OAKLAND -- Billy Butler remarked Sunday that, when you look at the scoreboard during a Jesse Chavez start, "He’s got a low 3.00 (ERA) and nine losses -- he’s had a tough-luck season."
The A’s have had their two biggest scoring outbursts this season in games started by Chavez: A 16-2 win over the San Diego Padres in June, and Sunday’s 14-1 rout over Minnesota, in which the A’s hit a season-high five home runs.
That’s 30 runs in two Chavez outings. In the right-hander’s other 14 starts, the A’s have scored a total of 40.
It’s the main reason Chavez has a 5-9 record despite his 3.21 ERA. He benefited from a windfall of support Sunday -- but the more encouraging aspect of his outing were likely his six scoreless innings, coming in the wake of several rough outings leading into the All Star Break.
Chavez had a 4.85 ERA in June and a 6.35 mark in two July starts before the Break, conjuring some memories of his second-half drop-off last year. But A’s manager Bob Melvin said the right-hander looked rejuvenated on Sunday.
"The break probably helped him," Melvin said. "It looked like he was a little worn down, and then you look up and I saw a couple 93 (mph pitches) today, life on the cutter again, a good changeup today … It was similar to what we saw earlier in the year from him."
Chavez said he caught himself "thinking about mechanics" during some of his outings before the break, but felt "more comfort, relaxed" on Sunday. He had one long inning in the fourth, when he allowed a double to Joe Mauer, walked Trevor Plouffe and hit Aaron Hicks with two outs. But Chavez got Shane Robinson to fly out to deep left, stranding the only runners to reach scoring position against him.
"I felt good, felt refreshed," Chavez said. "I felt a little awkward out there as far as a little bit off the first couple innings. But it was just by a couple inches. After that it felt normal again."
Chavez had a nine-day layoff between starts because of the All-Star Break. Catcher Josh Phegley said his early command issues were likely a result of "just trying to be too fine."
"We knew (the Twins are) really aggressive and we knew we could probably live on the corners, maybe a little off, and get swings," Phegley said. "But they were kind of taking some of those pitches early. I just told him he’s got good enough stuff, good enough movement, just throw strikes and make them be aggressive."
Through six innings, Chavez had nine strikeouts -- two shy of his season high -- and had thrown 93 pitches. With the A’s winning in a blowout, Melvin decided that was enough.
"It was good to get him a nice outing like that," Melvin said. "Cut him short a little pitch-wise, and get him in a positive frame of mind going forward."
* The A’s five home runs were their most in a game since last May 26, when they hit five in a 10-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. Ironically, their starting pitcher that day was Tommy Milone, the left-hander who started for the Twins on Sunday and gave up the A’s first three homers.
Jake Smolinski hit his first two home runs in an A’s uniform, and more on his game and contributions this weekend can be found here. Billy Butler, meanwhile, homered for the second consecutive game and has four in last 15 games after hitting just two home runs in his previous 56 games.
Phegley also homered, his fifth in his last 17 games, and is now slugging .571 this season against left-handed pitching. The A’s struggles against left-handed starters -- they’re now 6-17 when opponents start a lefty -- have been baffling, but Melvin said he thinks Sunday was an illustration of the right-handed lineup’s potential.
"We knew that a lot of these guys do have the power to be productive," Melvin said. "Billy’s started swinging it a lot better here recently, hit the ball out of the big part of the park … Certainly we felt like we have the guys to be able to be consistent against lefties. We have been in spurts, just haven’t been as consistent as we’d like up to this point."
* Smolinski was brought in to give the A’s a boost against left-handed pitching, and they face two in their next two games, in Toronto’s Mark Buehrle and Felix Doubront. That should mean more playing time for the newcomer to the A’s outfield, though he said after his first career two-homer game Sunday that he won’t be searching the schedule for left-handed opponents.
"I’m not really getting caught up in matchups or when I’m not playing or when I am," Smolinski said. "Just trying to be ready."
* Something that Melvin was not asked about after the game: The win was his 368th as manager of the A’s, which ties him with Ken Macha for third-most in Oakland history. He has a ways to go to catch second-place Art Howe (600) and leader Tony La Russa (798).
* Despite dropping game one of this series with ace Sonny Gray on the mound, the A’s stole the series with a walk-off win Saturday and a rout in the finale. With Sunday’s win, they actually moved percentage points ahead (at 43-51) of the Seattle Mariners (42-50) in the A.L. West. When they wake up Monday, it will be just the second day they’ve spent out of last place in the division since May 7.
"It’s just putting together streaks," Melvin said Sunday, "getting on a win streak."
They’ll try to continue this one against the Toronto Blue Jays, who arrive to start a three-game series on Tuesday. The pitching probables:
Tuesday: RHP Kendall Graveman (6-5, 3.38) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (10-5, 3.34)
Wednesday: RHP Sonny Gray (10-4, 2.29) vs. LHP Felix Doubront (1-0, 4.50)
Thursday: LHP Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.38) vs. RHP Drew Hutchinson (9-2, 5.19)