By John Hickey
Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 at 9:50 pm in 2013 regular season.
It was the kind of thing you see in the middle of a playoff chase that you don’t see in the middle of a season
A’s starter Jarrod Parker had given up a run, then loaded the bases with two out in the sixth inning. Oakland still had the lead at 3-2, but Parker was looking vulnerable.
It was time for a visit from the pitching coach. It didn’t happen. Instead, manager Bob Melvin exercised his prerogative and took the walk to the mound.
When Melvin goes to the mound, that almost always means the day is done for whoever is pitching. But Parker hadn’t lost a game since May, a streak of 18 starts coming into Tuesday, and that buys you something.
“Yeah, it does,’’ Melvin said.
He left Parker in, told him to get a double play and that’s just what happened with Parker’s 101st and final pitch of the night. He left the game with the lead and feeling the respect that Melvin had showed him.
It wouldn’t have happened in his rookie season of 2012. It wouldn’t have happened three months ago. It’s could only happen after a long streak of stubborn success on the part of Parker that he could earn the right to remain in the game.
“I wasn’t really (surprised to be left in the game or to have Melvin come out),’’ Parker said. “In a really big situation like that, I felt I’d get the chance.
“It’d a completely different situation now that pitching three months or a year ago. For all of us (starting pitchers). We’ve all been pitching well as a staff.’’
No one has been working as well as Parker, whose winning streak is nine games and whose unbeaten streak is 19 games. And he is just getting better. Despite the two homers he allowed on what he said were his two worst off-speed pitches of the season, he has a 2.03 ERA in his last six starts.
Overall he has matched his career best in starts with 29 and surpassed his 2012 personal best in innings pitched with 182.1, one more inning than last year.
And he’s matured along the way.
“I’m not happy that we lost,’’ he said. “It’s about winning and losing. You play, then you move on.’’
There’s no doubt that Parker, who had a miserable first month of the season, has become the A’s ace. He was 2-6 with a 5.76 ERA after losing to the Rangers on May 22. Since then not only has he not lost, he’s lowered his ERA more than two full points to 3.55.
And that sustained success is why Melvin chose to go to the mound himself.
“I wanted to see how he was feeling; that’s not Curt’s job,’’ Melvin said. “I wanted to hear how he was feeling, and he wanted it. When you are on a roll like he is, it counts.’’
–The A’s bullpen had some struggles in August, taking four losses in a 15-game stretch from Aug. 15-29, but things had been getting better before Tuesday.
Oakland hadn’t had a reliever take a loss since the last game of the last road trip when Grant Balfour blew a three-run lead in Detroit on Aug. 29.
Even so, the A’s bullpen has been one of the best in the game over the course of the season’s first 144 games. Oakland relievers are 22-17 with a 3.25 ERA with just 36 homers allowed in the 416.1 innings they’ve thrown.
The relievers have had their struggles in the last six weeks to be sure, but they still rank in the top three in the AL in fewest walks, best ERA, fewest homers allowed and best on-base percentage.