Athletics

A's position outlook: Gray holds the key for rotation

A's position outlook: Gray holds the key for rotation

The 2016 stats show how frustrating of a season it was for the A’s starting rotation, but out of that mess came signs of promise.

Kendall Graveman took a big step forward in his second big league season and led Oakland’s staff in victories and innings pitched. Sean Manaea improved over the course of his rookie campaign and showed flashes of why the A’s are so high on him. Jharel Cotton, in his September audition, positioned himself well to win a spot in this year’s rotation.

Those developments were the positives to be salvaged for a starting staff that posted the second highest ERA in the American League (4.84) and threw the second fewest innings in Oakland history.

Surely, the biggest question for the rotation is whether Sonny Gray can regain the form that made him an All-Star and Cy Young finalist in 2015. Injuries and command issues dropped Gray to a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA last year.

“Everybody’s going to go through a down season if you’re around long enough,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I think it just kind of snowballed in the wrong direction for him last season … It was just a very tough year for him, but I think the really good ones take that and learn from it. Maybe take a half-step backward and move forward. The talent level is still there. I know he’s looking forward to bouncing back and being the ace again.”

STARRING CAST:

Gray worked with a personal trainer this offseason. He says his legs are stronger and he likes the way his delivery has felt in recent sessions off the mound. How he fares in the World Baseball Classic pitching for Team USA might shed light on whether he’s ironed out some of last year’s issues.

Between Gray’s storyline and the talk of Oakland’s young starters, Melvin thinks Graveman goes a bit unnoticed. Certainly his strides last season were big for the A’s, as Graveman (10-11, 4.11, 186 IP) was the only regular starter to avoid the disabled list. Things clicked once he found the feel for his sinker and began throwing that pitch more often and with conviction. A bump in velocity also aided Graveman’s cause. He’ll be looked to for veteran leadership and stability.

Can Manaea make the jump and become a front-of-the-rotation starter? The 6-foot-5 lefty struggled to a 2-4 record and 6.02 ERA over his first nine major league starts. But after spending two weeks on the D.L. in June for a forearm strain, the rookie came back a different pitcher. From June 29 on, Manaea went 5-5 with a 2.74 ERA over his final 16 games (15 starts). That ERA following his D.L. stint was fifth-best in the AL.

CAMP COMPETITION:

Cotton, the first of three young right-handers from the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade to crack the A’s roster, shined in his September stint, posting a 2.15 ERA and .185 opponents’ batting average over five starts. That gives him an inside track on a starting spot. As for the fifth starter, there are no shortage of candidates.

The A’s feel Andrew Triggs, a waiver claim last spring who pitched well when pressed into starting duty, has the repertoire to succeed in the rotation. A wild card is Jesse Hahn, who failed to make last year’s Opening Night roster after a disappointing spring and was sidetracked by injuries later in the year. Melvin is straightforward in saying Hahn has lost ground to others as the A’s have improved their pitching depth, but the lanky right-hander possesses good natural stuff when healthy, so he can’t be counted out. Raul Alcantara got a brief look in the rotation last season but needs to improve his breaking ball to go with his fastball and changeup.

Daniel Mengden made a splash in his initial call-up last season before eventually being sent down, but if he can take that experience and make adjustments, he’ll be in the mix. Hard-throwing Frankie Montas, another pitcher from the Hill/Reddick trade, will get a chance to start in the minors, but don’t be surprised if he eventually earns a promotion to the bigs as a reliever.

PAY ATTENTION TO: How Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront proceed in their Tommy John rehabs. Both broke camp in the A’s rotation last season before suffering season-ending elbow injuries. Neither is expected to be ready at the start of the season, but a healthy return from either or both would be a big boost to the A’s starting depth.

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

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USATSI

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell has a history with foul tips and concussion concerns, so there was cause for concern after he took a direct shot during Wednesday's game against the Tigers.

With one out in the ninth inning, Tigers shortstop fouled a ball square into Maxwell's facemask. The A's catcher immediately fell backwards. As manager Bob Melvin and the team trainer checked on him, he appeared dazed and rubbed his eyes. In an attempt to try to stay in the game, reliever Liam Hendriks tossed two warmup pitches. Maxwell missed the first one, but even after he caught the second one, it was clear he wasn't right and was removed from the game.

Afterwards, Melvin was asked about Maxwell's status.

"He went through all the protocol. It doesn't look like a concussion at this point. We'll probably know more in the next couple of days," Melvin told reporters in Detroit. "Took a pretty good shot. More sore on his face because of where the impact was, which was right in the middle of his face."

Josh Phegley replaced Maxwell for the final two outs of the game. Hendriks managed to close out the 3-2 win for the A's.

 

Olson's home run streak ends, but Mengden dazzles as A's sweep Tigers

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AP

Olson's home run streak ends, but Mengden dazzles as A's sweep Tigers

BOX SCORE

DETROIT -- Daniel Mengden pitched seven scoreless innings, and Marcus Semien homered and drove in three runs, leading the Oakland Athletics to a 3-2 win and three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

Mengden (2-1) allowed seven hits and struck out four, extending his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings and helping the A's to their fourth consecutive win. The 24-year-old right-hander missed the first two months of the season after undergoing offseason foot surgery and was making his fifth major league start this year.

Liam Hendriks got the final two outs in the ninth to earn his first save.

Anibal Sanchez (3-5) pitched well in a losing effort, allowing three hits and one run in six innings. He struck out eight and walked three.

Semien's double in the third inning brought home Bruce Maxwell, who led off with a double. His two-run homer in the seventh put the A's up 3-0.

Mengden worked out of a few jams. He got Nick Castellanos to fly out to deep right center with two out and runners on the corners in the third.

In the fifth, after allowing two-out singles to Alex Presley and Jeimer Candelario, Mengden induced another deep flyout from Miguel Cabrera.

Castellanos led off the sixth with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. Mengden got a strikeout and two popouts to leave him stranded.

The Tigers threatened in the ninth off Ryan Dull, who allowed a one-out, two-run single to Andrew Romine. Hendriks relieved Dull and got Jose Iglesias to ground into a fielder's choice before striking out Presley.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Athletics: C Bruce Maxwell left in the ninth after taking a foul ball to the mask from Iglesias. Maxwell stayed down for a few minutes and was replaced by Josh Phegley.

STREAKING:
Castellanos extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games with his single in the sixth. ... Oakland 1B Matt Olson went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk. He had homered in five straight games entering Wednesday, setting an A's rookie record.

UP NEXT:
Athletics: RHP Kendall Graveman (5-4, 4.39 ERA) faces Texas on Friday. The Rangers have not announced their starter.

Tigers: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-12, 6.18) takes on Minnesota LHP Adalberto Mejia (4-6, 4.62) on Thursday in Detroit.