OAKLAND -- The A’s say they can’t explain it. But as long as they keep treating Yu Darvish this way, they’re going to keep getting asked about it. The A’s knocked the Texas Rangers’ ace around again in a 10-6 win on Tuesday night, totaling seven runs (four earned) on eight hits against Darvish before he exited with nobody out in the fifth.
The extent to which the A’s seem to vex Darvish is mystifying. In 10 of his 13 starts this season, Darvish has completed at least 6 1/3 innings. The other three starts are his three starts against the A’s. In those starts, he’s 0-2 with a 7.02 ERA in 14 1/3 innings.
Darvish’s line in his last nine starts against the A’s: 0-8 with a 5.51 ERA. That includes four starts at the Coliseum, in which he’s 0-2 with a 7.60 ERA. On Tuesday, he walked a season-high five batters and needed 99 pitches to record 15 outs.
"I don’t know what it is about Darvish’s style, or how it just fits into our hitting patterns, but one-through-nine that guy was just grinding out every at-bat tonight, whether he came away with an out or we came away with a hit or walk," said A’s catcher Derek Norris, who did not actually face Darvish on Tuesday but had a good view from the dugout.
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"Every guy that came up, it was a battle, and there weren’t a lot of early outs. You could really tell he was grinding through a lot of at-bats."
The A’s do that to quite a few pitches, but it seems like Darvish is somehow more prone to being worked by the A’s than by other opposing teams. Eleven of his 32 walks on the season have come in his three starts against Oakland. On Tuesday, the A’s were getting into a lot of 1-0 and 2-0 counts, driving up Darvish’s pitch count.
As catcher/right fielder Stephen Vogt pointed out, that doesn’t necessarily help you know what’s coming. "He likes to throw the cutter, he likes to throw the split-finger, he likes to throw the curve," Vogt said. "That’s the hard part about facing him is you never know what you’re going to see" in a given count.
Vogt collected three hits Tuesday night on a cutter, a four-seam fastball and a curveball. "Fortunately I was able to kind of pick up some spin early and get my bat to the ball," he said.
Vogt said, though, it isn’t the case where he picks up Darvish better than other pitchers; he simply saw the ball well Tuesday. He sounded as baffled as anyone by the A’s track record against Darvish.
"I don’t know what it is," he said. "I don’t know if we can explain it. We just have a good approach as a team, and I think that’s something we take pride in. We buy into an approach and we stick with it."
There’s the possibility, of course, that Darvish knows this as well, and by now it’s in his head. Norris, speculating of course, said: "Sometimes good pitchers just have that one kryptonite team where they just always struggle. And before too long it gets in your head and you’re unable to execute the pitches you need to execute."
Whatever the reason, the A’s simply have hit Darvish in a way no other team has since the right-hander entered the league in 2012. They’ve beaten him eight times since Darvish won his first career start against them in his rookie season. No other team has handed Darvish more than three losses.
"We’ve been really fortunate," manager Bob Melvin said. "We’ve made him work, we’ve made throw some pitches, and a few guys square him and some guys have some good numbers off him. But it’s not easy."
* Norris didn’t start Tuesday, and he didn’t contribute to the numbers off Darvish, but he did make the most of his opportunities in the game. Norris was sent up to hit for John Jaso with a left-handed reliever on the mound in the sixth inning. Texas then countered by bringing in right-hander Shawn Tolleson to face Norris with two on and two outs in a two-run game. Norris got ahead 2-0, then hammered a fastball over the wall in left for his eighth homer of the year, six of which have come with two or more runners on.
Norris came up again with two on in the eighth inning and smoked a double to left-center to drive in both runs. He became the fourth A’s player with at least five RBIs coming off the bench since at least 1914 -- and did so playing less than half of the game. The pinch-hit homer was the fourth of Norris’ career, and he’s now 4-for-11 in pinch-hit situations this year.
"He has a knack," Melvin said. "He’s ready for the situation, got a nice, short stroke for coming off the bench."
