SAN FRANCISCO -- Josh Donaldson might have been looked at as arguing his case for inclusion in the Home Run Derby when he hit his 20th of the season in the sixth inning of the A’s 6-1 win over the Giants on Thursday afternoon. Turns out he didn’t need to. After the game, Donaldson said the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista had already texted him extending a formal invitation to compete in this year’s Derby in Minneapolis, which Donaldson was only too happy to accept.
The announcement came shortly after Thursday’s game and capped a successful day, and run of All-Star news overall, for the A’s, who took three out of four from the Giants over this Bay Bridge series and recorded their 58th win before the break for the first time ever. The A’s also matched their best record through 92 games in Oakland history, going 58-34 for the fourth time and first since 1990.
Donaldson, one of six A’s players headed to the All-Star Game (seven if you count recent arrival Jeff Samardzija, who was named to the N.L. team) gives the A’s two competitors in this year’s Derby. He joins Yoenis Cespedes, who won the event last year.
"It’s definitely pretty neat," Donaldson said. "It’s just going to be one of those things that for me adds icing to the cake, and hoping to go there and put on a show."
Donaldson, who was elected to start the All-Star Game as the A.L. third baseman, said he didn’t have any reservations about participating in the Home Run Derby thinking it might affect his swing for the second half.
"In (batting practice) I like to hit homers, too," he said. "It’s just going to be another run of batting practice, except with a lot more people watching."
While third-base coach Mike Gallego will pitch to Cespedes in the Derby for the second year in a row, Donaldson said he’ll have A’s bullpen coach Darren Bush throwing to him. It’s meaningful for both of them -- Bush was Donaldson’s first manager in the A’s minor-league system, and managed the third baseman at every level from High-A to Triple-A.
"I remember hitting off him back in the minor leagues, and it’s going to be great for the journey that both of us have made up here," Donaldson said. "We’ve been through a lot of battles together."
Bush, who’s about as understated as it gets in baseball, said of Donaldson: "I’m excited for him. It’s great to see him not only make the All-Star team, well deserving, but to get an opportunity to do (the Derby), I’m happy as can be for him." Bush demurred when asked whether he’s at all nervous accompanying Donaldson onto the All-Star stage.
"It’s about JD," Bush said.
Catcher Stephen Vogt joked there would be some "friendly wagers" cropping up among the A’s with two teammates now vying for the Derby title. "It is fun to see two of your teammates get to put their skills on display," Vogt said. "JD and Cespy both have such raw power. It’s going to be a fun week."
Perhaps the only person not overly excited by the news was A’s manager Bob Melvin, who has already acknowledged some concern over Cespedes competing in the Derby due to the number and effort of swings involved. Melvin could only smile when asked about having a second player in the event.
"Just another thing to worry about," he said, "but you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes too. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I hope they enjoy it, and they come back in one piece."
* Not that Melvin had much to be unhappy about Thursday afternoon, as the A’s loaded up their bus heading for the airport and a flight to Seattle for their final series before the All-Star Break.
They got another strong pitching performance from Scott Kazmir (seven scoreless) in his final start before the break, touched up Giants right-hander Tim Hudson for six runs over 5 1/3 innings and improved upon the majors’ best record with their 11th win in 15 games. Several players were asked afterward to assess what the A’s have done in the first half, and the prevailing sense was that they don’t feel like they’ve played above their heads.
"We knew what we were capable of doing coming out of spring training," Kazmir said. "And just kind of everything fell into place. Guys do what they’re supposed to do, we grind out every at-bat and go out there and feel like we can win every game."
Still, there likely weren’t many who foresaw this kind of first half from Kazmir. The left-hander, who is headed for his third All-Star Game, has allowed one or zero runs in 11 of his 19 starts this season. Thursday was his sixth outing of six or more innings without an earned run. Kazmir ends the first half with a 2.38 ERA, 108 strikeouts in 117 1/3 innings and a WHIP of 0.98. He has 11 wins -- two shy of his career high for a full season.
Bee columnist Marcos Breton will have more on Kazmir in Friday’s paper, but here was Melvin when asked if Kazmir should start the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Minneapolis:
"That’s not my call. There are probably several guys that they’re choosing from. But he would definitely be in the mix."
And Donaldson on Kazmir:
"He was great again. A couple innings he kind of battled out of some trouble, but for the most part just did what he normally does, and that’s get outs and put up zeroes."
Arguably the only hiccup for Kazmir came when home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called time out just as Kazmir had started his delivery in the fifth. Kazmir stopped his motion abruptly and appeared to favor his left leg briefly, walking around the mound shaking it, before play resumed and he struck out Brandon Hicks on a 94 mph fastball.
