San Francisco Giants

Lowrie continues offensive surge as A’s rout Astros behind Samardzija, 13-1

OAKLAND -- When Jed Lowrie lined a home run into the right-field seats Wednesday night against the Astros, snapping a 40-game homerless drought, he said it was a result -- not necessarily a sign -- of his recent offensive resurgence.

"I’m not a home-run hitter, but I feel like when you’re getting more hits, you’re more comfortable kind of letting it fly," Lowrie said.

"I got to the point where I was focused so much on getting hits, I might’ve cut the swing down a little bit. But that was a great swing, and I just kind of let it fly, and as much as work goes into confidence, results also breed confidence."

After a frustrating slump that lasted virtually from the end of April until the end of June, Lowrie is finally getting some of the latter. He had three hits in the A’s 13-1 rout of the Astros on Thursday, and is batting .379 (22-for-58) over his last 15 games, eight of which have seen him collect multiple hits.

That has raised Lowrie’s average nearly 30 points since July 4, to .243. But Lowrie, one of the A’s most consistent hitters last year when he hit .290 and led the team in doubles, has insisted that he isn’t seeing pitches better recently, nor has he made any big changes to his hitting mechanics or approach since the 51-game stretch from April 26 to June 25 during which he hit .180.

"I honestly feel like nothing has changed, it’s just finding some holes," Lowrie said. "It’s cliche to say just stick to your process and trust that it’ll work out in the end, but when I was hitting the ball like I was, there was really nothing else I could do."

According to the website FanGraphs, Lowrie hit 27.8 percent of his batted balls for line drives in June, his highest rate of any month this season. Yet he batted just .185 for the month with five extra-base hits. By contrast, his line-drive rate in July entering Thursday was at 21.3 percent -- but he was hitting .309.

One reason for the discrepancy: Lowrie’s batting average on balls in play entering the day was .333 in July, compared to just .225 in June. That indicates he did experience a run of bad luck in the first half, with line drives often finding the glove. On Thursday, Lowrie’s first hit came on a slow roller down the third-base line that he beat out for an infield single. Two innings later, he lined an RBI single into right field.

Lowrie said he was "definitely frustrated" during his slump, but resisted the urge to make major changes. "I can’t tell it where to go once I hit it," Lowrie said. "If I hit it hard and they’re playing right there, or it goes right at a guy, that’s completely out of my control. You’ve got to be willing to roll with the punches."

It’s taken a while, but it appears that patience is paying off. One minor change Lowrie has made is that he seems to be more aggressive early in counts right now -- he put the first pitch in play in three of his at-bats Thursday, and he has walked just two times in 77 plate appearances in July.

"When you’re going up there and hitting .180 or .190 on the month, they’re going to be more aggressive as well," Lowrie said opposing pitchers. "So you have to hit your way out of that.

"You’re not just going to go up there and get out of a slump by walking. I wasn’t chasing pitches out of the zone (before), but when they’re being more aggressive with me, I have to be ready to hit."

* Tomorrow’s print story focuses on Jeff Samardzija’s strong and timely outing against the Astros on Thursday. The right-hander allowed one run on five hits while -- perhaps most importantly -- throwing eight innings on a day when the A’s were pretty thin down in the bullpen.

Manager Bob Melvin indicated as much during his post-game interview Wednesday. He had just used five relievers to lock down a 9-7 win, a night after a 12-inning loss. When asked about the state of the bullpen for the series finale, Melvin shrugged and said:

"We’ll see. Samardzija."

Samardzija said he actually saw a replay of the interview while watching TV in his hotel room late Wednesday night.

"I was like, all right, better get to bed and get ready," Samardzija said.

"It was pretty cool to hear that. I love when people put some pressure on you and expect a lot out of you."

Samardzija met those expectations, allowing a Chris Carter solo homer and four singles while striking out six, including Robbie Grossman for the last out of the eighth on a 96 mph fastball for his 101st and final pitch. Since being acquired from the Cubs, Samardzija has pitched seven or more innings in each of his first four starts. According to the A’s, he is the first pitcher to do so in his first four starts with the franchise since 1943.

"He didn’t really argue too much about (going back out for) the ninth," Melvin said. "I think if it was a little bit closer, he would’ve wanted to go out there and completely save the bullpen. But he knew what was expected of him and did exactly that."

Samardzija said he felt freer to attack the strike zone as the A’s built a three-run lead after four innings, then opened the floodgates with a five-run sixth in which Brandon Moss’ grand slam was the key blow. It’s not something Samardzija is entirely used to -- over his final six starts for Chicago, the Cubs scored 13 runs total.

"As a pitcher you just try to work quick innings and not let those guys stand out there on defense for too long to keep them in that hitting rhythm," Samardzija said. "They showed today what they can do when you give them that opportunity."

* Moss had never hit a grand slam in the majors before this season, and admitted he at times caught himself thinking about that when coming up with the bases loaded. Now he has three, after turning on a first-pitch fastball from reliever Anthony Bass in the sixth and lifting it just over the home-run line above the out of town scoreboard in right field.

"I’ve had quite a few at-bats with the bases loaded this year," Moss said. "You get into certain situations, a guy’s got to make a pitch, and you’re being aggressive."

Moss said he wasn’t initially sure he got enough of the ball to hit it out -- and that he’s certain it wouldn’t have carried over the yellow line in a Coliseum night game. But the result was his team-leading 23rd home run to go with 71 RBIs, one behind leader Josh Donaldson.

"Yeah, 12 RBIs in three at-bats," Melvin said of Moss’ three slams. "That’s not fair. A lot of guys have to work to get 12 in a month."

Moss also matched his career-high eight-game hitting streak, during which he’s 8-for-33 with four homers and eight RBIs.

* The huge lead allowed Melvin to get Evan Scribner a very low-leverage appearance for his first A’s outing in a few months. Scribner was recalled from Triple-A to replace Jim Johnson this morning, and pitched a scoreless ninth.

Melvin said Scribner likely slides into the long relief role in the bullpen, as the righty can pitch multiple innings and the A’s are pretty set in their late-inning relief roles.

* Josh Reddick brought back "Careless Whisper" as his walk-up song -- and also doubled twice, making his second start since coming off the DL with a hyper-extended right knee.

"I think at this point he’s not even thinking about it," Melvin said. "You get a couple of games under your belt, move around in the outfield, run the bases some, swing the bat well, there comes a point where you’ve done enough that you’re not thinking about it at all, and I think that’s the case."

* The A’s will see the Astros again in Houston in a matter of days, but first they have a three-game series against the Rangers in Texas. The pitching probables:

Friday: RHP Jason Hammel (0-2, 9.00) vs. RHP Jerome Williams (1-4, 6.09)

Saturday: RHP Sonny Gray (11-3, 2.72) vs. RHP Nick Tepesch (3-5, 4.75)

Sunday: LHP Scott Kazmir (11-3, 2.32) vs. RHP Miles Mikolas (1-2, 7.48)