'Mad' Max puts injuries aside, shoulders Game 4 responsibility


'Mad' Max puts injuries aside, shoulders Game 4 responsibility

Programming note: Tune in to SportsNet Central's A's October Quest tonight at 5:30pm on Comcast SportsNet California leading up to today's ALDS Game 4 in Oakland!

OAKLAND -- "Mad" Max Scherzer's eyes may be two different colors, but he can see his catcher's target plenty clear, especially when facing the Oakland A's.

Scherzer -- who sports a blue eye in his right socket and a brown in his left thanks to his case of heterochromia iridum of the eye -- has faced players on the A's current playoff roster in 40 at-bats, and the A's have collected 10 hits, only two of which went for extra bases. They have drawn five walks and been sent back to the dugout 19 times.

Despite his success against the A's, Scherzer did not want to face them Wednesday, wishing his team would close out the series in a sweep.

"I was the biggest cheerleader (Tuesday), hoping that we would win," Scherzer said. "It is a little bit weird not wanting to pitch."

Like it or not, he'll stare down the Athletics' lineup in Game 4. With just the best eight MLB teams remaining, there aren't very many easy outs left. And Scherzer knows that the A's lineup -- while unlikely so -- is no exception. Citing the speed at the top of the lineup, and the pop through its heart, the Tigers' starter is gearing up for a battle.

"It's going to present a challenge for me," Scherzer acknowledged.

Pitching in Oakland, surprisingly, might also present a challenge. Despite his solid numbers against the A's, Scherzer hasn't fared well in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum. In two career starts he is 1-1 with a 5.56 ERA, though he does have 17 strikeouts in 11 13 innings.

Getting strikeouts has never been a problem for Scherzer. If it weren't for teammate and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer would have led all of baseball with 231 strikeouts this year.

RELATED: MLB strikeout leaders

It's not a good sign for the A's, who struck out an American League-record 1,387 times this season. Their 27 strike threes this postseason are second only to the Tigers' 28.

But the A's showed in Game 1 against Verlander that they can work pitches out of a tough pitcher, and Scherzer's ability to go deep in a game is questionable. If it's a bullpen game, it's working in the A's favor.

Scherzer's season was affected by injuries late. He had to leave his Sept. 18 start against the A's when his shoulder flared up after two innings; the muscle soreness in his right deltoid forced him to to miss his penultimate start of the season. Then he rolled his right ankle in the on-field celebration after the Tigers clinched their second consecutive AL Central title. He was able to make his final start of the regular season exactly one week ago, although he only made it through four innings and 75 pitches.

Despite the fragile shoulder and ankle, the 28-year old power righty doesn't expect his health to impact the most important start of his season. He threw a bullpen session on Monday and declared himself 100 percent, a sentiment he reiterated in his press conference on Tuesday.

"There shouldn't be any limitations," Scherzer insisted.

Scherzer's pitch count hasn't reached the century mark since his Sept. 12 start in the south side of Chicago, though he topped 100 pitches in 16 of his 17 prior starts. His heaviest workload came way back in June when he threw 122 times.

"He feels great," Tigers manager Jim Leyland echoed before shedding the first light on how Scherzer's pitch count will be handled. "How long he'll be able to go will have something to do with the Oakland hitters. We'll play that by ear. But health-wise, he's very healthy. He's a hundred percent. We'll monitor him close. But I expect him to be full bore, all out and the game will dictate how long he pitches."

While the claim is that health won't impact his performance, the raucous Oakland crowd might. The Tigers could do nothing but tip their collective cap to energy A's fans provided after Game 3, and the electric vibe did not escape a spectating Scherzer.

RELATED: Tigers tip hat to Oakland crowd

"That was probably the most rowdy atmosphere I've ever seen here, pretty much in any ballpark I've ever been in," Scherzer said. "From the first inning to the ninth inning, they were on their feet cheer for every pitch, every out. I give them a lot of kudos for the atmosphere they were able to provide."

