On a frigid Tuesday night in Detroit, the A's took the field, hoping to snap a three game skid behind Rich Hill. It wasn't perfect weather for hitting, or pitching, or anything other than being indoors with a nice cup of hot chocolate. And maybe a complete domination of a pretty dang good offense, leading the A's to a 5-1 win.
Let's start with the offense
Baseball luck taketh away
In the third inning, Chris Coghlan launched a flyball to deep leftfield. Like many a Chris Coghlan fly, the ball looked innocuous to start, only to carry and carry and carry. Leftfielder Justin Upton went back to the wall, leaped and reached over the wall, bringing the ball back into play. He wasn't able to secure it on first contact, instead just blocking it from getting over. It bounced back in, and he caught it on the way down, taking a dinger away from Coghlan on an outstanding play.
It was tough luck for the A's, no doubt. With no fielders, that ball is gone, with most leftfielders it's probably out. It was an impressive display by Coghlan, too. On a cold day in a pitcher's park, getting a ball out to the opposite field is no easy task. Coghlan's numbers aren't where we want them, nor where they probably will be by season's end, but he's displayed impressive power and he should be fun over a full season.
Baseball luck giveth
In the next inning, the A's scored three, largely helped by the smiling Gods of baseball luck. Josh Reddick continued his studly hitting by lacing a single to left center field to open the frame. With Jed Lowrie up, Reddick tried to swipe second. The throw from Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia beat Reddick by a solid ten feet, but normally excellent shortstop Jose Iglesias dropped the ball and Reddick was safe.
Two pitches later, Lowrie grounded the ball in the hole at short. Iglesias was out of position in a partial shift and had to range far to his right to field the ball. Normally a sure handed player, the ball clanked off Iglesias's glove with an exit velocity that would make his bat jealous. The ball bounded down into leftfield allowing Reddick to score from second.
Following Lowrie's single, Stephen Vogt softly lined a double down the left field line. It was the kind of hit that drives you nuts if it's hit by your opponent, but thankfully it wasn't. On the play, Lowrie moved to third giving the A's runners in scoring position with no outs.
On the very next pitch, Coco Crisp hit a flyball to leftfield, plenty deep to plate hilariously slow baserunner Jed Lowrie. Stephen Vogt tagged up from second to third, and would have been easily thrown out if cutoff man Nick Castellanos had caught the ball and thrown to third. He didn't, and the A's had their second run home and a runner on third with only one out.
Khris Davis followed with a smashed single to left to plate Vogt, giving the A's a 3-0 lead. Davis looks like a new man at the plate, making hard contact almost every time he comes to bat. He would later strike out on a pitch two feet off the plate, but thus is Khris Davis.
To recap some A's good fortune:
1. Josh Reddick should have been thrown out at second by Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2. Josh Reddick probably should have been thrown out at third should Jose Iglesias field Lowrie's ground ball
2a. Lowrie probably would have been thrown out if Iglesias does glove that ball
2b. Reddick definitely doesn't score if Iglesias just knocks it down or doesn't deflect it like a trampoline
3. Stephen Vogt should have been thrown out at third while tagging up, Castellanos dropped the ball
It's easy to get bogged down by the bad luck, especially after what happened just an inning before to Chris Coghlan. But sometimes your team gets lucky, and the A's certainly did tonight and we will all happily take it. Cause baseball.
Semien blast part 5
Marcus Semien is an interesting hitter. For a few days just a short few weeks back, Semien looked like a right handed Bryce Harper, smashing three dingers in two days. For the past week or so, Semien has looked lost at the plate, swinging meagerly at bad pitches in hitter's counts and taking good pitches in pitcher's counts.
Tonight, we got a taste of good Semien. After a Yonder Alonso single, Semien blasted a 2-1 Mike Pelrey fastball deep into the leftfield bleachers for a no doubt homerun, his fifth on the year. The kid has power and while the final score wasn't all that close, the insurance runs were huge for the A's, eventually leading to a night of rest for closer Ryan Madson.
Rich Hill, Ace
Let's start with Hill's final line:
7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts, 106 pitches, 66 strikes.
I know, I know, only eight strikeouts. I'm disappointed too and I'm sure Bob Melvin and Curt Young will have some harsh words for Rich tomorrow.
Seriously, look at that line. Zero walks. Zero. In his first four starts, Hill's only problem was a sometimes complete lack of control of his pitches. Not tonight. Zero walks might be surprising, but it shouldn't be. Last year, he had one of the best walk rates in the game and here's the thing: his control isn't all the way back, either. Hill still found himself in some hitter's counts but escaped unscathed. As that fastball command keeps coming back, those will turn into pitcher's counts and we'll see even more k's without an upped pitch count.
Maybe I'm a Rich Hill homer, but what I'm about to say isn't far from the truth: For 9 starts, Rich Hill has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. The more starts like tonight happen, the less it looks like a fluke.
Tonight, Hill was a dance choreographer. Sometimes, he had Tigers hitters flailing like gelatinous blobs while missing his sharp curve. Sometimes, the Tigers could do nothing but stand like statues while fastballs whizzed through the zone and the A's headed back to the dugout. At all times, Hill was in complete control and the Tigers lineup full of power hitters couldn't do a dang thing about it.
Hill only ran into trouble in the first - and that's with a liberal definition of the word trouble. Ian Kinsler singled to open the game but Hill struck out Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera to follow. Victor Martinez then followed with a single of his own, moving Kinsler to second and marking the only time in the entire game a Tiger reached scoring position with Hill on the bump. Hill would strikeout JD Martinez to get out of the frame.
From there, he was completely dominant, giving up just two singles. One of those was erased by a double play meaning from innings 2-7, Hill faced just a single batter above the minimum. Amazing.
I'd like to pretend I can do Hill's perfomance justice with just my words, but there's no shot, you need to watch the highlights. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is somewhere in the million range, and video of Miguel Cabrera as angry as Grant Balfour is priceless.
Sean Doolittle looked like the good Doo of old with a little changeup fairy dust sprinkled on top. He hit 95 on the gun and dominated the eighth, a nice site to see. Some of his giddyup may have to do with the few days of rest, but I'll never tire of seeing Doo's stuff back to old form. Even if he requires a little extra time between outings, he's still a cheap steal with a chance of being a dominant reliever and an awesome face of the team.
John Axford pitched the ninth and for the first time this season, gave up a run. With two outs and a runner on second, Victor Martinez crushed a double to deep center field. Billy Burns probably should have caught it, but if it's hit anywhere else (or maybe on a warmer day in Detroit) that ball is gone. So meh. Axford would go on to retire J.D. Martinez and while a shutout would have been nice, a win is a win is a Rich Hill domination win so nothing but rainbows and happy thoughts will fill Athletics Nation on this Tuesday night.
This is a very difficult stretch of schedule for the A's and they've already secured a .500 mark on this perilous road trip. I'm not greedy, but maybe I'm greedy. Give me 7-3, this team is very clearly good enough to do it.
It's Justin Verlander against Sonny Gray tomorrow. I know you won't miss that. Let's go A's!