Athletics

A's mission: Don't let early injuries derail the 2017 season

A's mission: Don't let early injuries derail the 2017 season

OAKLAND — The A’s are less than three weeks removed from playing under the Arizona sun and basking in the optimism that spring training provides.

How things have changed in a short time.

Already their resiliency is being tested by injuries, the most significant being Monday’s news that shortstop Marcus Semien will be lost until well into June, most likely, because of wrist surgery.

The losses on the scoreboard aren’t so damaging right now. A 7-0 defeat to Texas on Monday night leaves the A’s at 5-8, and certainly that’s no reason to panic.

The bigger challenge for the A’s right now, particularly for those veterans who were around for last year’s injury-marred 69-93 season, is not to let a feeling of hopelessness creep in early and affect the team’s collective psyche.

Last year the A’s set an Oakland record with 27 disabled list transactions. They’ve already used the D.L. eight times this year. Semien joined it Sunday and No. 1 starter Kendall Graveman went on the D.L. Monday with a strained shoulder that the A’s hope only sidelines him for one start.

The short-term mission for the A’s over the next couple of weeks: Keep things together, keep the .500 mark in sight and be in position so that the potential return of players like Graveman and fellow starter Sonny Gray can be difference-making additions.

Graveman said he’s not concerned about negative vibes taking hold in the season’s first month.

“It’s tough luck for a lot of guys,” Graveman said. “But hopefully Marcus is going to be OK. Sonny’s trending in the right direction. That’s a positive sign that maybe this year we’ll all be healthy toward the middle and end of the year, instead of everybody going downhill at the end.”

There’s a lot that needs to break right for that to become reality. Most importantly, the starting rotation needs to return to full strength. Gray, on the shelf with a strained lat muscle, threw 2 2/3 innings in an extended spring training game Monday. He gave up a homer to his first batter but was sharper as the outing went along according to manager Bob Melvin, who watched the game on video.

Early May seems possible for Gray’s return. Graveman, who has a mild rotator cuff strain, has played catch in recent days and says he could get on a mound in the next couple of days. He, Melvin and general manager David Forst all expressed hope that Graveman will miss just one start before he’s eligible to come off the 10-day D.L. on April 25.

Graveman’s next turn in the rotation comes Thursday. The A’s have not announced a starter for that day.

The A’s entered this season hoping to turn the page from a health standpoint. Their tough luck early on is making that hard to do, but Melvin wasn’t looking to feel sorry for his team before Monday’s game.

“You look over at the other side who we’re playing,” he said of the Rangers. “(Closer Sam) Dyson just went on the DL, (Adrian) Beltre’s on the DL. So we’re not the only team. … You start out 10 days into the season or whatever with Marcus and Kendall having to go on the DL, that’s not ideal. But that’s where you rely on the depth and hopefully, knock wood, we don’t have anybody else we have to deal with.”

Forst, while acknowledging the injury misfortune, said he still likes the team the A’s can field right now.

“We’ve played well at times,” he said before Monday’s game. “Jharel (Cotton) has had some good starts, Andrew (Triggs) has pitched well. Sean (Manaea) pitched really well for five or so innings the other night. We have some really talented guys here, we can certainly compete in this division. It just takes a little chunk out of your depth every time somebody goes down, and makes it a little harder.”

That’s why the A’s need not look past the short term and just keep treading water for the time being. Eventually their roster could become whole again. And that would make a difference, provided they haven’t dug a hole they can’t climb out of.

 

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.