Loaiza shuts out Blue Jays

Loaiza shuts out Blue Jays

TORONTO -- In four April starts, Loaiza went 0-3 with a 8.35 ERA. Fans and the Oakland media were critical of the right-hander's performance, and there were whispers that the Athletics front office had erred in signing the hurler to a three-year contract in the offseason.

Needless to say, the whispers have abated in August.

Loaiza continued his hot streak in the month with a sterling four-hit whitewash of the Blue Jays in a 6-0 A's win on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre. He retired 15 consecutive Jays batters at one point, and needed just 103 pitches to stifle the Toronto lineup and record the sixth complete-game shutout of his Major League career.

"E-Lo was pretty much in control the entire game," said Oakland manager Ken Macha. "[He was] ahead of the hitters, a low pitch count, good fastball, hard cutter. The story was his command, and getting ahead. He had a couple of very short pitch count innings."

Loaiza (7-7) is now 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA in his last five starts, and it continues a career-long streak of good performances in August. His 29 career wins and 272 career strikeouts in August are well above his career totals in any other month.

It has been a long road back for Loaiza this season. His shaky performance in April was partially caused by nagging injuries, and he went on the disabled list on April 29 with a strained left trapezius muscle. He worked throughout May to return to form, and praised the Oakland trainers and strength coach for getting him back in pitching shape.

Macha also credited A's pitching coach Curt Young for helping to iron out Loaiza's mechanics and adding about 10 mph to his fastball.

"Loaiza put the work in," Macha said. "But [Young] spent a lot of time with him and got him on the program, and it's absolutely paid off. [Loaiza] has put the work in to get better. He has a lot of pride out there."

As Loaiza has improved in August, so have the Athletics. The win over Toronto (67-60) puts them at 16-5 in the month, and the club has now won 21 of their last 27 games overall to vault into first place in the American League West. The A's have won seven of their last eight series, with their only non-win being a split in a four-game set with Kansas City.

The Oakland lineup wasted no time in jumping out to an early lead against Toronto starter Gustavo Chacin (6-3), who made his first start since June 9 due to a sprained ligament in his left elbow. The A's (72-55) drove Chacin from the game after just 1 1/3 innings and five runs allowed. Right fielder Milton Bradley was 3-for-5 in the game, including an RBI double in the first and a two-run home run in the second.

Designated hitter Frank Thomas added a two-run homer in the first, and made a little history as well. The home run was the 475th of Thomas' Major League career, which ties him with Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 23rd on the all-time list. Thomas is also tied with Stargell for 37th on the all-time RBI list with 1,540.

Catcher Jason Kendall went 2-for-5 to increase his average to .571 (8-for-14) over the three games in Toronto. The Athletics backstop has been on fire in August, batting .363 with 10 RBIs and 13 runs scored.

Kendall said his hot streak is simply due to "finding some holes" with his swings, and said the game was more memorable for him due to Loaiza's outing.

"He got ahead [in the count] a lot," Kendall said. "When you get ahead like that and you hit your spots like that, you'll be successful. Those are fun games. It's ... why a catcher catches, for games like that."

Loaiza hopes to have more games like that continuing through August and into the fall to help Oakland get into the postseason. It is clear that he hasn't just put the early-season criticism behind him, he never let it affect him in the first place.

"I really don't read the paper," Loaiza said. "Media is media, and if you pay attention, it messes up your head. I just want to pitch my game and whatever they say, they say. They've got to do a job, too. Right now, I've been playing good ball, and whatever was said back in April, May and June back home was said."

Mark Polishuk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.