Rangers leave impressed with A's brand of ball

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Rangers leave impressed with A's brand of ball

BOX SCORE
OAKLAND -- The A's entered a pivotal six-game homestand against baseball's top two teams Tuesday, just a half-game out of the second A.L. Wild Card berth.

Trailing 3-1 late in Wednesday's game, the A's showed why this squad is different from years past by mounting a comeback and claiming their MLB-leading ninth walk-off win of the season.

RECAP: Hicks powers A's walk-off
The A's have to believe they'll be competitive down the stretch, and they do, according to Wednesday's starter.

"Don't sleep on us," Travis Blackley said before the win. "I feel good about the team. I reckon we're going to be in the hunt at the end."

But do the top players on the Rangers squad think the A's will be a playoff contending team? Not one player responded negatively.

Josh Hamilton:
"Of course they have talent. They have young guys. They have pitching. Guys are doing a good job stepping up. The key is for them to figure out the grind of the season, the whole way out. If they do that, I don't see why they couldn't be there."

Michael Young:
"Without a doubt. The Wild Card standings are all jammed up. Everything is up for grabs. There's a ton of talent in our league, it's a fun league to play in."

What's different about his year's team from Oakland?

"They're better."

Adrian Beltre:
"They definitely have what it takes. You never know. Anything could happen. They definitely have good pitching. It's a long season, so I wouldn't count anything out. They battle. Everyone's trying to do the same thing -- win the West."

Nelson Cruz:
"They're really good now. They showed a lot of heart. They have a lot of different guys (this year). Their corner outfielder, the catcher, corners -- first and third base. But they always have good pitching."

David Murphy:
"Definitely. They don't have the All-Star roster that you look for in a playoff contender. But they have a lot of heart. And they obviously never say die. Down 3-1 late in the game, against a pretty impressive arm out of the bullpen, that says something right there. They have a never-say-die attitude and get the job done."

Colby Lewis:
"They've got a good ballclub. This is a better lineup that they've put together in the last couple years. They've got guys stepping up and hitting home runs, with Reddick and signing Cespedes -- he's a tough out. And the pitching is going to come along for 'em.

"It's anybody's game, really. You've got to go out there and compete, and these guys do that. Like today. They've always been a scrappy team. And that keeps them competitive."

With one American League juggernaut leaving Oakland with a series split and renewed respect, the A's set their sights on a four-game set with the New York Yankees, who are riding an impressive stretch of 42 games in which they've scored three or more runs."I didn't know that," A's manager Bob Melvin said of their streak. "But we feel like we can hold teams down, especially here. You know their lineup is deep and stacked and they have an offensive team, but we're first in the league in pitching or a reason."That reason? Gutsy performances like the three-run effort Blackley and four relievers combined for Wednesday. The result? Respect from some of MLB's best, and if sustained, meaningful baseball down the stretch.

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

TEMPE, Ariz. — Rather than join his minor league teammates for workouts like usual, Logan Shore got word Tuesday morning he would take the ball for the A’s against the Los Angeles Angels.

A few hours later, Shore was striking out Mike Trout to highlight his impressive four-inning outing. What an experience it was for Shore, a right-hander drafted last summer in the second round out of the University of Florida.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There’s not really any words to describe that.”

The A’s scratched No. 5 starter Raul Alcantara, opting to throw him in a minor league game rather than let a division opponent get another look at him for scouting-report purposes. That presented Shore with a surprise opportunity.

He responded with four innings of one-run ball, holding the Angels to two hits. The game would take an ugly turn as the A’s bullpen got lit up in a 14-3 loss. But Shore’s outing was a glimpse of what Oakland might have to look forward to with the 22-year-old. The righty didn’t come out of college with the same hype as Florida teammate A.J. Puk, who the A’s drafted sixth overall last June. But he’s thought to be more polished than Puk at this stage.

Shore went 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts with short-season Vermont in his pro debut. This spring, he’s been grouped with high Single-A Stockton, but he hasn’t received his official regular-season assignment yet.

“That’s the kind of lineup that gets your attention a little bit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He had great command of his fastball, a backdoor sinker, good changeup, good slider. He probably got a little bit tired at the end, but he was very impressive. That’s the first time I got to see him throw.”

Shore pitched in relief for the A’s earlier this spring as a minor league extra, so that helped him keep his nerves in check Tuesday. Still, it was a different challenge tackling what closely resembled the Angels’ regular-season lineup, which features Trout and Albert Pujols in the meat of it.

Trout struck out and flied to right against Shore. Pujols flied to right and singled.

“I grew up watching all those guys, so it’s kind of cool to get to pitch against them,” he said.

HEALTH UPDATES: Left fielder Khris Davis and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, both nursing minor injuries, won’t return to the field until the Bay Bridge Series which starts Thursday night at AT&T Park, Melvin said. Plouffe has missed the past few games with a groin injury and Davis has a right quad issue.

