Blackley's change-up key to 'missing barrels'

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Blackley's change-up key to 'missing barrels'

OAKLAND -- Entering the season, Travis Blackley didn't have an MLB win since July 1, 2004. Wednesday, his sights are set on victories in back-to-back starts against the two-time defending American League champions as a starter for the staff with the A.L.'s lowest ERA.

In order to do so, the Australian will have to overcome an irregular schedule and a sore back.

Because of the back, he was scratched from last Saturday's start against the Mariners and instead, was called on for three strong innings of relief before the All-Star Game. Melvin is a bit more concerned about the post-break adjustment than his starter.

"I think everyone has to go through it," Melvin said. "There's some trepidation regardless of who it is."

After pitching for both Bay Area teams as long relief and as a starter this year, the lefty is used to making it work.

"I've been pushed around in all kinds of different roles this year," Blackley said. "I'm not worried."

Neither is he worried about facing the daunting Rangers lineup, as he has twice already this season.

"Tomorrow is our third time facing Blackley," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We know we're in for a fight."

The Rangers, and their struggling offensive leader Josh Hamilton, remember full well what Blackley did to them.

"When we faced him here, he was throwing more of a slider," Hamilton recalled. "We hit him pretty good. When he came to our place he was using change-up and fastball and he pretty much shut us down."

Hamilton nailed it. Blackley's most recent MLB win came on July 1 when he beat these very Rangers with seven innings of one-run ball and 18 change-ups in 93 pitches.

In Blackley's first start against the Rangers, when he allowed five runs and didn't get out of the fifth inning on June 5, he threw just six change-ups, again in 93 pitches.

Blackley was either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge the importance of his change-up.

"It was all trying to locate and miss barrels," Blackley said of the win. "I don't think there's much to change, just throw my game. If I can locate and do what I've been doing most of the year, it shouldn't be too bad. You've got to be confident, yeah?"

Confidence will be key for Blackley, establishing command all of his pitches -- especially the change-up -- against a Rangers lineup that punishes mistakes, as evidenced by loud home runs from Hamilton and Adrian Beltre in Tuesday's loss.

"We'll see what he's going to do," Hamilton said of Blackley's pitch selection, "See if they're all working."

The A's, even after the Game 1 loss, are 12 game out of the second American League Wild Card berth, with five big home games against top teams to improve. It starts with Travis Blackley.
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"Don't sleep on us," Blackley said. "I feel good about the team. I reckon we're going to be in the hunt at the end."

Just like Karl Childers from Sling Blade, you don't question a man who reckons, especially one with an MVP-respected change-up.

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

OAKLAND — With so much attention focused on who might be the next wave of A’s infielders coming up from the minors, Chad Pinder is making quite a statement in the present.

Pinder enjoyed another big day at the plate Sunday with a two-run homer and a double in the A’s 12-3 loss to Boston. That came on the heels of Saturday’s 460-foot home run that made him just the fifth player to reach the second deck just above the Coliseum’s first level of luxury suites.

For fans around the country who might have seen that mammoth blast on highlight shows, it likely was their first introduction to the 25-year-old Virginia native. However, those within the organization witnessed Pinder’s steady rise through the farm system since he was drafted as a sandwich pick between the second and third rounds of the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think it’s a shock what he’s doing,” said A’s designated hitter Ryon Healy, who was part of that same draft class. “I think he’s always been that caliber of player. He’s always had that potential and it’s coming to fruition right now and it’s really fun to watch.”

Pinder, who made his big league debut in September but began this season with Triple-A Nashville, is hitting .286 over 21 games with Oakland. He’s homered in four of his past eight, and he provided a boost over the weekend as the A’s took three of four from the Red Sox.

The right-handed hitting Pinder was in the lineup all four games — with the Red Sox starting lefties on the mound for the final three contests, the A’s stacked their lineup with righties, giving Pinder a stretch of consistent playing time.

