Oakland A's

Danny Valencia bats cleanup for A’s against Astros’ Dallas Keuchel

It’s a very small sample size, but among players with at least nine at-bats against Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, no one has a higher career batting average than Danny Valencia, who is 5 for 9 with a home run.

That’s why Valencia is making his first start in the cleanup spot for the A’s in Friday night’s marquee pitching matchup between Keuchel and Oakland right-hander Sonny Gray, a showdown of arguably the front-runners in the American League Cy Young race.

The A’s struggles against left-handed starters this season have been well-documented – they’re 8-20 when opponents start a left-hander. Manager Bob Melvin was asked about that Thursday and said simply that some A’s hitters haven’t performed as well as expected against left-handed pitching.

The A’s have tried temporary fixes – Jake Smolinski was a brief boost before returning to Triple A. Now they’re looking at Valencia, claimed Aug. 3 off waivers from the Blue Jays. With Valencia in the lineup Friday at third base, Brett Lawrie shifts to second. Melvin said Lawrie was receptive to the move.

“That can be tough on a guy that’s solidified himself into one particular position, to ask him to move over in the second half of the season,” Melvin said. “It’s one thing if you’re in first place. It’s another thing if you’re not. But he was great about it.”

Lawrie has previous experience at second base and said he’s open to moving around if it helps the team. The position offers a few differences – more ground to cover, more room to range to his right, the tricky double-play turn – but Melvin said Lawrie can adapt.

“You see the type of athlete he is, covers a lot of ground, could probably play shortstop if he wanted to,” Melvin said. “The other night, he looked like a natural (at second).”

The A’s lineup against Keuchel:

CF Burns

LF Crisp

2B Lawrie

3B Valencia

DH Butler

C Phegley

SS Semien

1B Canha

RF Fuld

And the Astros’ lineup against Gray:

2B Altuve

CF Gomez

SS Correa

3B Lowrie

RF Rasmus

DH Gattis

LF Tucker

1B Valbuena

C Castro

▪ Josh Reddick probably was going to be off against Keuchel anyway – he’s 1 for 15 against the Astros left-hander – but Melvin said Reddick’s back is “still bothering him a little bit.” And with a day game Saturday, that cemented the decision.

“It’s a good day to give him a day (off),” Melvin said.

▪ Reliever Sean Doolittle starts his rehab assignment with High-A Stockton on Friday night. Melvin said Doolittle then will have two days off before pitching again.

▪ Eric Sogard’s ill-advised, errant flip to second Thursday night was his first error in 52 games as a second baseman. On a team that has struggled defensively this season, Sogard likely is the most sure-handed infielder. He ranks second among American League second basemen with a .992 fielding percentage behind the Twins’ Brian Dozier.

“It’s just shocking when you see him make an error,” Melvin said. “But pretty good run he had.”

▪ We covered the Gray-Keuchel matchup in today’s Bee, but Melvin was asked about it before the game, including whether Gray gets more motivated when facing a fellow ace. Melvin said he didn’t want to speak for Gray but implied the hyper-competitive 25-year-old has a little more fuel.

“He’s already made All-Star teams; he’s already pitched in high-profile games; he loves to pitch in those type games,” Melvin said. “This is one of those games where if you have an MLB (TV) package and you’re looking around for a game of the night, this is probably one to watch.”