Athletics

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.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

Kaval calls A's ballpark plan 'as big a project' as Oakland has seen

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AP

Kaval calls A's ballpark plan 'as big a project' as Oakland has seen

OAKLAND — A’s president Dave Kaval took part in a fan Q&A session Friday at the Coliseum as part of the team’s Fan Appreciation Weekend.

Here’s some bits and pieces from the session, which was moderated by A’s radio broadcaster Ken Korach:

—Would the A’s re-consider the Coliseum site for a new ballpark if the Peralta location ultimately doesn’t work out?

Kaval: “We’re 100 percent focused on Peralta. We think it can be a dynamic location, and we’re excited about engaging the community. .. But we’re not abandoning East Oakland.”

To that end, Kaval emphasized once again the A’s ambition for the Coliseum site — if all of the current professional teams do in fact bolt the location — to eventually house a youth sports academy with baseball fields and other facilities.

“Wouldn’t it be something to have more home-grown players playing at our (new) ballpark?”

—What other ballparks might be inspirations for design of the venue?

“I think the two guiding principles we have, are, 1) that it’s an intimate ballpark. Not a bad seat in the house. No nosebleeds. Think Fenway or Wrigley (plans are for a roughly 35,000 seat stadium). And 2) build something uniquely Oakland. Something that feels like Oakland, whether it’s an Oaklandish store (built in to the stadium), or the foodie culture …”

—Addressing how city and county funds might be utilized, Kaval emphasized that the ballpark itself will be privately financed, as has been stated before. He mentioned public funds being used for infrastructure (also a long-established idea), including possible enhancements to the Lake Merritt BART station, which is a short walk from the proposed stadium location.

“We’ll work together with the county, with the city, with (the) Peralta (Community College District). This is as big a project as the city has ever seen, a massive coordinating effort.”

—As Kaval told NBC Sports California in this story last week, the A’s plan to retain a good chunk of their current young core of talent to be the cornerstone players once the new stadium opens. Their target move-in date is Opening Day, 2023. That likely means sinking money into long-term extensions for players who will be arriving at, or nearing, their free agency years. Kaval mentioned the Cleveland Indians of the early 90’s as an example of a team opening a new stadium with a home-grown group of stars. Billy Beane, the head of the A’s baseball operations, has made the same comparison in the past.

— The A’s plan to build substantial parking, but the idea is for the new ballpark to be “(public) transit-first, like AT&T Park and Fenway,” Kaval said. … “It’s gonna take cars off the road.”

Having said that, Kaval added that the A’s will aim to preserve the tailgating culture with the parking that they do provide.