Cespedes more than introduced himself Friday

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Cespedes more than introduced himself Friday

As the A's went through the paces of opening night batting practice, a solitary voice cried out from the stands."Hey," the male fan yelled out to the guys in green and gold, "who are you guys?"Some three hours later, Yoenis Cespedes gave not only the paying customer, but the entire sold-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum an answer. A thundering, 462-foot, shake-Mt. Davis-to-its-bloody-core retort.Cespedes, the Cuban defector whose rights were surprisingly won by the notoriously thrifty A's, announced his presence with authority, to borrow a line from the seminal baseball classic "Bull Durham." His fourth-inning home run, a two-out, two-run blast on a 2-and-1, 84-mph fastball down the pipe that ricocheted off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, was a thing of monstrous wonderand beauty.It echoed Miguel Tejada at the height of his powers. Bo Jackson in the 1989 All-Star Game. Frank Thomas in his epic 2006 season with the A's."I've hit some farther in Cuba," a chagrined Cespedes said in Spanish.Indeed, it was the hardest-sounding hit ball by an A's batter since The Big Hurt made a run at the MVP award six years ago. Yes, "sounding."Because even when Cespedes took batting practice, you could tell when it was him in the cage. Simply by the sound of the ball coming off his bat. The same way you could tell it was Thomas taking his hacks."You don't see too many here at night that go that far," offered A's manager Bob Melvin. "He'll hit them farther than that."Granted, Thomas should be in Cooperstown in a few years while Cespedes was playing his third -- ever -- game in the major leagues. So the comparison is oh-so unfair. But this is what happens when a moribund franchise in desperate need of a marquee player that makes you stop what you're doing every time he comes to the plate lands such a hitter.The way Tejada did. And Jackson. And yes, Thomas.Even when the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder -- he looks much larger -- is striking out. As he did in the sixth inning. Swinging. And in the eighth. Looking.These A's, though, seem to get stage fright under the bright lights of opening night. In falling to Seattle, 7-3, the A's lost their eighth straight Coliseum opener.And you expected Cespedes to have butterfiies?Nerves are what Cespedes experienced as he planned his defection last summer to the Dominican Republic. When the five-tool player left behind everything and anything he has ever known. When he put pen to paper to sign that four-year, 36-million contract with the A's to realize a dream of playing in Las Grandes Ligas.In eight seasons playing for Granma in Cuba's Serie Nacional, Cespedes hit 177 home runs. And in his final season, he batted .333 with 30 homers and 99 RBI in 90 games.So yeah, he could rake. But the Mariners also showed respect for his arm, the speedy Chone Figgins not daring test him by tagging from third base on a medium-range fly ball in the third inning."He looks to be a true center fielder," Melvin said.But in getting full extension on his home run, the 26-year-old rookie pulled the most veteran of moves in admiring his shot at the plate before embarking on his fanciful trip around the bases.In Cuba, where the games have more showmanship than stateside, Cespedes would have watched the flight of his ball longer, and with more aplomb.Instead"What are you doing?" Cespedes asked himself, before sheepishly realizing where he was and exiting the box.Eight days earlier, on another continent, Cespedes homered off Seattle's Shawn Kelly in the Tokyo Dome. So when his 462-foot bomb off Jason Vargas cleared the fence, Cespedes become only the second A's batter since 1918 to homer twice in his first three games.The other? His Cuban countryman Bert Campaneris, who did it in 1964for the Kansas City Athletics.Cespedes raised his brow in wonderment."I'm very content to hear that," he said. "He was not only one of the best players with the A's, but one of the best to come from Cuba. So to be in his company, that makes me very happy."Who are these guys?Cespedes more than introduced himself.

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.