“We’ll just bubble wrap them right now and send them home,” Melvin cracked.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt took another step in his Tommy John recovery with a 30-pitch session that included two sets of 15 pitches, simulating two innings with a break in between.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s play their Cactus League finale Wednesday on the road against the Cubs, but most of the game will feature minor leaguers. All of the players who are heading north to face the Giants will be leaving for the airport sometime in the latter stages of the game.

On that topic, the A’s announced the 43 players that will make up their Bay Bridge roster. It includes 30 players from the 40-man roster, six non-roster invitees and seven extras from minor league camp. Oakland officially has 36 players still in camp, with Saturday the deadline to cut down to the final 25-man roster.

ODDS AND ENDS: After Shore left the game, the Angels struck for five runs in the fifth against Liam Hendriks. … The next inning, highly touted prospect Grant Holmes gave up five runs (four earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Holmes was one of three righties acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade. Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas were the others.

 

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

TEMPE, Ariz. — The A’s moving truck has already left the desert, and the team will be bolting for the airport after Wednesday’s Cactus League finale.

Spring training is quickly drawing to a close, with only the three-game Bay Bridge Series remaining before the games start to count. To mark that reality, here’s a look at the five most burning questions Oakland faced back when camp started in mid-February, and what kind of answers have materialized since …

1) Does Sonny Gray return to his old self?
The A’s absorbed their first major injury blow early when Gray, their potential Opening Night starter, went down with a strained lat muscle after a March 7 start. It wasn’t exactly what the right-hander had in mind coming off a 2016 season that sent him to the disabled list twice. Encouraging news came last week when Gray was allowed to start throwing again one week ahead of schedule.

When exactly he returns is tied to how soon he gets back on the mound. He’s been playing catch out to 105 feet, but manager Bob Melvin stressed the A’s aren’t going to rush things with Gray. Until further notice, the assumption is still that Gray will miss most of April.

2) Can a ‘healthy’ outlook be sustained?
Given what you read in the above item, obviously things haven’t gotten off to a great start in this department. Jake Smolinski, a candidate to make the team as an extra outfielder, showed up to camp with a sore right shoulder and required labrum surgery. Second baseman Joey Wendle, who was ticketed for Triple-A to begin with, also has been set back by a shoulder injury. But the focus, from an injury standpoint, is on Gray. If he were to miss just the first month of the regular season, that’s an absence the A’s should be able to cover. Any longer than that, and his presence really will be missed.

After last year’s roster-wide rash of injuries, better health is the most important first step in the A’s escaping the American League West cellar.

3) Who wins the closer’s job?
Six weeks of spring training has yet to reveal an answer here. If Melvin knows who his closer is, he isn’t saying publicly. Lefty Sean Doolittle, one of the veteran anchors of the relief corps, said Melvin hasn’t discussed roles yet with the relievers themselves. Expect more news on that during the Bay Bridge Series, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Of the four assumed ninth-inning candidates — Doolittle, John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Ryan Madson — none has been lights-out in Cactus League games.

The guess here is Madson, the A’s main closer last season, gets the first crack at the role this year as well.

“I don’t even think it’s on anybody’s radar,” Doolittle said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things that makes our bullpen effective. We’re not as attached to those roles as people might think.”

4) Where does Ryon Healy fit into the puzzle?
He fits in a little at first base, a little at third base and a little at DH. What we know is that Healy’s bat will be in the lineup regularly, it’s just a matter of where. Melvin spread his time pretty evenly between all three spots. Healy responded with a terrific spring at the plate. Entering Tuesday, he ranked third in the Cactus League with 16 RBI, the most spring RBI by an Athletic since Kevin Kouzmanoff also had 16 in 2010. Healy will play first base against lefties, platooning with Yonder Alonso. He’ll spell Trevor Plouffe at third. But it stands to reason a large chunk of his time will have to come at DH.

“I think he’s handled it well,” Melvin said. “It’s not easy, especially for a younger guy that was originally a first baseman. He worked as hard as anybody last year to make himself a third baseman. Now, it’s a little bit different for him and he knew that coming into camp. I think he’s handled his time wisely, worked hard at both positions, and he knows he has to move around a little bit this year.”

5) Can the A’s get their mojo back?
If a positive clubhouse vibe plays any part in a team turning around its on-field fortunes, the A’s are off to a good start. The early indications are that newcomers Plouffe, Matt Joyce, Casilla and Rajai Davis — those latter two are in their second stints with the A’s — all add some nice leadership qualities and mesh well with the returning vets. True, you can’t really read too much in spring training, when everyone always gets along in the spirit and optimism of a new season. But the A’s do seem to have better components up and down their roster to lead to a healthier season-long chemistry.

Just as you’ve read in the past, getting off to a strong start in the standings is the most effective way to maintain that chemistry.