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Game #51: Rich Hill is really really good, A's win 4-2

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Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not especially surprised Rich Hill is good. Sure, he has a modern-day MLB track record of exactly four starts, but I never really thought that mattered much. Rich Hill had the best four-start stretch in all of baseball last year. Sure, any pitcher can randomly have a great four-start stretch. But Rich Hill's time in Boston last year went beyond "great". It was "the best". And it was the best by most advanced measures, including strikeout-to-walk ratios, FIP, and the like. The Eric Surkamps of the world don't do that. Superlatives like that are reserved for guys like Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer. And Rich Hill, apparently.

I think it was pretty much established that Rich Hill was good coming into the season. I absolutely did not expect him to be great. By most measures (FIP, ERA, whichever brand of WAR you believe in), he's the third best pitcher in the American League, behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

The Oakland Athletics have 22 wins. Rich Hill has eight of them.

He's signed to a one-year/six-million contract, and he's an early front-runner for the Cy Young.

The cynical among you will be looking at this in terms of future trade value, but man, the heart and soul of this team right now is a schlubby 36 year old who last hit the 100 inning mark in 2007. Let's just be grateful. This is insane.

He was really, really great today, despite not having much of a defense behind him. He ended up allowing two runs, both of which came on serieses of flukey, soft singles. Here are the headlines: nine strikeouts, three walks, no extra base hits, maybe two hard-hit balls all day.

Here's the bad news: he was removed mid-AB in the seventh inning with a mild groin strain. He was at 104 pitches, though, so it was pretty much precautionary.  I'd be shocked if he missed a start, and I would be floored if he missed more than one.  Don't worry, that sweet, sweet trade value isn't going anywhere.

The offense wasn't as good as it was yesterday, but it worked. Mike Pelfrey looked about as good as Mike Pelfrey has ever looked, and the A's struggled mightily to get in rhythm for the first couple innings. There's not much to report for the first five innings of this game on the offensive side – Danny Valencia hit a ball looked like it was going to go about 500 feet off the bat, but was caught on the warning track. That was the offensive highlight.

The A's finally managed to get something in the sixth inning. A two-out rally from Danny Valencia and Khris Davis put runners on the corners, and Ian Kinsler flubbed a routine grounder to allow the A's first run of the game. After a Marcus Semien walk, it was a fan's nightmare: Billy Butler, bases loaded, two outs, game (probably) on the line.

But he came through! Today was truly the day of schlubby, oldish white dudes. A soft, looping single scored two runs and put the A's in the lead. Butler has really become a prototypical NL pinch hitter – not good enough to be a DH, but capable enough to be useful in a variety of game situations. That's a very weird role to have on an AL team, and probably not worth $10 million, but hey, I'm not a GM.

The A's tacked on one more in the seventh –€” Khris Davis hammered a double, Jake Smolinski drove him in with a sac fly. However, the heroes of the late game were the relief corps: Ryan Dull with 1.2 innings, Ryan Madson in the 8th (against the heart of the Tigers' order), and Sean Doolittle in the 9th to pick up the save.

All were fairly unhittable, and I loved Melvin's decision to give Madson the 8th, against the better hitters.  And don't look now, but Sean Doolittle has been absolutely incredible in May. His 3.10 ERA is marginal for a top-tier reliever, but look beyond that: his 0.81 FIP in May is among the top in the league. He is fully back to 2014 form. And he's probably the best reliever in the bullpen right now.