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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oakland A's At .500 - Top Detroit Tigers 4-3

Swisher blasts Tigers
Switch-hitter has 2 homers, 6 for season

Susan Slusser, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Nick Swisher homered in his first at-bat against hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander on Tuesday, a two-run drive to right. His second time up, he struck out -- but he took mental notes, learned a little something.

The next time he stepped in against Verlander, Swisher looked for a changeup and, with a 2-1 count, he got it. He sent another home run over the fence in right center, the decisive blow in the A's 4-3 victory over Detroit at the Coliseum.

"The at-bat before, I spun myself into the ground twice on changeups," Swisher said with a smile. "He threw me a fastball up (to make it 2-1) and I thought, 'OK, here comes the changeup,' and you just have to believe that's what's coming. I'm just a lucky guy because if he throws a 99 mph fastball, I'm not catching up to it. With (Verlander), you blink and it's in the mitt."

Swisher has a nine-game hitting streak, a career high and the team's longest this season. His homer total is six, tying him with Eric Chavez for the most on the team. Last year, Swisher didn't hit his sixth homer until June 25. In just this past week, he has two two-homer games.

"He's the most talented one out of everyone here," Chavez said. "Nick's ceiling is so high, it's pretty scary."

The key for Swisher is consistent at-bats, keeping his swing the same every time, something that can be difficult for a switch hitter. He's also going the opposite way more, fighting his tendency to try to pull everything. The result: Swisher is batting .340.

Esteban Loaiza hasn't found that kind of consistency yet, but he took a stride toward respectability. He didn't get a decision in his 300th career start, but for the first time as a member of the A's, he gave his team a chance to win.

In his previous two outings, he'd allowed 17 hits and 11 runs in 82/3 innings, and manager Ken Macha had voiced concern about how hard Loaiza was throwing. Stadium radar readings were off in Minnesota, where Loaiza was actually around 89-91 mph, and the A's had the scoreboard radar gun at the Coliseum adjusted to match their own official readings last week. Loaiza hit 91 mph again Tuesday but he was mostly around 87-88. Both he and Macha thought his velocity was up a little and Loaiza believes it will only improve.

At the start, it appeared as if Loaiza might be knocked around again, as Curtis Granderson led off the game with a triple and scored on Placido Polanco's base hit to center. Loaiza didn't give up another hit until the fifth inning, however, and Detroit didn't score again until the sixth. Loaiza got two double-play balls, and he struck out three -- two more than he had in first two starts combined.

In the sixth, Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez., a lifetime .312 hitter against the A's, drove in a run with a two-out double on a 2-2 pitch, a 91 mph fastball. Rodriguez then scored the tying run on Magglio OrdoƱez's bloop to right, a cutter Loaiza thought was pretty good.

Macha removed him after that inning, saying he thought Loaiza was tiring and leaving the ball up. Loaiza said he felt fine; he's used to going 100 pitches or more (he threw 86 on Tuesday). "But that's the manager's decision," he said.

The A's had the edge on the defensive side. Oakland's third run of the game was helped by two throwing errors by Detroit shortstop Carlos Guillen, and A's center fielder Mark Kotsay turned in the play of the game. In the seventh inning, with Craig Monroe at first base, Kotsay came charging in for a sinking base hit by Brandon Inge and he fired to third to nail Monroe. It was the final out of the inning and it gave Kotsay 100 assists since 1998, the most by a major-league outfielder in that span; Vladimir Guerrero is second at 96.

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