Cotton impresses with poise, confidence in beating Royals


Cotton impresses with poise, confidence in beating Royals

KANSAS CITY — The ingredients were there for a young pitcher to get rattled Monday at Kauffman Stadium.

Jharel Cotton never let that happen. Instead he prevented the Royals’ sold-out crowd from becoming a factor in their home opener, spinning a beauty of a performance in the A’s 2-0 victory.

According to catcher Stephen Vogt, Cotton’s warm-up routine didn’t follow the usual pattern due to an extended pregame ceremony in memory of Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, who died in a January car accident. There were starts and stops for Cotton as he prepared during the ceremony, which had several A’s players, not to mention manager Bob Melvin, commenting on how powerful and moving it was.

“We’ve seen him pitch some really good games,” Melvin said of Cotton. “But the pressure of that game, a full house, a lot going on, and to be on it right away too. Sometimes nerves can get to you a little bit, then you kind of settle into your routine. But he was on it right away. I don’t know that he could have pitched better.”

Indeed, the rookie was dialed in from the get-go. That helped him build confidence after he struggled in his season debut against the Angels. Importantly, Cotton was retiring hitters early on without having to show his best pitch, the changeup.

“He didn’t have to use his changeup until the second time through (the lineup) a little bit, and the third time through he used it a lot,” Vogt said. “Anytime you can avoid somebody’s best secondary pitch until the third time through, he’s doing a pretty good job.”

Cotton has a mid-90’s fastball, a curve and a cutter he can also attack hitters with. Then later in the game, as the late-afternoon shadows fell between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, hitting conditions became tougher and Cotton’s changeup was especially effective.

“Vogt really called a good game,” Cotton said. “He knew when to call the changeup and just put the right numbers down every single time.”

The Royals invited Ventura’s mother, Marisol Hernandez, and other relatives from the Dominican Republic to attend the touching pregame ceremony, which included a video montage on the JumboTron while a saxophonist played “Amazing Grace.”

Then a large group of Royals players brought out a banner reading “Ace 30” and unraveled it behind the mound to the loud cheers of fans. Ventura wore No. 30, and the Royals are keeping a locker stall in his honor this season in their home clubhouse, complete with a jersey and photos of Ventura.

The A’s had some history with Ventura, most notably an early-season game in 2015 when Ventura was ejected after hitting Brett Lawrie with a pitch, a day after Lawrie slid extremely hard into Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar at second base.

But there was nothing but respect for Monday’s ceremony, and the memory of Ventura, in the A’s clubhouse.

“I can’t imagine what it was like for (the Royals), knowing him, having been so close to him,” A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said. “It was really powerful for us, and none of us really knew him. For them to watch that … for them to take the field right after that, I can’t imagine the emotions they were feeling.”

Given that environment, Doolittle was all the more impressed with Cotton’s performance, especially coming off a debut in which the right-hander lasted just 4 1/3 innings in a loss to the Angels.

“For a young guy to have a bounce-back outing like that, in this environment, Opening Day here, a lot of energy in this stadium, that’s huge for him to have that kind of poise and maturity,” Doolittle said. “It’s a really, really, really good sign.”

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

OAKLAND — The A’s set off for Chicago on Thursday evening to begin their next road trip, and how their dynamic has changed over the course of one week.

They began their most recent homestand by cutting ties with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe to make room for hotshot prospect Matt Chapman. On Thursday, catcher Stephen Vogt suffered the same fate as Plouffe, getting designated for assignment to make room for another young player in Bruce Maxwell.

The calendar may still read June, with more than half of the season remaining, but the A’s are cleaning house, undergoing a reboot and playing the rest of 2017 with an emphasis on what lies ahead.

Five of the nine position players in their starting lineup for Thursday’s 12-9 loss to the Houston Astros are what you would consider “future” guys — center fielder Jaycob Brugman, third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Chad Pinder, Maxwell and right fielder Matt Olson.

They will shuffle around the diamond a bit, and Olson may only stay with the big club until Chapman comes off the disabled list (though Olson’s full-time status in the bigs doesn’t seem far off). Regardless, the plan is crystal clear — the A’s are hitching their wagon to their young core and are prepared to let them develop at the major league level, with whatever successes and failures may come with the growth process.

