OAKLAND -- As Jesse Chavez addressed reporters in the clubhouse following the A's 5-0 win over the Giants on Monday night, his newest teammate and locker neighbor Jason Hammel stood off to the side, waiting for the media crowd to disperse. Chavez called out a playful, "Sorry, Jason!" To which Hammel responded:
"Take your time. If it's a 'W,' you do whatever the hell you want."
Chavez threw six scoreless innings and matched his career high of nine strikeouts in the A's win, continuing an impressive homestand for Oakland's starting pitchers. In the five games so far, all wins, A's starters have thrown 33 innings, allowed three earned runs on 19 hits, and struck out 33 batters.
"It's always contagious," Chavez said of the starters feeding off each other's success. "Yesterday watching Jeff (Samardzija) pitch, it was something I wanted to feed off of, and I think we all like to feed off of as a staff and as a team. We're just playing good baseball."
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That much is true. After holding the Toronto Blue Jays to four runs in a four-game sweep the A's handed the scuffling Giants their fourth shutout loss in eight games. Chavez rebounded from two rough outings -- nine runs allowed in 10 innings in Miami and Detroit -- with his third start this year of at least six innings with no earned runs allowed.
Chavez said the difference Monday was "just finishing with two strikes, whereas the last two starts with two strikes I'd leave (pitches) over the middle of the plate a little bit, and those would end up hits. Today my main focus was finishing the at-bat if I got ahead."
He did so in a variety of ways. He recorded five of his strikeouts looking, several on cut fastballs over the outside corner to left-handed hitters. He credited catcher John Jaso with calling an effective game to set up those particular pitches, while Jaso in turn said Chavez was "going to painting all night tonight."
"He didn't miss a spot very much tonight," Jaso said. "A couple lefties, he finished them off with that curveball down and in where I think they were going up looking for the back door cutter. So it was just keeping them off-balance."
"Chavy was lights-out tonight," said third baseman Josh Donaldson. "I looked up in the fifth or sixth inning and just saw a bunch of Ks and I was like, 'Dang. I didn't realize it was that many.'"
Manager Bob Melvin said Chavez's ability to mix in his curveball effectively also likely played into the right-hander having a better outing Monday. At times, Chavez struggles by getting "a little too cutter- and fastball-happy, and you have to slow him down some with some off-speed," Melvin said. "He threw quite a few breaking balls and some decent changeups today."
Melvin said while the A's typically rely on their starters to carry them, the outings in the past five days have been "outstanding." Sonny Gray, who began the run against Toronto by allowing one run on four hits in seven innings, comes around again Tuesday, his first career start against the Giants.
Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong matched zeroes with Chavez until the fifth, when the first of two hit batters came back to haunt him. Vogelsong hit Craig Gentry to begin the fifth, and after Gentry stole second, Coco Crisp bunted for a single, moving Gentry to third. Gentry then scored on a John Jaso groundout.
Melvin said he likes the combination of Gentry and Crisp, whether it's 1-2 in the lineup or 9-1 as it was Monday, because of the speed both possess. "It's a dynamic where you have to be quick to the plate, worry about both of them," Melvin said, adding that he may well have the same combination Tuesday against left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
The A's then scored twice in the sixth in an inning that, again, started with Vogelsong hitting a batter. His inside fastball caught Josh Donaldson on the left hand, though it was originally ruled a foul ball off the knob of Donaldson's bat. The call was changed after Melvin argued and Donaldson showed home plate umpire Paul Nauert his hand, which was starting to bruise.
"It hurt for the initial 30 seconds," said Donaldson, who immediately went to the ground and appeared in some serious pain. "Then once I realized it wasn't broken I was like, all right, I can handle this."
Donaldson had the hand wrapped after the game and said it he could "feel it a little bit. It's probably something I'll feel in the morning, but nothing a little Tylenol can't fix." He said when the pitch first hit him, from the sound he thought it had hit the bat as well. "But obviously, I feel my hand throbbing, so I know it hit my hand."
Nauert informed Melvin and Donaldson that by changing the call, he'd have to appeal to see whether Donaldson had gone around trying to check his swing, which would've been strike three. The A's consented, it was ruled Donaldson hadn't swung, and he took first base. Jed Lowrie singled with one out, and both scored on Alberto Callaspo's double to give the A's a 3-0 lead.
Before the Callaspo at-bat Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Vogelsong with right-handed reliever Juan Gutierrez. Callaspo wasted no time against Gutierrez, lining his first pitch into the right-center field gap.
"Fastball," Callaspo said. "I was looking for it, something to hit hard, and got a fastball."
Callaspo, who came in 2-for-25 in his last seven games before singling in his first at-bat Monday, said coming through with the double "felt good." It ignited a sellout crowd at the Coliseum -- or those rooting for the A's, anyway -- but Callaspo said he didn't really notice anything different about the atmosphere with the cross-bay Giants in town.
"It's my first time playing against the Giants here with Oakland. Didn't really feel any different," he said.
That last quote was translated -- by A's reliever Dan Otero, who jumped in after Callaspo said he didn't understand the question about atmosphere. Otero's next question: "Where's (Ariel) Prieto?"
Lowrie, who has experienced something of an offensive drop-off in the first half, went 2-for-4 and now has multiple hits in three consecutive games for the first time all season. Six of Lowrie's last 10 games have been of the multi-hit variety, and he's batting .310 in that stretch.
Stephen Vogt, meanwhile, has an eight-game hitting streak in which he's gone 12-for-28 (.428), and also made a nice stretch and pick of a Donaldson throw in the dirt at first base to end the seventh inning. It was an impressive play by Vogt, who was making his second career start at first base.
The A's stay hot, having won 10 of their last 11 home games, eight of nine interleague games this season and 10 of their last 12 games in Oakland against the Giants. The Giants stay cold, now 7-19 in their last 26 games, the worst record in baseball over that span.
Put another way, the Giants and A's had the same record on June 17. Both were 43-28. Since then, the Giants have gone 6-12, while the A's have gone 13-5.
It was a subdued visiting clubhouse at the Coliseum late Monday night, as the Giants had a brief two-game winning streak in San Diego -- only their second consecutive wins since June 8 -- snapped before a crowd that included plenty of fans in orange and black.
Brandon Belt, who went hitless in four at-bats in his fourth game since returning from a fractured hand, was asked whether it has surprised him to see the Giants lineup struggle this much, given where they were when Belt went down in May.
"It is, honestly," he said. "The talent we have on this team, I really do believe in this team and that we can go out there and win ballgames night in and night out.
"We're just not playing well right now. We've got to figure out something to pick this up, because we're better than this."
Belt said it would help him to turn his focus quickly to the next day's starting pitcher, in this case Gray, who is 8-3 on the season with a 3.08 ERA. The Giants counter with their All-Star Madison Bumgarner, who's 9-6 with a 3.09 ERA. First pitch at 7:05 p.m.