OAKLAND — Kendall Graveman gave the A’s beleaguered rotation a lift by outlasting early trouble Sunday and his persistence was rewarded when Matt Chapman blasted a three-run homer in the fourth inning, sending Oakland to a 9-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
Graveman, making his third start since 2½ months on the shelf with a sore shoulder, couldn’t keep the Orioles off the bases early. Seven of the first 12 batters he faced got hits, but he limited the damage to a pair of runs, and wound up pitching seven effective innings.
That was a huge boost for a rotation that labored over the past week. A’s starters allowed 29 earned runs (including 10 home runs) in 26 2/3 innings over the previous six games. Sean Manaea let in six runs in a third of an inning the night before.
Manager Bob Melvin, whose team had dropped four of five games, said before the game that he was counting on Graveman to help turn the tide.
“When your rotation is having a little bit of a difficult time there’s always a guy you try to lean on. He has the ability to be that guy,” Melvin said.
After giving up single runs in each of the first two innings — fueled by a Manny Machado triple and a Mark Trumbo double — Graven (3-3) pitched scoreless ball the next five innings. From the fourth through seventh, he allowed just one hit and faced only one batter above the minimum.
It was quite a contrast to his two previous starts. Graveman returned from his hiatus Aug. 3 against the Giants and was roughed up for seven earned runs in two innings, then allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of a no-decision outing vs. Seattle last Tuesday.
Graveman delivered the longest outing by an A’s starter since Daniel Gusset went seven innings against the Giants on Aug. 2.
In the meantime, the A’s offense got to Baltimore starter Jeremy Hellickson for five runs in the fourth, punctuated by Chapman’s eighth home run of the season.
Marcus Semien singled and Khris Davis walked before Ryon Healy poked a grounder past first baseman Davis into right field for an RBI double. Matt Olson then hit a sharp one-hopper to Davis, who opted to try to cut down the tying run at the plate. But his throw was late and Davis scored to make it 2-2.
That set the table for Chapman, the 24-year-old rookie third baseman, who last year was MVP of the Double-A Texas League after hitting 29 home runs for Midland. Chapman’s 36 homers in 2016 (including seven with Triple-A Nashville) are tied (with Jose Canseco) for the fourth-most by an A’s prospect in a minor-league season.
Chapman’s blast over the left-field wall made it 5-2, and Oakland added to the lead an inning later when Matt Joyce doubled to left, stole third and scored on Semien’s sacrifice fly.
Joyce’s 16th home run, a two-run shot shot to right in the seventh inning, pushed the lead to 8-2. Machado greeted A’s reliever Ryan Dull with a solo homer to open the eighth, but Olson countered that with a homer in the bottom of the inning, his 13th of the season and third in as many games.
— The win allowed the A’s to avoid sinking to a season-low 16 games under .500. Now 52-66, they entered the contest 15 games below .500 for the third time this year.
Defense hasn’t been the A’s ally much of the season, but they played errorless ball for the second straight games and got nice plays in the field from Chapman at third and Boog Powell in center field.
Oakland entered the game having made 12 errors in its previous 18 games, leading to 16 unearned runs. The A’s remain at 96 errors for the season, one shy of their total from all last season.
Finally, the A’s helped themselves by limiting their strikeouts. Oakland batters had whiffed 33 times in the first three games of the series and had tied the franchise record of 59 games with double-digit strikeouts. But they were struck out just seven times in this one.
— Even in victory, the A’s continued to be hurt by Baltimore extra-base hits. The Orioles had two doubles, a triple and a home run Sunday, giving them 24 extra-base hits in the four-game series: 16 doubles, two triples and six home runs.
— Josh Phegley, on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain, will work out with the team Monday, according to Melvin, then join the club’s Triple-A team in Nashville to DH on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Jake Smolinski, coming back from shoulder surgery on March, will continue to DH for the Stockton Ports Class A team, Melvin said. He was 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in his first game on Saturday night.