A's 'pumped' for playoff push after sweep


A's 'pumped' for playoff push after sweep


OAKLAND -- The Oakland Athletics have a funny way of simplifying things. They take things one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, and every once in a while go completely crazy and look at things one game at a time. Around these parts tomorrow is a terrible burden to worry about until it becomes today. Maybe there is something to that. While everyone else worries about tie breakers, clinching scenarios, and potential one-game playoffs, the A's worry about one thing: Winning. "It's our choice," Grant Balfour said. "We go out there and win then good things are going to happen." The A's could clinch a playoff spot on Monday. They could sweep the Rangers and have a chance to win the American League West. They can't worry about it, and they can't do it unless they keep winning. The A's did just that on Sunday, as they swept the Seattle Mariners in a 5-2 win to drop their magic number to clinch a postseason berth to two.
INSTANT REPLAY: Athletics 5, Mariners 2
They did it in typical A's fashion, by keeping the game close and scoring late. In the eighth inning Yoenis Cespedes hit his 23rd home run, a go-ahead shot to left field that barely stayed fair. Two batters later Josh Reddick hit his 32nd, a second deck two-run homer to right that also barely remained on the fair side of the foul pole. "It's paramount for us," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "That's the way we've been winning pretty much from June on." He's right. Since June 2, the A's are 69-38, which is the best record in baseball over that span. The A's have hit 20 home runs in the their last nine games and lead Major League Baseball in long balls with 110 since the All-Star Break. Cespedes ended the day 3 for 4 and put the A's on board in the first inning with an RBI triple to right field. He came around to score the second run on a shallow fly ball hit by Brandon Moss. "Even though we are young we have a lot of desire to play hard and to win," Cespedes said through reporter Jorge L. Ortiz, who was translating. In his final start of the regular season Tommy Milone lasted four and two-thirds innings but only allowed two runs. He would have allowed a third run but Reddick gunned down Justin Smoak at home in the second inning for his 15th outfield assist of the season. "When you are pitching out there and they stop that run from scoring it's a big deal," Milone said. "It's a good feeling when you've got guys that do that all year long and save runs for you."Milone, 25, finished the regular season 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA. His 13 wins are the most ever by an Oakland rookie. While he wasn't happy with his final start, he acknowledged after the game that he achieved all of his goals for the season. He knows he'll likely be taking the mound again this year. "There's not a doubt in my mind that we are going to make it at least into one of the Wild Card spots," Milone said.Milone was pulled after 85 pitches with a runner on third and two outs. The A's bullpen took it the rest of the way, tossing four and one-third scoreless innings after he left the game. Jerry Blevins ended the fifth inning and pitched the sixth inning. Ryan Cook allowed a double and a single to start the seventh inning, then struck out the side to escape unscathed. Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and then Grant Balfour locked down his 22nd save of the season and is now 15 for 15 in save opportunities since re-taking the closer's role on August 11. "We come out of the game and there's not really any doubt in our minds that they are going to get the job done," Milone said of the bullpen. "They have been doing it all year." After playing a doubleheader on Sunday against the Angels, Texas comes to town on Monday for three games to cap the regular season. Those contests will determined the fate of the 2012 Oakland Athletics. If they sweep the Rangers there is a chance Oakland emerges the American League West champions. If they get swept, they could miss the playoffs altogether. Everything is on the line. "I like every guy's chances in here," Balfour said. "The way we've been playing I feel like we've got some good momentum going our way and I just want to keep the ball rolling all the way through October."The players know they control their own destiny at this point, but they are having too much fun to worry about the details. If they keep the momentum going, they will be popping champagne bottles in the coming days. "We're pumped," Donaldson said. "We are going to take it one game at a time but we feel pretty good about our situation." "It's tough getting to the playoffs; it doesn't happen all the time," Balfour said. "It's been six years here and you've got guys that have never been and you never know when it's going to be the next time. You've got to play for now and that's it."The A's take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one day at a time. If they keep doing that, they may soon look up and realize that their time has arrived.

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

MESA, Ariz. — A’s manager Bob Melvin can live with Major League Baseball’s altered intentional-walk rule. He’s just glad some more drastic changes weren’t implemented for 2017.

It was announced that pitchers no longer will have to toss four pitches outside the strike zone for an intentional walk. Managers will simply signal from the dugout when they want to put an opposing batter on first base.

That change is part of the effort to speed up the pace of play, although it’s debatable how much time will really be saved by eliminating traditional intentional walks. There was just one intentional walk allowed every 2.6 games in 2016.

“I was just worried about any number of new rules coming in,” Melvin said. “If this was just one they’re looking to speed up with, I’m OK with that.”

MLB management reportedly has pushed the idea of a 20-second pitch clock on pitchers — which has been used in the upper minor leagues — and limiting the number of trips managers and coaches can make to the mound, both in an effort to play games faster. Melvin is against the idea of limiting trips to the mound in particular.

“It sounds like there’s a school that thinks that’s not that important, and it really is,” he said. “Unless you’ve been out on the mound and know how quickly the game can go at times, especially in big situations … it’s our job to try to slow it down for the pitcher. For me that would have been a tough one.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke critically of the players’ association for not being more receptive to some rules changes for 2017. Management can change rules without the union’s consent if it gives one-year’s notice, and Manfred reportedly intends to give that notice to the union with an idea of possibly implementing changes for 2018.

One of the more radical ideas tossed about was starting with a runner on second base in extra innings, hoping to avoid games dragging on late. Although that idea will be tried in the World Baseball Classic and possibly in some Single-A leagues, all indications are it’s unlikely to reach the majors.

“I was hoping that never got any traction,” Melvin said. “I mean, it’s just not baseball, for me. It’s like a simulated game — at the most important part of the game.”