Blevins goes hungry after Houdini-esque routine

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Blevins goes hungry after Houdini-esque routine

Programming note: Coverage of Game 3 of the A's-Angels series begins tonight with A's Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
ANAHEIM -- Jerry Blevins is a skinny guy, probably because his teammates let him go hungry. After pulling off a seemingly impossible save Tuesday night in Anaheim, Blevins could be heard hollering in the clubhouse, "Where's my pie? Where's my pie?""I was half expecting it while doing the TV," Blevins said. "It was a perfect moment for a pitcher to get a little love." In the bottom of the ninth inning with a one run lead, runners on the corners and no outs, Blevins got the call. As the 37,764 in attendance had the place shaking, and the Angels bats had the A's quaking, Blevins had a game plan. Strikeout, double play, pie. Two out of three isn't half bad. Blevins struck out Kendrys Morales on five pitches. The switch hitter went down swinging on an 85-MPH change up. Four pitches later Howie Kendrick hit a 92-MPH sinker straight to Josh Donaldson, who threw to Cliff Pennington, who turned the game-ending double play to give the A's a 6-5 victory.Blevins let out a primordial scream as the A's dugout emptied in celebration. It was easily the biggest moment in Blevins playing career, one he said was better than his Major League debut. "I felt like pure elation," Blevins said. "It was one of the loudest screams I've ever given on a the baseball field." Morales is a switch hitter so the A's were comfortable turning him around with the left-handed Blevins on the mound. Kendrick is a right-handed hitter but was 0 for 4 in his career against Blevins. With Ryan Cook unavailable the A's clearly had a trick up their sleeve with Blevins. "Talk about Houdini," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "You know he's not going to get a lefty, but we were trying to turn Morales around and hope he can make good pitches after that." The A's were in this situation in the first place because closer Grant Balfour had an uncharacteristically rough night. He entered the game with a three-run lead and walked the first two batters he faced. He was removed after back-to-back RBI singles put the Angels in position to win the game in walk-off fashion. Balfour who had converted his last 10 save opportunities prior to Tuesday, appeared to be very frustrated with the strike zone of home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. Immediately after the game Balfour went into the clubhouse and watched the video of each pitch he threw. After reviewing the tape and blowing off some steam he calmed down. "They do a great job at what they do and it is frustrating sometimes when you see it one way, they see it another and you are trying to pitch and get outs in big games like that." Balfour said. "I felt there was a couple strikes that should have been called but at the end of the day I've got to make better pitches and get out of that situation too."As soon as he left the game he became Blevins' biggest fan. The donut-loving lefty didn't disappoint. "That was awesome, coming in for a strikeout and a double play was the way to write it up," Balfour said. "I was on the top step, I am the guy cheering for him." Dan Straily, who also deserves a share of the credit for the A's 11th consecutive road win, was inside watching on TV. He said everyone in the clubhouse went crazy when the A's recorded the final two outs. Straily went six and two-thirds innings, he allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out eight batters. All of the runs he allowed scored via the long ball. The last time he faced the Angels he gave up four homers."After throwing a ton of pitches in the first couple innings I looked over my shoulder and saw the bullpen going and was making sure that I was not going to be embarrassed again," Straily said. Melvin had Tyson Ross warming up in the second inning after Straily gave up a two-run homer to Vernon Wells. From the third inning on, Straily looked like a completely different pitcher. "For him to get us all the way through for almost a full seventh that's quite the turnaround for a kid that was on the ropes," Melvin said. Straily earned his second Major League win with his dad watching. It was his father's birthday and they had breakfast before the game. Usually the offense gets all the attention. The performance of the A's hitters is easy to forget after what transpired on the mound. Yoenis Cespedes snapped out of a 21-game homerless streak with a solo homer in the first inning. Brandon Moss clubbed a two-run homer in the fourth inning, his 18th of the year and sixth in the last 12 games. In the ninth inning the A's got some crucial insurance runs. Coco Crisp hit an RBI triple to right field that was misplayed by Torii Hunter. As the veteran right fielder chased after the ball, Crisp rounded third and scored. Every last bit was needed in this game. It still all boiled down to one unreal effort by a man that just wanted a little post game pie. He did get a treat though. The A's victory over the Angels puts the A's 21 games over .500 -- that's pretty sweet. His second career save, well, that can be the cherry on top.

A's spring training Day 38: Alonso's offense comes to life

A's spring training Day 38: Alonso's offense comes to life

MESA, Ariz. — Yonder Alonso’s value usually gets discussed in terms of his defense, but the A’s first baseman is putting together a very impressive spring with the bat.

The A’s poured it on the Milwaukee Brewers in a 15-5 rout Thursday, and Alonso led the parade with two homers and three RBI. Both shots came off Junior Guerra, and the first would have cleared the right field wall had it been pushed back 30 feet farther.

