PHILADELPHIA — One thing Mark Kotsay has quickly made clear in his short time as manager of the A’s is the importance he places on timeliness, whether it relates to himself or his players. That’s why he was apologetic when he arrived a few minutes later than usual for his postgame session with the media on Sunday afternoon.
But he had a good reason.
Returning to the A’s clubhouse inside Citizens Bank Park fresh off his first Major League managerial win, Kotsay was the recipient of a “beer bath” from his players. So the extra time was necessary to clean up and get himself in order.
“I haven’t had one of those since my rookie year,” Kotsay said. “All in all, I couldn’t be more proud of those guys. They battled and they deserve this day to celebrate and enjoy this win.”
The celebration followed Oakland’s 4-1 triumph over the Phillies. In what was the epitome of a true team win, the A’s played a sound game all-around. They received a strong pitching performance, kicked off by five scoreless innings from Daulton Jefferies. They made multiple impressive plays on defense, and the offense delivered in key moments with big hits.
Naturally, Kotsay downplayed the significance of his role in the win and instead heaped praise on those who took the field. His players, though, had a different take.
“The biggest story here is Kots’ first win,” said A’s second baseman Tony Kemp. “I can tell he’s gonna be a great manager. There’s no panic in him.”
Kotsay indeed remained cool under pressure in what was really the first game in which he faced critical decisions at the helm this season. Here’s a look at the right buttons he pushed earn his first victory:
Matching up with a potent offense
Despite cruising through five scoreless innings, Jefferies was pulled at 48 pitches after issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth. It’s a move that could have been viewed as perplexing at the time given the right-hander’s dominance to that point. However, Kotsay’s plan worked out.
The top of Philadelphia’s lineup was approaching, and Kotsay summoned left-hander Sam Moll from the bullpen. With little room for error, Moll did exactly what he was tasked with, striking out a pair of dangerous left-handed bats in Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper to preserve a one-run lead.
A few factors went into the decision to pull Jefferies. For one, the shortened Spring Training has left most pitchers around the league with pitch counts being closely monitored. It was also going to be Jefferies’ third time facing the Phillies’ order, and though he’d made quick work by throwing three or fewer pitches to 12 of the 18 batters he’d faced, that third time through a lineup can often spell trouble.
“Ultimately, Daulton gave us [five-plus] good innings,” Kotsay said. “Early in the season, you try to build pitch count. But at this point, the opportunity to get Sam lined up against Schwarber and the lefties, we felt that gave us the best chance to win.”
Taking a chance with McKinney
When Billy McKinney’s spot in the A’s order came up in the seventh against Phillies lefty Bailey Falter, the numbers suggested Oakland should probably insert a right-handed option off the bench for a more favorable matchup. Instead, Kotsay chose to keep McKinney in the game, and the left fielder delivered by swatting a solo home run into the right-field seats to extend the A’s lead to 2-0.
“For that decision, you look ahead,” Kotsay said. “We had a lead. Giving [McKinney] an opportunity to take that at-bat, if that position rolls back around, we still had some flexibility with the bench. It turned out well.”
Establishing a bullpen bridge
With so many inexperienced relievers, the A’s entered the season without any defined roles outside of closer Lou Trivino. How they utilize those arms in the late innings remains a fluid situation. Following Moll on Sunday, Kotsay went to Domingo Acevedo and Kirby Snead for the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Both pitchers had allowed runs in Friday’s season opener, leading to the game getting away from Oakland.
This time around, though, Acevedo and Snead responded well. Each pitcher recorded a scoreless inning, giving way to Trivino in the ninth. Though Trivino surrendered a leadoff homer to Jean Segura, a pair of runs scored by the A’s in the top half of the frame provided enough insurance for Trivino to lock down the win.
“They came out and were a lot more relaxed and comfortable,” Kotsay said of Acevedo and Snead. “We’re going to get into this [season] and start defining roles. Those guys are gonna start earning roles. It feels good just overall that they came in and had success.”