Athletics

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

772698.jpg

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."
PHOTO GALLERY: A's-Yankees -- What to watch for
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 Cotton notches first big league victory in two months: 'He found out if...'

A's Cotton notches first big league victory in two months: 'He found out if...'

HOUSTON — No one questions the quality of stuff that Jharel Cotton takes to the mound.

According to A’s manager Bob Melvin, the key for his rookie starter is more an issue of mindset and aggressiveness.

Cotton was in attack mode Sunday after a wobbly first inning against the Houston Astros. The result was an encouraging six-inning outing that set the A’s on the path to a 3-2 victory that helped them avoid a three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park.

While the victory was important for his team’s overall psyche, Melvin also hopes it triggers some confidence for Cotton in how he can attack a dangerous lineup and have success.

“I think he found out if he throws the ball over the plate, it’s gonna allow him to stay in the game longer,” Melvin said. “He should take a lot out of this game, especially against a lineup like that. Knowing that if I’m throwing the ball over the plate, using a mix of pitches and I’m not afraid to use my fastball, that the results can be good. We’ve seen him pitch really good games because he’s got good stuff.”

Cotton (6-10) rang up his first major league victory since June 23 against the White Sox. That was before a blister on his thumb led to a stint on the disabled list. Since then, he’d struggled with walks, ill-timed homers, and generally enough turbulence to invite speculation on whether the A’s might skip him for a start or send him down.

He answered Sunday by holding the majors’ highest-scoring team to two runs on four hits over his six innings. That was after walking two in a 25-pitch first. Not since that scoreless outing against the White Sox back in June had Cotton surrendered less than four runs in a game.

A’s closer Blake Treinen, who recorded a six-out save and combined with fellow reliever Chris Hatcher to bring home the ‘W’ for Cotton, said watching Cotton tame the Astros lineup didn’t surprise him.

“I’d heard of him from before I was even (traded to the A’s), and I’ve seen his stuff. Sometimes as a young pitcher it just takes experience. When things are going really well, you don’t have to think.You just trust it.”

The A’s beat the Astros for just the third time in 15 games this season. On so many occasions, Houston has taken advantage of Oakland mistakes and forced the issue with aggressive baserunning. On Sunday, it was the A’s who dictated things in that fashion.

Center fielder Boog Powell, who went 3-for-4 with a walk from the leadoff spot, led the game off with a single against Brad Peacock (10-2). Then Marcus Semien grounded one toward the hole on the left side. With Powell racing hard into second, Astros shortstop Alex Bregman threw wildly into right field. Powell came around to score, and Semien — advancing all the way to third — came home on the play when Marwin Gonzalez made another throwing error.

Jed Lowrie scored on a passed ball in the sixth to push the A’s lead to 3-1, marking the first time in Oakland history the A’s scored three or more runs in a game without notching a single RBI.

Semien’s mad dash around the bases reminded him of a similar play as a Little Leaguer in El Cerrito, when he circled the bases in the same kind of way on his mother’s birthday. Afterward, she convinced him he’d hit a real homer.

“I got some texts from some old Little League friends about that one today,” Semien said.

It wasn’t conventional, and it didn’t matter. Over the first two games of this series, the A’s had scored one run total and advanced just one runner as far as third base.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's avoid sweep vs Astros

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's avoid sweep vs Astros

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — The A’s experienced a welcome reversal of fortune Sunday in the place that’s been their late-inning house of horrors.

Their bullpen salted away a 3-2 victory over the Astros in a game that had potential heartbreak written all over it.

Three times last season they lost in walk-off fashion at Minute Maid Park. On Sunday, they left the door cracked open by stranding a runner on third in both the seventh and eighth innings, missing out on a chance to add to their slim lead. But recently acquired Chris Hatcher registered a big strikeout of George Springer to end the 7th with the tying run at third. Then Blake Treinen recorded a six-out save to help Oakland avoid a sweep by the American League’s winningest team.

It was a needed morale boost on a weekend in which the A’s received stellar starting pitching but simply couldn’t kick their offense into gear. They mustered just four runs total over the three-game series, but managed to secure a win over Houston for just the third time in 15 meetings this season. It was also just their fifth victory in their past 21 contests at Minute Maid Park.

A LONG DAY’S WORK: The hard-throwing Treinen, acquired from Washington as part of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, was nasty in finishing out the final two innings for his fourth save as an Athletic. With Santiago Casilla having struggled in the ninth, the A’s are evaluating whether Treinen might be a long-term answer at closer. After posting a 5.73 ERA with the Nats this season, he entered Sunday with a 2.65 mark in 16 appearances with Oakland.

POWELL PROVIDES A BOOST: Getting a start in the leadoff spot, center fielder Boog Powell went 3-for-4 with a walk and scored a run. His impact was felt most in the first. After leading the game off with a single, he came all the way around to score on a throwing error by Astros shortstop Alex Bregman. Marcus Semien circled all the way around the bases on the play after first baseman Marwin Gonzalez contributed his own throwing error on the same play.

COTTON RESPONDS: Jharel Cotton needed to deliver a strong outing, and the rookie did so against the majors’ most potent offense. He went 6 2/3 innings and held Houston to two runs on four hits. Coming in, the right-hander had been lit up for an 8.06 ERA over his previous five starts.

MAXWELL RECOVERING: Dustin Garneau started behind the plate for the A’s with Bruce Maxwell feeling the effects of a hard foul tip off his mask Saturday night. Maxwell said he had trouble sleeping throughout the night, and the A’s weren’t about to take chances given the concussion issues encountered by some of their catchers in the past. Josh Phegley and John Jaso are two who come to mind.

Maxwell typically would have been in there against a right-hander in Peacock.

“Our training staff has got as good a handle on these things as any training staff, based on the fact that we’ve had to deal with quite a few of them,”Melvin said. “They know the protocol really well. Based on past experiences with these things, we feel like it’s the prudent thing to do.”

IN RELATED NEWS …: A tie-in to Maxwell’s status is the fact that Josh Phegley continues to come along well in his rehab assignment. Returning from a strained oblique, has played three games for Triple-A Nashville. The A’s don’t intend to rush Phegley back, but Melvin suggested that were Maxwell to miss any extended time, Phegley’s timetable for return could be hastened.