If you want an unsung hero for Friday’s 2-1 Oakland win over Kansas City, look for the man who made out the lineup.
Manager Bob Melvin did something Friday he hadn’t done all season. He had Adam Rosales, who generally starts only against left-handed pitching, start “because I liked the right-handed matchup there’’ against K.C.’s James Shields.
And it was Rosales who hit the tie-breaking solo homer off Shields in the eighth inning that gave the A’s the win in the first of a three-game set.
Rosales did have some stat cred against Shields. He’d only faced him five times, but he’d had two hits, both of them doubles. Eric Sogard, who had only three at-bats and no hits against Shields, normally starts against right-handers, but Melvin went with the numbers, including the fact that Sogard was hitting .178 in his last 20 games.
It won’t necessarily happen again, but Melvin is perfectly comfortable going against the lefty-righty book if circumstances suggest it.
“It’s not something I’ll be doing,’’ he said when asked if he would play Rosales at short against right-handers with regularity. “But in this instance, with Rosey’s two doubles off Shields, that made a difference.’’
Make that two doubles and a homer.
–One reason the A’s were able to track down the Rangers in 2012 was the performance of a previously unheralded bullpen.
It’s not as unheralded this time around, but the performances from the likes of Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour have been every bit as good as they were last year. Or better.
Doolittle improved to 3-0 with one scoreless inning, the eighth, Friday against K.C., and Balfour closed out his seventh save by getting the Royals in order, cutting through the 3-4-5 spot in Kansas City’s batting order.
Doolittle, a lefty, has a 1.00 ERA. Balfour, the right-handed closer, is down to 1.65. And when you throw in right-hander Ryan Cook’s 1.93, Oakland has eighth- and ninth-inning performance worth of note.
“In that situation in the eighth or ninth, that game is yours,’’ Doolittle said. “you’ve got to go out there feeling invincible. I’m just trying to keep it simple and not giving the hitter room to get comfortable.’’
Melvin admits his job is made easier knowing he can count on his club dominating the game if it’s close in the eighth or later.
“That’s one of the strengths of the club, when it’s late in the game and we’re in position (to win),’’ he said. “Doolittle is throwing lights-out. It’s tough for anybody to put a good swing against him.
“Today it all fell together, getting the homers late, then getting Doolittle and Balfour out there in that spot.’’
–For four seasons and a portion of a fifth, Hideki Okajima pitched in the big leagues, and he loved every minute of it.
But the Red Sox let him pitch most of the 2011 season in Triple-A Pawtucket, then the Yankees let him go in the spring of 2012, after which he pitched for Soft Bank in Japan.
Now he’s back in the Major Leagues, called up Friday when the A’s released right-handed reliever Chris Resop, who’d struggled the last three weeks.
“I was hoping to make it back to the Major Leagues,’’ Okajima said through interpreter Jason Eda. “I’m very excited to get back here. I was surprised when they told me I was coming up, but to come back from Japan (in 2012) to the United States is a good feeling.’’
Okajima’s catcher for much of his time at Triple-A was Luke Montz, and Montz gave the move a solid thumb’s up.
“Just before I got called up, he pitched in back-to-back games for the first time,’’ Montz said. “He saved them both. He got to where he was throwing his changeup, and they hitters, they just were not seeing that pitch. He was fun to catch.’’
The move made sense for a couple of reasons. One, Okajima’s changeup and curve had been dominant pitches for him at Triple-A after he’d ironed out some kinks. Two, his contract said that if he wasn’t called up by June 1, he’d have the right to declare free agency, so if there was ever a time to give him a try, it was now.
“He’s been throwing really well,’’ Melvin said. “We’ve been having to be careful with (lefties) Doolittle and (Jerry) Blevins, but we’d been using them a lot. Adding a third left-hander makes a lot of sense, all things considered.’’