A's bats come alive, vanquish Mariners demons

May 26th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The A’s didn’t forget about the nightmarish damage the Mariners caused to their failed postseason goals last season. Entering the first series of 2022 between the two clubs, the revenge factor was not quite as high with such a vastly different-looking roster. Nevertheless, these A’s had an opportunity to exorcise demons, and that’s exactly what they did.

After the A’s ended a 13-game losing streak against the Mariners on Tuesday night, snapping the club’s longest such streak against a single team since moving to Oakland in 1968, they returned to T-Mobile Park less than 24 hours later and secured a 4-2 win in Wednesday’s series finale. For a club that entered the day 1-7-1 over its last nine series, it was a victory that was much-needed to ensure a happy flight back to Oakland.

“Any series win is a big win, especially here against a team that kind of knocked us around last year,” said A’s starter . “It felt like every time we played them, they were putting up crooked numbers. One through nine, they can swing it well. Coming into their place and playing them for the first time, taking two of three is big.”

Blackburn continued his transformation from fifth starter to unlikely ace. Opposing the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Robbie Ray, the right-hander held down Seattle’s offense across 5 1/3 scoreless innings.

Here are three takeaways from a strong all-around team win by the A’s:

1. Blackburn is for real
Hesitation clouded the validity of Blackburn’s early-season success given the struggles he’s endured over his previous five seasons. But this is no longer a fluke. His 1.70 ERA through nine starts is fourth lowest among qualified Major League pitchers.

Blackburn was able to keep the Mariners off the board even without his best command. He uncharacteristically walked a season-high five batters and hit another, yet none of those free passes came back to hurt him on a day in which he allowed only one hit.

At this point, it’s almost like Blackburn Day equals Win Day for the A’s, who have been victorious in eight of his first nine outings.

“Paul is pitching with a lot of confidence right now,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “He has picked up a tick of velocity and his breaking ball is sharper. He’s utilizing the changeup a lot more. The arsenal has increased for Paul, and that’s another reason why he’s been so effective.”

A major key to Blackburn’s emergence stems from how he’s reinvented himself as a pitcher -- not just in the traditional sense. His pitching style hasn’t changed that much. The right-hander remains heavily reliant on keeping the ball on the ground, which helped Wednesday as he produced a pair of double-play balls in critical spots. Rather, his reinvention has come from a mental standpoint.

“This whole year, I feel like I’ve matured so much,” Blackburn said. “Just being able to be out there and not let little things snowball and affect you. Focusing on that pitch-to-pitch mentality. As soon as I walk a guy with less than two outs, I’m thinking double play. That’s helped me a lot this year.”

2. The bats are coming alive
A surging A’s offense found success against Ray, scoring a trio of runs off the left-hander on a pair of homers by Seth Brown and Elvis Andrus.

Collecting four runs on nine hits in the finale against Seattle, Oakland has now scored 34 runs over its past eight games.

“Everybody is doing the little things,” Brown said. “There’s no selfish at-bats going on out there right now. When runners need to be moved over, everybody wants to get that runner over and just get the next guy up. When we’re all firing like that, we’re going to put runs on the board.”

Luis Barrera provided some insurance in the ninth with his second hit of the day -- an RBI single to right off Paul Sewald. It wasn’t long ago that Barrera hit the low point of his professional career after he was designated for assignment by the A’s on April 11. Sticking around in the organization, he’s now worked his way back to enjoy major success in the big leagues. The outfielder is hitting .333 through his first 16 games, with Wednesday’s two-hit performance marking his fifth multihit effort this season.

3. A bullpen thriving in big spots
Lou Trivino entered this season expecting to be the team’s closer. Early struggles lost him that role, but he now appears to be carving out an important role by showing an ability to strand runners on base, doing so with 13 of his 14 inherited runners so far. On Wednesday, he entered in relief of Blackburn in the sixth with two runners on and one out, and he quickly ended Seattle’s threat, striking out Julio Rodríguez and inducing a flyout from Eugenio Suárez.

Meanwhile, new closer Dany Jiménez continued to pitch himself into possible All-Star consideration with a scoreless ninth. The right-hander has allowed just three runs (one earned) through 18 1/3 innings, and his 10 saves lead all Major League rookies.