"It was just something kind of tweaked a little bit," Kazmir said. "But felt fine after that.
"If I would have done it over again, I would’ve actually thrown the baseball. (But) it was nothing. Just a quick little tweak and get right back to it."
* Tomorrow’s print game story, meanwhile, focuses on Vogt, who had two more hits on Thursday to extend his career-high hitting streak to 10 games. During the streak, he has batted .457 (16-for-35), and he had what Melvin called the biggest at-bat of the game on Thursday with his bases-loaded, two-out single off Javier Lopez in the sixth.
It followed Lopez retiring Derek Norris on a fly ball too shallow to drive in Jed Lowrie from third, and gave the A’s a 6-0 lead. Lopez is notoriously tough on lefties, and Vogt first fouled off a tough slider away before getting a sinker in that he lined to center field.
"His at-bats have been phenomenal," Melvin said of Vogt, who’s batting .367 since being called up June 1. "His versatility (on defense), we’ve really needed it here with some of the injuries we’ve had. He’s been a star for us."
Vogt, who caught regularly for the A’s in the second half and playoffs last year but didn’t crack the opening day roster with both Norris and John Jaso healthy, explained his recent success this way:
"I feel like myself, to be quite honest. I was really hungry to come back to the big leagues this time, knowing I had some success last year when I came up, and being comfortable up here. It feels like I’m just playing baseball again. It doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh man, I’m in the big leagues.’ It feels like I’m playing baseball."
Vogt did admit to feeling some awe, though, playing at AT&T Park, where he said his parents had season tickets for six years and he used to attend 20-30 games a season.
"As a kid this was my dream stadium," Vogt said. "I grew up watching Barry Bonds and J.T. Snow hitting in that left-handed batters’ box, so to get to do it myself was a pretty special moment for me these last two days."
Vogt said his parents’ seats were "about halfway down the third-base line. Great seats."
"Just a lot of memories here," he said. "And a lot of dreams coming true for a little kid that used to sit up in the stands at Pac Bell."
* The Home Run Derby news aside, Donaldson had an encouraging day at the plate with two hits to push his average back up to .241 after it had dipped below .240 for the first time since April 13. His home run off Hudson was a high fly ball that carried just over the wall in right field, and he also singled to the opposite field in the fourth.
"That’s when he’s going good is when he’s hitting some balls the other way," Melvin said. "It means he’s tracing the ball a little better and not trying to do too much."
On the homer, Donaldson said he was looking for a pitch away to hit to right with a man on second base, and that Hudson threw him a cutter that "I was able to drive and hit out of the park."
"I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball somewhat to right field," Donaldson said. "But it’s kind of been more like a guide, versus trying to drive pitches. (Hitting coach Chili Davis) and I have really been grinding the last few days trying to stay on my back side and let the ball get on me deep, and when it gets there put a nice swing on it."
* The Giants, meanwhile, lost for the 19th time in their last 23 games at home and enter their final series before the break still searching for the offensive consistency they had for the first two months of the season, when they were playing to baseball’s best record.
Hunter Pence had two hits Thursday for his 34th multi-hit game of the season, most in the National League. But the rest of the lineup managed just four hits total and one for extra bases -- Gregor Blanco’s double in the fifth. The Giants were spared a shutout by Pablo Sandoval’s RBI single in the eighth off Dan Otero, but with two runners still on and one out, Buster Posey struck out and Michael Morse lined out to left field.
Hudson has also dropped off some after his excellent start. The right-hander has lost his last four decisions, posting a 6.07 ERA in 29 2/3 innings over his last five starts. It was only the fourth time this season Thursday that Hudson hasn’t completed six innings and the A’s touched him for four consecutive extra-base hits in the sixth -- the first time that has happened in Hudson’s career.
* The A’s now head to Seattle for the weekend, while the Giants stay home and host the Diamondbacks. The pitching probables for the A’s-Mariners series:
Friday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 1.29) vs. RHP Felix Hernandez (10-2, 2.11)
Saturday: RHP Jesse Chavez (7-5, 3.06) vs. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (7-4, 3.07)
Sunday: RHP Sonny Gray (9-3, 2.97) vs. RHP Chris Young (8-5, 3.08)
And for the Giants-Diamondbacks:
Friday: RHP Mike Bolsinger (1-5, 5.13) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (8-5, 3.91)
Saturday: LHP Wade Miley (4-6, 4.43) vs. RHP Ryan Vogelsong (5-6, 3.92)
Sunday: RHP Chase Anderson (6-4, 3.64) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (9-7, 3.36)