OAKLAND -- This season has been a trying one for Chris Young. He figured coming in that getting used to not playing everyday in the A's platoon system would be a challenge. But he probably didn't expect to be still trying to work his batting average back up to the .200 mark in mid-August -- where it hasn't been since May 25 -- while dealing with the frustration of not being rewarded for well-hit balls that reached an almost laughable point last week, when he missed walk-off home runs by mere inches on consecutive nights.
Young has kept a pretty even-keel demeanor through it all, sticking by the belief that eventually some of those hits are going to fall in. Sunday was one of those days, and it helped the A's win a series against the Indians and make up a game in the standings on the Texas Rangers.
A night after totaling three hits in a shutout loss, the A's had that many in the first inning Sunday against Scott Kazmir, including Young's single with two outs and runners on first and second -- the kind of clutch hit that gone missing a lot for the A's recently. After the Indians tied the game 3-3 in the top of the fifth, Young then hit a tiebreaking homer off Kazmir in the bottom of the inning that ended up standing as the game-winner, though the A's tacked on three more runs in a 7-3 win.
The 2-for-4 day raised Young's average to .197. He's not the only A's outfielder that has struggled this year -- Yoenis Cespedes went hitless Sunday to drop his average to .229 and Josh Reddick has looked better recently but is still at .217 -- and something Reddick said recently about himself applies to Young too: With the A's in the thick of a playoff race, there'll be a lot of opportunities over the next month and a half to make everyone forget about the first four months of the season.
Young's contributions weren't limited to offense Sunday. In the eighth inning, he robbed Michael Brantley of extra bases and a possible RBI in a 5-3 game with a difficult catch in center field, ranging straight back while looking into the sun and reaching above his head at the last moment to catch Brantley's line drive.
"He had the trifecta as far as that went," manager Bob Melvin said. "He was dealing with a lot of variables right there and it ended up being a terrific catch."
Young, who reiterated that he can't let instances like the robbed home run frustrated him too much going forward, said of the catch: "When I felt like I got as far as I did, it was pretty much just a jump and throw my glove up there."
Reliever Ryan Cook, who was on the mound at that point, said that "off the bat, judging by the pitch I threw, I was honestly hoping it stayed in the yard."
"It never faded, never sliced, it stayed true and straight over his head and that's pretty much the toughest play," Cook said.
It ended the eighth preserving the two-run lead and had Cook waiting in front of the A's dugout to greet Young as he arrived. It was also the second highlight-reel play made by an A's outfielder in the game (and third of the series, after Reddick's throw to nail Drew Stubbs tagging up from second on Saturday night). Earlier, Cespedes threw out Nick Swisher trying to stretch a single into a double after fielding the one-hopper off the wall.
"That's how we win games, with a full team effort," Cook said.
"However we've got to get it done. If that means our pitchers are getting hit around the yard and we need our outfielders to throw guys out at bases, I guess we'll take it."
Tomorrow's game story focuses on Tommy Milone's return to the rotation in place of Bartolo Colon, whom the A's officially placed on the 15-day DL with a groin strain, and whether Milone feels like he's pitching for his job with the A's rotation suddenly looking pretty crowded for September. Along with Colon ostensibly returning, Brett Anderson is getting close to coming back from a foot fracture, and Melvin said the A's are "keeping our options open" about whether to place Anderson in the rotation or the bullpen.
Milone, who allowed three runs (one earned) in 4 2/3 innings Sunday while throwing 97 pitches, said he can't be thinking about his starts as auditions.
"I've just got to go out there and take it one game at a time, and hopefully they stick with me and hopefully I'm somewhere on this team, whether it's in the pen or still starting," Milone said. "Either way I'm going to go about my business."
Milone might have gotten out of the fifth inning with a two-run lead, but allowed the two unearned runs after Alberto Callaspo's throwing error allowed Drew Stubbs to reach with one out.
"If we make one more play it's a little different for him," Melvin said. "The pitch count was a little high so he probably doesn't get much deeper ... but he only walked one guy, was pretty efficient, had a better curveball today."
That was an eventful inning for Callaspo, who also hit his first home run as a member of the A's in the bottom of the fifth. That made it a 5-3 game and was part of a three-hit day for Callaspo, who came in 1-for-24 at the Coliseum since joining the A's.
"I was hitting the ball hard but wasn't having the luck," Callaspo said.
Asked if this could be a case of his luck turning, Callaspo said: "Hope so."
A note: The A's improved to 44-5 this season when they out-homer their opponent. They aren't hitting as many homers as they did last season, but they are making them count.
Dan Otero picked up the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings, getting the final out of the fifth after Milone left and stabilizing things for the bullpen, and now has a 1.42 ERA in 18 games since joining the A's.
Otero has mostly been used in the middle innings or late in games where the A's don't need their top relievers, but has also pitched well in higher-leverage situations like Sunday. Otero was closing at Triple-A Sacramento before coming to Oakland, which Melvin said may have helped.
"That kind of elevates your confidence when you're used consistently in that type of role. And then we've incrementally, based on performance, pushed him into a role now where he knows we feel good about him," Melvin said. "He's riding a lot of confidence."
Otero, meanwhile, said pitching in the closer role itself probably didn't have as much of an effect as the success he had there -- perfect in 15 save opportunities with a 0.99 ERA.
"I was able to springboard it up here," Otero said. "In the end you're trying to get ahead of hitters and get them out as quickly as possible. (When I come into a game) -- I don't really look at that."
Coco Crisp is expected back in the lineup Monday after being held out for seven games with a sore left wrist. That probably means only a one-day stay in the leadoff spot for Jed Lowrie, who is now 6-for-12 in three starts atop the A's lineup.
Lowrie said he hasn't changed his approach for his starts at leadoff outside of maybe the first at-bat, where he'll try to see a few more pitches. Otherwise, with lineup turnover: "You're only a leadoff hitter really one time."
Still, Lowrie singled in the first inning and doubled in the second Sunday, scored both times, and has reached base in 9 of 16 plate appearances batting leadoff this season with one sacrifice bunt. Not a bad fallback option.
No rest for the weary as the Seattle Mariners arrive Monday for a three-game series, having beaten the Rangers 4-3 on Sunday afternoon. The A's won't see Felix Hernandez, which is highly unusual, but do get 11-game winner Hisashi Iwakuma on Wednesday. Here are the pitching probables:
Monday: RHP Aaron Harang (5-10, 5.77) vs. RHP Jarrod Parker (8-6, 3.87)
Tuesday: LHP Joe Saunders (10-12, 4.87) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (1-1, 1.00)
Wednesday: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 2.95) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.76)