Don't you dare talk about Ryan Cook's streak

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Don't you dare talk about Ryan Cook's streak

OAKLAND -- The doors to the A's clubhouse swing open. Inside, music plays, which is typical before a game. Players, team attendants, and coaches go about their business, exchanging pleasantries and chatting. Some players mess around on their iPads.

No one is talking about Ryan Cook's scoreless innings streak. Cook has thrown 22 23 scoreless innings to open the season. As far as anyone can remember, no pitcher on a team's Opening Day roster has done that since 1918. In baseball you have to take the good with the bad -- and there is a lot of bad in a game of failure -- but streaks are apparently sacred. No one will talk about it, even when pressed. "All I know right now is that he's like the nastiest pitcher alive," relief pitcher Jerry Blevins said. "So I don't want to jinx that by talking about numbers or anything."
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Here are some numbers we can talk about: Cook is throwing his fastball an average of 94 MPH with movement. He complements his fastball with a knee-buckling slider that he can throw for strikes. Maybe the supernatural can't stop Cook's streak. Jerry Blevins tends to agree with that sentiment."I don't think you can jinx anyone that is that nasty," Blevins said. Blevins isn't the only member of the team who refuses to talk about Cook's scoreless innings streak. Manager Bob Melvin just shakes his head and smiles when he is asked about it. It seems that most people on (or around) the team know their words have no impact on what Cook is doing. They choose not to risk it anyways, just in case. "I won't talk about it either," reliever Jim Miller said. "It's just one of those things that you just don't talk about it. And you definitely don't talk about it with him." The media has tried to talk about it with Cook, with predictable results. Cook hasn't been in the league long -- he debuted with Arizona last year before being traded to the A's in the off-season-- but he reacts to questions like a veteran. "Yeah, I have high expectations for myself," Cook says. "But also, I am really not concerned with all that kind of stuff. I just try to make pitches down in the zone and hope I get good results.""His pitching has done most of the speaking for him," closer Brian Fuentes said. At 29-years-old, Ryan Cook is hitting his peak with the A's. Aside from the scoreless innings streak, Cook has the lowest BABIP allowed in Major League Baseball. That means .082 percent of balls batted into play against him fall in for a hit. In other words, no hitter is making good contact on his pitches. During his scoreless streak he has 21 strikeouts. "Ryan Cook has been there all year," Melvin said. "As consistent as we've had." Cook has taken over the eighth inning set-up man duties for the A's as of late. He has the potential to be a closer in the making. He hasn't always been this untouchable though. In the past Cook struggled with his command. Last year with the Diamondbacks he had eight walks in 7.2 innings pitched. "I see a lot of progression," Jordan Norberto said. "He is throwing a lot of strikes now, before he was a little bit wild. Now he pounds the strikezone and he is aggressive in the strikezone." Norberto and Cook were in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system together. They were both traded to Oakland from Arizona last year in separate deals. Norberto isn't surprised by Cook's progress. He says Cook is tough to hit because of the movement on his pitchers, and his ability to keep the ball low in the zone.
So what changed? Why is Cook so much better all of a sudden? No one can put a finger on what clicked for Cook. His improved command and the ability to throw strikes to both right and left-handed batters seems to be the reason for his success. Cook attributes some of his growth to the veteran leadership on the team. Primarily the influence Brian Fuentes has had on him."I don't need to help him with his pitching that's for sure," Fuentes said. "It is just more the routine stuff, the everyday things. We talk about hitters and what I do during the game, and just watching the game and things I look for and things of that nature."Cook's streak may be the longest to start the season for a pitcher on the Opening Day roster, but his streak isn't the longest by any stretch for an A's reliever. In 2008, Brad Ziegler, who is now with the Diamondbacks, started his career with 39 13 scoreless innings, a Major League Baseball record. The difference between Cook and Ziegler's streak is that Ziegler wasn't on the Opening Day roster. While Ziegler has the longer streak, he is still impressed with what Cook is doing."My style is drastically different than Ryan's style," Ziegler said. "What he is doing is really special in the sense that he is a power pitcher. In a way, he is doing it all himself. He is trying to miss bats completely, I'm trying to miss the barrel."Ziegler makes it seem that he Cook's streaks are completely different based on the way each pitcher attacks hitters. Ziegler, who has a sidearm delivery, relies on deception and getting hitters to put the ball in play. Cook tries to strike hitters out. As a result Ziegler relied heavily on help from his defense. "I am happy for him," Ziegler said. "I hope he continues the streak for a while."Or at least until June 8, when the A's take on the Diamondbacks. Ziegler joked that he hopes Cook's streak ends in Arizona. Whether Ziegler gets his wish or not, we'll have to pretend that nothing special is happening each time Cook takes the mound. We can tweet it, reference it, and write about it, but never speak about it in his presence.
Because rest assured the baseball gods are watching.

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Debate the significance of an A’s exhibition win over the Giants if you will, but don’t question its significance to Bob Melvin.

Beating the team in black and orange means a lot to Oakland’s manager no matter what the calendar reads. On Monday, the teams played a late-February game under an overcast sky and occasional light rain at Scottsdale Stadium.

Not exactly regular-season like conditions. And with both teams’ everyday players having exited the game early, the A’s held on for a 5-4 victory that ran their Cactus League winning streak to eight over the Giants.

