ANAHEIM -- It only took one inning into the Starling Marte era for the A’s to see what they were hoping to get when they traded for their newest outfielder.
Slotted as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup for his A’s debut on Thursday, Marte showed off the impressive on-base skills that made him a coveted Trade Deadline target by drawing a walk that helped set the table for a key three-run first inning that was highlighted by Ramón Laureano’s two-run double in a 4-0 victory over the Angels at Angel Stadium.
With the .407 on-base percentage Marte entered the game with joining Mark Canha's .385 and Matt Olson’s .372, each of those figures ranking among the top 10 best in the American League, the A’s expect to see more instances like the one that played out in the first inning on Thursday. All three hitters led off the game by reaching base. All three ended up scoring.
“It always makes you feel good when you contribute to a win right away, and he did,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Marte. “You look at the on-base percentages with Canha and him at the top and they both get on base to start the game. Next thing you know, we got a three-spot in the first inning. He definitely made an impact on his first day.”
Marte ended up filling the stat sheet nicely in his first game with Oakland, also collecting his first hit with the club -- a single -- in the fifth and stealing his 23rd base of the season later in that same inning.
“That was great for us [to get him],” said A’s starter Frankie Montas “He showed up today for his team out there. He’s a hard worker and a great dude. I’m happy to have him here.”
With Friday's Trade Deadline just hours away, speculation over the A’s possibly making another move -- even after the additions of Marte and left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin earlier in the week -- still remains. One thing is for sure: any move is unlikely to involve them acquiring a starting pitcher.
The A’s have perhaps the most consistent starting staff in the Majors, having used the same five starting pitchers over their last 71 games dating back to May 7. Over that stretch, each rotation member has churned out quality start after quality start. Montas went beyond that on Thursday, turning in a straight up electric performance.
Taking an early three-run lead to the mound to begin his outing, Montas continued what has been a dominant month of July. The right-hander dazzled through seven shutout innings against the Halos, allowing just three hits and striking out 10 batters. He only seemed to get better as the night went along, finishing by not allowing a hit after the fourth and retiring the final seven batters he faced, five of those via strikeout.
Montas now holds a 2.30 ERA (eight earned runs in 31 1/3 innings) through five July starts. The key to that success is no secret: the increased incorporation of his splitter. Throwing the split a career-high 42 times against the Mariners in his previous start last week, Montas fell one short of that mark on Thursday, tossing 41 against the Angels. The pitch generated 13 of his 24 whiffs (swing and misses) and was used as the putaway pitch on six of his 10 punchouts.
“It’s made him a completely different pitcher,” Melvin said of Montas’ splitter. “It looks just like his fastball. He’s found a good grip and is just throwing it hard. When you’re throwing 97-98 mph, you have to be ready for the fastball, so you’re seeing a lot of bad swings with the split.”
Montas has gone through stretches this season in which he’s almost abandoned the splitter, opting for a heavy dosage of fastballs. Now that he’s found a grip for the split that feels comfortable, he’s gained the confidence to throw the pitch more than ever. Combine that with his power fastball, which maxed out at 98.4 mph on Thursday, and it’s easy to see why the right-hander has now produced three 10-strikeout games over his last four starts.
“At the beginning of the season, I was trying to be too perfect with it,” Montas said. “Now I’m just throwing it and letting it do its thing.”
Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea have formed one of the most formidable 1-2 punches of any rotation in baseball. A continuation of these types of starts from Montas could soon turn that into a three-headed monster.
“He's got some great stuff. I don't know who does hit it,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He's got really high velocity, heavy sinker, slider and the split. He really got nasty at the end of the game.
“What he's done differently, is he's started to throw his splitter more to righties. He's got a more mature pitch mix. He's got ace-type stuff. He's that good."