Oakland A's

A’s Jesse Chavez ‘on a mission’ to avoid second-half letdown

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jesse Chavez throws in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in Oakland.
Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jesse Chavez throws in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in Oakland. The Associated Press

Already at 104 pitches through six innings of his outing last Thursday in Toronto, A’s starter Jesse Chavez felt he could still pitch deeper into the game, and he told manager Bob Melvin as much. But with the A’s down by four runs, Melvin took Chavez out anyway, and gave the right-hander his reasoning.

“I said, ‘Look, we’ll save it for an inning when we need you a little bit more,’” Melvin said. “He had some pitches left. At certain times you want to make sure he’s ready for that time when you really need him.”

And that was how Chavez came to still be on the mound in the eighth inning Wednesday afternoon, trying to protect a one-run lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With a man on second and two outs, Melvin left Chavez in to face the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, who in the third inning had driven a Chavez cutter over the wall in right field for a two-run homer.

116 Career-high number of pitches thrown by Jesse Chavez

Chavez had thrown 113 pitches, a career high, as Rollins stepped into the batter’s box. He fired two fastballs past Rollins to get ahead in the count, 0-2. And then he threw a big-breaking curveball that Rollins swung over for strike three to end the inning. It preserved a narrow A’s lead in a game they went on to win 5-2, sweeping their two-game series against the Dodgers at the O.co Coliseum, and as Chavez walked toward the home dugout he clenched his fists and screamed.

It wasn’t only the immediacy of retiring Rollins that fueled Chavez’s reaction. This time last year, Chavez was pitching in a relief role for the A’s, relegated to the bullpen after a strong first half as a starter because of a drop in performance. The accepted explanation is that Chavez, who had spent most of his career as a reliever, simply wore down after the All-Star break. It was not something Chavez wanted to have happen again.

“He’s on a mission to prove that wrong,” Melvin said.

Chavez rejoined the A’s rotation in April and had a 3.40 ERA in the first half, despite a 4-9 record that reflected a lack of run support. Entering Wednesday, though, Chavez had posted a 5.28 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break, and there was speculation as to whether he was experiencing another second-half letdown. For that reason, he said, his outing Wednesday was a timely one.

“We should have something to prove every day, but speaking on a personal note, yeah, I have a lot to prove,” Chavez said. “Because I felt I lost my job last year because I got tired, so to speak. That’s something I don’t want to be in anybody’s mind throughout the season when a stretch like (his last few starts) happens. I take it to heart.”

Wearing the high, gold socks with vertical stripes that he introduced before his Aug. 8 start against Houston – “Just something different,” he said – Chavez lacked great control of his cutter Wednesday but relied more heavily on a sinker and changeup in holding the Dodgers to two hits over eight innings. Before Kike Hernandez’s two-out double in the eighth, Rollins’ home run was the only hit Chavez had allowed, and he retired 13 consecutive hitters at one point in between.

“He doesn’t just live and die by the cutter,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “I think they knew he was fastball-cutter, but he didn’t throw too many of them today and that kind of kept them off-balance.”

Over the course of the season, we’re going to get tired and hit ruts, it’s just last year I felt like I didn’t have a chance to bounce back out of it.

Jesse Chavez, A’s pitcher

It looked for a while as though Rollins’ hit might be enough. The A’s gave Chavez a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Danny Valencia’s RBI fielder’s choice but didn’t score again until the sixth, when Billy Burns tied it 2-2 with a double to score Eric Sogard, then scored as Valencia grounded into a double play. After Chavez’s emphatic strikeout of Rollins, the A’s added two insurance runs in the eighth.

Chavez said he feels “way ahead” of where he was physically at this point last season. That the A’s are not in a playoff race means they can be patient with a struggling player, though as Melvin said Wednesday, despite “a couple of tough outings, for the most part (Chavez) has been consistent all year. And he really wants to get in a good full season where he doesn’t wear down.”

At 1391/3 innings this season, Chavez could soon eclipse last year’s career high of 146. Wednesday, he said he feels “honestly like I did the first month of the season.”

“Over the course of the season, we’re going to get tired and hit ruts, it’s just last year I felt like I didn’t have a chance to bounce back out of it,” Chavez said. “And this year I wanted to show that they made the right decision to leave me in there long term.

“That’s all I want to show, is that I’m still working to get through this season, and a full season at that.”

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