The Oakland A’s are 7% of the way through their 2020 schedule already after their opening four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, and so far they’re off to exactly the kind of quick start they were hoping for in the short sprint of the 60-game season.
In the series finale on Monday, the A’s put an emphatic stamp on their victory by spinning a shutout, combined between starter Chris Bassitt and five relievers. Oakland won 3-0.
Bassitt went four innings, which isn’t unusual right now as starters have been ramping up slowly after an abbreviated preseason. He struck out five along the way, including Mike Trout twice, and pitched his way out of trouble after loading the bases in the 4th.
The A’s bullpen took care of the rest, increasing their season total to 20⅓ innings with just one earned run. This time Burch Smith threw two frames, T.J. McFarland and Yusmeiro Petit combined for the 7th, Jake Diekman got the 8th, and Joakim Soria worked around trouble in the 9th to notch the save. The staff overall recorded 12 strikeouts, including a third one of Trout to end the game.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s offense was modest but did enough to get the job done. A rally in the 3rd plated two runs, including an RBI double by Matt Chapman, and then Mark Canha launched a solo homer in the 4th to add one more — complete with his signature bat flip. Chapman and Canha combined for five of the A’s six hits on the day.
Unfortunately, the series ended on a worrying note, as Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons turned his ankle running through first base on an infield single in the 9th and exited the game. Hopefully he’s OK.
Bassitt sends Angels fishing
It’s not that Bassitt was dominant — in fact, he never even had a 1-2-3 inning. But when he found himself in even a hint of trouble, he’d bear down and work his way out of it.
David Fletcher led off the game for the Angels with a double, which is not what you want in front of the heart of the Halos’ lineup. But Bassitt struck out Trout swinging on a beautiful curve, then fanned Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton using 93-94 mph cutters. It took him 26 pitches, but he stranded the runner in scoring position and made a statement doing so.
The right-hander’s next test came in the 4th. A single and a double put him in a jam to open the frame, but third baseman Matt Chapman came to the rescue. On a grounder to third, with the runners moving on contact, Chapman threw home instead of to first base and nabbed the lead runner at the plate (see video in Chapman section below). Soon after, with the bases loaded, Bassitt got a comeback grounder for a 1-2-3 double play, escaping the rally with no runs on the board.
All told, it was the best start by an A’s pitcher so far, after shaky outings from Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Mike Fiers.
Bassitt: 4 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 5 hits, 66 pitches (46 strikes)
Next up in the rotation is Daniel Mengden, at least until rookie Jesus Luzardo is ready to rejoin in that fifth spot.
Bullpen stays hot
The Oakland A’s bullpen blew some saves last year, but looking at their other metrics gave reason to believe they were better than that one stat. They’re showing it so far in 2020.
First up was Burch Smith, who earned the win on Opening Day with a clutch 10th inning. He needed only 21 pitches to breeze through two frames, allowing just one hit — to Tommy La Stella, who also got a hit against him on Friday — and retiring Fletcher and Trout on a combined four pitches.
Lefty T.J. McFarland came out for the 7th, and finally allowed a baserunner for the first time in three appearances. The Angels were able to get the grounder specialist up in the air a couple times, including a line drive single by catcher Max Stassi, and Oakland elected to bring in Yusmeiro Petit to get the final batter — which he did, on a strikeout of Fletcher.
The 8th inning brought southpaw Jake Diekman, and it went exactly how you’d expect: Walk, strikeout, strikeout, walk, strikeout. For better or for worse, nobody make contact, but also nobody scored. The strikeouts were Ohtani, Upton, and Albert Pujols — of the Halos’ dozen Ks on the day, eight of them were by Trout, Ohtani, and Upton.
Rather than closer Liam Hendriks, who worked two of the first three games, in the 9th the A’s turned to setup man Joakim Soria, who ... also worked two of the first three games. The veteran, himself a former All-Star closer, yielded a couple of singles to make things interesting, bringing Trout to the plate as the tying run. Fortunately, Soria was up to the challenge, and froze Trout on a pitch that was admittedly a bit high — but it still caught the edge of the zone according to Statcast.
Through four games, the A’s bullpen has the following numbers:
Oak pen: 20⅓, ip, 1 ER, 17 Ks, 6 BB, 1 HR, 11 hits, 2-of-3 saves
A reliable pen would go a loooong way in a short season.
Chapman has made a few uncharacteristic miscues in the first few games of this new season, but on Monday he went back to his usual role of leading the team on both sides of the ball.
In the 3rd inning, with the A’s already on the board and a runner on second, he smoked a double over Trout’s head in center field. That pushed the lead to 2-0.
In the 4th, he made an impact with his defense, which he so often does. This one wasn’t one of those jaw-droppers that only Chapman can make, but it’s not a routine play and he made it look like one. This directly saved a run.
Not a bad day all around. He was 1-for-12 entering the game and picked up three well-struck hits, and he got back on track defensively.
Bat flippin’ szn
Breaking news: We have our first Mark Canha bat flip of the 2020 season!
Angels starter Griffin Canning left a fastball up, and Tom Ace blasted it with a 104.5 mph exit velocity, 425 feet.
Looking for the hot hand to carry the lineup on a day-to-day basis? Canha’s the guy right now. He had the big hit against Ohtani on Sunday, and now he homered on Monday. Frankly, after the season he had last year I don’t understand why he needs to prove himself to get into the everyday lineup anyway, since he’s easily one of the top two outfielders on the team, but apparently he needs to and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Here come the Rockies
After taking the first series of their season, the A’s now welcome the Colorado Rockies to town for some interleague action. Daniel Mengden will get the ball for Oakland at 6:40 p.m., against Rockies righty Antonio Senzatela, a 25-year-old who posted a 6.71 ERA and 5.44 FIP last year in 25 starts.