Injury replacement Hahn and two relievers lead the A’s to a shutout of the Astros

Hahn hot

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Jesse Hahn, step right up. There’s no line, and no reason to wait.

Closing a rocky stretch in which seven different pitchers started the last seven games, Jesse Hahn came out of nowhere to register the most impressive turn, shutting out the Astros on Saturday along with two relievers in the A’s 2-0 win at the Coliseum.

While Hahn figuratively came out of nowhere, literally he’s a replacement for injured starters Felix Doubront and Chris Bassitt, and was the odd man out in spring training, a guy who made 16 starts for Oakland in 2015, and was as up and down as an elevator in a high rise building.

After posting a 6-6 record with a 3.35 ERA, forearm issues struck in July, sidelining Hahn for the remainder of the season, then after some disappointing outings this spring, he wasn’t seen or heard of in these part until Saturday.

With a fastball registering as swift as 97 mph, and plenty of bite on his breaking pitches, Hahn was simply a revelation on Saturday. The powerful right hander pitched into the seventh inning, allowing three hits and two walks, while striking out four. Bob Melvin, a most interested observer given the unsettled nature of his rotation, said as much in his comments following the game.

“Velocity, movement, mixed his pitches, throwing his curveball for a strike, mixing in a changeup, and you’re throwing 96, 97 mph and throwing strikes,” Melvin recounted. “About as good as we’ve seen him.”

Hahn worked fast, a huge advantage for the A’s error-prone defenders, starting 18 of 23 batters with a strike. His ball-strike ratio wasn’t great, so he did fall into some deep counts, but needed just 81 pitches to get the A’s into the seventh inning. By any measure this was the best outing an A’s starter has posted in 2016.

“I was throwing strikes,” Hahn said. “That was the most important thing: strike one and being able to put hitters away.”

One major qualifier in Hahn’s seamless appearance is the current state of the Astros, now tied for the worst record in the American League after winning just seven of 24 in April, and failing to win consecutive games even once. Last April, the Astros shot out of the gate at 15-7 and went from there to a first playoff appearance in 10 seasons.

“We all know we’re capable of playing a lot better,” Houston’s Scott Feldman said. “With May, hopefully something magical happens. We’ll get this thing turned around and start playing to our capabilities.

Feldman threw three innings of scoreless relief, after Chris Devenski went five innings, allowed both Oakland runs and took the loss. It was an exchange of roles as Devenski, a reliever, replaced the struggling Feldman in Houston’s rotation. Devenski pitched well, but pitched tentatively in the second, according to manager A.J. Hinch, when he allowed Billy Burns’ two-run single scoring Yonder Alonso and Josh Phegley.

Against Hahn, Carlos Correia’s one-out, double in the seventh qualified as Houston’s biggest—and only—blow. After Hahn departed, John Axford and Ryan Madson finished the job. Madson walked a couple of batters, giving Houston a sliver of light, but cleanup hitter Evan Gattis grounded into a game-ending double play with two baserunners aboard.

The A’s finished 13-12 in April, the third time in four years, excluding last April, that the A’s have posted a winning record in the opening month. Texas defeated the Angels Saturday night, 7-2, to maintain their 1 ½ game lead over Oakland in the AL West with Seattle in second, a game ahead of the A’s.

On Sunday, Rich Hill starts for Oakland, and Doug Fister gets the ball for Houston, with the Astros looking to avoid a three-game sweep. The 32-year old Fister has lost three consecutive starts, and his 5.56 ERA is more than two runs higher than his career mark.

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