OAKLAND — Frankie Montas took the mound Saturday night for the Athletics, and had the full support of his teammates.
Montas improved his record to 9-2, giving up two runs with one walk and nine strikeouts in six innings in an 11-2 win by the Athletics over the Seattle Mariners at the Coliseum before a crowd of 14,846.
By the time Yusmeiro Petit took over in the seventh, the Athletics had a nine-run lead. Montas entered the game fifth in the American League in run support with 7.11 runs per game.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin doesn’t think that’s just happenstance. It happens occasionally with pitchers who have evolved into a staff ace, and their mere presence improves both the defense and the offense.
“In Arizona, Curt Schilling used to get a ton of runs, and it was because he worked quick, kept fielders on their toes, he got you in the dugout quickly, and guys scored some runs,” Melvin said. “I don’t think it’s coincidental we end up playing in a lot of good games behind him.”
The Athletics, 36-35, scored three times in the first inning against Seattle “opener” Gerson Bautista (0-1) on a two-run, two-out single by Ramon Laureano and a run-scoring single by Jurickson Profar and ended up adding on the rest of the game.
The Mariners, perhaps a bit shell-shocked at the news they’d traded American League home run leader Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees, are 30-44 after an unsightly four-error performance but could still win the three-game series from the Athletics with a win on Sunday.
Montas, a 26-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, has gone from a velocity-based thrower who looked as if he might be a reliever to a consistent starter who can keep hitters off-balance. Six of his nine strikeouts came on sliders, and Montas throws a splitter that consistently has hitters chasing the ball in the dirt.
He’s not making it complicated, either, which, considering his talent, is a good thing.
“Just trying to throw strikes with my fastballs,” Montas said. “After that I can throw my off-speed. They’re looking for fastballs always and off-speed is working pretty good.”
Over his last seven starts, Montas has struck out 46 batters in 28 innings and teammates have taken notice of his dominance.
“I saw him back when I was with Chicago, he was a young kid, a lot of people thought he’d be a bullpen guy,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. “Now he’s a bonafide starter in this league. He always had the fastball. Now he’s added a two-seam, he’s got a four-seam, and you don’t know what to swing at.”
Montas gave up one run in the second on an RBI ground out by Mac Williamson and a second in the fifth on J.P. Crawford’s run-scoring single. He has an earned run average of 2.85 and is flirting with all-star status.
He looks at the run-support and the confidence engendered as a two-way street.
“I mean, the guys, they have been supporting me the whole year,” Montas said. “I always get good run-support from them. I don’t know, maybe they feel confident like I do when they’re hitting.”
There was plenty of hitting from the Athletics, and rare is the game where they score in double figures with just a single home run. Semien had the lone home run, a solo shot, in the second inning. It was his 10th of the season.
The rest of the offense came throughout the lineup with a five-run fifth the biggest outburst. Chad Pinder was the only starter who didn’t get a hit.
Semien, the leadoff hitter, went 3-for-4. Mark Canha doubled and scored three times. Profar was 3-for-4 and drove in three runs.
It was a welcome sight after the Athletics the bases loaded Friday night in the first inning, didn’t score, and lost 9-2 to Seattle.
“Offensively, basically everybody contributed and moved the line, had some big hits, added on and did all the things you’d like to do,” Melvin said. “Frankie did his thing, and that’s kind of a typical game for him now.”
— Profar who is hitting .218 and has struggled in terms of batting average all season, leads the Athletics in RBIs with 39. He’s hitting .333 (15-for-45) in June.
The Athletics now have six players with 30 or more RBIs including three who are usually at the bottom of the order in Profar, Laureano (30) and catcher Josh Phegley (38).
“You look at our production down there, I don’t know, that’s quite a luxury to have, guys in the mid-30s in RBIs hitting down in the bottom of the lineup,” Melvin said. “We can literally score in any inning and I think guys realize that.”
— Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter and Joakim Soria each threw a scoreless inning after Montas was lifted following a 93-pitch effort, 60 of them strikes.
— Semien has improved his hitting streak to 12 games and his hitting .396 (21-for-53) over that span.
— The Mariners have 79 errors this season, 23 more than any other team in baseball.