Athletics

A's spring training Day 31: Pinder will get a look in the outfield

A's spring training Day 31: Pinder will get a look in the outfield

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — He’s played all over the infield in his career.

Now Chad Pinder will have his duties expanded even more.

The A’s will look to give the utility man some time in the outfield, trying to pave an easier path to a full-time spot in the majors. Oakland is stocked with young players at third base and second base. Marcus Semien is entrenched at shortstop, with 2015 first-round pick Richie Martin progressing through the pipeline too.

The A’s think highly of Pinder’s bat. He got his first taste of the majors in September, but it’s tough to envision how he fits into the current major league mix.

So the A’s will utilize the “V” word — versatility — that they love so much.

“I think if you’re looking at the next ‘Rosie’ type guy in our organization, it could be Pinder,” manager Bob Melvin said, referencing jack-of-all-positions player Adam Rosales.

Given the surplus of infielders — and relative lack of prime outfield prospects — in the A’s farm sytem, it makes sense to experiment. Renato Nunez, a young third baseman whose bat is ahead of his glove, will see time in left field now that he’s been sent to minor league camp.

HEALTH UPDATE: Stephen Vogt was back behind the plate for the first time in a week after being hindered by right heel soreness. His mobility got tested very early, when he hustled out a double in the top of the first.

“It was a good day,” Vogt said. “It felt very good. I had to work a little bit behind the plate too.”

NOTEWORTHY: Ryon Healy smoked a two-run homer deep on the grass in left-center at Goodyear Ballpark, the most impressive blast of the three home runs the A’s hit in a 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians. It was the third spring homer for Healy, who leads the A’s with 12 RBI.

Franklin Barreto and Rosales also went deep.

CAMP BATTLE: Andrew Triggs started on the hill for Oakland and labored through a three-run first that included lots of hard contact. He steadied himself over the next two innings but got touched for three more runs in the fourth and was done after 3 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on five hits and two walks.

“Obviously I wasn’t happy with the results,” Triggs said. “Once we settled, the fastball command was better. … You work yourself into lousy counts, you can’t expect to have a whole lot of success. My goal coming in was to get to the fifth and I didn’t do that, so that’s what I was frustrated about.”

On the bright side, Triggs faced the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion twice and struck him out both times. The A’s made a big-time run at Encarnacion in the winter but lost out to Cleveland for the slugging first baseman.

Triggs, trying to win a rotation spot, hadn’t given up more than one earned run in any of his previous three outings.

FAMILIAR FACE: Former A’s reliever Dan Otero threw a scoreless inning against his old team. It was Otero’s first time facing Vogt since he joined the Indians’ bullpen last season. He coaxed a pop out.

“We were smiling, texting back and forth last night saying ‘I hope we get it out of the way during spring training,’” Vogt said. “He’s one of my best friends in all of baseball.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who got knocked around in his previous outing, rebounded with two scoreless innings and three strikeouts. … Jharel Cotton threw in a Triple-A game Wednesday as the A’s were off. He went four-plus innings and allowed a run, getting his pitch count up over 70.

A's Cotton notches first big league victory in two months: 'He found out if...'

A's Cotton notches first big league victory in two months: 'He found out if...'

HOUSTON — No one questions the quality of stuff that Jharel Cotton takes to the mound.

According to A’s manager Bob Melvin, the key for his rookie starter is more an issue of mindset and aggressiveness.

Cotton was in attack mode Sunday after a wobbly first inning against the Houston Astros. The result was an encouraging six-inning outing that set the A’s on the path to a 3-2 victory that helped them avoid a three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park.

While the victory was important for his team’s overall psyche, Melvin also hopes it triggers some confidence for Cotton in how he can attack a dangerous lineup and have success.

“I think he found out if he throws the ball over the plate, it’s gonna allow him to stay in the game longer,” Melvin said. “He should take a lot out of this game, especially against a lineup like that. Knowing that if I’m throwing the ball over the plate, using a mix of pitches and I’m not afraid to use my fastball, that the results can be good. We’ve seen him pitch really good games because he’s got good stuff.”

Cotton (6-10) rang up his first major league victory since June 23 against the White Sox. That was before a blister on his thumb led to a stint on the disabled list. Since then, he’d struggled with walks, ill-timed homers, and generally enough turbulence to invite speculation on whether the A’s might skip him for a start or send him down.

He answered Sunday by holding the majors’ highest-scoring team to two runs on four hits over his six innings. That was after walking two in a 25-pitch first. Not since that scoreless outing against the White Sox back in June had Cotton surrendered less than four runs in a game.

