Seattle-A's: What to watch for


Seattle-A's: What to watch for

Programming note: Mariners-A's coverage begins tonight at 6 p.m. with A's Pregame Live, followed by Brandon McCarthy's first pitch at 7:05 p.m on Comcast SportsNet California!

The Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners are tied atop the AL West after splitting their opening series in Japan.

RELATED: A's-M's Tokyo Box Scores -- Game 1 Game 2

The first 10 games of the 2012 season will pit the A's and M's against each other a staggering total of seven times, spanning three openers -- Japan, Oakland and Seattle.

With the Rangers and Angels in action Friday, only one team will carry the top spot into the weekend.

Here are some things to watch for in the A's 2012 home opener:

Dueling aces: It will be Brandon McCarthy and Jason Vargas alternating trips to the mound Friday night -- not exactly the star power you would expect in an Opening Day matchup.The Mariners elected to start Vargas in Felix Hernandez's stead, putting their ace on schedule to pitch in front of the hometown crowd when the Mariners finally head to Seattle next Friday -- again to face the A's. A result of the unique scheduling to start the year, the A's will have the dubious honor of facing "King Felix" three times in just their first eight games.Though the same can be said of the Mariners and McCarthy; The A's ace threw seven strong innings in Japan, giving up six hits -- only Dustin Ackley's solo home run hurt him -- striking out six and walking three. He was only at 82 pitches when he left the game.Home cookin': The A's expect a sellout for the home opener -- though tickets are still available -- and the team is excited for the support."When they're out there and cheering for us," outfielder Coco Crisp told Comcast SportsNet cameras Thursday. "It brings that excitement, that energy that is needed for our team to go out there with that extra bonus of intensity."They'll need it. The A's haven't won their Coliseum opener since 2004, dropping their last seven.Game-changers: With the exorbitant payroll differential, it will be tall task for the A's to compete in a re-tooled AL West, but they'll certainly surprise some teams with their young talent. It all starts with the trio of Yoenis Cespedes, Jemile Weeks and Josh Reddick, who established themselves this spring as potential future stars. Weeks and Reddick each hit over .300 and tied for the team lead with three home runs, while Cespedes established his batting practice as an event worthy of admission prices.
Still, it's a lot to expect from a core that only has 250 MLB games under their collective belt (Reddick -- 145; Weeks -- 99; Cespedes -- 2).Don't expect M's manager Eric Wedge to call on relief pitcher Shawn Kelly when Cespedes comes to bat late. The Cuban defector sent his seventh inning offering deep in the Tokyo Dome last Thursday, helping the A's earn a series split in Japan.Shook up shortstop: Cliff Pennington did not play in the A's final two spring training games, mostly precautionary after he left the first Bay Bridge Series game with a tight groin.Melvin has maintained that Pennington is okay, but it's something to keep an eye on. Lateral mobility is a source of defensive strength for Pennington, and if his groin is limiting at all, it's likely Melvin and the A's will play it safe.In his absence Wednesday, Eric Sogard had a few defensive miscues with his neighbors. He was unable to corral a backhanded glove-flip from Jemile Weeks for a would-be highlight-reel double play, and his miscommunication with Josh Donaldson allowed Hector Sanchez's infield fly to land safely on the infield dirt.RunsForMcCarthy: Is it possible to have "ownage" of a team with a 1-3 record? In his last five starts against the Mariners, Brandon McCarthy has pitched three complete games, maintained a 1.86 ERA, held Seattle to a .182 batting average, and registered a 101 strikeout to walk ratio. How is a 1-3 mark possible with those numbers, you ask? The A's have scored a total of seven runs in those five games. That's not going to do it.Delaying history: Last year, Ichiro failed to reach the 200-hit plateau for the first time in the past six seasons. His .272 batting average in 2011 dipped .054 points off his career average. Though he might not be the player he once was, he only needs three hits to pass Rod Carew and become the all-time leader against Oakland. With 17 more games still to play against Seattle this season alone -- including Friday night's home opener -- Carew's mark of 282 is not safe. Ichiro hits .364 inside O.Co -- the highest career average inside the Coliseum by a long shot (Derek Jeter is second, batting .348).

Mailbag: Will A's find Healy regular playing time?


Mailbag: Will A's find Healy regular playing time?

MESA, Ariz. — The start of Cactus League games will provide some tangible results and statistics, and that will eventually give us some clarity on how the A’s 25-man roster will shake out.

Until then, it’s all speculation. And there’s no shortage of questions to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll periodically open it up to whatever is on your mind regarding this team and try to shed as much insight as I can.

And we’re off …

From @Mr_Peach33: Is Yonder Alonso going to be taking at-bats away from Ryon Healy?

Maybe it’s more accurate to say the signing of third baseman Trevor Plouffe is what threatens to eat into Healy’s playing time. By inking Plouffe to a one-year deal off the free agency market, the A’s took away a position that was solely Healy’s over the second half of 2016. This is going to be interesting to watch play out, because GM David Forst says there can still be 500 at-bats for Healy between first base, DH and occasional starts at third.

It’s hard to fathom the A’s not making it a priority to find Healy regular playing time somewhere on the diamond. I don’t buy into any thoughts that taking Healy off third somehow stunts his growth. The guy’s biggest contribution to this team will be with his bat, not his defense. And he’s played more first base over the years than third anyway, going back to his college days at Oregon. But, he absolutely needs to be in the lineup somewhere on a regular basis, based on his impressive showing in his major league debut in 2016. Maybe it’s Healy that will be taking at-bats away from Alonso.

