In for John Hickey, who’s missing all the good stuff …
This will be very brief tonight with a quick turnaround day game Wednesday at Rangers Ballpark. Suffice it we saw a morsel of the future Tuesday night, and its name was Dan Straily. We’ve known for awhile what kind of stuff this 24-year-old righthander has. It was just a matter of putting it all together with composure and command in a big-league setting.
You couldn’t get much more big-league than this game. 46,000 folks in the park. Yu Darvish and his majestic assortment of fastball and sliders pitching for Texas. A first-place Rangers team itching to put Oakland in its place after what may have been perceived as a blip here on Monday night.
But Straily stepped up huge, and with the tip to the late Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, maybe broke on through to the other side for food. Straily was a stud, mowing through the ominous Rangers lineup like they were the Astros. He retired 19 of the 21 men he faced, had just two three-ball counts, didn’t walk a batter, and made a 1-0 lead stand up after Yoenis Cespedes provided the only Oakland run, a solo blast homer to center off Darvish in the third.
You see something like that, and you have to think Straily may not be returning to Sacramento again anytime soon, even after Brett Anderson comes back sometime in late June or early July. If he can turn in this kind of performance in Texas against one of the best young pitchers in baseball and a lineup that mashed against a very good Detroit staff over the weekend, why shouldn’t he be able to do this on a routine basis against anybody?
Answer: He should. He did it regularly in the minors, and has shown flashes in the majors, but this effort sealed the deal. He’s capable. He has the tools, the velocity, the pitch assortment. It’s all about trusting all that good stuff and exhibiting confidence against big-league hitters, and he did that against the Rangers, perhaps taking a cue from Bartolo Colon Monday night that if you just throw strikes, regardless of location, a lot of good things can happen.
Presence is a grand thing, and Straily thought that was the big difference from some of his other recent shaky performances of late.
“I was trying be as calm as possible and just be myself out there,” he said. “It felt different, the confidence I had at the start of the game. I had been hurting myself, walking people, because I wasn’t getting hit hard. So Curt (Young) said, `Just go out there and throw as many strikes as possible. If they hit you, they hit you. Where my money is, they aren’t going to. Just throw it down the middle because it’s not going to end up there. Just focus on the strike zone and whatever happens happens.’ And it was seven shutout innings.”
Indeed, as I wrote last night in assessing Colon’s performance, pitching is only as hard as you make it sometimes. If you have the goods, let it fly. Straily has the goods, and this might be the just the beginning of a special run for him. If nothing else, he has something pretty magnificent to build on now.
Really, really nice win and start to the road trip for the A’s. There have only been 13 1-0 games in Rangers Ballpark history and only five have been won by the visitors. Oakland is now in the record books with one of them, along with a guaranteed series win. Now they can go for the sweep Wednesday without a whole lot of pressure, particularly with three games in Houston coming up.
It’s starting to look a bit like 2012 the past week or so, with superior starting pitching setting up a lockdown bullpen. Cespedes is heating up. Coco Crisp is back. Josh Donaldson’s off to a terrific start, and Jed Lowrie has been a fabulous addition, although he took a worrisome ball off his foot on a Darvish slider and had to leave the game. X-rays were negative, however, and while he won’t play Wednesday, he should be good to go by Friday in Houston.
I have to admit, I pretty much marvel at the work of Sean Doolittle, the converted first baseman who might be good enough to be a closer with another team. He’s had 11 consecutive shutout innings covering 10 1/3 innings. He throws hard and accurately, and he has a very good head about him. Between Doolittle and Ryan Cook, the A’s have one of the electric bridges to the ninth inning in baseball, and Grant Balfour has been nothing short of sensational there. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve Straily’s win.
In short, you can start to see a little swagger in the A’s, and if you remember, it didn’t happen nearly this early last year. Texas is a very good team, even without Josh Hamilton, and it’s going to be a tough fight this summer to keep pace with the Rangers. But as long as the A’s can avoid a major injury to Cespedes or Crisp, they can cover most of the other positions with their depth. They’re getting it done right now without Reddick and Anderson, and that’s a very positive sign.
Five in a row now. It’s going to be a fun summer in Oakland.
Talk to you again in about 10 hours and maybe we all can get out of this miserable town running the table.