A's spring training Day 27: Casilla shaky but Oakland wins sixth in a row

A's spring training Day 27: Casilla shaky but Oakland wins sixth in a row

MESA, Ariz. — Santiago Casilla’s spring debut was a rocky one, with the A’s veteran reliever not mustering the command he hopes to have by April.

That pretty much fit the theme at Hohokam Stadium on Sunday, as A’s and Cubs pitchers combined to give up 17 runs, 24 hits and 15 walks in a marathon that lasted nearly four hours. For the second day in a row, Oakland rallied with some impressive late offense, erasing a six-run deficit to beat Chicago 9-8 for the A’s sixth victory in a row.

The exhibition wins are nice, and manager Bob Melvin has to be pleased with a Cactus League-best 10-4 record. But from an individual standpoint, Casilla’s progression will be worth watching as the days tick away to the April 3 regular season opener.

The 36-year-old right-hander, who signed to a two-year $11 million deal to provide shutdown late-inning relief, reported nearly three weeks late to camp because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic. Predictably, he showed some rust taking the mound to open the top of the fifth.

The ex-Giant retired just two of the five batters he faced, issuing a walk, a wild pitch and giving up Kyle Schwarber’s two-out, two-run triple that hit high off the batter’s eye in dead center.

“It was my first outing, it’s just practice for me right now,” Casilla said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “I was a little bit out of control. I felt my balance was a little bit off.”

That was evident when Casilla bounced his first pitch in front of home plate. But he came back to strike out Jason Heyward to get his inning off to a good start. After a single and walk, plus a wild pitch that moved runners to second and third, Casilla retired Albert Almora, Jr., on a grounder to third before Schwarber got hold of a 2-2 changeup and gave it a ride.

Casilla reported to the A’s last Sunday, and Melvin said before the game he wasn’t going to put much stock in Casilla’s pitching line against the Cubs, good or bad. He echoed that sentiment after the game.

“He’s a little bit behind,” Melvin said. “We got him in a game a little bit quicker than we normally do, so we just wanted to make sure he got 25 pitches in.”

It seems reasonable Casilla will get in the range of six to eight outings before Opening Night against the Los Angeles Angels, depending on how many days off the A’s give him between appearances. Melvin typically likes to give his veteran relievers about 10 or 11 appearances in the spring, but he’s said Casilla would likely require fewer given his high-volume workload in recent seasons.

PROSPECT WATCH: The A’s trailed 7-1 before striking for four runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh to take the lead. Those rallies featured a three-run homer from Yonder Alonso in the sixth but also some clutch at-bats from several young players. Franklin Barreto tripled later in the sixth and scored. Catcher Sean Murphy singled as part of a seventh-inning rally that loaded the bases and Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both drew bases-loaded walks.

Yairo Munoz singled home a run to make it 8-8 and Barreto’s sacrifice fly put the A’s ahead.

“All these guys, that’s the next wave of guys, so it’s exciting to see these guys come in and take it seriously and wind up winning some games for us,” Melvin said.

CAMP BATTLE: Raul Alcantara, battling for a rotation spot, drew his first start of the spring and gave up five hits over 2 2/3 innings, including Kris Bryant’s two-run homer. On the positive side, Alcantara held Chicago off the board in the first after walking leadoff man Schwarber and moving him to second with an errant pickoff throw. Alcantara, who is out of minor league options, is also a candidate for a long-relief role in the bullpen depending on how the A’s shape their 25-man roster elsewhere.

QUOTABLE: “About as short and far as you can hit ‘em.” — Melvin, remarking on two of Alonso’s at-bats that resulted in a swinging-bunt single and a three-run homer.

ODDS AND ENDS: Ross Detwiler, vying for a rotation spot as a non-roster pitcher, got knocked around for three runs in his one inning of work and walked two. Coming in, Detwiler hadn’t allowed a run in four spring outings. … Liam Hendriks threw a scoreless inning, giving up two hits. He has yet to allow a run in three outings, which includes one against Italy’s national team. … Frankie Montas struck out three over two innings of one-run ball, and the right-hander earned praise from Melvin. “Every time we see him I think he impresses you more and more.”

The A's optioned third baseman/outfielder Renato Nunez to Triple-A after the game and reassigned right-hander Zach Neal to minor league camp.

Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart


Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart

HOUSTON — A subplot to Friday night’s game at Minute Maid Park is one that will likely repeat itself often over the next few years.

The A’s and Astros boast two of the better young third basemen in the American League in Matt Chapman and Alex Bregman. Both are under 25, excellent with the glove and sure to face each other plenty as AL West opponents. The difference right now is Bregman is a key piece to a team likely to contend for the World Series.

Dallas Keuchel dominated the A’s on the mound Friday, but he got a huge assist from his 23-year-old third baseman.

