One dynamic of the A’s disappointing 2015 season was their league-worst 15-32 record in games where the opposing team started a left-handed pitcher. For a team that uses regular platoons at several positions, it was a reflection of a right-handed lineup that performed below expectations.
So far this season the A’s appear improved in that area. They are 5-4 against left-handed starters after beating the Texas Rangers 8-1 Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep in which they faced three left-handers: Derek Holland, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. It was the A’s first sweep of three or more games at home since July 2014, and it came against a Texas team that began the series in first place in the American League West.
A big factor in the turnaround: The A’s did not have Danny Valencia in their lineup until early August of last year. They did not acquire Khris Davis until the offseason. Together, those two are fueling an A’s offense that has picked up speed over the past week, driving in 22 of the 32 runs Oakland has scored in its last six games – including four consecutive against left-handed starters.
32 Home runs by the A’s Khris Davis since Aug. 6, most in the majors
Valencia hit three home runs against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, homered Tuesday and had three hits Wednesday, including a two-run single in the first inning. Davis hit three homers Tuesday, including a walkoff grand slam, and added a solo home run Wednesday while reaching base in all four of his plate appearances.
“That’s two tough outs,” said A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, who had two RBI singles in the series finale. “You’ve got to pitch Danny tough because KD is behind him, and KD’s producing. He’s putting together good at-bats, he’s hitting off-speed pitches, he’s hitting fastballs. Same with Danny.”
Davis leads the majors in home runs this month with nine, validating the A’s belief the power he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers last season – when he hit 27 homers – would translate to the bigger ballpark in Oakland. He did not have a home run through his first 13 games this season while batting .174, and he said the emergence of his power has been a matter of “just being more comfortable, more familiar with my surroundings.”
No major leaguer has more home runs (32) than Davis since Aug. 6. A’s manager Bob Melvin mused Wednesday, “It seems like every time he puts the barrel on (the ball), it leaves the ballpark.” Valencia said Davis makes hitting for power “look really easy. We all know how hard this game is, and for him to do what he’s doing, it’s pretty special.”
That Davis also ranks among the A.L. leaders with 29 RBIs is partly because he frequently bats with runners on base. Josh Reddick, who hit third Wednesday, two spots ahead of Davis, is 20 for 44 (.455) over his past 13 games. Valencia, the cleanup hitter, is 15 for 33 (.455) with six home runs and 12 RBIs in his past nine games since returning to the lineup from a hamstring strain.
That’s two tough outs. You’ve got to pitch Danny tough because KD is behind him, and KD’s producing. He’s putting together good at-bats, he’s hitting off-speed pitches, he’s hitting fastballs. Same with Danny.
Marcus Semien, on A’s teammates Danny Valencia and Khris Davis
“Just having that pressure on the pitcher all the time, you’re going to get mistakes,” Davis said. “They’re doing a great job just causing havoc.”
Oakland’s offense Wednesday backed starter Rich Hill, who allowed one run over six innings for his sixth win, tied for second most in the league. Hill, a 36-year-old the A’s signed to a one-year deal over the winter, has a 2.54 ERA through nine starts while allowing 35 hits and recording 59 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings.
“Rich has really been our guy. He’s been our number one,” Valencia said. “He’s been doing his job. When he’s out there, we feel like a couple runs might win the game.”