For the Oakland A's to remain afloat in the American League West this season, they will need good starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen and power from the veterans in their line-up. On Opening Day, the A's got just enough of all three of those elements to pull out a win over their division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Khris Davis hit two homers, Kendall Graveman tossed six strong innings and four A's relievers combined to close out the A's 4-2 win on Rickey Henderson Field at the Oakland Coliseum.
Things didn't start out how Graveman planned his first Opening Day start. The right-hander allowed consecutive singles to open the game, bringing reigning MVP Mike Trout to the plate with runners on first-and-second and no outs. Although Trout would later get Graveman for a two-run homer in the third inning, Graveman got the upper-hand in the first inning, inducing a double-play grounder from Trout. Albert Pujols followed with a groundout to end the inning and Graveman never looked back. He would allow just four more hits (including Trout's homer) and two walks in six innings. He struck-out seven and threw 69 strikes in 104 pitches.
The A's jumped out to an early lead when Stephen Vogt launched a line-drive homer just over the scoreboard in right in his first at-bat of the season. Oakland's 1-0 lead wouldn't last long, as Trout answered in the top of the third with a two-out, two-run blast. Angels' starter Ricky Nolasco appeared in command early, but he started to waver in the fourth when the A's had three line-drives and a flyout. Two of the three line-drives that inning were caught, keeping the A's off the scoreboard, but it was a prelude to the fifth inning, when Oakland would tie the game on a Yonder Alonso single. That single drove home Jed Lowrie, who had two hits in the game.
With the game tied in the bottom of the sixth, Nolasco hung a breaking ball on the first pitch he threw to Davis, who hit it halfway up the bleachers in left field to give the A's a 3-2 lead. Oakland would threaten for more but would ultimately settle for the 3-2 lead.
Ryan Dull took over for Graveman in the seventh and was spectacular in his season debut. He struck-out the side on 14 pitches. He gave way to Sean Doolittle to start the eighth. The A's have yet to designate a closer, but on Opening Night, it was Doolittle in a set-up role and not in the ninth inning. He did his job, retiring both batters he faced, including one by strike-out.
A's 2016 closer Ryan Madson came on with two-outs in the ninth with the Angels set to send right-handers Trout, Pujols and C.J. Cron to the plate. Trout laced a double to right, which led to A's manager Bob Melvin electing to intentionally walk Pujols to get to Cron. Madson locked down the inning by retiring Cron on a force out to end the inning.
With Doolittle and Madson going in the eighth, it was Santiago Casilla's night to be the A's closer. Casilla, who signed a free agent deal with the A's in the off-season, is coming off of a year with the San Francisco Giants during which he blew a number of high-profile saves, including several late in the season. The A's and Casilla would get some breathing room going into the bottom of the ninth when Davis hit his second homer. The eighth inning blast came on a 1-2 breaking ball from J.C. Ramirez and went out to left-center.
Casilla added a little drama when he walked Andrelton Simmons with one out in the ninth. However, he was able to lock down the save by inducing a line-out from Danny Espinosa and a ground out from Ben Revere to end it. For the game, A's pitchers combined to strike-out 11, walk four and hold the Angels to seven hits. The A's managed just nine hits, but with three of them leaving the park, Oakland had all of the offense its pitching staff would need. Just as the A's front office drew it up this off-season.