A's bullpen usage explained after Texas-sized loss

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A's bullpen usage explained after Texas-sized loss

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ARLINGTON -- They say everything is bigger in Texas. That apparently includes the two-foot hot dogs also known as "Boomsticks," the home runs, and the walk-off wins. The mortal enemy of the A's fan, Adrian Beltre, who twice turned down the A's when they tried to sign him, stung the Oakland faithful again with a two-run game-tying blast in the seventh inning off Pat Neshek, and game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded to give the Rangers a 5-4 win.
INSTANT REPLAY: Rangers 5, Athletics 4
With the loss in Texas, the A's elimination number in the American League West is now at five. They still play the Rangers six more times so they are not out of it yet. Most of the questions after the game centered around the usage of the relief pitchers. A's manager Bob Melvin elected to bring in left-handed pitcher Jerry Blevins to face Josh Hamilton with two outs in the seventh inning. The plan backfired. Hamilton was 0 for 5 with four strikeouts in his career against Blevins, but he drew a walk. The A's brought Neshek in for the righty on righty match up to face Beltre and he tied the game at four with a home run. "We had so few guys available today," Melvin explained. "We went to the match ups to get through the seventh and we had Ryan Cook for the eighth and Grant Balfour for the ninth, we just never got there."With the game now tied, Cook pitched a three up, three down eighth inning while Tyson Ross and Grant Balfour warmed up. Cook was working on his third consecutive day so he wasn't a candidate to go more than one inning. He had pitched three and one-third innings in his last two games. Ross came out to pitch the bottom of the ninth because he was the long man, and Melvin wanted to save Balfour in case the A's got the lead. Ross allowed back-to-back leadoff singles. The runners were bunted over so the A's intentionally walked Hamilton, which loaded the bases. Then Beltre came up and hit the game-winning single. After the game Melvin explained why he went to Ross in that situation. "We had Balfour and basically him; we didn't have Evan Scribner and Jim Miller today and I'm not going to put Jesse Chavez in that situation. Certainly Jeremy Accardo hasn't been pitching in a while so Tyson has good stuff. He just has to locate it and have some confidence out there because he does have good stuff." Melvin didn't mention Sean Doolittle but it is a fair bet that he also wasn't available, otherwise he probably would have been used. The A's relief pitchers have been maxed out lately. They pitched 17 23 innings in the series against the Yankees, which included two extra innings game. They have no days off for the rest of the season so Melvin has to be extra careful how he uses the bullpen. Before the Rangers' rally the biggest thing in Texas might have been the performance of A's starting pitcher Dan Straily. After getting pushed back in the rotation for match up reasons, the rookie took the ball and regained his team's faith in him. Straily, 23, struck out a career-high eight Rangers over six and two-thirds innings and allowed two runs, one earned. He put the A's in a position to win and left the game with a two-run lead."At this point in the year and from here on out every start is the biggest start of my life," Straily said. "That's the case for everybody. That's the way it is." Straily's defense didn't do him any favors early on. The A's committed two errors behind him and could have been charged with a third that was ruled a hit. Instead of letting the pressure of giving the Rangers' potent lineup extra outs wear on him, he got dialed in and recorded some big outs. He struck out Elvis Andrus with the bases loaded in the second inning, and got Ian Kinsler looking on a fastball with two aboard in the fourth frame. "I was able to make pitches and that's something that a few starts before I wasn't able to do," Straily said. "I was able to just bear down and throw my pitches with with conviction and trust in myself and my stuff and the results turned out pretty good tonight." While Straily was able to limit the damage, the A's defensive miscues cost him some pitches and he might have been able to work deeper into the game if it wasn't for those mistakes. That would have given the bullpen a little extra rest."You can't give free outs to those guys out there, they're too good," Josh Donaldson said. "We've got to go out there and make them earn every run they score." Donaldson was charged with one of the A's errors. He was able to get the ball and make a throw but Chris Carter couldn't pick it clean. He did hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the top half of the second inning, though. The biggest homer in the game measurement-wise was the 441-foot blast off the bat of Hamilton in the fifth inning. He drove a changeup thrown by Straily into the cheap seats. That might have had to do with why Melvin didn't let Straily finish the seventh inning with two outs and Hamilton stepping to the plate again. Straily says he knew he wasn't going to get another chance to face Hamilton, who he struck out earlier in the game. "When I go out Curt Young always tells me not the names, but just right-left-right or left-left-right or whatever," Straily said. "He just said 'right-right' so I knew going out that I was getting two batters. Obviously I want to get him again because I am confident I can get him out, but at the same time lefty on lefty, why wouldn't you do that?"The A's have nine games to play and their magic number to clinch a Wild Card berth is stuck at eight for now. The beauty of baseball is that teams don't have time to sulk after a tough loss. They have another game that is equally important on Tuesday, and everyday after for the remaining nine days."It's one game we've got to bounce back," Melvin said. "We did that in both Detroit and New York. We lost some tough games and we bounced back, won the last game of each series and it would have been nice to start off with a win in this series but you've got to move on from it."

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.