A's: first-half awards, highs, lows, etc.

814672.jpg

A's: first-half awards, highs, lows, etc.

FIRST HALF SURPRISESJosh Reddick
This guy has become the A's most consistent force. Like the song he often walks up to the plate to, Reddick is a stone cold stunner. What more can be said about what he has done this year? He has 20 homers, relative health, and a disarming clubhouse presence. He is the total package.

Sean Doolittle
This time last year Doolittle was a first baseman struggling to find his way in the A's organization. Then A's director of player development Keith Lippman had an idea that created something so electric that Benjamin Franklin might be jealous. He turned Doolittle into a pitcher. In just 16 minor league appearances Doolittle had done so much that he was promoted from Single-A, to Double-A, to Triple-A, to the Oakland A's. Doolittle hasn't slowed down either, he has a 14.73 K9 average, hasn't allowed a home run, and routinely hits 95-mph on the radar gun from the left side.

Ryan Cook
The A's lone All-Star representative has eight saves in 10 chances since being named the A's closer. He began the season with a 23 inning scoreless streak, which is the longest such streak by an A's pitcher on the opening day roster since at least 1918. Not bad for a guy that was a throw in piece from the Diamondbacks when the A's sent them Trevor Cahill.

SLIDESHOW: Pratt's five keys to second half

FIRST HALF DISAPPOINTMENTSKurt Suzuki
Once one of the A's most promising players, Suzuki's stock is plummeting so fast that a parachute might not slow him down. Once considered a "hitting catcher" the A's backstop has ceased doing so. He is stuck in a career-worst 75-game homerless streak. He is still extremely valuable defensively and with the pitching staff, but rookie catcher Derek Norris is effectively shoving him out the door.

Jemile Weeks
After a remarkable rookie season Weeks was the face of the franchise. The speedy second baseman wasnt fast enough to outrun the dreaded sophomore slump though. Weeks is one of the most talented players on the team, which is why he is one of the biggest disappointments of the first-half. Weeks is hitting just .222, but is showing some signs of life. He leads the AL with five triples, and his 38 walks tie him with Reddick for the most on the A's.

Brian Fuentes
Fuentes was the highest paid pitcher on the A's roster before they designated him for assignment. Still owed the remainder of his 5M contract in 2012 and a 500K buyout for next season, Fuentes fell off the map and then the roster. The left-handed veteran got off to a good start, but over his last eight appearances he allowed 13 earned runs, four home runs, and walked seven batters, in just six innings pitched.
THE HIGH POINT
You could capture the essence of the A's first half by reminiscing about any of their eight walk-off wins. Three in particular stand out: Norris' walk-off homer to avoid a sweep at the hand of the Giants. Cespedes' laser beam blast to left field to sweep the Dodgers. Chris Carter's tape measure walk-off shot to beat the Mariners. You could picture the pitching at its finest: Tommy Milone's three-hit complete game against the Dodgers. Jarrod Parker's eight-inning one-hit shutout of the Rangers. Or just envision the incredible 462-foot home run that Cespedes hit against Jason Vargas. A home run the likes of which hasn't been seen since larger than life monsters like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire roamed the field at the Oakland Coliseum. Combined they equal a .500 record at the All-Star break. The A's will need to build off of their first half and achieve greater heights.

THE LOW POINT
Riddled with injuries the team hit their lowest point in late May. They endured a nine-game losing skid that appeared to be the end of any hopes of contention. The players called it embarrassing. Grant Balfour even ranted in the clubhouse about how much he hated losing. The offense went through a stretch in which they had been shut out six times over a stretch of 16 games. This was the darkest time for the A's. Since the skid they are 21-13, and have put the struggles of May in the rear-view mirror.

FIRST HALF MVP
Reddick Reddick Reddick Reddick That's what it looks like if you check the list of A's team leaders. Reddick leads the A's in batting average (.268), home runs (20), RBI (43), runs (53), hits (84), doubles (15), and outfield assists (8). He has played in all but three of the team's 86 games, and has batted third in 78 of them. The A's right fielder has been Reddick-ulously consistent.

FIRST HALF LVP
Statistically speaking, if you look at wins above replacement (WAR), Suzuki is the least valuable player on the A's. That's not to say he doesn't have intangible qualities -- he most certainly does. He helps the A's young pitching staff, prevents runs with his defense, and has been instrumental in helping Derek Norris make the transition to the Major Leagues. His slash line of .211.248.259 is abysmal though. He has zero home runs in 246 plate appearances, and 16 RBI. A hand injury he suffered earlier in the season could be to blame, but at this point, he has to be considered the least valuable player.

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.