A’s closer Blake Treinen, who recorded a six-out save and combined with fellow reliever Chris Hatcher to bring home the ‘W’ for Cotton, said watching Cotton tame the Astros lineup didn’t surprise him.

“I’d heard of him from before I was even (traded to the A’s), and I’ve seen his stuff. Sometimes as a young pitcher it just takes experience. When things are going really well, you don’t have to think.You just trust it.”

The A’s beat the Astros for just the third time in 15 games this season. On so many occasions, Houston has taken advantage of Oakland mistakes and forced the issue with aggressive baserunning. On Sunday, it was the A’s who dictated things in that fashion.

Center fielder Boog Powell, who went 3-for-4 with a walk from the leadoff spot, led the game off with a single against Brad Peacock (10-2). Then Marcus Semien grounded one toward the hole on the left side. With Powell racing hard into second, Astros shortstop Alex Bregman threw wildly into right field. Powell came around to score, and Semien — advancing all the way to third — came home on the play when Marwin Gonzalez made another throwing error.

Jed Lowrie scored on a passed ball in the sixth to push the A’s lead to 3-1, marking the first time in Oakland history the A’s scored three or more runs in a game without notching a single RBI.

Semien’s mad dash around the bases reminded him of a similar play as a Little Leaguer in El Cerrito, when he circled the bases in the same kind of way on his mother’s birthday. Afterward, she convinced him he’d hit a real homer.

“I got some texts from some old Little League friends about that one today,” Semien said.

It wasn’t conventional, and it didn’t matter. Over the first two games of this series, the A’s had scored one run total and advanced just one runner as far as third base.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's avoid sweep vs Astros

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's avoid sweep vs Astros

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — The A’s experienced a welcome reversal of fortune Sunday in the place that’s been their late-inning house of horrors.

Their bullpen salted away a 3-2 victory over the Astros in a game that had potential heartbreak written all over it.

Three times last season they lost in walk-off fashion at Minute Maid Park. On Sunday, they left the door cracked open by stranding a runner on third in both the seventh and eighth innings, missing out on a chance to add to their slim lead. But recently acquired Chris Hatcher registered a big strikeout of George Springer to end the 7th with the tying run at third. Then Blake Treinen recorded a six-out save to help Oakland avoid a sweep by the American League’s winningest team.

It was a needed morale boost on a weekend in which the A’s received stellar starting pitching but simply couldn’t kick their offense into gear. They mustered just four runs total over the three-game series, but managed to secure a win over Houston for just the third time in 15 meetings this season. It was also just their fifth victory in their past 21 contests at Minute Maid Park.

A LONG DAY’S WORK: The hard-throwing Treinen, acquired from Washington as part of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, was nasty in finishing out the final two innings for his fourth save as an Athletic. With Santiago Casilla having struggled in the ninth, the A’s are evaluating whether Treinen might be a long-term answer at closer. After posting a 5.73 ERA with the Nats this season, he entered Sunday with a 2.65 mark in 16 appearances with Oakland.

POWELL PROVIDES A BOOST: Getting a start in the leadoff spot, center fielder Boog Powell went 3-for-4 with a walk and scored a run. His impact was felt most in the first. After leading the game off with a single, he came all the way around to score on a throwing error by Astros shortstop Alex Bregman. Marcus Semien circled all the way around the bases on the play after first baseman Marwin Gonzalez contributed his own throwing error on the same play.

COTTON RESPONDS: Jharel Cotton needed to deliver a strong outing, and the rookie did so against the majors’ most potent offense. He went 6 2/3 innings and held Houston to two runs on four hits. Coming in, the right-hander had been lit up for an 8.06 ERA over his previous five starts.

MAXWELL RECOVERING: Dustin Garneau started behind the plate for the A’s with Bruce Maxwell feeling the effects of a hard foul tip off his mask Saturday night. Maxwell said he had trouble sleeping throughout the night, and the A’s weren’t about to take chances given the concussion issues encountered by some of their catchers in the past. Josh Phegley and John Jaso are two who come to mind.

Maxwell typically would have been in there against a right-hander in Peacock.

“Our training staff has got as good a handle on these things as any training staff, based on the fact that we’ve had to deal with quite a few of them,”Melvin said. “They know the protocol really well. Based on past experiences with these things, we feel like it’s the prudent thing to do.”

IN RELATED NEWS …: A tie-in to Maxwell’s status is the fact that Josh Phegley continues to come along well in his rehab assignment. Returning from a strained oblique, has played three games for Triple-A Nashville. The A’s don’t intend to rush Phegley back, but Melvin suggested that were Maxwell to miss any extended time, Phegley’s timetable for return could be hastened.