He’s provided enough of a spark that he warrants consideration to remain in the lineup even though the A’s are scheduled to face right-handers during their two-game series with the Miami Marlins that begins Tuesday at the Coliseum.

Granted, it’s not the biggest sample size either way, but Pinder is actually hitting better against righties (.348, 8-for-23) than he is against lefties (.231, 6-for-26). Four of his five home runs also have come against right-handers.

Asked whether Pinder could draw more starts against right-handers, A’s manager Bob Melvin replied: “Potentially, yeah. You want to try to stay consistent with the lineups you have, but if you have a hot hand, you look for ways to get him in there.”

Working in Pinder’s advantage is the versatility he’s shown since being recalled from Nashville on April 16. The A’s always knew Pinder could handle second, shortstop or third as needed, but he’s also shown to be a capable option in right field with a strong arm for the outfield.

Pinder was the Texas League (Double-A) Player of the Year in 2015 and ranked No. 7 on Baseball America’s preseason list of A’s prospects. He’s making the most of his time in the majors.

On the minds of many Oakland fans is when a couple more infield prospects who are impressing at Triple-A — middle infielder Franklin Barreto and third baseman Matt Chapman — might get their first crack in the bigs.

Barreto, ranked as the No. 25 overall prospect in the majors in Baseball America’s most recent ratings, is hitting .311 with six homers and is tied with Matt Olson for Nashville’s RBI lead at 27. Chapman, ranked the 95th overall prospect, missed two weeks earlier this season with a wrist injury but has shown signs of heating up offensively. He’s hitting just .237 but has eight homers and 15 RBI.

Two other Nashville players, who have both seen time with the A’s, are putting up noteworthy numbers: Olson, a first baseman/outfielder, is hitting .276 with 10 homers and 27 RBI, and corner infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez is tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 12 homers to go with a .245 average and 25 RBI.

The A’s are working with Barreto and Chapman to hone their approach at the plate and control the strike zone. General manager David Forst maintains the A’s will be patient with both, noting that Pinder benefited last year from a full season at Triple-A before his promotion.

“The calendar needs to turn over,” Forst said. “They need at-bats. Matt missed a couple weeks with the injury, but they just need more days and more at-bats. We don’t have an ‘X’ on the calendar anywhere where this is the day. We’ll know when it’s time.”

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

OAKLAND — The A’s officially welcomed John Axford back into their bullpen fold Sunday, and they got some encouraging news about another reliever.

Sean Doolittle was expected to only throw a flat-ground session before the series finale against Boston, but he wound up throwing 15 pitches off the mound as well. That’s the first time Doolittle has thrown from the mound since joining the disabled list May 3 with a strained left shoulder. Next up is a 25-pitch session off the mound Wednesday.

The early indications are that Doolittle’s current shoulder woes aren’t as severe as the ailments that sidelined him for major portions of the past two seasons.

Axford was reinstated from the 10-day DL Saturday for his own shoulder strain, but his season debut came Sunday, when he handled the eighth inning and allowed one run. He was sidelined during the season-opening series against the Angels when he hurt his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen.

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All indications are that first baseman Yonder Alonso will be available to return to the lineup Tuesday for the opener of a two-game interleague series against the Miami Marlins. A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Sunday’s game that he considered Alonso as potentially being available off the bench. Given the A’s are off Monday, it’s reasonable to assume Alonso will be ready Tuesday when the Marlins start right-hander Jose Urena on the mound.

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The A’s are plenty familiar with Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland from his days with division rival Texas. But Moreland continues to do damage against Oakland even though he’s out of the AL West. Moreland’s two-run homer in the sixth off Andrew Triggs marked his third homer of the four-game series, and his 19th homer in 80 career games against the A’s. That’s his most homers against any major league club.

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The run Axford allowed in the eighth snapped a streak of 27 scoreless innings at home by the A’s bullpen. Josh Smith allowed five runs in the ninth.