OAKLAND – It seems that Jesse Chavez crossed a bridge on June 13.
He had been on his second tour of duty with the A's this season when he was asked to carry the team on his back in what turned out to be an 18-inning, 3-2 win over the Yankees in Oakland.
A's manager Bob Melvin had gone through most of his bullpen when Hideki Okajima got in trouble in the 13th inning. The Yankees opened with a double and a walk, and after Okajima got one out, Chavez was summoned from the bullpen.
His job? To keep the Yankees from scoring, because at that point, the A's had had just two baserunners in the previous nine innings. His reaction? To strike out Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells to end the threat.
Chavez went on to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings that afternoon. He allowed one hit and two walks, and retired the final 13 batters he faced before Nate Freiman delivered the winning hit in the 18th.
It was that game as much as any other that enabled Chavez to feel he was finally part of the scene in Oakland. He had been up in the final weeks of the 2012 season but hadn't pitched much and hadn't been particularly effective. And he had been up in April, but he hadn't been able to compel the A's to keep him around.
He has made his case now. Since being called up for a second time on May 10, Chavez has pitched in 20 games (20 2/3 innings) with a 1-1 record and a 1.74 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .151 off him since the second call-up, and Melvin is starting to go to him in more significant situations.
That's a major change for a journeyman who was in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas City and Toronto before being traded to the A's from the Blue Jays last Aug. 24.
"I'm starting to really get comfortable here," the 29-year-old right-hander said. "It's easier to go out on the mound and pitch when you also feel comfortable in the clubhouse. It's good to be loose and relaxed. They see my personality in the clubhouse now."
It wasn't always that way for Chavez. Last year, after coming over from the Blue Jays, he first went to the River Cats, then got called up in September. Again in April after a good spring, he wasn't quite the pitcher he wanted to be.
Part of it was the fact that he had been starting in the minors and the A's were asking him to be the long reliever, if needed.
"This is the first time when I've been myself on the mound – calm, not rattled by anything," he said. "Before this, I was trying to do too much. Instead of aggressively attacking the strike zone, I was nibbling. It was hurting me.
"I guess you could say I tried to do too well. Now I'm out there just letting the results happen."
The A's have been so impressed that they sent Okajima out after the 18-inning game so they could keep Chavez. He was unable to throw for two days after that, but he made a positive impression.
In his next game back, Chavez gave up a homer to the first batter he saw, Nelson Cruz of Texas, and took the loss, but that has been an anomaly in perhaps the best series of games in his career.
And with Sunday's demotion of Dan Straily to the River Cats, the A's now don't have a fifth starter. They can bring Straily back when he's needed on July 6, but as an option they have Chavez, who is used to starting and who is starting to make a difference with the A's.