Counting exhibitions in the Bay Area too, the A’s are 18-6 against their Bay Area rival in their past 24 spring games.

“Look, when the Giants and A’s play, there’s a little more to it,” said Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area and played three seasons for the Giants. “You play your spring games and you’re excited about getting to play these guys. And, especially, our youngsters should be. They know the way I feel about it. The whole Bay Area is watching when we play each other.”

Matt Joyce homered deep to right off Jeff Samardzija in the top of the first, giving the first-year Athletic two home runs in two games with his new club. Stephen Vogt blooped an RBI single in the first and Ryon Healy doubled home two runs in the second.

The Giants rallied to tie it 4-4 in the seventh with three runs off minor league reliever Trey Cochran-Gill. But Adam Rosales drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth to give the A’s the lead back as they posted their first victory in three Cactus League games this spring.

NOTEWORTHY: Starters Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea both threw for the A’s, with Manaea in particular earning strong praise for his two scoreless innings.

The lefty felt very good about his slider and changeup, and according to Healy, when he went to the plate for his third at-bat, Giants catcher Buster Posey commented on how good Manaea’s changeup looked. Manaea got both Posey and Kelby Tomlinson swinging on the pitch in the third.

It was the slider, his third-best pitch, that Manaea is trying to hone.

“I was really, really happy with how my slider was,” he said. “It was probably the best one I’ve thrown in a couple years. It just felt really good out of my hand and had some good movement.”

Added Melvin: “If he gets that one to (the) back foot of a rightie, now he’s going to have three plus-pitches.”

Graveman escaped his one and only inning of work unscored upon when he stranded runners on second and third.

NEW GUYS: Joyce, likely to platoon in right field with Mark Canha, has played in two exhibitions, and twice he’s gone deep on 1-2 fastballs that caught the inner half of the plate. On Monday, Melvin batted him second and Joyce went deep off Samardzija.

“I can’t even talk to that guy,” Healy said with a smile. “He says he’s just trying to put the bat on the ball, and he has two homers.”

As for another first-year Athletic, there’s still no concrete word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will report to camp. He remains held up in the Dominican Republic as the visa process plays out. Melvin admitted a bit of concern just because Casilla is slated to play for his national team in the World Baseball Classic, and Melvin would like to get Casilla in camp for a stretch before he departs for that.

The Dominican Republic plays its first game March 9 in Miami.

“I’d like to get him here — I’d like to meet him,” Melvin said. “It’s not his fault.”

Melvin said a typical schedule would have relievers appearing in nine or 10 exhibitions before the team heads north, but that he didn’t think that would be necessary for Casilla. It’s also worth noting that none of the A’s other front-line relievers have pitched in their first game yet.

ODDS AND ENDS: Vogt, getting his first start behind the plate, and Rajai Davis each had two hits. … Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect, played the final four innings at second base. Yairo Munoz, another highly touted infield prospect who’s in his first big league camp, entered in the same inning at third base. … Melvin praised reliever Kyle Finnegan, who came over from minor league camp for the day and handled the ninth for the save.

Despite uncertain role in 2017, Healy will be 'happy camper'

Despite uncertain role in 2017, Healy will be 'happy camper'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For a player who impressed so much in the second half last season, Ryon Healy’s role remains a bit hazy entering 2017.

The A’s insist he’ll get consistent at-bats — the question is where. As the roster shapes up, Healy will bounce between first base, designated hitter and occasional time at third base when newcomer Trevor Plouffe isn’t in the lineup.

Healy sounds game for whatever might be in store, when asked if he’d rather be guaranteed to play in the field every day.

“I think that’s any player,” Healy said. “But as long as I’m on the big league roster and I’m playing every day in the lineup and contributing to the A’s winning ballgames, I’m going to be a happy camper, that’s for sure.”

Healy earned his first big league promotion as the A’s came out of the All-Star break last summer. He hit .305 in 73 games as Oakland’s everyday third baseman, and he led American League rookies in hits (82) and extra-base hits (33) in the second half.

But when the A’s signed Plouffe in the offseason to man third base, it complicated Healy’s situation because Yonder Alonso remains as the presumed first baseman against right-handed pitchers. Healy, 25, was primarily a first baseman until last season, and he’ll spend this spring getting ready at both corner spots, though A’s Bob Melvin said first base will be more of a priority.

Melvin has talked with Healy already to make sure they’re on the same page about how he’s likely to be used.

“We’ve had conversations with that,” Melvin said. “Shoot, everybody wants to get into a routine and have one spot to play and hit one place in the lineup. That’s just not how we do things here. You try to communicate that to him ahead of time and prepare him for the role he will have. And he’ll prepare very well for it.” Healy, bothered by some quadriceps soreness early in camp, started at first in his exhibition debut Monday and lined a two-run double to left-center off Giants reliever Kraig Sitton.

There are similarities between first and third in that they’re both corner infield spots. But there are also differences that he’s gone over with infield coach Chip Hale.

“They’re both very reactionary positions, but we’ve discussed how to attack ground balls because third base you need to be a little more aggressive because of the throw across the diamond,” Healy said. “First base, you can drop-step a little bit, let the hops get to you. … I just gotta make sure I get quality reps at both and I’ll be OK.”