A's keep rolling behind Kap, rookie relievers

Oakland wins 3rd straight, seeks first series sweep of 2022

July 24th, 2022

OAKLAND – Despite carrying a .344 winning percentage at the All-Star break that ranked second-lowest in Oakland history, the A’s generated momentum with an impressive series victory over the first-place Astros to end the first half of the season, giving hope that the second half could provide better fortunes for this rebuilding squad.

Returning home after their midseason respite, the A’s have carried over that positive energy. A 3-1 victory over the Rangers at the Coliseum on Saturday marked Oakland’s third win in four games since the break and its first three-game winning streak at home in 2022, which also matches the club’s longest winning streak of the season.

“I did feel like we played better baseball leading into the break,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “You always worry after a three-day break, how a team is going to come out. Right now, I feel like we’re playing good, clean baseball.”

Coinciding with this encouraging stretch for the A’s has been a string of solid pitching. That continued Saturday with James Kaprielian, who turned in his first scoreless outing of the season after limiting Texas to two hits and two walks with four strikeouts over five innings.

Kaprielian has expressed a desire to pitch deeper into games than he’s been able to this season. While his five innings against the Rangers extended his streak of starts of six innings or fewer to 26 -- the longest such streak by an A’s starting pitcher in franchise history -- the right-hander again provided signs that those lengthier outings could soon come his way.

Over his last five starts, Kaprielian has posted a 2.76 ERA while limiting opponents to a .184 batting average (21-for-114) in 32 2/3 innings, further distancing himself from a rough start to the year that saw him knocked around for a 6.31 ERA through his first nine starts.

“The last few starts from Kap, we saw improvements,” Kotsay said. “We saw him using his fastball more and having better command. We’re looking at that swing-and-miss slider. Hopefully, that continues to progress as well.”

The strikeouts haven’t shown up for Kaprielian the way they did in his breakout rookie campaign last year, when he fanned 123 batters across 119 1/3 innings. Though he only recorded four punchouts on Saturday, both he and Kotsay saw positives in the amount of times he was able to miss bats. Kaprielian’s 14 whiffs (swing and misses) matched his season-high.

“That’s maybe a little bit more like myself,” Kaprielian said. “I like to think I’m a strikeout pitcher, and this year I haven’t quite shown that. I’ve relied on the defense quite a bit. To get some swing and miss, it’s definitely good to see.”

With the A’s already far down in the playoff race, this second half is all about the development of the youngsters. Kaprielian, who has battled through an up-and-down sophomore season, is among those looking to fully establish themselves at this level.

Many of those inexperienced players looking to fortify long-term futures on this team also reside in the A’s bullpen, including a rookie trio that gave a quality showing on Saturday in relief of Kaprielian. It started with Domingo Acevedo, who induced a critical inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to maintain a scoreless tie in the sixth. Sam Moll and Zach Jackson later followed up with scoreless outings, Jackson’s a flawless ninth with two strikeouts to notch his second career save.

“The bullpen has been huge,” said A’s third baseman Vimael Machín. “Having those guys help us as a team, it builds more confidence and gives [us] a chance to win more games.”

Success tends to build confidence. While results in the win-loss column this year won’t necessarily be the focus for the A’s, sustained periods of winning can certainly go a long way in developing a belief amongst young players that they can hang at the Major League level. That’s why this month is an important one. Now 10-9 in July, the A’s have a decent shot at recording their first winning month of the season. A victory on Sunday would also mark their first series sweep of ‘22.

“Three is a streak,” Kaprielian said. “We’ve got an opportunity to sweep [Sunday] and we need to take advantage of that. We’re on a good start to the second half. There’s still things to improve on, but I like what I see out of the team.”