Bregman made several standout defensive plays and drilled an opposite-field homer off Sean Manaea in the Astros’ 3-1 victory. Paying close attention from the opposing dugout was Chapman, who’s part of the A’s young nucleus that’s taking its lumps as it tries to learn how to win consistently at the major league level.

“He definitely showed up ready to play today,” Chapman said of Bregman. “He was all over the place at third base. I like to watch opposing third basemen and see what they kind of do. He’s definitely good at his craft.”

The two know each other well. Chapman, 24, played at Cal State Fullerton while Bregman attended LSU. They never faced each other in college, but they played together on Team USA in the summer of 2013, and Chapman praised the way Bregman goes about the game.

“(Bregman) literally is a shortstop playing third,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “So the ones on the run, especially to his backhand, he’s used to making those plays. He was significant in where the game went.”

Bregman has filled in at shortstop lately for Houston with Carlos Correa on the disabled list, though Marwin Gonzalez played short Friday.

Manaea, his fastball still lacking its typical zip of late, went six solid innings and showed improvement after three consecutive poor outings. The difference Friday was his ability to pitch inside better. He had a good changeup to offset a slider that he’s still trying to rediscover the feel for.

“I was just trying to let loose and not worry too much about the little things —mechanics , pitch grips, finishing through the ball,” Manaea said. “Today I just threw everything out the window and let my arm take care of everything.”

But his margin for error was minuscule with Keuchel dealing over seven innings of three-hit ball. Manaea fell behind Bregman 2-0 in the third and watched Bregman deposit a ball into the right field seats. Manaea then got ahead 0-2 on the next hitter, MVP candidate Jose Altuve. He tried to go high and tight with a fastball but caught too much plate, and Altuve made it back-to-back homers.

Former Athletic Josh Reddick singled home another run off Manaea in the sixth for a 3-0 Houston lead.

That was sufficient for Keuchel, whose repertoire was an eye-opener for Chapman and some of the A’s other young hitters. Chapman -- who came in leading AL rookies in runs, homers, RBI and extra base hits since the All-Star break -- doubled off the lefty in the fifth. But the A's only run came on Matt Joyce's eighth-inning homer against reliever Chris Devenski.

“(Keuchel) was getting ahead,” Chapman said. “If he happened to fall behind, he was still making quality pitches. You can prepare as much as you want, but until you get out there and see for yourself, that’s how you make adjustments.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's can't find answers vs Keuchel


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's can't find answers vs Keuchel


HOUSTON — Sean Manaea was much improved Friday night over his previous three starts for the A’s.

Unfortunately for the left-hander, he had no control over the work of his counterpart on the mound.

Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel was at his ground ball-inducing best, frustrating the A’s over seven scoreless innings as Houston continued its recent dominance over Oakland with a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

Keuchel recorded 17 of his 21 outs via ground ball, an astonishing rate but typical of the way the 2015 AL Cy Young winner likes to do business. He entered the night leading the major leagues in groundball percentage (64.7) among those with at least 90 innings pitched. Keuchel (11-2) got a big assist from his infield defense, particularly third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.

Manaea went six innings and gave up three runs, including back-to-back solo homers from Bregman and Jose Altuve in the third. But it was a definite step forward after his previous three outings, in which he surrendered 13 earned runs and 21 hits over just 6 2/3 innings.

The A’s mustered just five hits. Aside from Matt Joyce’s homer in the eighth, they didn’t advance a single runner past second base.

Oakland has dropped 11 of 13 games to Houston so far this season.

IMPROVED SHOWING: After showing signs of fatigue in his recent starts, Manaea showed improved form simply based on the batters he retired. His fastball generally sat between 89-91, still a bit below normal, but he overall pitched more effectively and turned in his longest outing since going seven innings July 27. He gave up six hits over his six innings, struck out two and walked one. A wild pitch in the sixth hurt, as it set up Josh Reddick’s RBI single.

HEY, IT’S PROGRESS: Seeing Manaea get through a scoreless first inning was noteworthy, as the A’s had gone five consecutive games with allowing at least one run in the first.

PINDER DEBUTS IN CENTER: Matt Olson entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, then went to right field in the bottom half. That pushed Chad Pinder over to center field, his first time playing the position in the major leagues. Manager Bob Melvin has mentioned Pinder is likely to draw some starts in center before the end of the season.

STRIKEOUTS MOUNTING FOR KD: After striking out four times Wednesday, the A’s cleanup man struck out three more times Friday. His 158 strikeouts entering the night were tied for eighth most in franchise history.

CATCHING UPDATE: Josh Phegley, coming back from a strained oblique, has played two games for Triple-A Nashville on a rehab assignment. Melvin said the A’s are not going to rush Phegley. Part of that is they think highly of the work Dustin Garneau has done in his place as the right-handed portion of the catching platoon with Bruce Maxwell.