– Toward the end of last season, those following the A’s started to see Josh Donaldson getting more starts in the No. 2 spot in the order, with Jed Lowrie behind him. That plan, meant partly to get Donaldson more at-bats and batting behind leadoff hitter Coco Crisp, continued into the first week of this season -- and has already changed.
Manager Bob Melvin has more recently slotted Lowrie and Donaldson second and third, respectively, and the flip has borne results. Donaldson is batting .345 with all four of his home runs and 12 RBIs in the No. 3 spot, compared to a .115 average hitting second. Lowrie also has a higher average batting third (.316) than second (.268), but has drawn more walks in the No. 2 spot (nine) and scored 10 of his 14 runs there.
The logic was on display Sunday in the A’s 4-1 win over the Astros. Lowrie reached base three times on two singles and a walk. Each time, Donaldson had a hit behind him. In the first, Donaldson hit a two-run homer. In the seventh, Lowrie singled to put two on with one out for Donaldson, who drove in a run with a double (Lowrie later scored on a passed ball).
"He gets on base a lot," Donaldson said of Lowrie. "And he hits a lot of doubles, so he gets into scoring position, which is always nice."
Since a slow start, Donaldson’s numbers have been inching upward -- he’s batting .272 with four homers and 13 RBIs. Lowrie, meanwhile, has shown he’s comfortable hitting just about anywhere in the lineup during his time in Oakland.
Melvin said the order is always up for evaluation, "So at times we’ll try to look at whose on-base percentage for a certain period of time is good, and then who your guys are (that) you want to knock them in.
"There’s times where Jed’s swinging the bat well and knocking runs in and we might do some things a little different," Melvin said. "But so far, so good."
Chavez has pitched at least six innings while allowing one earned run in each of his first four starts to begin the year. According to the A’s, he is the first pitcher in franchise history since at least 1914 to do so after beginning the season on the Opening Day roster. Not bad for a stopgap solution to the rotation’s injury problems this spring.
Chavez wasn’t at his sharpest Sunday -- he walked three, one more than in his first three starts combined -- but worked around that and another A’s error against an Astros lineup that has the worst team average in baseball. Said Melvin:
"(He was) pulling some cutters off the plate, just wasn’t as sharp as he normally is. But that’s really the mark of a good pitcher -- when you don’t have your best stuff, you’re fighting yourself some, and really at times you’re the biggest opponent. To be able to give us six innings like he did and one run was pretty fantastic."
"Our pitchers have done a great job of picking us up," Donaldson said. "Anytime there’s been a mistake, they’ve done a great job of getting the next out."
Next up is the Rangers, whom many are already talking about as the main challenger to the A’s in the West (or vice versa, depending on your point of view). The A’s will see both Darvish (and his 0.82 ERA) and left-hander Martin Perez (who’s 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA) in the three-game series. But a couple of A’s players said it’s too early to make too much of this meeting.
"I think it’ll be a barometer for both of us," Donaldson allowed.
"Not a big deal," said catcher John Jaso. "Toward the end of the season, if we’re neck and neck going into the playoffs, it’d be a bigger deal. Right now it’s kind of all thrown together."
Doesn’t mean it won’t be intriguing. Here are the projected pitching matchups: