OAKLAND -- The A’s had a hitter named Billy beat out two infield singles Wednesday night in their 16-2 blowout win over the Padres. But it wasn’t Burns -- it was Butler.
"I had asked him (earlier) if he was sore from playing the field (on Tuesday)," Burns, the A’s speedy leadoff hitter, said of Butler, the designated hitter who goes by the nickname of Country Breakfast.
"We just talked about how he’d ran a lot the last two days. So he’s going to be probably sore tomorrow, too."
Butler probably won’t mind a little extra stretching after his 4-for-5 night against the Padres, which included a three-run homer in the first inning that was just his second in his last 49 games. Butler added three singles, two on choppers up the middle that he turned into hits despite Padres second baseman Corey Spangenberg knocking them down.
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"Back when I first came up those would’ve been just clean singles up the middle," Butler said. "Even though they weren’t hit the hardest, they were right over the bag, would’ve been up the middle. But these shifts now, you’ve got the second baseman covering the middle and you’ve got to leg ’em out."
That kind of answer reflects a player whose job is basically to be a professional hitter -- one reason Butler has tried to maintain a long-range view the past couple months as he felt like the hits weren’t falling. After batting .287 in April, the player the A’s signed to anchor the middle of their lineup batted .241 in May and was hitting .190 in June going into Wednesday’s game.
Butler said Wednesday he feels he has "put the barrel on a lot of balls so far and (hasn’t) gotten good results." But he took some confidence out of his at-bats the last few games -- a pinch-hit single Monday and four walks in his last two starts. Before Wednesday’s game, Butler was driving balls deep into the Coliseum seats during batting practice, and manager Bob Melvin remarked afterward that it was a "really good" session for Butler.
Butler came up for his first at-bat against Odrisamer Despaigne with two runners on and two outs and hit a 1-1 pitch for a towering home run to left field. That gave the A’s a 4-0 lead, and they made it a blowout in the later innings.
"Two-out RBIs and stuff like that are hard to come by, those pick teams up," Butler said. "We just started feeing off each other, hit some balls hard, found some holes … To pick the boys up, that’s big because I haven’t had the greatest first half. But these types of things turn around. It’s a long season.
"I just needed a couple good things to happen, and it has. You just feel more comfortable trying to go up there and drive the ball whenever you’re getting your hits."
Butler’s four-hit game was his first since last Aug. 5 and helped lead a 20-hit barrage by the A’s. Both that number and their 16 runs were season-highs, and they tied their season-high Wednesday with their fourth consecutive win. Coupled with the Boston Red Sox losing, the A’s came away from the night not burdened with the worst record in the American League.
It was a positive if small step for the A’s -- somewhat like the burst of foot-speed separating a groundout from an infield hit.
"I’ll take ’em any way I can get ’em," Butler said of the infield singles. "Makes up for lineouts I already had."
* Leading 5-1 after the sixth inning, the A’s scored a combined 11 runs in the seventh and eighth. Every starter had at least one hit. All except the leadoff hitter Burns drove in at least one run, and all scored at least once except for catcher Stephen Vogt.
Burns collected three more hits to raise his average to .316, including a .340 average during a span in which he has hit safely in 20 of 21 games. He was hit by a pitch on the right knee in the second inning and required a visit from the A’s trainer and a couple of warm-up trips down the first-base line before staying in the game.
"Just trying to get my leg back under me," Burns said. "After I ran a little bit, I was fine. It felt fine, it went back to normal."
Ben Zobrist also had three hits, including a double and a triple, legging out both on the knee on which he had arthroscopic surgery seven weeks ago. Melvin talked before the game about how Zobrist has looked closer to 100 percent lately, and Zobrist appeared to be running full-speed on both extra-base hits.
"We need Zob," Melvin said after the game. "And it seems like when he swings the bat well and he’s playing well, we tend to play a little better."
With Butler struggling lately and Vogt falling off a little from his torrid start, Melvin had Zobrist batting cleanup Wednesday. Having an effective right-handed hitter (or switch in Zobrist’s case) to slot in between Josh Reddick and Vogt in the middle of the order is key for Melvin when making out his lineup.
* Though most of the runs were scored after he’d already thrown his final pitch, the beneficiary of the offense was right-hander Jesse Chavez -- which was ironic, as Chavez went into the game with the lowest average run support (1.76 per start) this season of any pitcher in the majors.
"I’m sure he was thinking, ‘Why don’t you save a few of these for me a little bit later?’" Melvin joked. "‘You don’t have to do it all in one day.’"
