The right-hander responded with his best outing of the season after making a slight adjustment in his pitching delivery, scattering four hits over 6 1-3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts to help the A’s beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 on Saturday.
“I think I just relaxed, and I hadn’t relaxed all year,” said Sheets, who pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in nearly two years. “I felt like I was kind of returning to who I was before. I was comfortable with the adjustments I had made. Everything could be thrown for strikes.”
Sheet’s outing was in sharp contrast to his previous two starts when he allowed 17 runs in only 7 1-3 innings. One of those games was an 8-6 loss at Tampa Bay on April 27.
That led Sheets to slightly alter his pitching motion and lower his delivery slot. The results were impressive.
His eight strikeouts were his most since recording 11 against Colorado on July 9, 2008, with Milwaukee. It’s also the first time Sheets pitched into the seventh inning since Sept. 6, 2008, when he threw shut out San Diego.
“His command was a lot better,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “He said he felt his arm lower an inch or two and he felt that was a better slot. He’s always been kind of up over the top. He just wanted to get it down.”
“We just couldn’t get it done today,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not going to happen every night. I liked the effort, that’s what I’m really locked into. I’m not at all concerned. We’ll get our hits.”
Sheets ran into problems in the second but was otherwise stellar while keeping the major league’s top offense in check. After Bartlett’s double in the second drove in John Jaso(notes) and tied the score at 2, Sheets retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced before walking Pat Burrell(notes) leading off the seventh.
The A’s right-hander left one batter later, after Jaso’s fielder’s choice.
“I felt like I got in a rhythm,” Sheets said. “When you can throw that well against that team, it can only help you gain confidence from it. Plus I don’t feel like I was the same pitcher I was 10 days ago.”
Tampa Bay pitchers had not allowed an earned run in 23 innings before the A’s scored twice off starter Wade Davis(notes) in the first. Sweeney had an RBI single and Chavez added a sacrifice fly for Oakland, which also got a hand from Davis early in the inning when the right-hander threw an errant pickoff attempt that allowed leadoff hitter Cliff Pennington(notes) to go from first to third.
The Rays tied the game with two runs in the second, but the A’s loaded the bases against Davis in the bottom half and took a 3-2 lead on Barton’s sacrifice fly.
Davis (3-2) left after five innings, matching his shortest outing of the season. He had three strikeouts and two walks.
“He could never really get into any kind of a groove,” Maddon said of his rookie right-hander. “He normally has a pretty good curveball and slider (but) early in the game that was part of the problem for him. Just nothing really seemed to want to work today.”
Michael Wuertz(notes), Jerry Blevins(notes) and Brad Ziegler(notes) held the lead until Bailey retired all three batters he faced in the ninth. The reigning AL rookie of the year has converted 27 straight save opportunities dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.
NOTES: Rays 1B Carlos Pena(notes) still needs one walk to pass Fred McGriff on the team’s career list. Pena currently has 305. … Oakland is 9-3 in day games, tops in the majors. … Barlett is batting .444 with runners in scoring position. … The A’s are the only team in the majors without a blown save this season. … Sweeney has reached base safely in 27 of his past 29 games.