Rangers' AL West title scribbled out by A's bullpen

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Rangers' AL West title scribbled out by A's bullpen

OAKLAND -- The A's winning the American League West was a shock to many. Rookie reliever Evan Scribner winning the AL West for the A's was a shock to all. After the Rangers rallied for five runs off starting pitcher A.J. Griffin in the third inning, he was pulled from the game with two outs. With the A's division championship hopes seemingly on life support, Scribner made like Dr. House, sans the limp and cane, and enacted his own form of special healing over three scoreless innings of work. Scribner earned just his second career win and easily the biggest one. He allowed just two hits, no walks, and struck out two Rangers. As Scribner applied the tourniquet, the A's rallied for six runs, and ended up scoring 11 unanswered en route to sweeping Texas. "Pitching in the biggest game of the year, the last game to clinch the pennant, and doing my job, I couldn't ask for anything more," Scribner said. "I didn't think that I was going to keep going out."But he did. He retired the final batter of the third inning. Pitched the fourth and the fifth as well. Then left with two outs in the sixth, thus bridging the gap for the big guns in the bullpen. "There was no bigger contributor than Evan Scribner," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's kind of silently been that type of contributor all year for us.""It's always about the players," general manager Billy Beane said. "But Bob's perfectly timed move with Scribner, and Scribner doing the job he did is really what turned this game around."Scribner is probably the most underrated player in a bullpen full of unsung heroes for the A's. Inside the clubhouse however, the work of the relievers has not been under-appreciated. Often referred to as the backbone of the team, they accumulated a 2.94 ERA and .209 opponents batting average this season -- both marks were the second best in the American League. Of Scribner's last 11 outings, 12 were scoreless. He is peaking at the perfect time for his team. He was 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 12 walks in 35 13 innings for the A's this season. "Definitely a dream come true," Scribner said. "I remember this offseason I was just hoping to have another opportunity to make it to the big leagues again."After Scribner's effort, Jerry Blevins finished the sixth inning by striking out Josh Hamilton. The former American League MVP might consider changing leagues to avoid the A's lanky lefty. Hamilton is 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in his career against Blevins. Through six innings the A's knew it was time to send out their three-headed green monster. Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and closer Grant Balfour. Only one problem...Cook and Balfour had pitched in five consecutive games, and Doolittle had appeared in four straight. A cringe-worthy notion in Melvin's mind. The A's leadership, however, had been assured they were available."I was worried about the bullpen and Bob and I were talking in the office and he goes 'Every one of them came up to me and said I was available,'" Beane said. "And I looked at him and I go, 'Really?' and he goes 'Yeah.' And I go 'Good.'" "Once we got close and we had those guys available," Beane added. "I think everybody in the back of our minds were thinking, 7-8-9, we've got Cook, Doolittle, Balfour." And available they were. They threw three scoreless innings to lock down the game, complete a historical surge to take the American League West after trailing by five games with nine to play, and started the postgame champagne celebration. After all, nothing was going to keep the "Mad Aussie" known as Grant Balfour out of the game. Even with a 12-5 lead heading into the ninth inning, telling the intense closer to sit this one out wasn't a safe idea. "Once you get here you are playing on adrenaline and you want to be out there and contribute to this," Melvin said. "I even tried to get Balfour to sit down in the ninth and he wouldn't do it." "I look up to Balfour a lot," Scribner said. "He knows what he is doing so well, and he is always so prepared and fired up to go in." After the final out Balfour was so fired up he turned a hose on the A's crowd. They loved every second of it. The team then took a victory lap around the warning track and saluted the fans. It's fitting that the bullpen, the backbone of the team, kept them upright when it was needed the most.

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Debate the significance of an A’s exhibition win over the Giants if you will, but don’t question its significance to Bob Melvin.

Beating the team in black and orange means a lot to Oakland’s manager no matter what the calendar reads. On Monday, the teams played a late-February game under an overcast sky and occasional light rain at Scottsdale Stadium.

Not exactly regular-season like conditions. And with both teams’ everyday players having exited the game early, the A’s held on for a 5-4 victory that ran their Cactus League winning streak to eight over the Giants.

Counting exhibitions in the Bay Area too, the A’s are 18-6 against their Bay Area rival in their past 24 spring games.

“Look, when the Giants and A’s play, there’s a little more to it,” said Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area and played three seasons for the Giants. “You play your spring games and you’re excited about getting to play these guys. And, especially, our youngsters should be. They know the way I feel about it. The whole Bay Area is watching when we play each other.”

Matt Joyce homered deep to right off Jeff Samardzija in the top of the first, giving the first-year Athletic two home runs in two games with his new club. Stephen Vogt blooped an RBI single in the first and Ryon Healy doubled home two runs in the second.

