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.