OAKLAND – Nate Freiman's status as a major leaguer could best have been described as tenuous after the A's claimed him off waivers in late March.
As a former Rule 5 draft pick, Freiman, who had never played above Double A, needs to spend the entire season on the A's active roster or be offered back to the San Diego Padres, who put him up for the Rule 5 draft after the 2012 season.
Not only does Freiman remain in Oakland as the right-handed half of the A's first-base platoon, he has made himself a thorn in the side of the team that took him in the Rule 5 draft and then waived him in spring training, the Houston Astros.
Freiman had four hits and drove in four runs in a 5-0 win over the Astros on Thursday, helping the A's avoid a sweep against last-place Houston. Freiman's offensive punch provided enough support for fellow rookie Sonny Gray, the touted prospect who earned his first major-league win with eight scoreless innings.
All four of Freiman's RBIs came against Astros starter Erik Bedard, on a two-run double in the first inning and a two-run homer in the third, and he singled twice for a career-high four hits. Freiman is 9 for 22 against the Astros this season with three doubles, all three of his homers and 10 of his 22 RBIs. Against Bedard, he's 4 for 5 with two homers and seven RBIs.
The soft-spoken Duke University product shot down any notion he carries a grudge against Houston, for which he batted .278 in 19 spring training games. He said his career day was more a product of "a lot of work in the cage (Thursday) morning" with coaches Chili Davis and Ariel Prieto.
The four hits helped lift Freiman's average to .315 since May 1, and he's now hitting .319 against left-handed pitching. It's what the A's hoped for when they added him as a complement to left-handed-hitting Brandon Moss. Even with two-thirds of the season complete, Freiman said he still doesn't consider his roster spot secured.
"Definitely not comfortable," Freiman said. "I have to get my work in every day. There's no comfort in this game. You have a good day and it earns you the ability to have your jersey in your locker again tomorrow."
Freiman's will be there today, as will Gray's, who introduced himself to the Coliseum fans in his first home start by holding the Astros to four hits in eight innings while striking out nine. Gray, a baby-face 23-year-old right-hander, held Houston to a single and a walk in the first five innings and didn't allow a runner into scoring position until the seventh.
"He really didn't even get locked in until the top of the third, and then all of a sudden he was off to the races," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's got plus-everything, great disposition on the mound, very confident kid, athletic, as you saw some of the plays he made coming off the mound, too. A very impressive performance."
Melvin said Gray, the A's first-round pick in 2011, brings to mind Tim Hudson with his shorter stature and mid-90s fastball with movement, though Gray complements it with a curveball and changeup. Gray said he appreciated the comparison, along with the three-run lead after the first inning and Melvin's confidence to leave him in for 118 pitches, a season high at any level.
"It sunk in kind of right now," Gray said of his first win while standing in front of his locker, where the A's lineup card from Thursday and a box of game baseballs sat for posterity. "This is a great feeling.
"I'm glad we could come away with a win after losing the last two nights – I feel like that was big, and hopefully we can go on a roll now."
After Jonathan Villar's one-out double in the eighth, Gray struck out Robbie Grossman on a full-count curveball and retired Brett Wallace on a comebacker, flipping the ball to Freiman before walking off to a standing ovation.
Freiman said he "was getting into it," too, watching Gray try to complete the eighth, having faced his new teammate last year in the Texas League.
"We were all like, man, this guy's good," said Freiman, who was playing for the Padres' Double-A affiliate in San Antonio. "I'm happy for him, and it was a great day for the team, but none of us are surprised. We all know that's the kind of pitcher he is."