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.

 

Alonso strikes a chord with fascinating account of Cuba defection

Alonso strikes a chord with fascinating account of Cuba defection

ANAHEIM — As Yonder Alonso was preparing for the 2017 season last winter, he was tackling another challenge too.

Over the course of three months, the A’s first baseman gathered his thoughts and pieced together a fascinating first-person account for The Players’ Tribune about his childhood experience defecting from Cuba with his parents and younger sister.

Alonso framed the article as him penning a letter to his 8-year-old self, describing the grueling struggle he and his family would go through while reassuring his younger self that it would all be worth it when he finally made it as a major leaguer. Alonso describes in vivid detail the hardships he went through, caring for his sister, Yainee, at night as they dined on meals of microwaved hot dogs and microwaved eggs, while his parents were away from home working multiple jobs to support their family.

Alonso goes on to describe how he would return from college baseball road trips, while he was attending the University of Miami, and immediately head to a night job to help his father clean warehouses and scrub bathrooms.

The story struck a chord within the A’s clubhouse but also among so many people from the Miami area, where Alonso’s family settled after they defected. Alonso said he’s received text messages from many of them.

“I think everybody in this locker room, or any locker room, they definitely have a story to tell,” Alonso said. “And I think it’s awesome when you see a guy just kind of open up a little bit. I’m (usually) not one to open up.”

Athletes are used to reporters peppering them with questions and trying to draw stories out of them. Seldom do athletes take to penning their own story.

Representatives from The Players’ Tribune, an online publication started by Derek Jeter in 2014, reached out to Alonso in early December about writing something. Alonso had a trip planned to Cuba for later that month, before any request for an article came, and his return visit to his native country helped persuade him to go through with it.

“I saw a lot of people,” he said. “For me it was very touching. For my wife as well.”

Alonso met with an editor from The Players’ Tribune during spring training, and they began hashing out ideas. Alonso said he wrote the story himself with assistance from the editor.

“We had ideas, different ways of going about it,” he said. “I think from day one I knew the way I wanted to write it and how I wanted it to come out, which is a letter to my younger self.”

Even after finishing the project three weeks ago, Alonso said he wasn’t sure he wanted to share it publicly. He showed the article to some friends and teammates, including A’s reliever Sean Doolittle and outfielder Matt Joyce. After reading the piece, Joyce strongly persuaded Alonso to carry through with it.

“I told him it was awesome,” Joyce said. “From my perspective, you don’t really get a good sense of what those guys go through, coming over to the States. You just see them later. So to kind of read it in his own words, it was a really cool perspective and a good story to see what a kid across the water, from a different country, goes through to get to this point. I think it’s a very powerful story and message.”

Alonso said his motivation was simple.

“Just letting my family know, and people in this world know, that if you want to strive for something, it can be tough at times. But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

ANAHEIM — Sean Manaea is hopeful his left shoulder injury isn’t serious, but the A’s likely won’t have a full read on the starter’s condition for a couple days.

As of Wednesday night, no MRI was scheduled after Manaea left after just two innings of an eventual 8-5 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels with tightness in his shoulder.

“I felt it a little bit in the bullpen,” Manaea said. “I thought it was just one of those days where it took me longer to warm up, and that just wasn’t the case. It’s just really unfortunate.”

Just as the A’s are about to welcome Kendall Graveman back to the active roster Thursday, when he starts the series finale at Angel Stadium, and just as it appears Sonny Gray might be ready to come off the disabled list following one more rehab start, the A’s are hoping they don’t see Manaea subtracted from their rotation for any period of time.

Manager Bob Melvin said it was the top of Manaea’s shoulder that was bothering him.

“The velo was down, and it didn’t make sense to have him keep pitching,” Melvin said. “But we won’t know anything probably for a day or two, how he feels.”

Once he started throwing in the game, Manaea said he felt “kind of a little sharp pain. I mean, it’s nothing serious. I’ve dealt with it before and it only took me a few days to get back on the mound. To me, I’m not really worried about it.”

The pitcher added that he experienced a similar situation with his shoulder while a minor leaguer in Kansas City’s organization, toward the end of spring training, and he missed minimal time.

Things didn’t get better for the A’s (10-11) after Manaea exited, as they struck out 13 times and played sloppy defensively in dropping their third in a row. Catcher Stephen Vogt couldn’t handle Ryan Dull’s glove flip to the plate on a seventh-inning squeeze play, ending a streak of six errorless games for Oakland, but Melvin can live with occasional physical misplays. More problematic were occasions when right fielder Matt Joyce and center fielder Jaff Decker both seemed caught by surprise to see Angels runners take off for an extra base. Whether it was a lack of communication from infielders or the outfielders themselves needing to be more aware, the A’s can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

“As a group, we can’t let that happen,” Melvin said. “We talk about it in advance meetings the way these guys run the bases. It’s not something we can do and expect to beat this team.”

Added Vogt: “We were on our heels quite a bit. This was obviously not the prettiest baseball game we’ve played.”