Frankie Montas became the first Athletics starter this season to be rewarded by manager Bob Melvin with a trip to the mound in the seventh inning.
The 26-year-old’s afternoon ended two pitches later with a lead-off double by Angels first baseman Justin Bour. But Montas (W, 1-0, 1.50 ERA) was at the top step when Lou Trivino took over, and he stormed onto the warning track dirt with a scream and a flex following a Tommy La Stella strikeout to end the frame, staring down Trivino his entire stroll back to the home dugout.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.
Montas, normally reserved, spoke about the outpouring of emotion following the game, saying he felt strong, like he could have kept working, but knew he had done his job, handing a seventh-inning lead to the bullpen:
“Every starter in here, if you hit the seventh inning and you come out of the game for some reason, you feel comfortable. Our bullpen, I would say, is the best.”
With Montas handling Los Angeles (1-3) hitters, Khris Davis and Matt Chapman took care of Oakland’s needs with one RBI apiece, leading the A’s (3-3) to a series-clinching 2-1 victory Sunday afternoon.
No Oakland starter posted numbers close to Montas’ this spring — save for Jesus Luzardo (10-day IL, left shoulder strain).
The power righty struck out 16 batters while allowing just 11 hits and one earned run in 16 Spring Training innings. But the nerves of meaningful baseball had seemingly gotten the best of him at the onset, resulting in a lead-off double by Kole Calhoun. Then, he hit Mike Trout with an 0-1 heater to set up a two-on, no-out situation.
Montas admitted that he was a but jumpy early, but forced himself to slow down both physically and mentally. Melvin, a former big league catcher himself, saw a heady move from veteran backstop Nick Hundley that started things in the right direction:
“He was a little amped to begin with, kinda missing arm-side a little bit. He had good velo, obviously. Then Hundley did a good job with him, threw a couple of splits that made him get his arm across his body, then gets the double play and was on his way.”
A double-play grounder proved to be just the elixir. Montas retired 16 straight following the hit batsman before Calhoun took advantage of a 96-mph 1-0 fastball that leaked out over the heart of the plate for a solo homer (1) in the sixth.
The splitter was something Montas worked on over the winter, and he was quick to say it adds a third dimension to his high-90s fastball and sharp slider:
“The splitter makes a big difference because now I have three plus pitches. Hitters have to be worried about the fastball and the slider, and now they have to worry about the splitter too. It’s better when the hitter has to worry about three pitches.”
Marcus Semien who finished the afternoon 2-for-4 with a run scored out of the lead-off spot, agreed that a pitcher who mixes multiple off-speed pitches with a 98-mph fastball is a difficult matchup.
Calhoun was the offense for Los Angeles, credited with two of the three hits Montas allowed before departing one batter into the seventh. And while he became the first A’s starter to allow a run this series, six innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts — and most importantly, no walks — was everything Oakland could have asked for from its No. 4 starter.
Behind the solid start, the Oakland offense needed very little, and what it needed it got from the obvious candidates.
Angels starter Tyler Skaggs (L, 0-1, 3.86 ERA) matched zeroes with Montas early, setting the first A’s he faced down in order. That was until Hundley cracked the levee with a seeing-eye single back up the middle.
Hundley’s two-out knock offered no direct result, but he, lead-off Semien, and two-hole hitter Matt Chapman exacted a heavy toll on the left shoulder of the southpaw.
The fourth pitch Skaggs threw in the fourth, an 89-mph middle-in fastball, was deposited into the left-center field bleachers for a Davis solo homer (4).
Montas considered his attack if he were asked to face Davis:
“He’s going to hit a home run, he’s going to get you good. Thank God we’re on the same team.”
Semien, with a two-out double, and Chapman, with a line-drive single to center, teamed up once again an inning later to put the difference-maker on the board.
Melvin was cryptic when asked about the availability of Blake Treinen (S, 2, 0.00 ERA) before the game. But protecting a one-run lead, the skipper sent his All-Star closer to the bump for the third time in the four-game series.
Treinen worked around a Trout walk and stolen base to seal the save.
Semien, who has picked up at least one hit in each of the A’s six games this season, credited an overall team effort for Sunday’s impressive win:
“That’s what the good teams do: win close games. We didn’t have a great offensive day but we feel like we had a great team-day. Frankie was throwing really hard today, he had three pitches working, and our bullpen did what they do. It’s a good day for us.”
The A’s welcome the reigning World Series champion Red Sox Monday night for the first of a four-game set. Melvin will hand the ball to Aaron Brooks (2-1, 4.40 ERA in Spring Training), making his 15th appearance with the A’s and 19th of his career. Boston will counter with David Price.
Chris Bassitt (left lower leg contusion) threw 40 pitches, full assortment, before the game Sunday, according to Bob Melvin. The next step in his progression will be facing hitters, though there is no clear timetable for his return. … Jurickson Profar has been removed from the first base rotation, Melvin said, and will be treated as the team’s second baseman. Mark Canha and Kendrys Morales serve as Oakland platoon at first. Joakim Soria returned to the mound for the first time since being roughed up for four runs Friday night. He needed just 11 pitches finish a perfect eighth inning.
Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.