Hitless in his previous 31 at-bats entering Sunday, Josh Donaldson found himself dropped to sixth in the batting order for the A’s series finale against the Yankees. It was the first time all season Donaldson, whose batting average had fallen 30 points over that time, has started hitting lower than the cleanup spot.
Manager Bob Melvin said the move is temporary, “a change of scenery” for the third baseman stuck in the longest hitless streak of his career. Meanwhile, Melvin said it would be incumbent upon the hitters around Donaldson to “pick up the load as well” for an A’s team that had scored one or fewer runs in four of its last nine games.
They did just that in a 10-5 rout of the Yankees, starting with Donaldson’s replacement in the cleanup spot – catcher Derek Norris, making his first big-league start there – hitting a three-run homer off New York left-hander Vidal Nuno in the first inning. Nuno then gave up another three-run homer to Coco Crisp in the second. By the end of that inning, the A’s had seven hits by six batters.
Donaldson was not among them, but he joined the action in the A’s four-run fourth. With two on and two outs, Donaldson fell behind reliever Jose Ramirez 0-2 before making a protective swing at a fastball on the outside corner. The resulting slow chopper snuck by second baseman Yangervis Solarte into right field for an RBI single, Donaldson’s first hit since a first-inning homer on June 6, to snap his slide at 33 hitless at-bats.
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“It’s good to see,” Melvin said after the A’s improved to 42-27, their best 69-game record since 1990. “It’s one thing if you’re not a very good player; it’s another thing when you’re one of the elite players in the game and you’re going through a struggle like that. It wears on you.”
Donaldson briefly discussed the slump before Sunday’s game and said, “I’m human, so it is frustrating.” Melvin indicated he had considered giving Donaldson a day off but that it’s “tough to take him out of the lineup” because of Donaldson’s defense at third. The manager said “it won’t be long” before Donaldson is back in the middle of the order.
For one day, at least, his presence there wasn’t sorely missed. Norris helped by hitting his fifth home run with at least two runners on already this season, out of his seven total. Two came on May 11 against the Washington Nationals – Mother’s Day.
“I guess he’s got a close relationship with his parents,” Melvin said.
Norris said he called his father, Russ, on Sunday morning but the two didn’t discuss baseball.
“I’m sure once I talk to him after the game now, he’ll probably be like, ‘Hey, why didn’t you hit two?’ ” Norris joked.
In seriousness, Norris said, he expected his father to be less impressed with the home run than with Norris’ fourth-inning single to right field.
“That was always his thing (when I was) growing up: ‘Go the opposite way; can’t be a pull-monster,’ ” Norris said.
The single was one of four A’s hits in the inning, including Donaldson’s RBI single and a two-run single from Yoenis Cespedes.
“As a whole, we’ve kind of been in a little bit of a slump,” Norris said. “Putting together some consecutive knocks, putting some runs on the board, it was nice to break out of it today.”
Despite the A’s 12-hit day, the struggles of some of their top hitters persist. In his three other at-bats, Donaldson grounded out. Shortstop Jed Lowrie went hitless in four at-bats and is 2 for his last 33. John Jaso, who did not play Sunday, has a hitless streak of 21 at-bats.
The A’s overcame those to outscore the Yankees 15-6 in the final two games of the series, with New York managing just one run Sunday off A’s starter Jesse Chavez, who pitched six innings to beat the Yankees for the second time in 11 days. After recording five starts in April of six or more innings with one or fewer earned runs allowed, Chavez did so for the first time since April 30 on Sunday to earn his sixth win.
The A’s first run in the fourth inning involved a scare. With the bases loaded and no outs, Ramirez hit left fielder Craig Gentry in the head with a pitch, causing Gentry to fall to the ground grabbing his head.
Gentry, who said he was “a little shaky” after the pitch but felt “fine” after the game, was quickly tended to by a trainer and Melvin. But Gentry stayed in the game and took first base, one of five A’s to drive in a run, and certainly by the most unorthodox method.
“This offense is capable of a lot,” Gentry said. “Today we showed it.”