Those who favor devaluing the win as a statistic could cite Sunday’s game at the Coliseum, where A’s reliever Ryan Dull, the winning pitcher, sought out starter Jesse Hahn and apologized.
“How great he pitched,” Dull said, “he deserved to get the win today, not me.”
Dull replaced Hahn in the eighth inning and allowed a tying home run, negating Hahn’s shutout. But designated hitter Billy Butler answered with a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth to give the A’s a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and ensure Hahn’s outing was not entirely wasted.
The A’s won their third consecutive series following the All-Star break and completed a 7-3 homestand by taking three of four from the Rays, who have the second-worst record (38-60) in the American League. At 45-54, Oakland climbed back within single digits of .500 for the first time since June 30.
“We’re getting a little more enthusiasm with some of these younger guys, and I think it’s rubbing off,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “To win every series on this homestand after a tough first half certainly we’re looking to be a springboard for us in the second half to play a lot better.”
Hahn was recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Sunday to make his first start for the A’s since June 8. He held the Rays to four hits in 7 2/3 innings, equaling the second-longest outing of his career. He held a 2-0 lead and had allowed just one runner to second base – Corey Dickerson’s double in the second inning – when he departed with two outs in the eighth.
“Good fastball, breaking ball kept them off balance, high velocity,” Melvin said. “Pitched similar to the way we saw him last year, when he was on a roll.”
Hahn was one of the A’s best starters for stretches of last season but started this season in Triple A after struggling mightily in spring training. In his first start for Oakland on April 30, he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Since then, he had an 8.04 ERA in six starts, leading to two separate demotions.
In Nashville, Melvin said, the A’s “made (Hahn) do a lot of difficult things” trying to regain his form. One tweak was having Hahn keep his hands low and close to his body during his windup – previously he sometimes raised them above his head during his high leg kick – to minimize movement and keep himself under control. He also had to rebuild confidence after being hit hard repeatedly at the major-league level.
“I just feel great right now,” Hahn said after Sunday’s outing. “I’ve been working on a lot of things in Nashville trying to get back to where I was last year. I think they’re all starting to come together and I’m kind of getting in that rhythm, getting in that groove.”
Melvin said “rhythm is one of the keys” for Hahn, and the term came up often in Hahn’s postgame media session. The right-hander said he “caught a good rhythm” with commanding his pitches. Hahn also noted his familiarity with catcher Bruce Maxwell, who made his first major-league start after being promoted from Nashville, saying the two were “able to get in that good rhythm.”
“For me, rhythm is stringing together some good starts and just feeling comfortable,” Hahn said. “And that’s what I’ve been feeling these last couple starts, is really comfortable on the mound again.”
Hahn left to a standing ovation with a runner on first and two outs in the eighth, a shutoutintact thanks to Jake Smolinski’s sprinting catch of Luke Maile’s deep drive to center field on Hahn’s 90th and final pitch.
Dull, though, bounced two sliders for wild pitches to send Kevin Kiermaier to third before leaving a fastball up to Logan Forsythe, who tied the score with his ninth home run.
It was just the third of 40 inherited runners Dull had allowed to score this year. Hahn said the pitching change was “the right decision … (Dull) has been perfect for us all year. It’s one of those weird things that happen.”
After the A’s scored walk-off wins the previous two days, Butler provided Sunday’s winning hit in the eighth, sending an 0-1 pitch from Erasmo Ramirez just over the wall in straightaway center. It was just the third home run this season and first since June 7 for Butler, who has struggled to adapt to a reduced role.
“It’s been tough for him this year,” Melvin said. “It’s tough for a guy that plays every day to try to get himself into a rhythm when he’s not. But that was a big hit today.”
It came too late for Hahn but made a winner of the A’s – and of Dull, who said he hopes this homestand set a tone for the team’s second half.
“Going into the break, we played well in Houston. We just didn’t finish,” Dull said. “It’s huge to take this momentum right from the get-go, just take it into the rest of the month and see where we go from there.”