Norris joked that he hopes his swing isn’t too conducive to coming off the bench. "I like to start in games," he said. But he said he has worked "pretty hard on making my swing more consistent, just a little more level of a bat path, ultimately just trying to stay in the zone as long as I can with the bat."
Both pitches Norris hit Tuesday night were fastballs, nearly in identical spots down and in, and both from right-handers. While he’s batting a torrid .362 against left-handers this season, Norris’ numbers against righties are pretty respectable -- .273 average with three of his home runs and the same number of walks (17) as strikeouts.
With the five RBIs, Norris now has 34 on the season, equaling his career high in 2012. It took him 232 plate appearances to reach 34 that year; it took him 187 this season.
"He’s a good catcher; he’s a great hitter," Vogt said. "He’s having an All-Star caliber year, and I hope that gets recognized."
* Along with Norris’ night and Vogt’s three hits, Jaso, who of the A’s three catchers was the one who actually started at catcher Tuesday, also went 2-for-3 with two hits against Darvish, including a leadoff double in the third that eventually led to a run.
"It’s quite a luxry," Melvin said of the offensive production from his catchers. "A lot of teams are looking for a starter, let alone a backup. We have three guys that can probably start in a number of places. And to be able to, with the three of them, use them in in-game moves, it’s a luxury."
Several times in the past couple weeks, the A’s have had all three of their catchers in the lineup on the same day. Vogt’s ability to play the outfield -- where he spent much of his time in the minors from 2007-12 -- allows for that, with Jaso and Norris splitting the DH and catching duties.
Tuesday, Norris replaced Jaso at catcher in the sixth, and Vogt was lifted for pinch hitter Craig Gentry in the seventh. But the total offensive output from the three catchers: 7-for-8, seven RBIs, three runs scored.
"It’s a three-headed catching situation, and it’s just fun," Vogt said. "John and D-No are good friends of mine. I want them to do well and I know they want me to do well. Just the way the three of us work together, we all get along and we have fun."
* It says something that we’ve come this far without mentioning Tommy Milone, who won his fifth consecutive decision by throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowing three runs on five hits. Milone improved to 5-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his last eight starts, beginning with his eight scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals on May 9.
Milone said tonight that before that start, he sat down with pitching coach Curt Young to watch film of his prior outings and noticed he was over-striding at times on his delivery. Both felt that might have contributed to a rocky first five outings, in which Milone had a 5.86 ERA.
"I think when you get in pressure situations you try to do too much on big pitches," said Milone. "So maybe I was trying to stride out there a little farther to make sure I finished my pitches, and over time a bad habit was formed."
Milone said he simply shortened his stride after that and "worked a little more downhill, and it helped tremendously with my command.
"I don’t know if it’s like a placebo effect or something," he said. "But it felt like it also kind of sped my arm up a little bit and forced me to work the ball downhill and keep the ball down. And it just felt like the ball was coming out a lot better."
Milone missed a quality start by one out, as Melvin replaced him with Dan Otero in the sixth with two outs and the tying run coming to the plate in right-hander Donnie Murphy. Melvin said that was a "tough decision," especially knowing Texas would counter with a left-handed hitter, "But Otero’s been so good for us in those middle-inning situations."
The Rangers indeed pinch-hit left-handed Brad Snyder for Murphy, and Otero retired him on a groundout to end the inning.
* Not to be overlooked: Alberty Callaspo reached base all four times at the plate Tuesday with two singles and a walk, and is now 6-for-7 since returning from paternity leave. He is also 6-for-7 since changing his number from 18 to 7. Unsure which is the cause.
* Sean Doolittle pitched the ninth inning in a non-save situation and retired the side in order with two strikeouts. For the season, Doolittle has now struck out 46 batters and issued one walk. He also hasn’t allowed a run in 21 1/3 innings -- a career high.
* In the rubber match Wednesday it’s Sonny Gray (6-3, 2.93) for the A’s and righty Nick Tepesch (2-2, 3.94) for the Rangers. First pitch at 12:35 p.m.