The Giants rallied to tie it 4-4 in the seventh with three runs off minor league reliever Trey Cochran-Gill. But Adam Rosales drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth to give the A’s the lead back as they posted their first victory in three Cactus League games this spring.

NOTEWORTHY: Starters Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea both threw for the A’s, with Manaea in particular earning strong praise for his two scoreless innings.

The lefty felt very good about his slider and changeup, and according to Healy, when he went to the plate for his third at-bat, Giants catcher Buster Posey commented on how good Manaea’s changeup looked. Manaea got both Posey and Kelby Tomlinson swinging on the pitch in the third.

It was the slider, his third-best pitch, that Manaea is trying to hone.

“I was really, really happy with how my slider was,” he said. “It was probably the best one I’ve thrown in a couple years. It just felt really good out of my hand and had some good movement.”

Added Melvin: “If he gets that one to (the) back foot of a rightie, now he’s going to have three plus-pitches.”

Graveman escaped his one and only inning of work unscored upon when he stranded runners on second and third.

NEW GUYS: Joyce, likely to platoon in right field with Mark Canha, has played in two exhibitions, and twice he’s gone deep on 1-2 fastballs that caught the inner half of the plate. On Monday, Melvin batted him second and Joyce went deep off Samardzija.

“I can’t even talk to that guy,” Healy said with a smile. “He says he’s just trying to put the bat on the ball, and he has two homers.”

As for another first-year Athletic, there’s still no concrete word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will report to camp. He remains held up in the Dominican Republic as the visa process plays out. Melvin admitted a bit of concern just because Casilla is slated to play for his national team in the World Baseball Classic, and Melvin would like to get Casilla in camp for a stretch before he departs for that.

The Dominican Republic plays its first game March 9 in Miami.

“I’d like to get him here — I’d like to meet him,” Melvin said. “It’s not his fault.”

Melvin said a typical schedule would have relievers appearing in nine or 10 exhibitions before the team heads north, but that he didn’t think that would be necessary for Casilla. It’s also worth noting that none of the A’s other front-line relievers have pitched in their first game yet.

ODDS AND ENDS: Vogt, getting his first start behind the plate, and Rajai Davis each had two hits. … Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect, played the final four innings at second base. Yairo Munoz, another highly touted infield prospect who’s in his first big league camp, entered in the same inning at third base. … Melvin praised reliever Kyle Finnegan, who came over from minor league camp for the day and handled the ninth for the save.

Despite uncertain role in 2017, Healy will be 'happy camper'

Despite uncertain role in 2017, Healy will be 'happy camper'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For a player who impressed so much in the second half last season, Ryon Healy’s role remains a bit hazy entering 2017.

The A’s insist he’ll get consistent at-bats — the question is where. As the roster shapes up, Healy will bounce between first base, designated hitter and occasional time at third base when newcomer Trevor Plouffe isn’t in the lineup.

Healy sounds game for whatever might be in store, when asked if he’d rather be guaranteed to play in the field every day.

“I think that’s any player,” Healy said. “But as long as I’m on the big league roster and I’m playing every day in the lineup and contributing to the A’s winning ballgames, I’m going to be a happy camper, that’s for sure.”

Healy earned his first big league promotion as the A’s came out of the All-Star break last summer. He hit .305 in 73 games as Oakland’s everyday third baseman, and he led American League rookies in hits (82) and extra-base hits (33) in the second half.

But when the A’s signed Plouffe in the offseason to man third base, it complicated Healy’s situation because Yonder Alonso remains as the presumed first baseman against right-handed pitchers. Healy, 25, was primarily a first baseman until last season, and he’ll spend this spring getting ready at both corner spots, though A’s Bob Melvin said first base will be more of a priority.

Melvin has talked with Healy already to make sure they’re on the same page about how he’s likely to be used.

“We’ve had conversations with that,” Melvin said. “Shoot, everybody wants to get into a routine and have one spot to play and hit one place in the lineup. That’s just not how we do things here. You try to communicate that to him ahead of time and prepare him for the role he will have. And he’ll prepare very well for it.” Healy, bothered by some quadriceps soreness early in camp, started at first in his exhibition debut Monday and lined a two-run double to left-center off Giants reliever Kraig Sitton.

There are similarities between first and third in that they’re both corner infield spots. But there are also differences that he’s gone over with infield coach Chip Hale.

“They’re both very reactionary positions, but we’ve discussed how to attack ground balls because third base you need to be a little more aggressive because of the throw across the diamond,” Healy said. “First base, you can drop-step a little bit, let the hops get to you. … I just gotta make sure I get quality reps at both and I’ll be OK.”