Blackley helps A’s avoid four-game sweep in Texas

ARLINGTON — Perhaps overlooked amongst a heady crop of rookies on a fairly young A’s pitching staff, 29-year-old Travis Blackley is proving himself to be just as noteworthy of attention.

It’s been eight years since Blackley was a prospect himself — a big prospect for a Seattle organization he ultimately left when things didn’t work out. A’s manager Bob Melvin, who watched Blackley carry his club to a 3-1 win in Texas on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep, was managing the Mariners during that 2003 season when the southpaw picked up his first career victory.

Since, the Aussie has played for five organizations, along with clubs in the Australian Baseball League and Korean Baseball Organization. Only now, though, is he finding the consistent success he had been looking for all along.

“He really is gaining confidence,” Melvin said. “His route here was all over the world, basically. I was with him a long time ago in Seattle when he was considered the top prospect in the organization. I was there for his first win, and then things didn’t work out for him and he’s been all over the place, and for him to be pitching as well as he is at the big league level at this point is really a testament to a guy who’s persevered through a lot.”

“I’ve got heaps of confidence,” Blackley said after allowing just one run over seven innings to baseball’s best team. “I was just happy someone gave me an opportunity again. I’m just enjoying it here. It’s just comfortable. It’s a bunch of guys that get along really well.”

And pitch really well. Nestled in a rotation that also includes young phenoms Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, along with up-and-coming youngster A.J. Griffin, Blackley has now strung together a quartet of superb outings, going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA — he’s allowed just six runs over 28 innings — during his last four starts.

His most recent proved most impressive, despite a chronic stiff back that crept up on him enough to force his departure after just 93 pitches through seven frames.

Blackley scattered seven hits over that span, and the southpaw — claimed by the A’s off waivers from the Giants less than two months ago — added three strikeouts with no walks, also picking off two — he now leads the American League with six pickoffs — while lowering his ERA with the A’s to 3.38.

“He’s doing a great job of keeping hitters off balance, doing a good job of hitting his spots and working in and out of lefties and righties, mixing speeds for strikes early,” catcher Derek Norris said. “Just really everything he’s getting over for strikes and just getting a lot of weak contact.”

“He was changing speeds and changing location, no patterns,” Texas’ Michael Young said. “He threw a good ballgame.”

After lending the Rangers plenty of breaks in a span of three straight losses, the A’s were on the receiving end of two on Sunday that helped them hand Blackley the victory.

Opposing hurler Yu Darvish matched his career high with 11 strikeouts, but he also threw a wild pitch that led to a run in the sixth, as Jemile Weeks raced home from third after advancing on a Yoenis Cespedes double.

Darvish also was responsible for Derek Norris’ RBI single in the fifth, as well as Brandon Moss’ towering first-pitch shot to right field that reached the second deck in the seventh, which marked Darvish’s final inning. For Moss, it was his eighth homer with the A’s in 21 games, tying for second most in Oakland history for a player in his first 21 games (Dave Kingman, 10 in 1984; Jack Cust, 8 in 2007).

In the sixth, the A’s caught what was perhaps their biggest break of the night, when Craig Gentry launched a pitch from Blackley to center field toward the warning track and appeared to be on his way to third for a triple before the ball bounced off Cespedes’ foot into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Cespedes never appeared to know where the ball was, but it actually worked in the A’s favor, as Gentry reached third on a passed ball later in the frame but never scored, as Blackley induced three consecutive popups from Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton.

“Any time you give up a leadoff double, they probably score there 85 percent of the time, I’d say,” Blackley said. “I just told myself we’re at a one-run game at the worst, no more than that run will score. So I kind of changed my attention a bit and tried to go one at a time at the plate and got lucky with a couple of weak contact that wasn’t able to move him over to third with less than two outs.

“Facing Hamilton, I wasn’t at all worried about walking him there. Luckily he swung at a pitch that probably wasn’t a good one to swing at and popped out. It wasn’t a great pitch at all — just a floating, hanging changeup that might have surprised him because he hadn’t seen out of me all day. That was in the game plan before the game — one at-bat, let’s just show it, and give them another pitch to worry about.”

Fear is what Blackley is creating in all of his opponents these days, a trick that turned an otherwise sour weekend in the Lone Star State into a high note of an ending.

“It’s been a miserable three days for us,” Melvin said. “Heat and all that on top of it in a four-game series, it feels like you’ve been here for a week. To lose a couple of tough ones, it’s good to pull one out, especially when you got a guy like Darvish on the mound. Certainly they gotta feel good about that.”

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