OAKLAND – Help arrived for the A’s starting rotation courtesy of a rather unlikely candidate.
Jesse Hahn, whose shaky spring earned him a ticket to the minors to start the season, shined in his major league season debut Saturday at the Coliseum. The right-hander held the Houston Astros to just three hits over 6 2/3 innings and the A’s rang up their first shutout of 2016, a 2-0 win over Houston.
It marked Hahn’s first big league start since July 1 of last season. A forearm strain sidelined him for the final three-plus months, and then he stumbled during the Cactus League season and began the season with Triple-A Nashville.
But getting his belated chance in Oakland’s rotation, Hahn was at his best Saturday. Fourteen of the 20 outs he recorded came on ground balls. He struck out four and walked two, the kind of effort the A’s needed. Entering the day, Oakland’s starters carried a 9.28 ERA over the previous seven games.
The ninth inning provided some tense moments, as Ryan Madson loaded the bases with one out before getting a game-ending double play off the bat of Evan Gattis.
Saturday’s effort brought to mind Hahn’s shutout last Memorial Day against the Detroit Tigers at the Coliseum – his finest moment in an A’s uniform.
The A’s have will go for a sweep Sunday over the reeling Astros, who occupy the American League West cellar at 7-17 despite their lofty preseason predicitions.
Starting pitching report:
Hahn (1-0) wasn’t operating on a high pitch count, which made his outing all the more impressive. Because of weather postponements that threw off Nashville’s schedule, his final two starts in the minors were abbreviated. He threw just 49 and 72 pitches, respectively. But he was extremely economical with his pitches Saturday, generating early contract and getting two ground-ball double plays to help his cause. He was at 81 pitches when manager Bob Melvin came to get him with runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh.
John Axford relieved Hahn and stranded a runner at third by getting Tyler White on a pop out. He stayed on for a scoreless eighth before handing things over to closer Ryan Madson. Madson walked a tightrope, loading the bases with one out on two walks and a single, but he coaxed Evan Gattis into a 6-4-3 double play to end it and register his eighth save in eight chances.
At the plate:
The A’s picked the right day to get by on minimal offense. They mustered just five hits but made it stand behind the excellent pitching. Their two-out rally in the second accounted for all the scoring on the afternoon. Yonder Alonso, the hero the night before, doubled to the right field corner. Josh Phegley and Marcus Semien both worked walks, and Billy Burns punched a two-run single through the right side off Chris Devenski (0-1).
In the field:
Neither team committed an error, and Semien and Jed Lowrie combined to turn the game-ending double play.
A crowd of 23,084 was on hand on a perfect afternoon for baseball.
This three-game series wraps with Rich Hill (3-2, 2.42) matching up against Doug Fister (1-3, 5.56) in Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. contest. Hill has been excellent in three road starts, but he’s lasted just seven innings combined in his two starts at the Coliseum.