CLEVELAND -- It's not often a team in the thick of the playoff hunt can add an ace during the season. It's even rarer that a club gains that front-end starter without having to give up anything.
Brett Anderson went 444 days between starts, thanks to Tommy John surgery last season on his left elbow. Now in a span of six days, the southpaw has spun a pair of gems.
On a muggy Monday night in Cleveland, Anderson submitted seven nearly flawless frames, directing the A's to a 3-0 win over the Indians at Progressive Field. In two big league outings following the completion of an arduous comeback, the 24-year-old has yielded just one run on six hits in 14 innings.
"I thought his stuff was good last time," A's skipper Bob Melvin said. "I personally thought it was even better tonight. ... His stuff was really good, electric."
Anderson mowed through Cleveland's lineup for 4 1/3 innings before Tribe center fielder Michael Brantley beat out an infield single. Melvin argued with first-base umpire Jerry Meals, but to no avail. Two years ago, a missed call on a similar bang-bang play at first base cost Tigers hurler Armando Galarraga a perfect game. On Monday, Indians shortstop Brent Lillibridge alleviated any potential controversy with a double to left-center to lead off the sixth.
"You have to be aware of the situation a little bit," Anderson said. "There hadn't been a runner on to that point. But there were four people at the bag and a cloud of dust. Too many people, too many bodies. It would've been interesting to see how it played out had I not given up a hit or a walk after that, but I can't really dwell on that too much now."
The A's staked Anderson to an early lead as they jumped on Indians right-hander Roberto Hernandez, who made his third start of the season after battling legal issues stemming from the right-hander falsifying his identity. Seth Smith plated shortstop Stephen Drew with a sacrifice fly in the first and right fielder Josh Reddick opened the second inning with a solo homer.
Hernandez exited the contest with one out in the third after suffering a sprained right ankle. Oakland first baseman Chris Carter pushed Oakland's advantage to 3-0 with a two-out single that scored Drew.
That was plenty of backing for Anderson, who improved to 4-0 in his career against Cleveland. In 28 frames against the Indians, the lefty has surrendered just three earned runs (0.96 ERA) on 16 hits, while walking just four and striking out 25.
He flaunted a mid-90s fastball and mixed in an array of changeups and breaking balls to keep hitters off-balance. The Indians did not threaten to score until the seventh, when they put a pair of runners on via a walk and error. Anderson promptly punched out Shelley Duncan on a called third strike and induced a flyout from Lillibridge to escape harm. The Indians fell to 14-28 when facing a left-handed starter.
"Not a good matchup for us," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "We knew it going in. A guy like Anderson, a left-handed pitcher with a good breaking ball, he just overmatched our guys."
Anderson, who toed the rubber 13 times last year before being shelved, made his triumphant return last Tuesday, when he limited the Twins to one run on four hits in seven innings. The A's carefully eased him back to the Major League roster. When he felt a twinge during his rehab, they shut him down.
Now, he's back and appears to be as good as ever. Considering how quickly he has rounded into form, his return has come at the best possible time for the A's, who are among a handful of teams vying for one of the two American League Wild Card spots.
"We're in a position where we can't just send guys out there just to rehab them or work them into games," Melvin said. "He has to be ready to pitch and he is."
Oakland lost veteran righty Bartolo Colon, who was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for testosterone. Fortunately for the A's, they haven't skipped a beat since the addition of a familiar face.
"Everybody was excited about the prospect of getting Brett back with the stuff he has, because he has top-of-the-rotation stuff," Melvin said. "He can be a No. 1 or No. 2. He's showing that right now."