A's can wait to learn Beane's veteran lesson

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A's can wait to learn Beane's veteran lesson

OAKLAND -- Billy Beane grabbed his third baseman, Josh Donaldson, on the far fringe of the Oakland Athletics daily party, made him turn around, cigar between his teeth and bottle of Domaine Chandon in his hand, and said with the seriousness of a thoracic surgeon, Make sure you enjoy this, because they dont come around that often.I will, Donaldson said, and then went back to thinking that this is what major league baseball is. A champagne-and-dry-ice rave-up every day, with nothing but happy endings and Jonny Gomes turning the infield hose on them and love from a nation full of total strangers.At that moment, with the As celebrating a division title, the crushing of history and the unfettered triumph of momentum over conventional logic, Beane would have had better luck trying to help Donaldson study for his law exam. There would be no lessons absorbed this day, except one:How much of a hoot it is to be young, eager and slap the world upside the earhole.The As finished the job that wasnt theirs to dream of Wednesday, throttling the Texas Rangers 12-5 to win the AL West, and to essentially lap the entire American League field in 100 games.INSTANT REPLAY: A's complete epic comeback
They caught everything in their way by winning two out of every three games for 3 months. They cheated so many baseball precedents in that time that they are the latest version of Americas Team. Remade on the fly twice, with only one position player in the place he started the season, a rotation made entirely of middle scholars, a bullpen assembled and reassembled they were in their way an expansion team that expanded beyond life size.And there was Beane, trying to remind Donaldson that this isnt how baseball actually is most of the time. Yeah, good luck winning that debating point.When I first got here, we won all the time, and I got used to it, Beane said while trying to coax his young son Braden that he couldnt take him back into the champagne shower just yet because he had to talk to the mean people with the notebooks. We all got used to it. It was just the way it worked. And then when we started winning again, it felt familiar again, like this was how it was supposed to be.But then you hit bottom, and you realize how much fun this is. Truthfully, Im happier about this team than any of the others because . . . well, all the other celebrations like this I can barely remember. This one Im going to remember because I appreciate it so much more.The game itself was a metaphor for the season. Down 5-1 almost immediately because starter A.J. Griffin couldnt make the baseball obey his commands, the As looked disappointment in the face . . . for exactly one inning.Brandon Moss walked, and Josh Reddick drove him home with a double to center, and the sellout crowd started to think this might not be such a buzzkill after all. Then Donaldson singled, then Seth Smith singled, and the belief came back. Then it dissipated again when Derek Holland replaced Texas starter Ryan Dempster and retired Derek Norris and Cliff Pennington.Then Coco Crisp doubled home Donaldson and Smith. Then Stephen Drew walked. Then Texas center fielder Josh Hamilton whiffed an inning-ending fly ball from Yoenis Cespedes to score Crisp and Drew, and despair turned to hope to jubilation to fait accompli.One-hundred-and-one games from doomed to triumphant, collapsed like a dying star into 10 plate appearances that explained it all.While of course explaining none of it, because this cannot truly be explained. Not well, anyway. You can trace where the roster was at the beginning of the season, you can recap every game, you can turn it into a historical exercise, for this was, and still is, a historic achievement, even if you dont factor in the As more typical role as the new St. Louis Browns.But today was not the day to think about San Jose, or owners selling, or a stadium that has served its tenants far better than its tenants have served it. Today was watching young men playing with the casinos money, partying like the sun never comes up. Today was baseball re-explained for people who dont get it, or want to get it. Today was about expectations and orthodoxy and punditry and mathematical projections taking it right in the nethers, once, twice, 94 times. One for every win.And it was definitely not the time for Billy Beane to explain to Josh Donaldson that this is a feeling like no other, and that it must be savored. This was not a day for savoring. It was for chugging, bottleneck down, the joy running down your shirtfront. Donaldson may learn the backhand of this lesson some day, but today?Not a chance in hell.

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

TEMPE, Ariz. — Rather than join his minor league teammates for workouts like usual, Logan Shore got word Tuesday morning he would take the ball for the A’s against the Los Angeles Angels.

A few hours later, Shore was striking out Mike Trout to highlight his impressive four-inning outing. What an experience it was for Shore, a right-hander drafted last summer in the second round out of the University of Florida.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There’s not really any words to describe that.”

The A’s scratched No. 5 starter Raul Alcantara, opting to throw him in a minor league game rather than let a division opponent get another look at him for scouting-report purposes. That presented Shore with a surprise opportunity.

He responded with four innings of one-run ball, holding the Angels to two hits. The game would take an ugly turn as the A’s bullpen got lit up in a 14-3 loss. But Shore’s outing was a glimpse of what Oakland might have to look forward to with the 22-year-old. The righty didn’t come out of college with the same hype as Florida teammate A.J. Puk, who the A’s drafted sixth overall last June. But he’s thought to be more polished than Puk at this stage.

Shore went 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts with short-season Vermont in his pro debut. This spring, he’s been grouped with high Single-A Stockton, but he hasn’t received his official regular-season assignment yet.

“That’s the kind of lineup that gets your attention a little bit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He had great command of his fastball, a backdoor sinker, good changeup, good slider. He probably got a little bit tired at the end, but he was very impressive. That’s the first time I got to see him throw.”

