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Chavez holds the Astros to one run, fans six

OAKLAND -- Jesse Chavez continues to surprise everyone but himself.

The late-blooming righty wasn't even supposed to be in Oakland's rotation, until Spring Training injuries to a pair of teammates forced his move from the bullpen. Right now, the 30-year-old is perhaps their best pitcher.

"When somebody goes down or somebody's struggling, you give somebody else an opportunity, and it's their turn to shine," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "He's been focused and ready for that opportunity and continues to run with it."

In allowing the Astros just one run in a 4-1 series-sweeping victory on Sunday at the O.co Coliseum, his first career win as a starter, Chavez became the first player in A's history who started the season on the Opening Day roster to surrender one earned run or fewer while tossing at least six innings in each of his first four starts.

That's four earned runs total the right-hander has given up in 26 innings -- with 28 strikeouts -- for a 1.38 ERA, good for fifth in the American League. Teammates Scott Kazmir (1.68) and Sonny Gray (1.80) are also in the Top 10, with Oakland's starters allowing three runs or fewer in 16 of the first 18 games.

Of the A's rotation, Chavez's is least known around the league. That's OK with him, even if it doesn't remain that way for long.

"You have to stay after it," he said. "If I didn't I wouldn't be in this position. I'm just fortunate and thankful that they gave me the opportunity for this."

"In Spring Training, once we heard the [injury] news about [Jarrod] Parker and [A.J.] Griffin, I felt he was going to have a good year for us," Josh Donaldson said of Chavez. "So far he's been great."

It was Donaldson who provided Chavez all the support he needed on Easter Sunday, cranking out three extra-base hits and as many RBIs in Oakland's 11th win in its last 13 games.

The A's, now 23-5 all-time against the Astros, are an American League-best 13-5 heading into their first matchup of the year with the Rangers (11-8) on Monday, which is their best record after 18 games since posting the same mark in 1990.

Donaldson hit his fourth homer of the year in the first inning, a two-run shot to left field off former Triple-A teammate Brad Peacock following a base hit from Jed Lowrie.

Lowrie scored again on a passed ball in the seventh inning after Donaldson's second double scored Coco Crisp. The A's shortstop is 9-for-23 (.391) with four doubles and a home run in his last four games, after going 2-for-18 in his previous seven.

"He gets on base a lot and gets in scoring position, which is always nice," Donaldson said of Lowrie. "I just got good pitches to hit and was able to put the barrel on the ball. It was just one of those days."

It was another day of spotty defense, though, as Donaldson was responsible for one of two A's errors, bringing Oakland's total to an AL-high 20, including at least one in each of the last nine games.

But they've responded just fine, another credit to their dependable pitching staff.

"We feel pretty good, but I don't think we're playing near the baseball we'll hopefully be playing here soon," said Donaldson. "That said, we feel like we have a good team, and guys are doing their part, day in and day out."

Chavez's only miscue came in the fourth, when he was tagged for a homer off the bat of Marwin Gonzalez. He scattered just three other hits, walking three and striking out six in the gritty outing.

"I think he'll tell you he struggled with his command more so today than any other day," said Melvin. "Pulling some cutters off the plate, just wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but that's really the mark of a good pitcher, when you don't have your best stuff, you're fighting yourself some. But is able to give us six innings like he did and one run was pretty fantastic."

"The only thing I had pretty much working today was my changeup," Chavez said. "That was a good pitch that I needed. Take a little bit off of the two-seamer that was flat a little bit at times, which resulted in a lot of hard contact. Thank God it was for outs."

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