OAKLAND -- It had been 25 games since Yoenis Cespedes homered for the A’s entering Wednesday night’s game against the Astros. Of course, with Cespedes defending his title in the Home Run Derby smack in the middle of that stretch, his career-long-tying drought might easily have gone overlooked.
Cespedes ended it Wednesday -- loudly. He drilled a three-run homer off Houston starter Brad Peacock in the second inning, then connected off Peacock again for a two-run shot in the fourth. It was his fifth career two-homer game, and with the two swings he tied his career-high five RBIs in the A’s 9-7 win.
It wasn’t all good news for Cespedes on Wednesday, however. Batting in the fifth inning, he took an awkward swing, fell and appeared to injure his right hand, eventually leaving the game in the seventh. Manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes has a sprained right thumb, and that X-rays came back negative.
Cespedes did not stay to address reporters after the game, but Melvin made it sound like Cespedes is day-to-day. "He did it when he fell," Melvin said. "We’ll see tomorrow."
Any injury causing Cespedes to miss games would be coming at a bad time, just when it appears the slugger is feeling good at the plate. After going hitless over 18 at-bats on the A’s last road trip, Cespedes is 8-for-21 (.381) on the current homestand, and Wednesday night displayed the power that has been missing lately.
The first home run off Peacock was to straightaway center field, while the second was a no-doubter to left, with Cespedes sitting on a breaking ball.
"He’s been real diligent in his batting practices, staying up the middle, the other way," Melvin said. "The first homer was to center field, so he’s aware that sometimes you try to do a little too much on the pull side and his strength is using the whole field."
Cespedes’ second homer put the A’s up 7-0 in what appeared to be a blowout, before the A’s nearly suffered a bullpen meltdown. With the Astros scoring five times in the eighth and bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate, Cespedes’ two swings loomed large, even after he himself had exited the game.
"He’s such a dynamic player that he is able to do so much more than just hit home runs," said shortstop Jed Lowrie. "But he’s the two-time Home Run Derby champion, so that’s what everyone wants to see out of him."
* In what now sounds like a broken record, the near-meltdown started with another poor outing from Jim Johnson. Entering in the eighth inning of a 9-2 game, Johnson faced four batters, all of whom reached on hits and all of whom eventually scored (one unearned).
Johnson’s ERA for the season is now 6.92. At 17 games at home, he’s allowed 19 earned runs in 14 innings for a 12.21 ERA. After the A’s played extra innings Tuesday night and Johnson didn’t pitch in that game, Melvin said his hope was that Johnson could pitch two innings Wednesday, entering with a seven-run lead. Instead, he didn’t record an out.
"It is what it is. He’s having a tough time," Melvin said.
"The (pitches) that are in the middle of the plate they’re hitting hard, then he gets 0-2 and gives up a bloop. He threw some pretty good changeups (tonight). But just not getting any outs at this point."
Johnson did catch a bad break when Jose Altuve led off with a chopper to third baseman Josh Donaldson, who threw wide to first, and Altuve knocked the ball out of Brandon Moss’ glove on a swipe tag attempt. But Johnson then allowed two sharp hits and a soft single, with the boos from the Coliseum crowd mounting on each development.
Johnson has reportedly drawn some trade interest, and given his struggles in virtually every situation in which Melvin has used him, there’s at least some question of whether those fans saw him in an A’s uniform for the last time Wednesday.
"It just seems like every ball right now is finding a hole," Lowrie said of Johnson. "It’s tough, you know, because you root for a guy like that. He’s working really hard and sometimes this game isn’t fair. It’s tough, because we all know how good of a pitcher he is, and I think he knows it. It’s just hard when it piles on like it has."
* The A’s got another brief scare with Moss appearing to hurt his left arm trying to put a swipe tag on Altuve. Moss’ glove flew off and he ran nearly halfway down the first-base line in pain before getting a long visit from a trainer, and eventually staying in the game.
Melvin said Moss actually had a stinger in his left bicep, which happened when Altuve jarred his arm backward. "For him to even admit it hurt means it hurt," Melvin said. "He is one of the toughest guys we have and never wants to admit anything as far as pain goes. He just needed some time for it to go away."
Moss said his arm "kind of went numb. It scared me." But he said the feeling came back fairly quickly. "It’s a little tight," he said after the game. "But it’s fine."
* Jesse Chavez had to wait a while for it to become official, but the right-hander earned his eighth win of the season, allowing two runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts. Chavez was pitching on 10 days’ rest after the A’s decided to push him back after the All-Star Break to ease his innings load, and Melvin said he thought that Chavez looked "rejuvenated" from the rest.
"The cutter really had some teeth on it tonight," Melvin said. "Threw some good change-ups, I think he mixed speeds pretty well tonight too. Not a guy you expect to get a bunch of strikeouts, but had that kind of stuff tonight."
Chavez agreed that his pitches early on "were a little bit crisper." He didn’t allow a hit until Matt Dominguez’s single in the fifth inning, and said when he gave up runs in the fifth and sixth innings he may have been nibbling too much.
One indication: Chavez threw 101 pitches before departing with two outs in the sixth. In the early part of the season Chavez was one of the A’s most efficient starters, but he has seen his pitch counts rise since June -- in his last 12 starts, Chavez has reached the 100-pitch mark eight times and only completed seven innings once.
Still, Chavez said his cutter felt better than it had in his last three or four starts, and he was pleasantly surprised by "being able to attack the zone right away" after his layoff. Arguably his biggest at-bat came against Altuve with runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth -- Altuve struck out waving at a cutter, one of two times that Chavez struck out a hitter who averages less than a strikeout per 10 at-bats.
"Overall I thought it was a good first step in the second half," Chavez said.
* Lowrie also homered off Peacock, a solo shot in the second inning, snapping his own 40-game drought. Lowrie is batting .358 with seven multiple-hit games over his last 14 games to raise his average to .238.
* When Cespedes exited in the seventh, he was replaced by Craig Gentry in left field. Gentry wound up making two key and nearly identical defensive plays on sinking fly balls that he had to charge and catch on a slide -- one by Dominguez with two runners aboard for the second out in the eighth, and one by Jason Castro leading off the ninth.
"To come in in a situation like that, it’s never ideal," Lowrie said. "But he stepped up and made two really good plays in big spots."
* Asked about the state of his bullpen for Thursday’s series finale, Melvin just shrugged and said: "Samardzija." In other words, the A’s could use a good, long outing from Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 3.27), who opposes Astros right-hander Scott Feldman (4-7, 4.30). First pitch at 12:35 p.m.