Seth Brown, Tony Kemp heating up for A’s in September

Staff report


HOUSTON — With three home runs in the first inning on Saturday, the Astros rapidly sent Minute Maid Park into a frenzy. But thanks to veteran hitters Seth Brown and Tony Kemp, the visiting A’s landed key counterpunches in an 8-5, come-from-behind victory.

Leadoff hitter Kemp had three hits (including a triple), two stolen bases and three runs scored, while Brown drilled a towering three-run blast off Astros starter José Urquidy in the fifth. That put the A’s in front, for good, and Brown tacked on an opposite-field RBI double in the seventh for good measure.

“He started me off with two changeups in my two previous at-bats against him, so I kind of had the look of that,” Brown said of Urquidy. “Luckily, that changeup he threw me kind of snuck over the middle of the plate.”

“I’ve been really pleased with the work ethic, the effort and the fight,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said of his team, which overcame an early 4-1 deficit.

Through August, Kemp and Brown were slashing .226/.300/.308 and .224/.291/.417, respectively. Those numbers were well below their 2021 OPS figures.

But both left-handed hitters have responded with their best months of 2022. Kemp is slashing .313/.389/.542 in September, while Brown is slashing .321/.390/.717.

“We have a friendly competition going on,” Kemp said. “We look at each other and say, ‘Hey, don’t wait up for me today.’ If he gets a hit, I want to get a hit. We feed off each other, and we’ve been doing that ever since the All-Star break. He has a lot more homers than me, but I’m just trying to keep up.”

With six home runs in 14 games in September, Brown is already at his most homers of any calendar month in his career. Saturday’s blast came at a much-needed time for the A’s, who only scored two runs combined in Thursday’s and Friday’s losses.

“We’ve been talking over the last month or two, and we said we’ve got to lean on each other,” Brown said. “So we decided to make a little competition out of it, and it keeps your mind in it. It just makes it fun.”

“I think they’ve both kind of relaxed,” Kotsay said. “I think they felt the expectation … to carry the offensive weight. When you have a tough time at this level, it can snowball. They’ve turned this around. They’re focused on controlling what they can control.”

Kemp has scored 14 runs in September, which is already his most of any month this season. He has two three-hit performances in his past five games, including a pair of homers and triples. Before that, Kemp had four homers and no triples through 127 games.

“Since the All-Star break, I went through a little [swing] change,” Kemp said. “I was getting caught on my back side a lot, and I needed to have my contact point out front. I worked with the hitting coaches and got it rolling. I’m just trying to have good, quality at-bats. Not chasing hits, just trying to put the barrel on the ball and not do too much.”

A’s starter Cole Irvin secured the win, allowing four runs on seven hits in seven innings. He recorded only one strikeout but did not issue a walk, thanks in part to the Astros’ aggressive approach. Irvin gave up four runs in the first inning on homers by Aledmys Díaz, Kyle Tucker and Trey Mancini, but the lefty dramatically turned things around.

“I was throwing a little bit too much [of the] fastball,” Irvin said. “I wasn’t mixing my sequences enough. I didn’t recognize that until after that first, and I tried to settle myself down and [figure out] what I needed to do to attack the rest of the day.

“We started mixing pitches, and a bit more changeup usage in fastball counts ended up being the reason why we got through the seventh.”

The A’s (53-93) are in the midst of a 10-game stretch versus postseason teams and contenders (Astros, Mariners and Mets). As they see it, that’s an ideal time to learn and make impressions for 2023.

“For a young clubhouse, that’s a good example of how you respond when you’re struggling, and some failure happens,” Irvin said. “The best thing I could do was put my best foot forward, keep my head up and keep going.”

“I was telling the guys, that’s why you always play nine innings,” Kemp said. “It was definitely a big confidence boost.”

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