From @mikemendonca22: Is Andrew Triggs a lock for the rotation? Where do you see Mark Canha fitting in?

Slick effort from Mike to squeeze two questions into one. I’ll try to quickly address both …

Triggs is by no means a lock for the rotation. He’s got to pitch well in exhibitions to nail down the No. 5 starter spot. But Jesse Hahn has a say in this too. He’s also got a legitimate shot to win this job, beginning with Saturday’s start against the Cubs. Triggs’ advantage is that the front office is a big believer that he can get the job done in a starting role. Hahn’s advantage is that the A’s have seen a body of work from him as a successful big league starter, when he posted a 3.35 ERA over 16 starts in 2015. That included a shutout of the Detroit Tigers.

Right now, Canha fits in as a platoon partner in right field with the left-handed hitting Matt Joyce. He could also play some left field when Khris Davis is serving as DH. Canha is an option at first base too against left-handed pitchers.

From @KennyPaul68: What are they doing bringing old guys back? Let the kids play and learn. Second base and third base should be the kids!!

I generally agree with your stance, Kenny, about going young and letting the prospects get experience and learn from their mistakes. If it’s going to be another long year in the bottom half of the AL West, and the objective viewpoint says it will be, you might as well let these talented kids play and develop. But in the A’s defense, switching Healy off third and putting him at first is OK in my book because Healy would eventually be moving to first anyway when Matt Chapman is ready. Thing is, the A’s simply don’t think Chapman is ready to take over at third base yet. His 173 strikeouts at Double-A last year would suggest perhaps they are right. So that’s why they signed veteran Trevor Plouffe to play third as a place holder until Chapman is ready.

As for second base, let’s allow this scenario to play out. Jed Lowrie is in the final year of his contract, and if he’s healthy and turns in a productive first half, you have to think he’s a legitimate trade candidate at the Aug. 1 deadline. The A’s could go with a combo of Joey Wendle/Chad Pinder at second base if Lowrie is dealt. Or, if top prospect Franklin Barreto tears it up at Triple-A, he could force the A’s hand by making them clear a spot for him to get promoted and take over at second base.

A's spring training Day 11: Doolittle eager for Casilla to arrive

A's spring training Day 11: Doolittle eager for Casilla to arrive

MESA, Ariz. — It’s been a strange spring so far for the A’s bullpen, which holds big potential but has been shorthanded early in camp.

Consider Friday a step forward, as Sean Doolittle threw off a mound for the first time since workouts began Feb. 15. He’s being eased along slowly in an effort to keep his throwing shoulder fresh and healthy.

Any day now, Oakland also hopes to add Santiago Casilla to the mix. The right-hander, who signed to a two-year $11 million deal in January, has missed the first 10 days of spring training while awaiting his visa paperwork to be completed in the Dominican Republic.

Manager Bob Melvin had no updates for the media Friday. But Doolittle, for one, eagerly anticipates Casilla’s arrival.

“We hope he gets here soon,” Doolittle said. “I think he’s going to be ready for Opening Day regardless of when he gets here.”

Casilla, who rang up 123 saves for the Giants over the past seven seasons, is projected as a key piece for the relief corps. To this point Melvin hasn’t expressed public concern about Casilla’s absence, but he said the urgency will kick in a bit if the Cactus League schedule starts unfolding and Casilla still hasn’t reported. The A’s play their first exhibition Saturday against the Chicago Cubs.

A healthy Doolittle is just as important because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander in a bullpen otherwise dominated by righties. He threw off the mound before spring training began and has said he feels good. But he and the training staff are taking the conservative route after shoulder strains have limited him to 56 games over the past two years. His 20-pitch session Friday went well.

“All fastballs, but it was coming out clean,” Doolittle said. “I was really happy with how I was able to repeat things and put the ball where I wanted to.”

Doolittle got to know Casilla during spring camp in 2008 and ’09, when Doolittle was a prospect still playing first base and Casilla was in his first stint with Oakland.

“That’s a guy I think I can learn a lot from,” he said. “A lot of guys can learn from him.”

In other bullpen news, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that Liam Hendriks has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic and won't pitch for Team Australia.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sort of cheating to place Jharel Cotton in this section, as he’s likely to land in the starting rotation. But the right-hander was sharp facing hitters Friday.

“The deception just stands out with him,” Melvin said. “… He’s got an assortment of breaking pitches.”

Lefty A.J. Puk, last year’s first-round pick, faced hitters for the second time and gave up little in the way of hard contact, with his changeup standing out in particular.

BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE ALERT: After missing the majority of last season following left hip surgery, outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha has earned strong praise from Melvin early on. Canha will draw the start in left field Saturday and hit cleanup against the Cubs in the Cactus League opener.

“He worked hard in the offseason. His swing looks good,” Melvin said. “He looks like he’s in great shape and I think he’s out to prove a serious point this year — that he can be a very productive guy at the big league level, as we’ve seen before.”

As the roster stands, Canha lines up as a platoon partner with Matt Joyce in right field and could also see time at first or DH.

NOTEWORTHY: With exhibition play starting, the A’s held their final workout at the Lew Wolff Training Complex and will shift operations over to Hohokam Stadium, where they will hold batting practice and pre-game workouts.

ICYMI Catch up with third base prospect Matt Chapman and what he learned during an up-and-down year at Double-A in 2016. 

A’s president Dave Kaval talked at length about the team’s ballpark search in the most recent A’s Insider Podcast.