Eric Chavez scores ahead of the throw.
PHOENIX -- It took the Oakland A’s five games, but they finally pulled out a win, beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0. Oakland’s pitching was outstanding from top to bottom, as the A’s staff limited the D’Backs to five hits and a walk over nine innings.
Number two starter Rich Harden got the ball rolling for the A’s pitching staff, as he tossed three shut-out innings to start the game. Harden, who was making his first start of the spring season, allowed only two singles over the three frames. He struck out three batters. Harden struggled with his command last spring, but there were no such struggles on Monday, as he breezed through the D’Backs’ order without issuing a walk. He was also consistently ahead of the hitters.
Harden was followed by relief prospect Huston Street, who continued his dominance over professional hitters with a brilliant 1-2-3 inning against the heart of the Arizona line-up. Street induced groundball outs from Luis Gonzalez and Troy Glaus and then struck out Shawn Green to retire the side. Street was expected to start the season at AAA-Sacramento, but he has looked consistently dominant in his performances so far this spring. A’s Manager Ken Macha purposely moved Street up in the pitching rotation for Monday’s game to give the youngster a chance to face tough major league hitters. He passed his first test against big league hitters with flying colors.
Street is competing for a bullpen spot with two other pitchers who appeared in Monday’s contest: Kirk Saarloos and Tyler Johnson. Both relievers pitched well on Monday. Saarloos was especially impressive, retiring all six batters he faced (striking out one). The Cal-State Fullerton graduate was on the Oakland staff for six weeks last season, making five starts and one relief appearance before succumbing to elbow troubles that landed on the disabled list for the last two months of the season. Saarloos arrived in Phoenix healthy and has immediately inserted himself into the discussion about the right-handed middle relief role. If healthy, Saarloos would bring a lot of the same qualities to the A’s bullpen that injured reliever Chad Bradford did: Saarloos induces a lot of groundballs and can work multiple innings.
Tyler Johnson had possibly the most exciting inning of work in the contest for the A’s. Johnson had great stuff in his one inning of work, as was evidenced by his three strikeouts. However, he also had a few control problems, allowing a walk, a wild pitch and a hit. The A’s have been excited about the Rule V draft pick’s arm. He’ll have to prove he can control his pitches to earn a spot in the A’s bullpen as their second lefthanded reliever.
The A’s primary lefthanded reliever, Ricardo Rincon, had a successful second outing after struggling in his first spring appearance. The lefty specialist allowed only one hit in his scoreless frame and didn’t walk a batter. He had walked three in his first spring outing. Newly acquired set-up man Kiko Calero finished off the contest with a shut-out inning, allowing only one hit. Calero has now worked two scoreless innings this spring.
The A’s offense also had a little spark on Monday. Oakland started the scoring early against the Diamondbacks’ free agent acquisition Russ Ortiz. Centerfielder Mark Kotsay started the game for Oakland with a single and that was followed up by a four-pitch walk to catcher Jason Kendall. After designated hitter Erubiel Durazo flew out, third baseman Eric Chavez worked another walk to load the bases. Rightfielder Eric Byrnes cleared the bases with a ringing double to straight-away centerfield, scoring three runs. The A’s would tack on single runs in the sixth on a Durazo solo homerun and in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Kendall.
Oakland trotted out a line-up that one might expect to see on Opening Day on Monday, going with Kotsay in the lead-off spot followed by Kendall, Durazo, Chavez, Byrnes, Hatteberg, Crosby and Ellis.
Ellis was very effective at the plate once again, going 2-3 with a triple and a run scored. Ellis is leading the team in hitting so far this spring, showing little ill effects from his shoulder injury that he incurred last spring. Ellis also turned a double-play, making a strong throw in the process. The A’s have been monitoring his throwing motion all spring.
The A’s were a little more aggressive in the basepaths on Monday, although it was met with mixed results. Chavez used aggressive baserunning to score from firstbase on Byrnes’ double. However, both Ellis and Hiram Bocachica were cut down on steal attempts. At least one of the attempts looked to be a failed hit and run. So for now, the A’s “small ball” tactics still need a little refinement.
On the plus side, Oakland hit into only one double-play on Monday, after hitting into at least two in every other game this spring. The A’s also struck out only three times against five walks, a ratio the A’s coaching staff would like to see throughout the year. All in all, Monday’s performance was a strong rebound from Oakland’s 17-4 drubbing at the hands of the Anaheim Angels on Sunday.