Alonso is hitting .382 with four homers in Cactus League play. He says the extra work he’s putting in with hitting coach Darren Bush is paying off, and manager Bob Melvin likes what he sees from a player who hit .253 last year and knocked just seven home runs for the entire regular season.

“He’s had a great approach from the minute he got here,” Melvin said. “He and Bushy had a plan. He’s using the whole field a little bit more, which keeps him on breaking balls, which allows him to track fastballs a little bit more. He’s hit a couple balls good to left-center as well.”

The A’s love the defense they get from Alonso at first, but getting more thump from him offensively would be a boost for Oakland, which finished last in the American League in runs last season. His on-base percentage dropped to .316 last season, well below his career average of .334. That’s where a more patient approach could pay off, and that’s another focus with Alonso this season.

Right now, the plan is for the left-handed hitting Alonso to platoon at first with Ryon Healy, who will also see time at DH and third base.

“I think every day I’m coming in with a plan,” Alonso said. “Mentally and physically I feel fine. I’m ready to roll. I’m ready to continue to battle and continue to grind and have solid at-bats.”

CAMP BATTLE: A day after Andrew Triggs looked very sharp, another rotation candidate responded with his best start of the spring. Raul Alcantara gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Brewers, very much keeping his hopes alive for one of Oakland’s two open rotation spots. His outing was easy to overlook on a day the A’s hit four home runs and collected 18 hits total. But it was a timely effort for Alcantara, who is batting Triggs and Jesse Hahn for rotation jobs. Hahn’s next start is Saturday.

“His breaking ball, he struggled throwing it for strikes early and then found it, which is an attribute you want to see,” Melvin said of Alcantara. “It ended up being his best outing for us.”

Melvin said he thinks the battle for the Nos. 4 and 5 starter spots will go down to the wire.

NOTEWORTHY: Lefty Daniel Coulombe, trying to nail down a spot in the bullpen, threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After surrendering at least one run in each of his first five appearances, Coulombe has held opponents without a run in each of his last two outings (4 1/3 IP).

ODDS AND ENDS: Trevor Plouffe and Max Schrock hit the A’s other home runs along with Alonso’s two shots. Plouffe’s was an opposite-field blast to right. He’s hitting .361. Schrock was borrowed from minor league camp and went deep to right-center. … Ross Detwiler couldn’t shut the door in the ninth, retiring just two of the eight hitters he faced and allowing two walks and three runs. … Second baseman Joey Wendle, sidelined by a sore right shoulder, was scheduled to play catch for the first time in more than a week Thursday. He underwent an MRI a week ago that he said showed no significant damage. … Outfielder Jaff Decker (oblique) did all activity except take full batting practice. He seems to be progressing well and may still have a chance to battle for a roster spot.

Graveman takes to leadership role while Gray is sidelined

Graveman takes to leadership role while Gray is sidelined

MESA, Ariz. — Kendall Graveman feels comfortable with the leadership role that comes with being the A’s Opening Night starter, but he pointed out how all the starters will carry the load together.

“I told BoMel this morning when he told me, I said ‘I’m the No. 1 starter for Opening Night, but then whoever is the second guy is the No. 1 starter for us the next night,’ and that’s the way we have to go about it to be successful,” Graveman said Thursday afternoon.

That’s a message that Graveman says he’s already trying to spread to Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton, the starters who will follow him in the rotation. Oakland’s final two rotation spots are up for grabs.

With Sonny Gray sidelined by injury for what’s expected to be most of April, Graveman — with all of 52 major league starts under his belt — becomes the veteran leader of the A’s staff in the interim. Manager Bob Melvin gave Graveman the official word Thursday morning that he would take the ball April 3 against the Angels at the Coliseum. But shortly after Gray went down with a strained lat muscle March 7, Melvin approached Graveman about being his likely Opening Night guy.

It’s a natural fit. Graveman went 10-11 with a 4.11 ERA last season, and while those aren’t eye-catching numbers, they don’t tell the story of how valuable he was as the A’s lost starter after starter to injury.

Graveman has improved his mental preparation and his physical conditioning since coming over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. He’s become a meticulous studier to get ready for his starts. He’s picked the brain of veterans such as Gray and Barry Zito, who he played alongside with Triple-A Nashville for part of 2015.

And, not to be overlooked, his stuff and pitch arsenal have improved since he first arrived to the A’s. Though he’s a sinkerballer who relies more on location than velocity, the A’s clocked Graveman as high as 98 miles per hour on the radar gun in his last start.

“He’s kind of on a mission to be one of those guys that pitches at top of the rotation for many years to come,” Melvin said.