January 29, 2023

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A's win 4 vs. Tigers to find their mojo in Motown

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DETROIT — A lot has changed this week. Take Thursday’s eighth inning, for example. The A’s were tied, having lost a 3-0 lead they held since the first inning.

On Monday, the reaction might have been, “Oh boy. Here we go.” On Thursday, it was more, “Oh boy. Here we go!” That swing in attitude brought with it a swing in fortune, brought on by, well, Seth Brown’s swing.

After Jed Lowrie drew a two-out walk in the eighth, Brown barreled a 374-footer just over the wall in right-center to give the A’s a final boost in their 5-3 win against the Tigers in the series finale at Comerica Park.

“Coming in here, we were all frustrated with how we’ve been playing,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We obviously made some adjustments and the guys did, and it feels good to get back on track.”

And really, this was bound to happen. The A’s knew it and Kotsay knew it. The bats would heat up, the defense would clean up and the pitching would, for the most part, continue on as planned.

Yes, taking four of five from a team that’s won just nine times this season doesn’t necessarily seal a World Series berth for Oakland this fall. Still, there was a lot to like this week in Detroit, and it’s not hard to see how the A’s could use their time in Motown as a foundation to build from moving forward.

Walks up, K’s down
One of the big topics as Oakland pressed for wins was expanding the zone at the plate, which led to an increase in strikeouts. Save for Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the numbers looked much better, with the A’s drawing 16 walks against 22 strikeouts.

“I think there was a focus here over the last few days to be more selective,” Kotsay said. “They worked counts, they focused their approach to take what was given to them, and I think they did a great job with understanding what was needed.”

Youth movement holds strong
Rookies Adrian Martinez (Game 2, Tuesday) and Zach Logue (Wednesday) did great things for a team that is in the midst of playing 15 games in 13 days. Martinez won his Major League debut with 5 1/3 shutout frames and three punchouts, and Logue fired seven scoreless frames and fanned six in his victory.

Neither walked a batter, and each spared the bullpen any unnecessary use during a critical time.

Kevin Smith, who doesn’t quite have a year of service time under his belt, smacked a two-run double on Wednesday and finished the series .263 (5-for-19) with three RBIs, a pair of doubles and two nice catches in the field. 

Elsewhere, Cristian Pache might be struggling at the plate right now, but he collected two RBIs in Detroit, and Kotsay pointed out that the 23-year-old hasn’t let the lack of production affect his defense.

“You continue to see him working, making adjustments … and he’s making progress,” Kotsay said. “We talk about young players and the trials and difficulties of hitting at the Major League level, and he’s going through it, but he’s not affected negatively when he goes out and plays defense.”

A leader who’s in touch
After Oakland lost its ninth straight game on Sunday, Kotsay called a team meeting Monday prior to the series opener in Detroit. It wasn’t so much fire and brimstone, the A’s said, but rather a reminder from their new skipper of their capabilities.

“He just motivated us and challenged us to do better,” catcher Sean Murphy said. “He wasn’t angry; he’s on our side. We’re all pulling the same way, and everybody left that meeting motivated and ready to win.”

In a very short time, Kotsay has earned respect from the guys he leads. It’s not the 17-year MLB career that impresses them, but the way he connects with the team, and the A’s give Kotsay credit for keeping the team up despite the recent funk.

“He’s very hands-on, he communicates very well with the guys and nobody’s left in the dark,” Tony Kemp said. “… He’s the first manager that’s been this communicative in my career, and I’m excited to continue to play for him.”

Love to see the glove
Kemp’s superman catch during the ninth inning of Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader deservedly stole the show, and he made a smooth play to seal the series finale win. But the flashy fielder’s slick skills weren’t the only defensive highlights during the series. Smith and Elvis Andrus also had highlight snags on Monday.

What’s more, the A’s, who entered the series having committed the second-most errors in baseball (23), were charged with none in the past five games.

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