Shore pitched in relief for the A’s earlier this spring as a minor league extra, so that helped him keep his nerves in check Tuesday. Still, it was a different challenge tackling what closely resembled the Angels’ regular-season lineup, which features Trout and Albert Pujols in the meat of it.

Trout struck out and flied to right against Shore. Pujols flied to right and singled.

“I grew up watching all those guys, so it’s kind of cool to get to pitch against them,” he said.

HEALTH UPDATES: Left fielder Khris Davis and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, both nursing minor injuries, won’t return to the field until the Bay Bridge Series which starts Thursday night at AT&T Park, Melvin said. Plouffe has missed the past few games with a groin injury and Davis has a right quad issue.

“We’ll just bubble wrap them right now and send them home,” Melvin cracked.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt took another step in his Tommy John recovery with a 30-pitch session that included two sets of 15 pitches, simulating two innings with a break in between.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s play their Cactus League finale Wednesday on the road against the Cubs, but most of the game will feature minor leaguers. All of the players who are heading north to face the Giants will be leaving for the airport sometime in the latter stages of the game.

On that topic, the A’s announced the 43 players that will make up their Bay Bridge roster. It includes 30 players from the 40-man roster, six non-roster invitees and seven extras from minor league camp. Oakland officially has 36 players still in camp, with Saturday the deadline to cut down to the final 25-man roster.

ODDS AND ENDS: After Shore left the game, the Angels struck for five runs in the fifth against Liam Hendriks. … The next inning, highly touted prospect Grant Holmes gave up five runs (four earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Holmes was one of three righties acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade. Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas were the others.

 

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

TEMPE, Ariz. — The A’s moving truck has already left the desert, and the team will be bolting for the airport after Wednesday’s Cactus League finale.

Spring training is quickly drawing to a close, with only the three-game Bay Bridge Series remaining before the games start to count. To mark that reality, here’s a look at the five most burning questions Oakland faced back when camp started in mid-February, and what kind of answers have materialized since …

1) Does Sonny Gray return to his old self?
The A’s absorbed their first major injury blow early when Gray, their potential Opening Night starter, went down with a strained lat muscle after a March 7 start. It wasn’t exactly what the right-hander had in mind coming off a 2016 season that sent him to the disabled list twice. Encouraging news came last week when Gray was allowed to start throwing again one week ahead of schedule.

When exactly he returns is tied to how soon he gets back on the mound. He’s been playing catch out to 105 feet, but manager Bob Melvin stressed the A’s aren’t going to rush things with Gray. Until further notice, the assumption is still that Gray will miss most of April.

2) Can a ‘healthy’ outlook be sustained?
Given what you read in the above item, obviously things haven’t gotten off to a great start in this department. Jake Smolinski, a candidate to make the team as an extra outfielder, showed up to camp with a sore right shoulder and required labrum surgery. Second baseman Joey Wendle, who was ticketed for Triple-A to begin with, also has been set back by a shoulder injury. But the focus, from an injury standpoint, is on Gray. If he were to miss just the first month of the regular season, that’s an absence the A’s should be able to cover. Any longer than that, and his presence really will be missed.

After last year’s roster-wide rash of injuries, better health is the most important first step in the A’s escaping the American League West cellar.

3) Who wins the closer’s job?
Six weeks of spring training has yet to reveal an answer here. If Melvin knows who his closer is, he isn’t saying publicly. Lefty Sean Doolittle, one of the veteran anchors of the relief corps, said Melvin hasn’t discussed roles yet with the relievers themselves. Expect more news on that during the Bay Bridge Series, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Of the four assumed ninth-inning candidates — Doolittle, John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Ryan Madson — none has been lights-out in Cactus League games.

The guess here is Madson, the A’s main closer last season, gets the first crack at the role this year as well.

“I don’t even think it’s on anybody’s radar,” Doolittle said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things that makes our bullpen effective. We’re not as attached to those roles as people might think.”

4) Where does Ryon Healy fit into the puzzle?
He fits in a little at first base, a little at third base and a little at DH. What we know is that Healy’s bat will be in the lineup regularly, it’s just a matter of where. Melvin spread his time pretty evenly between all three spots. Healy responded with a terrific spring at the plate. Entering Tuesday, he ranked third in the Cactus League with 16 RBI, the most spring RBI by an Athletic since Kevin Kouzmanoff also had 16 in 2010. Healy will play first base against lefties, platooning with Yonder Alonso. He’ll spell Trevor Plouffe at third. But it stands to reason a large chunk of his time will have to come at DH.

“I think he’s handled it well,” Melvin said. “It’s not easy, especially for a younger guy that was originally a first baseman. He worked as hard as anybody last year to make himself a third baseman. Now, it’s a little bit different for him and he knew that coming into camp. I think he’s handled his time wisely, worked hard at both positions, and he knows he has to move around a little bit this year.”

5) Can the A’s get their mojo back?
If a positive clubhouse vibe plays any part in a team turning around its on-field fortunes, the A’s are off to a good start. The early indications are that newcomers Plouffe, Matt Joyce, Casilla and Rajai Davis — those latter two are in their second stints with the A’s — all add some nice leadership qualities and mesh well with the returning vets. True, you can’t really read too much in spring training, when everyone always gets along in the spirit and optimism of a new season. But the A’s do seem to have better components up and down their roster to lead to a healthier season-long chemistry.

Just as you’ve read in the past, getting off to a strong start in the standings is the most effective way to maintain that chemistry.