A's relievers pitching in for the community

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A's relievers pitching in for the community

OAKLAND -- What better place to meet Oakland Athletics mascot Stomper than at the Oakland Zoo with his fellow pachyderms? On Friday, 230 fourth and fifth graders from the Achieve Academy in Oakland had that opportunity. As part of the event, the kids were fed free pizza, got to meet Santa Claus and A's pitchers Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle. The event at the zoo was the most recent stop on the A's Holiday Caravan.

Though the A's Community Fund, the team and its employees make appearances and help raise money and awareness for community-based initiatives. For the two young relievers involved in this year's activity, it is an opportunity to use their new-found influence for good.

"It's really, really rewarding to be able to use what we do to help," Doolittle said while signing autograph cards for the kids at the zoo.

"We're in a position with what we do, being professional athletes, where we have the ability to draw attention to people in need, or deserving causes," Cook added.

Cook, 25, and Doolittle, 26, emerged as two of the top relievers in Major League Baseball in their rookie seasons with Oakland last year. Cook posted a 2.09 ERA in 71 games and was named an American League All-Star. Doolittle, who was drafted as a first baseman, worked his way up from the Instructional Leagues after converting back to a pitcher. He ripped through the Minor Leagues in just 16 appearances and posted a 3.04 ERA in 44 games with the Oakland, earning his first career win and save with the A's.

Suffice it to say, the two pitchers are a bit more recognizable amongst the kids in the East Bay. That makes it easier to pitch in.

"It's a great feeling," Cook said of interacting with the students at the zoo. "They start pointing and showing that they support us and know who we are. To be able to give back and acknowledge the hard work that they've done in the classroom, it speaks hugely to them as individuals that they are willing to put in that hard work to become something."

As part of their tour, Cook and Doolittle did appearances at the Comcast SportsNet studios and the home of 95.7 The Game. They also spent Thursday night in Walnut Creek collecting canned goods for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano as part of a hunger relief effort with Feeding America and Bank of America. After a couple of days serving the community, the two pitchers were particularly touched by the outpouring support they got during the food drive.

"These people waited outside, and it was cold outside, for quite a bit," Doolittle said. "To be able to draw attention to the less fortunate or maybe someone in need and to have helped in that process was really cool and an example of why the A's fans are some of the best in baseball."

At the A's Community Fund event at the Zoo I was able to spend some time with both Cook and Doolittle and I asked them about their offseason, the losses of key veterans, and how they feel about the American League West in 2013. The full transcript is below.

Last year you were rookies, what's it like entering the season as established Major Leaguers?

Cook: It's the same in terms of how we go about our business. Obviously the situation is a little different that we are thrown into. I don't think that really effects anything in terms of the way I go about my business. We got a little taste of success this last year and we all saw how the season ended. And that taste of success as a team drives you individually to be a little bit better, do a little bit more to go to that next step and hopefully further into the playoffs and beyond.

Doolittle: It's not that much different. You still have the same hunger and the same drive when you are getting ready and hitting the weights and stuff. Last offseason it was because I was trying to resurrect my career as a pitcher and that was my motivating force behind everything. This year it's because of the success that we had and the way the season ended. Now knowing we are into next year with maybe a little bit of a target on our backs as the American League West champs. We want to continue to improve on that and continue to move forward. In a sense that's not good enough. We want to continue to improve on that. That drive and that hunger, and everything we do in the offseason is for maybe a little different of a reason this time.

It's tough to lose guys like Brandon McCarthy and Jonny Gomes but it has to be nice to see they got good deals, right?

Cook: Absolutely, individually speaking and from a family's point of view, both guys got what they deserved. They've proven that over the years and we're happy as all hell for them, but we're going to miss them because those guys played an integral role in what we did as a team and to our overall success. Both being veteran presences and not having many veterans on the team last year they both really helped. They both played big roles in my life and I'm sure Sean can attest to that as well.

Doolittle: They both did what was best for themselves and their families. They both got every bit of what they deserve. Jonny is going to have a field day in Boston with the Green Monster and the way the field plays, that media market is going to be eating out of his hand by the end of Spring Training. McCarthy has gone to a really first class organization in the Diamondbacks. At the same time we're happy for them yes, but you're sad in a way because things in the clubhouse are going to be a bit different. Those were two of our leaders. McCarthy was, for lack of a better term, one of the captains of the pitching staff. He helped us young guys in a lot of ways just by treating us not necessarily as rookies but as teammates. To be able to watch him go about his business even just the three months that I was there I learned a lot that I will continue to use throughout my career.

As a lefty reliever what do you think about Josh Hamilton joining the Angels?

Doolittle: If you look at it… He's in a very similar situation as he will be in the middle of another high-powered offense. He's in the middle of a lineup with dangerous guys in front of him and behind him. In Texas you had (Ian) Kinsler and (Elvis) Andrus before him and after him you had (Adrian) Beltre, (Nelson) Cruz, and Michael Young. With the Angels you have (Mike) Trout in front of him and behind him he's got (Albert) Pujols and (Mark)Trumbo, so it's a very similar thing so we're just going to have to not get caught up in the names and just attack them like we did last year.

You guys are the reigning AL West champions and there's still room to improve the team, but again you guys are going to be looked at as underdogs. Can you thrive on that role again?

Doolittle: Regardless of what any body else says, just talking to other guys this offseason there's a feeling that we want to prove that it wasn't a fluke. That it wasn't a one-time deal where everything fell into place and we caught every possible break. We want to prove to every body that we earned it, and that we deserve it, and we are looking to be a force in this division for a long period of time and I think we have the tools to do that with the young guys and the way that this front office is going to assembled this year's team and moving forward. We are the defending champs but we are out to prove that it wasn't an accident.

