Semien puts on 4th of July display with slam
Shortstop hits two homers; Wang delivers key relief outing
OAKLAND -- So much has been made about Marcus Semien’s improvements on defense that have led to many run-saving plays this season, but the ability to get it done with the bat has always been there, and he provided another example on Thursday.
With the A’s holding a slim one-run lead in the eighth inning, Semien provided a taxed bullpen with plenty of cushion as he launched a first-pitch changeup from Twins reliever Mike Morin over the left field wall for a grand slam in a 7-2 victory. The slam was Semien’s second home run of the day, matching a career-high five RBIs.
“That’s what Morin likes to throw, a slow changeup,” Semien said. “It was a pitch you can get up in the air, which is what I was trying to do. He left it up a little bit.”
Semien’s observation of Morin’s game is part of the evolution of his all-around production. His 13 home runs before the All-Star break are his most to this point in a season since 2016. His 10.8 defensive rating leads all Major League shortstops, according to FanGraphs. But the quality that perhaps is most overlooked about the shortstop is the durability. Semien is Oakland’s iron man. His refusal to accept a day off, even when offered, garners respect from A’s manager Bob Melvin and his teammates.
“He does a lot of good things,” Melvin said. “He’s hitting the ball the other way when they shift him. He’s very prepared for every at-bat, will sit on offspeed pitches when he knows they’re prevalent from a guy. The grand slam was huge, but like everything he does, he just gets better and more knowledgeable as he goes along.”
Semien’s first home run was a game-tying solo blast off Twins starter Jose Berrios to lead off the fifth. Providing both big flies on Thursday, Semien pushed Oakland’s home run total to 139 on the season, setting a new franchise record for most homers before the All-Star break.
“We hit a lot of home runs, we just don’t have people on base when we do it,” Semien said. “That’s been our struggle sometimes. Home runs have always been our identity.”
The A’s made it three consecutive series victories after taking two of three from Minnesota, a club that currently sits first place in the AL Central, well above .500. The A’s have looked to distance themselves from .500 as well and are finally starting to do so, now a season-high eight games over.
Utilizing this series as a litmus test for where they stack up among the top clubs in the league, the A’s will see the Twins again later this month, but Semien hopes a chance for a third series between the two clubs can come up much later in the year.
“We faced their three best guys, I think,” Semien said. “They’ve got good pitching and power bats. It’s a big series win. That’s a team we hope to see in the playoffs.”
Wang gets a beer shower
After A’s starter Tanner Anderson’s high pitch count led to an early departure, left-hander Wei-Chung Wang turned in a crucial 2 1/3 scoreless innings and recorded the first Major League win of his career.
Pitching in the KBO last season in Korea after brief stints with the Brewers in 2014 and 2017, the 27-year-old Wang was unsure if he’d ever get back to the Major Leagues. Not only did the Taiwanese-born pitcher find his way back with the A’s on a Minor League deal in Spring Training, he’s been on quite a roll in his time with the club since his May 25 call up, earning himself a traditional dousing of beer from his teammates while sitting in a laundry cart inside the A’s clubhouse after Thursday’s win.
“It’s very exciting,” Wang said through a translator. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it back here to the big leagues. I worked my butt off and really grateful the A’s gave me the opportunity to come back to the United States to pitch.”
The left-hander entered the game in relief of Anderson shortly after the Twins had taken a one-run lead with two on and two outs. As he’s been asked to do often this year, Wang was tasked with pitching out of trouble against a lefty, this time Jason Castro. Wang retired Castro on a flyout and pitched two more innings after that, allowing just one hit and a walk.
“What Wang’s been doing for us has been absolutely fantastic,” Melvin said. “Whether it’s coming in to get a lefty out or a couple of lefties. Next thing you know, we’re looking at two-plus innings against righties and lefties. Every time we lean on him, he comes up big for us. He was huge today.”
Wang has turned in scoreless outings in 10 of his first 12 appearances for the A’s, lowering his ERA to 1.56 over 17 1/3 innings. Throwing strikes early and often, he’s issued only three walks.
“He just throws strikes with everything,” Semien said. “It’s hard for them to sit on his fastball. He’s a tough at-bat for hitters.”