OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Jesse Chavez’s reflexes took over when a screaming liner came straight for his head. Amazingly, he stopped the ball on a play that sent him to the ground.
Chavez escaped what might have been a frightening injury during Oakland’s 8-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night, when the Athletics again missed key scoring chances late in the game.
Seattle rookie Roenis Elias struck out six while pitching into the seventh to win consecutive starts for the first time, yielding a leadoff home run in the sixth to Cuban countryman Yoenis Cespedes.
Justin Smoak drove in three runs in Seattle’s season-best fourth straight victory.
“It’s been something incredible,” Elias said. “Everybody’s together doing their job. I like my team, how they’re playing baseball.”
Smoak hit an RBI double and Dustin Ackley an RBI single in the first to back Elias (3-2), who followed up a 10-strikeout gem at Yankee Stadium his last time out with another impressive start once he settled down.
The Mariners jumped on Chavez (2-1) to take a quick first-inning lead for the second straight game against the A’s – and Seattle scored all three of its first-inning runs with two outs on the way to its ninth win in 11 games overall.
“We’re not getting the timely hits we’re normally accustomed to. We’re getting guys on base but we didn’t cash in,” A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said.
Everybody was relieved Chavez escaped harm in the fourth.
The pitcher saved himself from a hard-hit liner by Michael Saunders by catching the screamer that was going right for his face.
“It was all reflexes, I just put my glove up,” Chavez said. “As soon as I let go of the pitch I saw him make contact. I’ve jumped out of the way at balls at my lower body, but I’ve never had one like that at my face before.”
Making the play knocked him off his feet to end the fourth, and the small Coliseum crowd of 12,106 briefly fell silent.
“Luckily no one got hurt. I haven’t seen the replay but guys said it had a chance to hit him square in the face,” Saunders said.
Chavez got a double play to face the minimum in the fifth, but his night ended after allowing Mike Zunino’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly following a hit batsman and a walk.
Oakland No. 9 hitter Nick Punto pulled the A’s back in it with a two-run, two-out single in the second. Cespedes returned to the starting lineup after nursing a left hamstring injury to hit his fifth homer.
The A’s squandered a scoring chance in the seventh against Dominic Leone, leaving the tying run on third as they again struggled with runners in scoring position.
“We’re just not swinging the bats as well as we did the three days in Texas,” manager Bob Melvin said. “You go through that over the course of the season. We’ll swing the bats well again.”
Elias allowed three runs and five hits with three walks in 6 1-3 innings in his seventh career start.
Sean Doolittle struck out all four batters he faced in relief of Chavez. But Seattle added on four unearned runs in the top of the ninth against 2013 AL saves leader Jim Johnson, who was booed off the mound when pulled by Melvin as fans headed for the exits. Smoak added a two-run single.
For Wednesday’s doubleheader, Felix Hernandez will pitch Game 1 for Seattle and Erasmo Ramirez the second. Melvin didn’t announce his choice for the nightcap, though Dan Straily pitches the opener.
Oakland will make right-hander Arnold Leon its 26th player for the second game but is likely to start Drew Pomeranz since he didn’t pitch in relief Tuesday. The 25-year-old Leon’s family was scheduled to fly in from Mexico for his likely major league debut after nine seasons in the minors.
The teams are playing two after an April 4 game was called because of a soggy field that had mistakenly gone without its tarp during a heavy rainstorm.
NOTES: A’s reliever Eric O’Flaherty, on the disabled list since undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason, threw a 30-pitch bullpen session and could begin throwing to hitters soon, and Melvin said an announcement on the pitcher’s next step would come Wednesday. … Melvin said Triple-A catcher Stephen Vogt, an A’s playoff star last October currently on Sacramento’s disabled list, is close to returning from a strained oblique muscle.