Utilizing his power four-seam fastball, slider and changeup, Scherzer will do his best to silence the expected sellout. But after the improbable and empowering season the A's put together, hammering the nail in their coffin won't come easily.

"It's been a little freaky, to be honest with you," Leyland said. He wasn't talking about the A's season or Scherzer's mismatched eyes, he was talking about the 2012 playoffs as a whole. That the Oakland Athletics are a part of it is wild enough, that they have a chance to force a decisive Game 5 after dropping the first two ALDS games is the stuff you can't predict.

From Leyland, one of MLB's old souls and the winningest active manager in the league: "It's baseball and you never know how it's going to play out."

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

MESA, Ariz. — Gaudy run totals in spring training usually don’t mean a whole lot once the regular season hits.

For A’s manager Bob Melvin, it’s the manner in which the A’s are going about things offensively that’s encouraging to him.

Oakland jumped on another opponent early, scoring five runs in the first Friday and rolling to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Granted, Chicago scratched starter Carlos Rodon in the morning and had to piece the game together with its bullpen.

But that only takes so much luster off the way the A’s are going about their business right now. They’ve won four in a row, and over their past five games they’ve racked up 71 hits and are averaging more than eight runs per contest in that span.

“The good thing is it’s contagious throughout the lineup,” Melvin said. “In the first inning alone we had four situational at-bats and four situational plusses. That’s something Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) really has been stressing all spring. We’ve had a lot of games where we just pass it on to the next guy, and if we’re gonna be successful this year, that’s what we’re gonna have to do is get contributions throughout the lineup.”

It’s interesting to watch how Melvin utilizes Matt Joyce. Early on he said he prefers the right fielder batting third when he’s in the lineup. But Joyce also is drawing starts at leadoff, as he did Friday, and the No. 2 spot. Increasing on-base percentage is a big need for the A’s, and Joyce entered Friday tied for the Cactus league lead with 10 walks.

He singled to spark a five-run first that included RBI singles from Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha and Chris Parmelee.

ELITE COMPANY: Melvin threw out some big-time names when asked who young third baseman Matt Chapman reminds him of.

One was Melvin’s former Giants teammate, Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.

“The defense, Matty was as good as anybody I've seen over at third base,” Melvin said. “The power, there are a lot of similarities. That’s probably the best comp I could think of.”

Melvin also mentioned current Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves and posted back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

Not a bad couple of guys to be compared to.

“That’s exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice to have people speak well of you. Those are two guys that I’m aware of how good they are.”

NOTEWORTHY: It was another start Friday where Kendall Graveman seemed to be on auto pilot, retiring hitters with ease and holding the White Sox to one run over seven innings. All the more impressive was that A’s hitters put together some very long half-innings, where Graveman had to make sure he stayed loose.

He simply took it as a good challenge to prepare for all those cold night games at the Coliseum. Named the A’s Opening Night starter just a day earlier, Graveman also used this start to focus on his cutter, being that his sinker has been locked in.

“It was good to have some innings where you have to sit for a while and go back out there,” Graveman said.

His ERA is 2.29 through five starts. He has one more tune-up before the April 3 opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

HEALTH UPDATES: Outfielder Jaff Decker continues to progress from his oblique injury. Now the key is whether he can return to games in time to make a final push for the 25-man roster. Alejandro De Aza appears to be his biggest competition to be the fifth outfielder, if the A’s end up carrying five.

“It just depends on when he gets in a game,” Melvin said of Decker. “I mean, he’s done enough obviously to make a big impression on us. But whether or not he’s even healthy enough at the end, we’ll see.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Ryon Healy swatted his fifth homer of the spring, a two-run shot, in the second inning. Entering Friday evening, Healy was tied for the major league lead in RBI (16) with Boston’s Pablo Sandoval. … Plouffe is on a recent tear and has lifted his average to .395. … Parmelee, a non-roster outfielder, is impressing in under-the-radar fashion. The left-handed hitter is batting .367. … Melvin is having a heck of a time getting switch hitter Jed Lowrie at-bats from the right side. He purposely switched things up to have Lowrie face the lefty Rodon on Friday, only to have Rodon get scratched. The A’s face lefties each of the next two days, and Melvin also mentioned sending Lowrie over to face minor league lefties if need be.

