Resilient A's stand tall

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Resilient A's stand tall

Programming note: A's-Angels coverage kicks off at 6:30 p.m. tonight with A's Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California!

I checked the tape.It was from Postgame Live on Friday, June 1st. Just moments prior, the A's had lost their season-high ninth in a row, and were now nine games under .500. They'd been shutout in two straight games, which saw Oakland tally a grand total of 6 hits. I turned to Greg Cadaret on-air and wondered if we had just witnessed the unraveling of a baseball season, right before our eyes.Fast forward 101 days, and the A's are a season-high 19 games over .500, with the second-best record in the American League. Their undisputed formula for winning has been no secret:RELATED: Division standings Wild Card standings
- Outstanding starting pitching (3.71 ERA This season, and they've walked 3 or less batters in each of the last 38 games)

- The bats have generated timely longballs (A's have home runs in 14 of the last 15 games)

- The defense has been trustworthy (.983 Fielding percentage which is tied for 12th best in MLB)But beyond all of the measurable stats and figures, there are even more incredible story-lines and angles that can't be measured by numbers. They are what makes this turnaround so special.They Are Resilient
Most recently, the A's were swept over Labor Day weekend by the Angels. In 27 innings they lost a 9 game winning streak, a lot of momentum... and their ace Brandon McCarthy for the rest of the season. What was their reward? A date with Felix Hernandez on Friday night, where Oakland walked away with a 6-1 victory, and eventually a 3 game sweep of the Mariners. This story has been repeated all Summer long. The A's dropped a "should-win" series to Kansas City in mid-August, and responded by taking their next 5. Two separate occasions this season, Oakland has hosted the team with MLB's best record (Dodgers in June, Yankees in July)... and swept them both. You get the picture.Waiting in the Wings
The A's starting rotation features precisely one pitcher from its Opening Day staff. Tommy Milone, the eldest statesman at 25, is now surrounded by Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, and Dan Straily. Oakland's hurlers are a prime example of how young players have stepped in, made the most of opportunities, and earned permanent roles. But they are not the only ones.Chris Carter. Brandon Moss. Josh Donaldson. Derek Norris. All position players who were not necessarily even in the A's plans coming out of Spring Training, but have each since won their job by performing when the team needed them most. No club carries the identical roster between games 1 and 162, but Oakland has been fortunate to equal and even improve with the new faces they've brought in.Pulling All The Right Strings
Bob Melvin, at the very least, should be a finalist for AL Manager of the Year. In making lineups, he has used players and matchups to their fullest potentials... for examples, see the SmithGomes and CarterMoss duos. He's been order-flexible in moving guys like Josh Reddick around, specifically to help him out of recent struggles. And Melvin committed to the winning formula in making Coco Crisp the unquestioned leadoff hitter, which ultimately sparked the A's in mid-June. All of this in addition to keeping his players loose, excited, and content in a turnaround-type season.The A's have also been deliberate as a franchise this year: terminating their experiment with Manny Ramirez, trading fan-favorite Kurt Suzuki to Washington and sending everyday-starter Jemile Weeks to Triple-A. Patient approaches of the past have been replaced with the need to perform now... a collaboration of moves which just might pay off for Oakland in October.

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.”