Chavez entered the game with a 2-6 record despite his 2.64 ERA. And he didn’t just coast on the scoring windfall Wednesday: Chavez set a new career-high with 11 strikeouts, and allowed one run on three hits in seven innings.
"Different in the way he pitched tonight," Melvin said. "This was the best changeup we have ever seen him throw, and he threw a bunch of them tonight."
Chavez said he felt the changeup working even in the bullpen before the start, and said Vogt began calling for more when he realized how much it was moving. According to FanGraphs, Chavez had thrown his changeup 16.1 percent of the time before Wednesday.
Per MLB.com’s Gametracker -- which did not track his pitches in the seventh -- Chavez threw 23 changeups out of 93 total pitches in the first six innings, including eight that resulted in swinging strikes and six more that were either fouled off or taken for strikes.
"It just tonight happened to be a night where the cutter wasn’t there, and that (changeup) happened to be there," Chavez said. "That was the big key."
The lone run Chavez allowed came when Alexi Amarista jumped his first-pitch fastball in the sixth for a home run to right. It was the fourth homer Chavez has allowed this year in 78 2/3 innings -- a definite improvement over last season, when he allowed 17 home runs in 146 innings.
Asked if he could explain the drop, Chavez said: "I don’t know, it’s just, things change year to year. Sequences change year to year, hitters get a better approach, things like that … I just think it’s not falling in a funk myself and trusting every pitch. Not saying that wasn’t the case last year, it just happened to be like that."
Another trend last year was Chavez’s overall numbers declining in the second half as his workload increased. So it was another good sign when Wednesday night, Chavez threw as his 103rd and final pitch a 93 mile per hour fastball to strike out Spangenberg for the last out of the seventh inning.
"That’s a good sign that the four days in between (starts) are paying off," Chavez said, "being able to stay fresh, having a good throwing program."
Chavez lowered his season ERA to 2.52, second among A’s starters only to Sonny Gray’s league-leading 1.60.
"You can look at his record and say, wow, how does a guy have that kind of ERA with that kind of record?" Butler said. "We just haven’t give him enough support so far. But we’ve got a long year left."
* A few injury notes from pre-game: First, Ike Davis was scheduled to play nine innings with Triple-A Nashville on Wednesday night. Melvin said the A’s want to see Davis play nine innings on consecutive days before they consider activating him, but that reports on Davis (strained left quad) have been "real good."
Reliever Edward Mujica (fractured finger) is scheduled to pitch Thursday with Single-A Stockton. Melvin said he didn’t want to put a date on Mujica’s return, but indicated this weekend isn’t out of the question.
Reliever Pat Venditte (strained right shoulder) is doing strengthening work but still not throwing, and the A’s won’t have a timetable for his return until he starts playing catch.
* Finally, the A’s had a short flight home after playing Tuesday against the Padres in San Diego -- meaning they landed back in the Bay Area in time to catch the second half of the Golden State Warriors’ clinching win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Melvin is, of course, a huge Warriors fan, and before he took any questions about the A’s before Wednesday’s game, he took a moment to compliment the new NBA champions.
"That’s pretty remarkable," Melvin said. "Probably has to go down as one of the great NBA seasons of all time. Congratulations to all."
Marcus Semien, who grew up in the East Bay, said his grandmother used to take him to Warriors games as a kid, and he marveled this season at how the team seemed to gain a national following after years as largely an NBA afterthought.
"In the past a lot of people would rather come to Oracle (Arena) just to see the other team play," Semien said. "Because like the Warriors had some good players, but they weren’t selling out like this, people weren’t coming to see them all the time.
"Now it doesn’t matter who they play -- they could be playing the last-place team in the East, and they’re still selling out ’cause people want to see Steph Curry and the Warriors play. That’s really what it’s all about."
Melvin said the team was following Game 6 over wireless internet on their flight back, and that he got home in time to watch the second half.
"There’ll be a parade in Oakland," he said with a smile. "It’ll be exciting on Friday."
There was the potential for excitement of a different kind Friday. A Game 7 would have overlapped with the A’s home game against the Los Angeles Angels -- a game that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is scheduled to attend AND that will have a post-game fireworks show. That would have made for one hectic night at the Coliseum Complex.
* This baseball equivalent of a home-and-home between the A’s and Padres ends on Thursday afternoon with A’s right-hander Kendall Graveman (3-3, 4.22) facing San Diego right-hander Ian Kennedy (3-5, 5.84). First pitch at 12:35 p.m.