Murphy flexes power in win over Halos
OAKLAND -- Sean Murphy exploded onto the scene last season as a September callup with four home runs through his first seven games, leaving the A’s excited over his potential output over a full season.
On Sunday afternoon, his second game of 2020, Murphy flashed that power again with a monster solo shot to provide some breathing room in a 6-4 win over the Angels at the Coliseum.
Murphy’s sixth-inning blast off Angels reliever Noé Ramirez was his first homer of the season and came on a first-pitch slider that soared halfway up the left-field bleachers. The ball screamed off his bat, hit with an exit velocity of 109.3 mph and traveling 455 feet, per Statcast.
“I think he was probably sitting on that pitch,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The thing about Murph is you’re always going to get good defense. He’s going to be a good power hitter. But you’re always one swing away from multiple runs with him."
The rookie catcher’s homer was much needed after the Angels were slowly clawing their way back into the game on the strength of superstar Mike Trout, who provided all of the offense for Los Angeles with a three-run shot off A’s starter Mike Fiers in the third and a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
“He’s about as strong as anybody and can hit the ball as far as anyone on our team,” Melvin said of Murphy. “All it takes for a guy like him is one pitch, and that was a big run for us.”
The A’s had built up an early cushion. A five-run outburst in the first -- which featured three runs on back-to-back singles by Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman -- knocked Angels starter Shohei Ohtani out of the game before he could even record an out.
While Grossman’s single was the final blow to Ohtani’s outing, Canha’s single may have been the more debilitating shot to the right-hander as it came after a nine-pitch battle that followed three straight walks drawn by A’s hitters.
“I told myself [Ohtani] was going to try to throw strikes and get ahead,” Canha said. “I was trying to put a good at-bat together and told myself if he throws it [in the zone] the first pitch, let it rip. I wasn’t necessarily trying to take or get deep into the count, but that’s how it played out.”
The A’s have witnessed the dominance that can be brought to the mound by Ohtani, who nearly threw a perfect game in his previous matchup against them at Angel Stadium in 2018. So when the A’s broke out against the two-way star in the first, they admitted to being a little surprised by Ohtani’s lack of command despite it being his first start back from Tommy John surgery.
“Last time we saw him he threw a little harder with a few more splits,” Melvin said. “Maybe he’s not all the way there yet. I think you go up there early in the game maybe even expecting a little more as far as the velocity goes. We really weren’t sure what to expect. We know he is an absolute terrific talent. Probably didn’t have his best stuff.”
The A’s bullpen shined in relief of Fiers, who was pulled in the fifth with no outs and runners at the corners. Five A’s relievers combined to hold the Angels scoreless over the game’s final five innings. Liam Hendriks, who blew his first save opportunity of the year on Opening Day, bounced back with a four-out save.
Making the save extra sweet for Hendriks was a rematch with Jason Castro, who took him deep for a game-tying solo homer on Friday night. This time, Hendriks atoned for that mistake by retiring Castro on a groundout to lead off the ninth.
"I was able to redeem myself on that one,” Hendriks said. “I got that first save out of the way. So hopefully, we can start rolling now.”
Rolling would be an understatement for the A’s relief corps right now. Through the first three games of the regular season, A’s relievers have combined to allow just one earned run over 15 1/3 innings. The contributions have come from several arms up and down the bullpen as they continue to get the job done in relief of A’s starters, who are on a shorter pitch count than usual early in the season.
“All of those guys have experience. Early in the year, you lean on those guys,” Melvin said of the A’s relievers. “They’ve been fantastic. We knew the bullpen would be very important in the beginning of the year. They’ve been up to the task.”