Matt Chapman has found his swing. Including a triple in his last at-bat Friday night, the rookie has mashed extra-base hits in each of his last four trips to the plate.
A 24-year-old that began the season as the Oakland Athletics‘ No. 3 minor league prospect, according to Baseball America, enjoyed his biggest big league contribution Saturday evening, crushing the first two homers of his career and leading the A’s (41-50) to a 5-3 win over Cleveland (47-42).
Chapman wasn’t the lone Oakland hero, though. The contest began with rookie hurler Paul Blackburn matching former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber stride for homeward stride, and it ended with Khris Davis following in the youngster’s footsteps, swatting a walk-off two-run homer.
Contrary to the norm, the night’s walk-off hero wasn’t the one standing in front of the camera wearing the celebratory Gatorade and shaving cream. This time around, it as Chapman. But Khris agreed with the decision:
“He deserved it. There’s many more to come, where he’s going. That won’t be the last.”
Coming into the seventh inning of the A’s 5-0 win Friday, Chapman had collected just five hits in 40 big league at-bats — two for extra bases (both doubles).
The rookie just missed his first career homer in that trip, sending a screamer off the wall in left-center and settling for his first triple. He didn’t miss in his first at-bat Saturday, lining a 2-1 hanging slider to the center field side of that same 15 foot-high wall, clearing the eight-foot wall in center for homer No. 1 of his young career.
Chapman said he has put an emphasis on sticking to the game plan devised by him and hitting coach Darren Bush:
“Obviously, I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate as of late, so we just really tried to formulate a gameplan and I was really committed to sticking to my game plan. Luckily, it worked out.”
Manager Bob Melvin said that this eruption does not exactly come as a surprise:
“Every classification, he’s gone through some struggles. Once he finds it, he hits homers.”
The skipper added:
“When you get to the big league level there’s an adjustment period and, like every classification he’s been to, he’s fought through that adjustment period and he’s done his thing.”
He got his next at-bat with two down in the fifth and made it three straight extra-base hits, lofting double down the right field line before being sent home with the tying run on a single the same way by Rajai Davis.
Blackburn (ND, 1-0, 1.83 ERA) had walked two batters in his first to major league outings — 13-2/3 innings. Both times his offense gave him a run Saturday, he responded by walking the next batter he faced.
After walking Michael Brantley to lead off the fourth, the rookie right-hander hung a slider to Edwin Encarnacion. And the Cleveland designated hitter made him pay, launching a towering two-run blast (19) down the left field line. Then, in the sixth, Blackburn walked Encarnacion who was brought in, following a single by Jose Ramirez, on a ground-out up the middle.
Blackburn finished the worst of his three outings in the majors allowing five hits and three runs in 6 innings. He also walked four, matching his four strikeouts. Said Melvin:
“He battled again. This is probably the first outing where he was a little bit vulnerable. … You talk about 6 innings, three runs, they call that a quality start these days. He pitched well again.”
Kluber (ND, 7-3, 2.86 ERA), who had not allowed more than two runs in a game since surrendering three to the Chicago White Sox on June 19, looked as if he would coast with a 3-2 lead. After the Rajai RBI single, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner retired seven straight, including four strikeouts, pushing his game total to 12 through 7 frames.
Unfortunately for the back-to-back All-Star, Chapman awaited him in the seventh. And the suddenly scorching slugger wasted no time, slamming a first-pitch sinker 455 feet to straight-away center off the batter’s eye for a game-tying solo bomb (2).
Kluber’s night came to an end one batter, following a line-out by Rajai. He piled 12 strikeouts while surrendering five hits and three runs and not allowing a single free pass in 7-1/3.
Miller (L, 3-3, 1.60 ERA) got out of the eight but walked Yonder Alonso to lead off the ninth. Francona took the ball from the devastating lefty favoring the righty-righty matchup, tapping Bryan Shaw.
Shaw fell behind 3-0. After taking back-to-back cutters in on the hands, Khris fouled off another down and away — a pitch he called “really good,” jokingly giving himself credit for his ability to battle. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Shaw went back inside with the cutter, but left it out more than the first two strikes.
Khris did what he has made look easy in his 1-1/2 years in Oakland, sending a liner over the wall in right-center for the two-run dinger (25). He was a bit surprised by this effort, however:
“I didn’t think it was going out. I was happy that it was in the gap, and Yonder might have had a chance to score. … It just snuck over — I don’t know what happened.”
Chapman who, like Khris, is a product of California State University, Fullerton said he has watched the slugger since the elder was a Titan:
“He does some special things. I watched him play at Fullerton when I was younger. … It was cool to be able to watch him when I was younger, and now play with him. He’s got pretty special talents with that bat.”
The A’s hand Sean Manaea (7-5, 3.76 ERA) the ball and their hopes for a sweep Sunday afternoon, he is 1-2 over his last four starts despite bragging a 3.12 ERA in that stretch. Manaea will be opposed by Trevor Bauer (7-7, 5.24 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in his last four starts.
Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman (right shoulder) threw a simulated game Friday, and will make the first start of his rehab assignment on Wednesday with Triple-A Nashville. The club is targeting early-August for his major league return, Graveman (2-2, 3.83 ERA) has not pitched since May 19. … Chad Pinder (left hamstring) participated in running drills prior to Saturdays game. Manager Bob Melvin said he will likely begin a rehab after working out with the team over the next “few days.” Pinder (.234/.289/.490) has not played since June 23. … Matt Chapman joined Matt Olson as A’s who have collected the first two homers of their major league careers in the same game. With his, Chapman became the second-fastest player in A’s history to record a multi-homer game, achieving the feat in 13 games (Mitchell Page, 6)