The A’s needed this when they arrived back at the Coliseum earlier this week, fresh off a nine-day, one-win East Coast swing that equaled the worst such trip for an MLB team since 2011 and dropped them to last place in the American League West.
Oakland responded by taking two of three from Cincinnati, flashing signs of a turnaround and — thanks to Mike Fiers — even brilliance.
Here’s a closer look at where this team stands now:
What rotation problem?
Three starting pitchers strung together three commendable starts against the Reds, although commendable is hardly the word for Fiers’ performance.
The 33-year-old right-hander threw his second career no-hitter Tuesday and it’s hard to choose the most incredible part of his feat: that he did it on 131 pitches, that it came after a nearly two-hour stadium light delay, or that it occurred after he allowed six runs in three of his last five outings.
Fiers’ improbable no-no launched that ghastly road trip straight into yesteryear and loosened up a much-too-tense Oakland clubhouse. Brett Anderson picked up where Fiers’ left off on Wednesday, and although a second no-hitter may have been too much to ask, Anderson impressed in a different way.
He surrendered four runs early, but evened out to last six innings and give his offense a chance. They cashed in, although it took 13 innings, when Stephen Piscotty smashed his first-career walk-off homer.
Then came Chris Bassitt, who is steadily proving to be a reliable option every fifth day. Bassitt cruised through 7 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on 93 pitches – while getting no help from the offense.
“He’s been on fire,” A’s shortstop Marcus Semien said. “Three runs, quality start. We just didn’t score for him. I looked up and he had 85 pitches through seven innings, or something like that. That’s all you can ask for.”
The trio combined for a 2.84 ERA in their three starts. If Frankie Montas and Aaron Brooks can stay the course, the A’s rotation could survive until the arms of Sean Manaea and Jesus Luzardo are healed.
Bats need a jolt
Jurickson Profar crushed two homers in two games in the series – a positive development for the struggling second baseman. And, of course, there was Piscotty’s walk-off dinger. Even so, the A’s managed just seven runs in the series.
“A normal day we’re able to spread [the offense] around the lineup,” Melvin said. “Even down at the bottom we can do some damage, it’s just not happening right now.”
The A’s were without Khris Davis for most of the series as he recovers from a left hip injury suffered in Pittsburgh (another bitter reminder of the past road trip) and Matt Olson is just a few games in after missing over a month recovering from surgery on his right hand. Olson has notched two hits in his last two games – including a bunt single to beat the shift on Wednesday – so there’s reasonable hope he will pick up where he left off last season.
“He’s just trying to get comfortable, see some pitches and put good swings on the one he does have a chance to do some damage with,” Melvin said.
No problems with this ’pen
The bullpen obviously wasn’t needed for Fiers’ no-hitter, but with extra-innings coming into play on Wednesday, they still got plenty of work in. A’s relievers combined to hurl nine and one-third scoreless innings this series, including seven shutout innings on Wednesday night.
“The bullpen has been unbelievably good,” Melvin said. “We get a sheet every night on how they look and I was shocked to see. There isn’t anybody down there that is unavailable.”
Lou Trivino and Liam Hendricks currently lead the bullpen with a 1.13 and 1.77 ERA, respectively. They are two of four A’s relievers with a sub-three ERA. The collective bullpen has been a workhorse as well – its 144 innings pitched is the sixth-most in baseball.