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 spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are excited about 2016 top pick A.J. Puk, that much was apparent by the crowd the lefty attracted for his first “live” bullpen session Tuesday.

Among those watching closely were executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, general manager David Forst, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young.

Puk, who shaved about 20 pounds off his 6-foot-7 frame over the winter, looked strong against a group of hitters that included touted infield prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz.

Melvin in particular liked the way Puk, the No. 6 overall pick out of the University of Florida, worked his curve ball into the mix. That’s a pitch he hadn’t used since high school, but he dusted it off back in the fall instructional league with some encouragement from minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, and he’s working to sharpen it this spring as a complement to his fastball, slider and changeup.

“It’s just nice to have another pitch that’s slower than my other three pitches,” Puk said before Tuesday’s workout.

“It’s a four-pitch mix,” Melvin said. “He’s really starting to distinguish between this slider and curve ball. It was quite a crowd around his cage too. When you’re a young kid you tend to notice that, but I thought he responded really well.”

Puk, 21, is rooming with shortstop Richie Martin, a teammate at Florida whom the A’s made their top pick in 2015. They also lived near each other in Tampa this offseason and worked out together.

Puk comes off very quiet upon meeting him, but Martin warns against being fooled.

“It takes him a while, but once he feels comfortable he’ll break out. You’ll see.”

Melvin was impressed with Puk’s physical shape, saying he’s fielded his position well in pitchers’ fielding drills.

CAMP BATTLE Jesse Hahn will start the A’s Cactus League opener Saturday against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. It’ll be a chance for Hahn to make an early impression in his bid for the fifth starter spot.

“After the year he had (in 2016), it’s important for him this year. We have to show some faith in him,” Melvin said. “He performed well for us the year before. Last year wasn’t really consistent. We’ll try to get him out there and get him off to a good start.”

Kendall Graveman will take the ball in Sunday’s spring home opener against the Angels. Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea both will pitch Monday against the Giants and Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will be among the group throwing Tuesday against the Indians.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sean Murphy, the A’s third-round pick in June, has shown a very strong throwing arm early in camp. Is it any wonder Melvin, an ex-catcher, was impressed?

“The kid can throw, it’s special,” Melvin said. “We really like him.”

NOTEWORTHY: Still no word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive at camp from the Dominican Republic. Melvin said he isn’t concerned at this stage, and noted that Casilla has been working out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic and gave a motivational talk to the younger players there.

Kaval: A's must 'swing for the fences' in choosing ballpark site

Kaval: A's must 'swing for the fences' in choosing ballpark site

MESA, Ariz. — After spending a few days at spring training, A’s president Dave Kaval heads back to the Bay Area on Tuesday to continue work on the team’s search for a ballpark site.

There are so many factors to consider — location, public transportation access, parking, government obligations to be fulfilled, etc. — it’s easy to understand why it’s such an all-encompassing process.

Kaval shared some detailed thoughts on all of the potential sites the A’s are considering during a visit on the A’s Insider Podcast. Here’s some highlights:

The A’s have narrowed down to four locations in Oakland to build a privately financed ballpark: Brooklyn Basin, Howard Terminal, Laney College and the current Coliseum site on which they play.

Are these four all uniquely different from each other or do they share some common traits?

“I think all of them can fulfill our long-term vision of this urban area around the ballpark,” Kaval said. “Think of Fenway, Wrigley … all of them can achieve that vision. We want to make sure with such a big decision that we swing for the fences. … I think the Coliseum is probably the hardest to create kind of an urban village, but I think it’s possible, and we’re not ruling it out.

"But all the other locations can have neighborhoods around the ballpark where people can live and you can just have a really intimate experience around the ballpark.”

There hasn’t been the same buzz about Brooklyn Basin as Howard Terminal. Located close to the water, does it offer similar attributes as Howard Terminal?

“It’s very close. There’s a couple different places the ballpark could go down there,” he said. “You’re closer to the water, which is exciting, and I think being on the water provides the ability to have water taxis, ferries, other transit options that kind of lower the requirement for parking, lower the requirement for walking or biking. And that actually can be a really great thing for the fan experience.”

Howard Terminal offers a big potential payoff with the terrific views available. But there are some substantial hurdles, not the least of which are the government regulations and approvals required to build right along the water.

“If you want to actually develop something in there, you need to have legislation from the state of California. That’s just something that has to happen,” Kaval said. “So when we think about the steps to get the individual sites (approved) and break ground, it’s just another one you have to do at that site. So you have to weigh, is it worth the time, effort, political opposition that might come up to pursue that type of effort? The site is so iconic that we’ve been keeping it in the mix because, wow, it could just be something that is a game changer.”

That’s just a sample of the many topics Kaval touched on over the course of the podcast.