Hill continues to carry snakebit A's

Hill continues to carry snakebit A's

SEATTLE -- It's a good thing the A's have Rich Hill.

Oakland entered Monday night's series opener against the Mariners with some daunting numbers to overcome in the first two months of the 2016 season. They not only arrived at Safeco Field with a record of 19-26, which already had them eight games behind first-place Seattle in the American League West, but they had 13 players, including five starting pitchers, on the disabled list.

Hill, the 36-year-old left-hander who signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Oakland over the winter, had been a Major League journeyman until finding something in the latter part of 2015, when he made four starts for Boston and pitched to a 1.55 ERA. The A's snapped him up from a competitive free agent market and guaranteed him a rotation spot before Spring Training even began.

And look at him now.

Hill continued to flourish on Monday, flummoxing the Mariners in their return from a triumphant road trip and silencing Safeco en route to a much-needed 5-0 victory. He went a season-high eight innings, scattering eight hits and striking out six without walking a batter. He improved to 7-3 for the season, lowered his ERA to 2.18, and continued to be the main outlier in a beleaguered starting rotation.

"Boy, I tell you, it's tough to put into words," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Every game right now that he goes out there, we have a great feeling that we're going to win, no matter what we're going through."

The A's have gone through a lot lately, and on the starting pitching end of things, not much has gone3 well. Entering the game, Oakland starters were 3-10 with a 7.08 ERA (59 earned runs in 75 innings pitched) over the last 15 games.

And then there's Hill, who had accounted for two of those victories, going 2-0 with a 3.33 ERA before Monday's tour de force.

Not that it was easy.

Hill escapes an early jam

Hill was engaged in a tight scoreless duel with Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker through the first six innings, but Hill almost allowed the game to be broken open in the second when the Mariners loaded the bases with nobody out on a Nelson Cruz infield single, a flare by Dae-Ho Lee that landed in shallow right center, and a blooper by Kyle Seager that fell just in front of diving left fielder Coco Crisp. Three hits, none of them hit particularly hard.

A's second baseman Chris Coghlan came over to the mound to reassure Hill, and the brief chat turned out to be highly effective in-game therapy.

"Chris came over to me and said, 'Control what you can control,'" Hill said. "That was huge, and it was very poignant right at the perfect time to lock myself back into what I needed to do and really stay within that moment of each pitch. T Hill took care of the rest, as he has been doing for the A's despite some of the struggling that's been going on around him. He even got out of trouble in his last inning, the eighth, when he stranded runners on the corners by getting Robinson Cano to pop out.

Hill got out of the mess by striking out Chris Iannetta, getting Nori Aoki on a ground ball and then striking out Chris Taylor to end the threat.

"We continue to fight," Hill said. "I think that's really the theme of this ballclub. We'll continue to go as hard as we can for as long as we can."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.