When the phone rang at about 11 a.m. and A’s shortstop Marcus Semien could see who was on the other end, he said he had a pretty good idea of what was going down, even before the conversation began.
Semien had started all 96 games for Oakland this year, playing all but three innings at shortstop. But the at-bats in his last couple of games hadn’t been good – 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. And his defense had slipped – five errors in his last eight games.
“When the manager calls at that time, you’ve got an idea you’re getting a day off,’’ Semien said before Friday’s game against Tampa Bay. “And my last two games haven’t been great. I played myself into a day off.’’
It’s not that Semien wanted a day off. Bob Melvin said that his shortstop “campaigned a little’’ to stay in the lineup. No worries, the manager said. “A day off might be in order,’’ but there was always the chance that Semien could get into the game as a pinch-hitter or on defense later in the game.
“It’s a grind playing shortstop every single day,’’ Melvin said. “He’s been out there every single day, and it’s looked recently like it might be time for a day.’’
Hence the late-morning telephone call.
“I take pride in playing every day, yeah,’’ Semien said. “I’ve been fortunate to be healthy enough and ready to go so far. But there have been a lot of ups and downs this year, so I guess a day off might be good.’’
What’s the difficulty level of playing every day, particularly at shortstop, where much of the infield action is centered?
“It can be taxing mentally to play every day,’’ Semien “And you have to know how to play hurt. You have to know the difference between playing hurt and being injured.’’
But not all was lost. Semien’s games-played streak continued when he entered Friday’s 13-inning 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and played the final four innings in his 97th game of the year.
–Right fielder Josh Reddick, who had batted only in the third slot during the club’s first 96 games, was in the batting order as the No. 2 hitter Friday.
Khris Davis, who had never started a game in the Major Leagues batting third, was the No. 3 man for Oakland against the Rays.
Part of the reason for that was Semien’s absence from the lineup, but most of it has to do with generating some offense. The A’s averaged 5.4 runs per game the first five games after the All-Star break, but they came into Friday with just three runs scored in the last two games, which is closer to their July norm.
The A’s came into Friday with an MLB-worst .230 batting average for the month, while their 4.12 runs per games was 23rd in the majors.
“Since the break we’ve actually been pretty good at scoring runs,’’ Melvin said. “You’re always trying to tweak things and make it better. Offensively this year we’ve been a little inconsistent.
“It does look a little different. This is the first time Red hasn’t been in the three hole. But the two spot is the new three spot, from what I understand, whether it’s (Josh) Donaldson or (Mike) Trout. I feel comfortable with him in that spot.’’
–Starter Rich Hill played catch again Friday with a protective covering on his blistered left middle finger, but there is still no date set for him to get on a mound. Melvin said the trainers say they are seeing some progress in the left-hander. There is a sense that the blister is cutting into the A’s chances of trading him before the Aug. 1 dateline, although it’s by no means disqualifying.
–Liam Hendriks hasn’t allowed a run in his last five games, covering 6.2 innings and has a 1.62 ERA and a .222 opponents’ batting average in his last 13 games. “He’s just feeling more comfortable and getting on a roll,’’ Melvin said. “He’s throwing his fastball for strikes more and his breaking ball is getting better.’’
–Reliever Zach Neal threw three scoreless innings Thursday allowing one hit and no walks. The rookie has thrown 18.2 innings this year without allowing a walk, which the A’s stats crew says is the most innings pitched to start a career without walking a batter since at least 1913.