“We do get excited about giving these guys playing time,” A’s general manager David Forst said before Thursday’s game.

The Astros finished off a four-game sweep of Oakland with their 12-9 victory, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and then holding on after the A’s mounted a late charge. Glance up and down the box score, and those key young players were instrumental in so much that went right for the A’s.

Maxwell went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Olson drove in two runs. Pinder had two hits and an RBI. Brugman chipped in an RBI single and walked twice. That was the silver lining on a day that starting pitcher Jesse Hahn struggled mightily, allowing nine earned runs in just two innings.

“These guys are gonna be important,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The last thing you want to see when you’re down 10-0 is guys just cash it in, and that wasn’t the case. These guys all have something to play for. They’re playing for jobs. And in the future, starting jobs.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, middle infielder Franklin Barreto will join the mix from Triple-A Nashville. For now, an immediate storyline is the health of Chapman, who joined the 10-day disabled list with a case of cellulitis (bacterial infection) in his left knee. The A’s checked him into a hospital Wednesday night to get an intravenous antibiotic, after his condition “plateaued” with oral antibiotics, according to Forst.

He said Chapman is likely to leave the hospital Friday, and the A’s are hopeful the rookie third baseman will be able to return when he’s eligible to come off the D.L. His stint can be backdated to Monday, meaning Chapman is eligible to return next Thursday at Houston.

He’s part of the youth movement that resulted in Vogt getting shown the exit. Maxwell sent Vogt a text message wishing him the best Thursday morning, and Vogt quickly responded, wishing him the best. That meant a lot to Maxwell, who didn’t learn until Thursday morning that his roster spot was coming at Vogt’s expense.

But Maxwell said he’s excited to be surrounded by so many players that he’s advanced through the minors with.

“Once we get everybody acclimated to each other and the game up here,” he said, “I feel like we could potentially set up a turning point for this organization for years to come.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's


OAKLAND — Under some circumstances, a 4-4 homestand against the Yankees and Astros wouldn’t seem so bad for the A’s.

This wasn’t the way they would have preferred it however.

After sweeping New York in four at the Coliseum, the A’s proceeded to drop four in a row to Houston, including Thursday's 12-9 loss, making this an historic stay at home whether they wanted it that way or not. Only one other time in the past 106 years had the A’s played back-to-back four-game series and swept the first while being swept in the second.

The first time it happened was in September 1977, when they were swept by Texas before taking the broom to Kansas City.

Thursday’s contest got out of hand early, with the Astros jumping out to a 10-0 lead by the second inning before Oakland came roaring back late.

Jesse Hahn (3-5) was out of whack from his first batter and lasted just two innings, getting hammered for a career-high 10 runs (nine earned) and allowing two home runs.

On the same day Oakland designated Stephen Vogt for assignment, another noteworthy former Athletic enjoyed a huge day against his old team as Josh Reddick finished just a single short of the cycle and scored four runs.

But the A’s came alive for a six-run rally in the eighth to close to within 12-9 and make the Astros sweat it.

But Oakland wound up falling a season high-tying 11 games under .500 at 31-42. A six-game road trip is up next to play the White Sox and, once again, the Astros, who ran their winning streak at the Coliseum to 10 and have won 15 of their past 16 against the A’s.

Short day for Hahn: It was clear early that Hahn didn’t have his ‘A’ game. He hit George Springer with a 3-1 pitch to begin the game — Springer exited with a left hand contusion — then walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. He limited the damage to two runs in the first, but the Astros poured it on for eight runs in the second, including three-run homers from Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez.

Maxwell returns with strong game: With Vogt designated for assignment, Bruce Maxwell was promoted to assume catching duties alongside Josh Phegley, and Maxwell enjoyed a 3-for-4 day, including an RBI double as the A’s rallied in the eighth.

The other new arrival also shines: Matt Olson, also called up Thursday as Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Reddick has big day: Reddick doubled in the second, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, but didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle against his former club.

Smith steadies things on mound: : Josh Smith took over after Hahn left the game and threw three scoreless innings, striking out four and keeping manager Bob Melvin from having to empty his bullpen.