Kate Longworth reports that Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson has been on hand with the A's this during their series with the Dodgers. Coco Crisp, Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington deliver the message they have taken from Henderson; if you want to achieve big things, it starts off with doing the little things just right.
MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs rolled out their World Series trophy for an adoring sellout crowd to enjoy once again Saturday afternoon.
The A’s? They didn’t have any postseason glory to re-live, but their Cactus League opener came with some highlights too.
Matt Joyce homered to right field in his second plate appearance with Oakland, and hotshot prospect Matt Chapman picked up where he left off last spring, belting a two-run homer that rounded out the scoring for the A’s in their 4-3 defeat at Sloan Park.
Blue-clad fans filled the Cubs’ spring home to capacity, so much so that it made getting to the park an adventure for the A’s, who traveled across town from their own Mesa headquarters at Hohokam Stadium.
The A’s arranged for a police escort to guide their team bus through the traffic. Joyce drove his own car, with teammate Adam Rosales riding shotgun, and found himself in an enviable position.
“We actually were right behind the escort, leading the bus,” Joyce said. “The (cop) on the bike was like, ‘Pull over!’ and we’re like, ‘No, we’re with the A’s.’ We felt cool for sure.”
Joyce, batting third and playing right field, walked in his first time at bat. In the fourth, Jose Rosario caught too much plate with a 1-2 fastball and Joyce parked it on to the grass beyond the right field wall.
Three batters later, Chapman drilled a 1-0 pitch from Rosario to right-center for a two-run shot. Most of the A’s are familiar with Chapman’s power from last spring, when he hit a team-high six homers. Joyce, who joined the A’s as a free agent this winter, was impressed with the opposite-field stroke from the young third baseman.
“Man, he’s strong. He’s really strong,” Joyce said. “He’s going to be a fun player to watch, and watch him mature. You can tell, he’s quiet and he works his butt off. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
CAMP BATTLE: Jesse Hahn, competing for the fifth starter’s spot, started for the A’s and was charged with three runs over 1 2/3 innings. Working on a limited pitch count, he gave up four hits and struck out two. He was victimized by poor luck in the second, when Matt Szczur hit a sharp comebacker that deflected off Hahn’s glove and leaked into left field for a two-run single. Jon Jay and Ian Happ each doubled off him that inning too, and Jason Heyward’s RBI grounder brought home another run for a 3-0 Cubs lead.
“It was pretty good,” Melvin said of Hahn’s outing. “Two balls hit down the line, little slicers, but those type of situations he’s trying to get some ground balls and they got him in the air. Certainly his first inning was better than his second inning.”
Raul Alcantara, another fifth starter candidate, tossed two scoreless innings while allowing one hit.
Catcher Bruce Maxwell said he liked Alcantara’s curve and that his splitter, a new pitch for Alcantara, kept a couple hitters off balance.
FAMILIAR FACE(S): Joyce enjoyed the chance to catch up with Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist as well as Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Joyce was with all three as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-14.
Zobrist, of course, played with the A’s in the first half of 2015. His Cubs double-play partner, Addison Russell, was traded from Oakland in 2014 in the deal that brought pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. Neither recorded a hit Saturday.
Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who the A’s shipped to Chicago last spring for Chris Coghlan, threw a scoreless second inning against his former club.
ODDS AND ENDS: Catcher Josh Phegley, coming off season-ending right knee surgery, has been moving well early in camp. Melvin said Phegley will start Sunday’s exhibition home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, with Kendall Graveman on the mound. … New center fielder Rajai Davis showed a glimpse of what the A’s hope is in store all season — he led the game off with a walk against lefty Mike Montgomery, then stole second and third. But Davis was stranded there. … With Khris Davis not playing, Mark Canha played left field and hit cleanup. He struck out in all three of his plate appearances. … Simon Castro, a non-roster reliever, entered for Hahn with a man on third in the second inning and coaxed an inning-ending groundout from reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant.
MESA, Ariz. — In his heart, Liam Hendriks wanted to pitch for his national team in the World Baseball Classic. In reality, the A’s reliever just couldn’t justify it.
So Hendriks withdrew from joining Team Australia for its first-round games in Tokyo. He becomes the second Athletic to bow out of the WBC after left fielder Khris Davis decided not to play for Mexico. Relievers John Axford (Canada) and Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic), and starter Sonny Gray (United States) are still slated to play, though Gray wouldn’t join the American squad unless it advances to Round 2 and Casilla still hasn’t reported to A’s camp because of visa issues, so his exact plans aren’t known.
“When I really sat down and thought about it, I’m not quite where I want to be to be pitching in competitive games yet,” Hendriks said Saturday morning. “I’m not hurt or anything like that. There’s no issues, I feel great physically. But it’s one of those things, I’m not quite ready to go into a game, and I know if I get into a situation where if I push it a little bit more, I’m going to overextend myself and I don’t want to do that. And I don’t want to risk this season coming up with Oakland.”
Hendriks told Australian officials he could be available for Round 2, but it will be a joint decision between how he was feeling and whether the Aussie pitching staff needs him.
The right-hander was originally scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s Cactus League opener, in an effort to get him into game shape for the WBC. Now that he’s not playing in the first round, the A’s are slowing him down just a bit. Hendriks will throw on the side a bit more and then throw live batting practice before pitching in an exhibition.
“I could pitch in a game right now … but I’m not confident in all my pitches,” he said. “I’m confident in my spring training pitches, but it’s not midseason form like I’d want to be to be able to perform for that (Australian) team.”
The 30-hour round trip travel to Tokyo also complicated things, with Hendriks saying his throwing schedule would have been thrown out of whack upon his return.
Now 28, Hendriks pointed out that he got to pitch in the 2009 WBC as a wide-eyed 20-year-old, getting his roster spot because a veteran backed out. He’s hopeful another youngster now gets the same opportunity.
Hendriks posted a 3.76 ERA in 53 appearances last season, but pitched particularly well over the second half of the season, setting him up as an important piece of this year’s A's bullpen.
“It’s just a better decision for my career and my season,” he said.