OAKLAND -- Dan Straily, American League Rookie of the Year?
Strangely, the A's right-hander hasn't been mentioned much -- if at all -- in the conversation regarding the league's top rookies. But he may making a late rush for consideration.
Straily (9-7) pitched seven shutout innings against the Houston Astros with one just walk and seven strikeouts Saturday afternoon in what was arguably his best outing of the year in a 2-1 Oakland victory at the Coliseum.
The win helped the A's move 11/2 games ahead of the Texas Rangers in the A.L. West. The Rangers lost 8-3 to the Los Angeles Angels.
There are no Mike Trouts in the A.L. rookie field this year, so Straily is starting to stack up increasingly well against the contenders. With his third straight victorious start, his nine wins are tied for the league lead among first-year starters with Texas' Martin Perez.
Straily has also started more games, pitched more innings and recorded more strikeouts than any other rookie, and he has limited opposing hitters to a .236 average, second only to Tampa Bay's Chris Archer.
Archer is probably the favorite for the award among pitchers -- his ERA is a full run lower than Straily's -- while Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias is the likely front-runner among position players. But sometimes what you do at the finish leaves the most lasting impression, and Straily is definitely making an impression.
"He's had a couple of similar outings, but that might be as good as we've seen him," manager Bob Melvin said. "He was real aggressive with his fastball, and whenever he locates with his fastball and throws strikes, it makes the slider that much better. When he gets ahead, he's a tough customer to deal with."
Straily didn't make the A's playoff roster last year despite making contributions to Oakland's stretch drive, but it'll be tough to keep him off this year.
"Postseason is down the road, we have to get there," Melvin said. "But he's pitching really well right now, one of our better starters."
Melvin admitted he hasn't really studied the Rookie of the Year candidates but added, "He has the ability to be one of those guys."
For his part, Straily is just happy to be pitching consistently at a time when the A's are pushing for the playoffs. In this start, he had superb fastball command, which set up his devastating slider.
"It allowed me to keep the line moving, instead of clogging it up and throwing 3-2 on everybody," Straily said.
With Kurt Suzuki behind the plate, Straily can count on being able to bounce his sharp-breaking slider and feel confident it's not going to get away from one of the best blocking catchers in the game.
"I feel confident with all three of our catchers," the pitcher said. "But Suzuki, the first game he worked with me, he said, 'Throw it in the dirt and if I don't block it, it's on me completely. You do your part and I'll do mine.' "
Suzuki, to be sure, knows what a weapon Straily's slider can be.
"When it's breaking down in the dirt, it's as good as anybody's that I've caught," Suzuki said.
Straily was matched against another tough rookie, Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, and while he didn't get that much support -- the only run off Oberholtzer in six innings was a fourth-inning leadoff home run by Yoenis Cespedes -- he made it stand up.
Cespedes' homer was his 22nd of the year and a no-doubt blast into the left field seats on a 1-1 pitch. Jed Lowrie provided some cushion with a solo shot in the seventh, a drive to center off reliever Josh Zeid. It was Lowrie's 11th homer of the season.
Then all the A's had to do was save it. But with closer Grant Balfour unavailable after throwing 35 pitches to nail down Friday's win, Melvin turned to Dan Otero in the eighth, and after Otero surrendered a run, Sean Doolittle came on to finish it.
Doolittle got a break when the A's set up a play to nail the Astros' Brandon Barnes trying to steal third, and the reliever executed it beautifully to pick off Barnes trying to take third for the final out of the eighth. He then pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save of the year and second of his career.
Doolittle admitted he had a difficult time matching Balfour's mound rage.
"I had some inner rage," Doolittle said. "Now I know why Balfour yells at himself so much. You definitely get a little extra adrenaline. It's a different beast trying to go out and get a save, and I was trying to keep it in check and use it the right way. But it was a rush, for sure."
Houston (Paul Clemens 4-4)
at A's (Bartolo Colon 14-6),
1:05 p.m. CSNCA
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A.L. West Race
Team W L GB
A's 82 60 --
Texas* 80 61 11/2
* -- Lead Wild Card standings
A's 2, Astros 1
Angels 8, Rangers 3
Astros (Paul Clemens 4-4)
at A's (Bartolo Colon 14-6),
Texas (Nick Tepesch 4-6) at Angels (Jason Vargas 8-6), 12:35 p.m.
(Games in parenthesis)
HOU (1) at LAA (1)
at MIN (3) PIT (3)
at TEX (3) A's (3)
LAA (3) at TB (4)
MIN (4) at KC (3)
at LAA (3) HOU (3)
at SEA (3) LAA (4)