Cook: I think Sean hit it right on the head. We've just got to stick to our business. We didn't get any media attention last year and that's really fine. That's actually good. Last year we were young and dumb and not a lot of us had actually been there before. This year it's kind of the same thing. As you alluded to with the Angels signing Hamilton and the national media not real considering us as front runners even though we are the champions. We'll come out and look to do the same thing we did last year and keep going about our business and try to win ballgames.

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

OAKLAND — The A’s set off for Chicago on Thursday evening to begin their next road trip, and how their dynamic has changed over the course of one week.

They began their most recent homestand by cutting ties with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe to make room for hotshot prospect Matt Chapman. On Thursday, catcher Stephen Vogt suffered the same fate as Plouffe, getting designated for assignment to make room for another young player in Bruce Maxwell.

The calendar may still read June, with more than half of the season remaining, but the A’s are cleaning house, undergoing a reboot and playing the rest of 2017 with an emphasis on what lies ahead.

Five of the nine position players in their starting lineup for Thursday’s 12-9 loss to the Houston Astros are what you would consider “future” guys — center fielder Jaycob Brugman, third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Chad Pinder, Maxwell and right fielder Matt Olson.

They will shuffle around the diamond a bit, and Olson may only stay with the big club until Chapman comes off the disabled list (though Olson’s full-time status in the bigs doesn’t seem far off). Regardless, the plan is crystal clear — the A’s are hitching their wagon to their young core and are prepared to let them develop at the major league level, with whatever successes and failures may come with the growth process.

“We do get excited about giving these guys playing time,” A’s general manager David Forst said before Thursday’s game.

The Astros finished off a four-game sweep of Oakland with their 12-9 victory, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and then holding on after the A’s mounted a late charge. Glance up and down the box score, and those key young players were instrumental in so much that went right for the A’s.

Maxwell went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Olson drove in two runs. Pinder had two hits and an RBI. Brugman chipped in an RBI single and walked twice. That was the silver lining on a day that starting pitcher Jesse Hahn struggled mightily, allowing nine earned runs in just two innings.

“These guys are gonna be important,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The last thing you want to see when you’re down 10-0 is guys just cash it in, and that wasn’t the case. These guys all have something to play for. They’re playing for jobs. And in the future, starting jobs.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, middle infielder Franklin Barreto will join the mix from Triple-A Nashville. For now, an immediate storyline is the health of Chapman, who joined the 10-day disabled list with a case of cellulitis (bacterial infection) in his left knee. The A’s checked him into a hospital Wednesday night to get an intravenous antibiotic, after his condition “plateaued” with oral antibiotics, according to Forst.

He said Chapman is likely to leave the hospital Friday, and the A’s are hopeful the rookie third baseman will be able to return when he’s eligible to come off the D.L. His stint can be backdated to Monday, meaning Chapman is eligible to return next Thursday at Houston.

He’s part of the youth movement that resulted in Vogt getting shown the exit. Maxwell sent Vogt a text message wishing him the best Thursday morning, and Vogt quickly responded, wishing him the best. That meant a lot to Maxwell, who didn’t learn until Thursday morning that his roster spot was coming at Vogt’s expense.

But Maxwell said he’s excited to be surrounded by so many players that he’s advanced through the minors with.

“Once we get everybody acclimated to each other and the game up here,” he said, “I feel like we could potentially set up a turning point for this organization for years to come.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — Under some circumstances, a 4-4 homestand against the Yankees and Astros wouldn’t seem so bad for the A’s.

This wasn’t the way they would have preferred it however.

After sweeping New York in four at the Coliseum, the A’s proceeded to drop four in a row to Houston, including Thursday's 12-9 loss, making this an historic stay at home whether they wanted it that way or not. Only one other time in the past 106 years had the A’s played back-to-back four-game series and swept the first while being swept in the second.

The first time it happened was in September 1977, when they were swept by Texas before taking the broom to Kansas City.

Thursday’s contest got out of hand early, with the Astros jumping out to a 10-0 lead by the second inning before Oakland came roaring back late.

Jesse Hahn (3-5) was out of whack from his first batter and lasted just two innings, getting hammered for a career-high 10 runs (nine earned) and allowing two home runs.

On the same day Oakland designated Stephen Vogt for assignment, another noteworthy former Athletic enjoyed a huge day against his old team as Josh Reddick finished just a single short of the cycle and scored four runs.

But the A’s came alive for a six-run rally in the eighth to close to within 12-9 and make the Astros sweat it.

But Oakland wound up falling a season high-tying 11 games under .500 at 31-42. A six-game road trip is up next to play the White Sox and, once again, the Astros, who ran their winning streak at the Coliseum to 10 and have won 15 of their past 16 against the A’s.

Short day for Hahn: It was clear early that Hahn didn’t have his ‘A’ game. He hit George Springer with a 3-1 pitch to begin the game — Springer exited with a left hand contusion — then walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. He limited the damage to two runs in the first, but the Astros poured it on for eight runs in the second, including three-run homers from Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez.

Maxwell returns with strong game: With Vogt designated for assignment, Bruce Maxwell was promoted to assume catching duties alongside Josh Phegley, and Maxwell enjoyed a 3-for-4 day, including an RBI double as the A’s rallied in the eighth.

The other new arrival also shines: Matt Olson, also called up Thursday as Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Reddick has big day: Reddick doubled in the second, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, but didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle against his former club.

Smith steadies things on mound: : Josh Smith took over after Hahn left the game and threw three scoreless innings, striking out four and keeping manager Bob Melvin from having to empty his bullpen.