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  • Dan Honda Contra Costa Times Jesse Chavez of the A's pitches against the Yankees on Thursday. "That guy is nasty," New York slugger Mark Teixeira said.

  • Eric Risberg / Associated Press

    A's reliever Jesse Chavez allowed only one hit in 5 2/3 shutout innings to close out Thursday's 18-inning victory over the Yankees. Chavez has a 1.83 ERA this season.

A's reliever Chavez finally shows his potential

Published: Saturday, Jun. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 8:51 am

OAKLAND – After seldom-used A's reliever Jesse Chavez held the Yankees scoreless for the final 5 2/3 innings of the teams' 18-inning marathon Thursday, New York slugger Mark Teixeira sent a tip of the cap Chavez's way through MLB.com: "The last guy they threw was the best guy we faced all day," Teixeira told the website. "That guy is nasty."

The phrasing certainly made it sound as if Teixeira, who popped out and flew out in two at-bats against Chavez, was talking about a pitcher he had never laid eyes on before. In fact, they weren't even Teixeira's first at-bats against the 29-year-old right-hander in a big-league game.

Their first encounter came on Aug. 13, 2010, when Chavez, pitching for the Kansas City Royals, retired Teixeira on a popup leading off the seventh inning in a 4-3 victory.

Chavez recalled the meeting Friday.

"First time facing (the Yankees)," he said. "It was after a rain delay, too."

But Chavez didn't sound as if he would blame Teixeira for not remembering.

"I was a different pitcher then," Chavez said. "I just grabbed the ball and threw."

It worked that day against Teixeira – and to earn Chavez call-ups with five major-league teams between his debut with Pittsburgh in 2008 and a late-season stint with the A's after they acquired him from Toronto last year. But it never translated to the kind of success Chavez has had this season as the long man in the A's bullpen.

After his game-saving outing Thursday – Chavez entered in the 13th inning, stranded five runners in his first two innings and allowed one hit in 71 pitches – he has a 1.83 ERA in 10 appearances. Chavez has struck out 18 batters and allowed 14 hits in 19 2/3 innings – a stark contrast to his career 5.96 ERA in 156 games before this year.

"The people in our front office and our scouts have been saying all along this guy can pitch at the big-league level and do well," manager Bob Melvin said. "He just needs to get on a little bit of a roll and get some confidence. And we've seen that the past several outings."

The A's responded with a show of their own confidence Friday by keeping Chavez on the roster and sending reliever Hideki Okajima to the River Cats to make room for right-hander Dan Otero.

Chavez won't be available for a couple of days at least, but general manager Billy Beane pointed out that had the A's sent Chavez down, they wouldn't have been able to recall him for 10 days.

"And, you know, I think it's important to let him know he's a big leaguer," Beane said. "He was great (Thursday)."

In some ways, the outing was a validation of the A's faith in Chavez. He has a 4.15 ERA in the minors for all or part of nine seasons. Most of his major-league experience came with Pittsburgh in 2009, when he pitched in 73 games in relief. He spent most of last year in Triple A as a starter.

When the A's did bring Chavez up for four appearances last September, he allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings. But he reaches the mid-90s as part of his repertoire despite rivaling Jerry Blevins for the thinnest frame on the staff (he's listed at 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds).

"When a guy has done what he's done at every level … some guys take a little bit longer, but you've got to really trust what they've done, and that's why we've stuck with him," Beane said. "What you saw (Thursday) is what we were hoping we could get to.

"He had a major-league demeanor out there, just a lot of confidence."

Chavez said the biggest difference for him this season has been "just getting comfortable back on a big-league mound.

"That's been my biggest problem is being able to be comfortable on a mound and go out and compete the way I'm capable of, (as) I've been doing in Triple A the past couple years," he said. "I told myself this year, this is something you need to translate. And so far, it's helped."

Chavez, who began the year as a starter in Triple A, said his arm felt normal Friday after the second-longest outing of his big-league career. His main concern during the game was sitting for multiple innings with the A's hitting but said there were no problems there, either. He hadn't heard about Teixeira's postgame comments until a reporter brought them up.

"That's pretty cool," he said. "Especially from a guy of his caliber and what he's done in the game. That's definitely a compliment that I'll take with high regards."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball/. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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