Nevin, the 'pen, double plays: Keys to recent success

April 30th, 2024

OAKLAND -- A's manager Mark Kotsay burst into laughter during his postgame media session on Monday night upon hearing about his club not reaching 13 wins in 2023 until its 63rd game of the season.

No reminder was needed. Kotsay recalled it quite vividly. He quickly rattled off the numbers from last year's historically miserable stretch -- the 6-26 and 12-50 records -- before hitting that 13-win mark on June 6.

With much higher expectations entering year three of a rebuild, the A's are looking to challenge for a .500 record. Doing so requires avoiding another disastrous start to the season, and they've done that so far. Monday's 5-1 victory over the Pirates at the Coliseum notched their 13th win in just their 30th game of 2024.

"For us as a club, we feel we're in a better position [this year] to have success," Kotsay said. "The goal was to come in prepared to win every day. The confidence from those results is starting to show."

The path to victory on Monday was similar to the formula the A's have followed over a successful stretch in the past few weeks. Joe Boyle's solid outing of one-run baseball allowed the A's bullpen to shut down Pittsburgh with just one hit allowed over four scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, a usually homer-reliant A's offense did receive a game-tying homer from in the first, but most of the production was the result of solid fundamentals with sacrifice flies by Shea Langeliers and Max Schuemann in the fourth and another sac fly by Nevin in the fifth.

"Three sac flies, that's at least three positive at-bats with runners in scoring position," Nevin said. "That's huge. That's what winning teams do. Driving runs in any way that you can. It was cool to see a full team effort tonight."

Here are three takeaways from Monday's series opener:

Nevin thriving in new environment

The A's took a flier on Nevin by claiming him off waivers from the Orioles on March 31, shortly after being designated for assignment. Nearly a month later, he regularly finds himself near the top of Oakland's lineup and arguably performs as their top hitter.

Pacing the offense with two more RBIs on Monday, Nevin is enjoying a career-best seven-game hitting streak. Over that stretch, he's 11-for-29 (.379) with three homers and five RBIs, now batting .301 with a .802 OPS for the season.

"The spark with a homer to tie the game got us back into it," Kotsay said. "His at-bats have been quality. They're professional. He grinds out at-bats. He's got enough juice in there to hit homers. You feel good when he's in the box. He's going to take a good at-bat and battle the pitcher."

A part-time player for most of his previous three big league seasons, Nevin is taking advantage of his first real opportunity at everyday playing time by developing a routine that keeps him consistent at the plate.

"When you're feeling good, you just try to keep feeling good," Nevin said. "I'm trying not to do too much. I'm just riding that wave. Have a good at-bat every time and stack them."

The bullpen is dominant

Mason Miller's electric arm is garnering most of the attention, but the A's bullpen consists of arms that constantly get the job done. With such a large lead on Monday, Kotsay was able to rely on lower-leverage relievers Dany Jiménez and Michael Kelly, who closed out the game with four scoreless frames. This marks the seventh time A's relievers have not allowed a run in the last eight games.

"Last year, we had a difficult time holding leads late in games," Kotsay said. "When you've got a closer that you feel really good about coming in with a one-run lead, there's something about that mindset that builds and leads to confidence for teams, knowing we just have to get out to a lead. I think that's a different mindset this year from last year."

Defensively sound

The A's 1-7 start to the season was highlighted by poor defense, which dug them into early holes. Now 12-10 in the last 22 games, Oakland's turnaround has been largely due to strong defense. On Monday, the A's turned three double plays, increasing their Major League-leading total to 33.

"The success is largely due to solid defense behind pitchers that are getting the ball on the ground," Kotsay said. "We're executing double plays, which you saw tonight."