. It was smooth sailing from there though as the replacement in the rotation for the injured Parker and Griffin would breeze through seven innings of work, allowing six hits and walking none while striking out a career high nine batters.
Sean Doolittle relieved Chavez in the eighth inning and quickly recorded the first out on three straight strikes to retire Josmil Pinto. Doolittle would watch his perfect 0.00 ERA disappear on the next batter though as Brian Dozier connected for his second homer of the season to center field, cutting the lead in half to 4-2.
Luke Gregerson came in, inheriting a runner on first base, to pitch the final two-thirds of the eighth inning and escape with the 4-2 lead in tact. Otero intentionally walked Joe Mauer to reload the bases and set up the force play at any bag.
Jim Johnson got the call to pitch the ninth inning and close out the game. Johnson pitched to a full count before Kubel eventually singled to lead-off the ninth inning. Former A’s catcher worked a seven pitch at bat before finally drawing ball four to give Minnesota runners on first and second with no outs and the winning run coming to the plate. Chris Herrmann, attempting to bunt the runners over, popped out to Johnson for the first out of the inning. Aaron Hicks drew a 3-0 count before Johnson was finally able to find the plate for back-to-back called strikes, marking the third batter of the inning to work a full count against the A’s closer. Hicks walked though on the sixth pitch of the at-bat to load the bases, still with just one out.
Following a visit to the mound, Johnson finally began to attack the strike zone, jumping out to a quick 0-2 count on Eduardo Escobar with two straight 94 MPH fastballs. After fouling off several pitches, Escobar eventually singled to left field, allowing Kubel to score and bringing the Twins within a run at 4-3, with the bases still loaded and just one out, ending his day in favor of Dan Otero, who would have to inherit the bases loaded.
Otero got Dozier to fly out to Reddick for a sacrifice fly, tying the game, but finally recording the second out, and was able to escape the frame without allowing any other runners to score, forcing extra innings. Otero made quick work of the Twins in the 10th inning, getting Kurt Suzuki to ground into an inning ending double play in what could become Otero’s beginning efforts to audition for the closer’s role (Gregerson, Cook and Doolittle would also warrant consideration if any move were to be made).
Oakland finally scored again in the top half of the 11th inning. Daric Barton walked to lead off the inning, then following a Cespedes strikeout, Callaspo singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Derek Norris connected for a three-run homer off Jared Burton to push the score to 7-4, earn Otero the win and bail out Johnson. The A’s had gone nine innings without scoring a run since their first inning, four-run spot on the scoreboard.
Otero allowed Herrmann to single to lead-off the bottom of the 11th inning, but got Hicks to ground into a force out at second. Escobar singled on a fly ball to Cespedes, putting runners on first and second with one out, and again bringing the tying run to the plate. Dozier struck out swinging to record the second out and bring the Twins down to their final chance for the day, with Mauer coming the plate. After working a full count, Mauer finally drew a walk to once again load the bases.
A quick visit to the mound apparently had the desired effect as Otero delivered the final out of the game on the next pitch, getting Trevor Plouffe to line out to Donaldson at third to end the game. Otero finished the game with a final line of 2.2 innings pitched, three hits, two walks and one strike out. He only allowed the one inherited run from Johnson and finished without an earned run of his own to record his first win and lower his ERA to 1.69.
Norris was 1-for-2 on the afternoon, including the game-winning blast. Donaldson finished the game 2-for-5, showing signs that his bat is coming to life. Moss, Cespedes and Callaspo collected the A’s only other hits on the afternoon. Josh Reddick is continuing to struggle at the plate, finishing the day 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his season average to .107. This is the fifth game out of seven in which Reddick has recorded two or more strikeouts.
If there’s any silver lining at all to the ninth inning meltdown, it’s that Johnson threw 27 pitches in his 1/3 of an inning and will be unavailable for the series finale tomorrow. Perhaps there will be some time spent with Curt Young to work on his struggles before the A’s head to Seattle.
Crisp missed another game after receiving a cortisone shot in his wrist. Sam Fuld started in place of Crisp and went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .182 on the season. Just a few days ago Fuld was giving the A’s management a lot to think about when Craig Gentry becomes eligible to be reinstated from the disabled list perhaps as early as Friday.
Oakland could decide to designate Fuld for assignment and hope he clears waivers, face the same exact decision with Daric Barton, or use Reddick’s remaining minor league option to clear up a roster spot for Gentry.
The A’s and Twins conclude their series tomorrow morning at 10:10AM before Oakland heads to Seattle for a weekend series that will kick off Friday night.