A's Jharel Cotton among MLB's brightest prospects to watch in 2017

A's Jharel Cotton among MLB's brightest prospects to watch in 2017

CHICAGO -- Corey Seager helped the Los Angeles Dodgers make it all the way to the NL Championship Series last year. Michael Fulmer developed into a reliable part of Detroit's rotation, winning 11 games for the Tigers with a 3.06 ERA.

Here is a closer look at a group of rookies hoping to have a similar impact this season:

-OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox: There is a lot to love about the 22-year-old Benintendi, who rocketed through Boston's minor league system after the Red Sox grabbed him with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. He made it to the majors last August and hit .295 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 34 games. He also went deep in the AL Division Series against Cleveland.

-2B Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox: The Cuban slugger was acquired by Chicago in the blockbuster deal that sent lefty ace Chris Sale to Boston. The rebuilding White Sox plan to go slow with Moncada, who just turned 21 in September. But he could bring his powerful swing and athleticism to Chicago's starting lineup at some point this summer.

-RHP Jose De Leon, Tampa Bay Rays: The chance to bring in De Leon was just too tempting for the Rays, who got the right-hander in a January trade with the Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe. De Leon, who likely will begin the year with Triple-A Durham, made his major league debut in September and was 2-0 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts. He went 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 16 starts last year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he was sidelined for stretches by ankle and shoulder injuries.

-SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees: The speedy Torres was the youngest MVP in the history of the Arizona Fall League last year at age 19. He carried that success into spring training, drawing praise for his impressive skills and maturity. The Yankees appear set at shortstop for now, but Torres could make it to New York soon.

-RHP Jharel Cotton, Oakland Athletics: Cotton dazzled in his first stint in the majors last year, going 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts. He was acquired by the Athletics in the August trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers.

[RELATED: Down on the Farm: 10 A's prospects to watch in 2017]

-OF Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians: The 6-foot-5 Zimmer drew praise from Indians manager Terry Francona this spring for his bat and improvement in the outfield. Zimmer, a first-round pick in2014 from the University of San Francisco, batted .250 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in two minor league stops last season.

-RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates: The 23-year-old Glasnow struggled a bit in his first stint in the majors last year, but the 6-8 right-hander looked great this spring. He went 8-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 20 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2016.

-SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves: The Kennesaw, Georgia, native played college ball at Vanderbilt before he was selected by Arizona with the first pick of the 2015 draft. The Diamondbacks traded him to Atlanta six months later, and he hit .302 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 38 games with the Braves last year. He was slowed by back stiffness this spring, but he has the look of a budding star.

-OF Dylan Cozens, Philadelphia Phillies: The 2012 second-round pick had 40 homers, 125 RBIs and 21 steals in 134 games for Double-A Reading last season. He is expected to begin this year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his major league debut could be soon.

-OF Lewis Brinson, Milwaukee Brewers: The future of Milwaukee's outfield looks pretty good, with Brinson, Brett Phillips and Ryan Cordell slated to begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Brinson, who arrived last August in the Jonathan Lucroy trade with Texas, hit .268 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs over three minor league stops in 2016.

-OF Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: The 25-year-old Renfroe has big-time power. He was promoted late last year and connected against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner for his first major league homer on Sept. 24. He also hit the first-ever home run onto the top of the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse in left at cavernous Petco Park.

-1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: The son of former Yankees outfielder Clay Bellinger hit 23 homers for Double-A Tulsa last year. With Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at first, Cody Bellinger, 21, also could play in the outfield to speed his ascension to the majors.