A’s manager Bob Melvin has no doubt Matt Olson will find his way back to the middle of the lineup this season. But after enduring a tough stretch of games at the plate, Melvin moved the slugger down in the order to alleviate some pressure. Perhaps that was the wake-up call Olson needed.
Batting sixth in the A’s lineup for the first time this season, Olson responded with a two-hit night that included a majestic two-run homer to highlight a big night on offense all around in Tuesday’s 10-3 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Field. The win pushed Oakland’s lead atop the American League West standings to four games over second-place Houston.
Olson entered the night in a 3-for-29 slump over his previous eight games, with his batting average plummeting to fifth lowest in the Majors at .164. Following a night in which the A’s were held to less than three runs for just the fifth time this season, Olson’s drop in the order was one of a couple of moves in a shakeup by Melvin to attempt to get the bats going.
“Oly has been struggling a little bit, even though he’s walking and getting on base,” Melvin said before Tuesday’s game. “We’re just trying to move guys who are swinging the bat a little bit better right now up. These guys will be back in their spots at some point in time. But over the course of the season, you do this several times.”
The switches -- which included Robbie Grossman moving up to the No. 2 spot and moving Stephen Piscotty to the five-spot -- paid off as the A’s erupted for 10 runs on eight hits. Olson’s two-run shot came in the fourth off Rangers starter Kyle Gibson, belted 110.9 mph off the bat and traveling an estimated 453 feet, per Statcast, which qualifies as the sixth longest of his career and second longest of the season. The go-ahead blast put the A’s ahead 3-1 at the time.
“When you hit in the middle of the order and go through a slump, [it] can wear on you,” Melvin said. “You want to be that guy that contributes. Sometimes a little change of scenery can help you out a little bit. You could see he was really determined tonight.”
Olson might be in a slump, but the long ball continues to be a major part of his game. The homer off Gibson was his 10th of the year, which leads the club and is tied for second most in the AL.
“I don’t think it took any pressure off. I approach the at-bats the same way,” Olson said. “But I’ve been grinding and looking for some solid at-bats. I felt like I put a few together tonight.”
While Olson’s homer will get the shine, he pointed to his line-drive single in the second that provided a confidence boost one at-bat prior. That hit came on a changeup, a pitch Olson said he had been struggling to make good contact on over the past week.
“I’ve been looking at video and my swing looks really close to when I’m going well,” Olson said. “It’s been tough to put my finger on exactly what it is. Today, I just wanted to be a little more free with my hands and not as tight. There was a lot of tension at the top. I came out and felt really loose.”
Marcus Semien added a two-run shot of his own in the fifth, and the A’s later manufactured an five-run rally in the seventh, taking advantage of some wild pitching from the Rangers' bullpen in a rally that included two runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk and hit-by-pitch.
There was nothing easy about Sean Manaea’s outing. The left-hander pitched with traffic on the basepaths in all but one of his five innings, but he managed to limit the damage to three runs (one earned) on seven hits, ending his night by escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a two-run lead intact.
Scary moment for Chapman
Fear washed over the entire A’s dugout in the fourth inning when a pitch from Gibson sailed towards the head of Matt Chapman. The ball struck Chapman on the left side of his helmet after he turned away just in time.
Melvin and A’s head athletic trainer Nick Paparesta immediately rushed out to check on Chapman. Gibson also approached the third baseman as he made his way to first and apologized for the unintentional hit-by-pitch.
“I don’t know when the last time I hit somebody like that,” Gibson said. “I don’t know him, I’ve only heard good things about him. I just wanted to hang around home plate and let him know I wasn’t trying to do anything closely remote to that. Hopefully he is OK, because that was a scary moment.”
Chapman remained in the game the rest of the way and showed no signs of discomfort.
“I think it got a decent bit of the ear flap on the helmet. But he’s a tough guy and didn’t even think about coming out,” Olson said. “It’s something to watch to make sure there’s no concussion or anything, but I think he’s all good.”