OAKLAND — It took a few innings, but the A’s became the first team to finally get to Mariners pitcher James Paxton in a 9-6 victory on Thursday, their third in a row.
Paxton came into the night as one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. He had yet to allow a run in his first 21 innings pitched, striking out 22 batters while walking just four.
But the A’s offense has also been hot lately. After hanging nine runs on the Texas Rangers in Wednesday’s victory, the A’s bats once again came to life, starting in the third inning.
Trailing 3-0, Jaff Decker and Rajai Davis led off the inning with back-to-back singles off of Paxton, bringing Adam Rosales to the plate. Rosales singled to right field to drive in Decker, and a bad throw from Mitch Haniger moved Rosales to second and allowed Davis to score all the way from first to cut the lead to 3-2. After it looked like Paxton was back on track after striking out slugger Khris Davis for the second out of the inning, Ryon Healy doubled down the left field line to bring in Rosales and tie the game at 3-3.
It was the first of two RBIs on the night for Healy. After sitting out a couple of games after a long slump to start to the year, Healy went 3 for 3, following up on a strong two-hit performance from Wednesday.
“We knew he would get out of it,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We gave him a little time off to work on some things. Sometimes it’s a little harder for younger guys to go through these things but he’s swinging the bat really well now.”
The offense exploded again in the fifth. After Rajai Davis reached third base on a single to center that was mishandled by Leonys Martin, Rosales drove him home with a sacrifice fly to take the lead.
This time Paxton was unable to settle down.
Jed Lowrie doubled and Khris Davis drew a walk, making way for Healy to drive in his second run of the night with an RBI single to extend the lead to 5-3 and knock Paxton out of the game.
Melvin pointed to Tuesday’s win over Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers as the start of the A’s recent offensive success.
“The late runs off Darvish got us on this little run we’re on,” Melvin said. “We got some key hits late when we needed to tonight.”
Paxton left the game with nine hits allowed. He had only give up a combined total of eight in his first three outings.
Seattle called upon its bullpen as it looked to cool off the A’s hitters, but to no avail.
After the Mariners had tied it up in the sixth, the A’s went back ahead in the very next half-inning when Josh Phegley led off with a double and eventually scored on a ground ball by Rajai Davis. The A’s (8-8) then added some insurance in the form of a seventh-inning three-run bomb by Trevor Plouffe that landed well beyond the left field wall.
The blast was Plouffe’s third of the season and put the A’s comfortably ahead 9-5 as they had scored nine runs for the second consecutive game.
“We’ve got a lot of confident guys on offense right now,” Rajai Davis said. “We’re putting some really good swings on the ball right now and not making many mistakes.”
Cesar Valdez’s return to the big leagues did not start out the way he had hoped.
Pitching in the majors for the first time since 2010, Valdez allowed three runs in the first two innings, which could have been worse if it weren’t for a tremendous second-inning double play turned by Jed Lowrie at second base with runners on first and third to limit the damage.
“I give a lot of credit to the guys behind me on defense,” Valdez said. “I struggled a bit in that second inning and Jed made a great play to keep us on track for the win.”
After causing Melvin to summon Frankie Montas to the bullpen, Valdez appeared to settle down after the early struggles. He sat down the Mariners heart of the lineup of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager with a quick 1-2-3 third inning and followed that up with another scoreless frame in the fourth, throwing 76 pitches in four innings.
“Valdez got it under control after those three quick runs,” Melvin said. “80 pitches is the most he had thrown in a game. He kept the game tied, so he did his job.”
Valdez does not know if he will get another start with the A’s, but he was thankful to even get the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues after a period of time where the thought the moment would never come.
“It was an emotional night for me,” Valdez said. “After seven years to be back in the majors, this is a moment that I did not think I would get again.”
Montas replaced Valdez and turned in a quick, scoreless fifth inning, but the Mariners (7-10) got to him in the sixth when Taylor Motter blasted a two-run home run to center to tie the game at 5-5.
Ryan Dull kept the game tied by getting Danny Valencia and Martin to fly out to end the sixth, and aside from a run allowed by Santiago Casilla on a sacrifice fly in the ninth, the bullpen did its job in holding on for the victory.
Bruce Maxwell was sent down in order to make room for Thursday’s starting pitcher Cesar Valdez. While he was only up for a couple of days, picking up two hits in five at-bats, manager Bob Melvin said he has no doubt that the 26-year-old catcher will have a big role with the club in the future. “He’s one of those guys that’s part of this team this year, he’s just not here right now,” Melvin said. “He’s a guy that is still waiting for his time, but we feel like he is going to be a big part of this team.”
In order to make room Valdez on the 40-man roster, Marcus Semien was moved to the 60-day disabled list. Semien underwent a procedure in which he had a screw inserted into his right wrist in order heal a fractured scaphoid bone, which is near the base of the thumb. Semien has to wear a cast for a week to help compress the bone. He can’t do any type of work out or exercising until the cast comes off, but Semien said he was at piece of mind knowing that the wrist issue that had been bothering him since spring training is finally being taken care of. “I’m the kind of guy that would have played through it,” Semien said. “But once I found out it was a fracture, I knew I had to let it heal or else it could be detrimental to the future of my career.” Melvin said the decision to opt for surgery was an easy one.“The other option was to wait around and see if it does heal but really there was no downside in putting the screw in there,” Melvin said.
Cesar Valdez appeared in a big league game for the first time in seven years. In addition to the minors, Valdez spent time in various leagues in countries like Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Mexico as he looked to fight his way back to the majors. His perserverance was something that caught the eye of his manager. “What a great story,” Melvin said. “You really feel good about guys who hang around with the aspirations to get back here. He performed well for us this spring and he’s done well early in Triple-A so to reward him with a start is great to see. He didn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”
Former Archbishop Mitty standout and San Jose native Mitch Haniger had a homecoming of sorts as he got to play in front of his friends and family on Thursday. Haniger is off to a nice start with Seattle, batting .323 with four home runs as the team’s primary right fielder.
The A’s are scheduled to have a private workout with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert on Friday. Robert is rated as one of the five best prospects from Cuba by Baseball America. His bat speed, power and athleticism project him to be a big league center fielder.
Rajai Davis was taken pulled from Thursday’s game in the ninth inning because of a hamstring issue. Melvin said Davis will get the day off tomorrow and they will re-evaluate from there.