OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Manager Joe Maddon can’t say enough about Rocco Baldelli’s impact at the top of the Tampa Bay batting order.
Baldelli returned after missing two games with a bruised right knee and quickly got back to work, combining with Elijah Dukes for back-to-back home runs in Tampa Bay’s 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
B.J. Upton hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the fourth, connecting for the second straight game, then Baldelli and Dukes homered the next inning for the first time this season the Devil Rays hit back-to-back homers.
“It’s always nice to be swinging the bats well like we are now,” Baldelli said. “If you look up and down our lineup, we have a bunch of guys who are capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. We just have to keep riding it, and hit as many out as we can.”
Scott Kazmir (2-1) efficiently shut down the A’s as Tampa Bay won just its second series ever in Oakland. They took two of three in the teams’ first 2006 meeting, from May 5-7.
Eric Chavez is finding his power stroke for the A’s, who will be happy to put another slow April in the past. The team is off Monday before starting May with a two-game series at Boston beginning Tuesday.
Mark Ellis and Chavez connected back-to-back in the first for their second home runs in as many games, but Oakland managed little else only a day after scoring their second-most runs of the year in a 12-5 victory.
“We got a couple of runs in the beginning but it wasn’t enough,” Ellis said. “The difference was he started getting more guys out. He didn’t have his best stuff. We’ve seen him throw harder. But he knows how to get guys out.”
The A’s have dropped consecutive series for the first time this year, finishing April a game under .500 at 12-13.
Kazmir, whose only other win this season came against Twins ace Johan Santana in the Metrodome on April 13, allowed six hits and two runs in seven innings, struck out one and walked two. Shawn Camp and Brian Stokes pitched the eighth and Al Reyes finished for his ninth save in as many chances and second of the series.
“I just tried to find my way through the game,” Kazmir said. “Early I tried to ease my way into it, but as the game went on, everything fell into place. I felt like my fastball was hitting both sides of the plate, and I was able to throw my change a lot more, which was effective.”
The Devil Rays finished their five-game West Coast trip at 2-3—a positive in the eyes of Maddon after his young team completed a sweep of the New York Yankees at home Tuesday night then got outscored a combined 20-4 in a pair of losses to the Angels in Anaheim on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Beautiful,” Maddon said of the trip. “It was a tough laid out schedule.”
Dallas Braden (1-1), promoted from the minors last week when ace right-hander Rich Harden went on the disabled list, was sent down after Sunday’s game. He struck out the side in the first around a pair of walks and worked a 1-2-3 second. He allowed an infield single to Josh Paul leading off the third for the first Tampa Bay hit but got out of the inning facing the minimum after Dukes was caught stealing for the third out.
Braden ran into trouble in the fourth, walking Carl Crawford to start the inning then giving up Ty Wigginton’s single. One out later, Upton hit his fifth homer of the season. Crawford drew three walks, including an intentional free pass in the seventh.
Braden, a 23-year-old left-hander who began this season at Double-A Midland, won his major league debut 6-1 at Baltimore on Tuesday. He was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento to make room for outfielder Ryan Langerhans, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Braves to help Oakland’s injury-depleted outfield.
Braden didn’t last long Sunday, when several hundred friends and family from Stockton, Calif., were expected to be in the stands cheering on the pitcher in his first big league home performance. Braden allowed five runs and six hits, struck out five and walked three in 4 1-3 innings.
“It went great until the fourth inning,” he said. “It was spectacular until then. But when you pitch up, you get beat up. That’s going to happen.”
Ellis’ homer was his 39th as a second baseman, tying him with Dick Green for most in Oakland history.
A moment of silence was held for Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock, who died in a car accident early Sunday. … Upton stole his fourth and fifth bases in the eighth. … Baldelli was the designated hitter in his first game back. … A’s OF Bobby Kielty (strained left calf) could need a stint on the disabled list. He singled in the second inning Saturday but felt the calf on the basepaths and was replaced. … Marco Scutaro, Oakland’s supersub the past two seasons, started in LF. It was his third OF start in six games and eighth in his career.