A's thrive in playoff atmosphere


A's thrive in playoff atmosphere


OAKLAND Things were different at the Oakland Coliseum Friday night. After working their loyal fan base into a froth with a second consecutive 6-1 road trip, the A's returned home to a raucous sellout crowd and a matchup with serious playoff implications.And they thrived. "It was incredible," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "I got chills out there."The 35,067 paid attendance got chills when Donaldson initiated 5-4-3 inning-ending double plays in the fourth and sixth -- two of the A's four double plays of the night. "For a guy who was catching last year, to be able to play the defense he has for us has been spectacular," Melvin said. "He was a key part of the game tonight."Donaldson's bare-handed play in the eighth inning looked to be the defensive play of the game, until Derek Norris gunned down pinch runner Xavier Avery to end the game. "You don't see that too often," Melvin said. "That's the best throw we've seen (Norris) make." Yes, the defense was there. But a playoff team has pitching too, and Tommy Milone showed, again, that the A's have the pitching. He set the tone with first-pitch strikes to 20 of the first 21 batters he faced, and he seemed to get tougher with runners on base."That's really impressive. That's the kind of start we've seen from him all year," Melvin said. "Bends at times, but doesn't break."Milone had been 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts, but recaptured his early season dominance, looking like the pitcher that went 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA in his first eight starts. The rookie's "vintage" effort earned him a place in the record books as the first Oakland A's freshman to win 13 games."I was congratulating him on tying it and the next thing he said is, 'It's time to break it,'" Melvin said. "Just a long, long list of great pitchers here, to be able to break that record is a nice feather in his cap."Milone departed with the tying runner on base, and Pat Neshek, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour preserved his record-breaking victory when they combined for two and two-thirds innings of relief, recording three strikeouts in facing the minimum number of Orioles."The bullpen came in and took over and did what we've seen them do for the better part of the season," Melvin said.The adage states that pitching and defense win championships, but it can't be done without a little offense. The A's, who have hit the second most home runs in the majors since the All Star break, got their boost in the fourth inning when Yoenis Cespedes went deep for the third time in the last four games. Cespedes arrived at the ballpark day-to-day with a sprained right wrist, but he played all nine innings and backed up his pregame claim that he'd rest when the team gets a championship. "It's tough to give him a full day's rest at this point in the season," Melvin said. "Obviously, that was a huge home run tonight."Every pitch means the world in playoff baseball, and Friday's game had that feel, with the sellout crowd hanging on every offering."Our fans were into it," Melvin acknowledged. "It was back and forth. It was an exciting game. It had a little bit different atmosphere."It all came back to the atmosphere. "It's awesome to have the people out there like that," Balfour said after recording his 18th save of the season. "The fans we have are awesome. They get into it. Just to see that many people. It really makes a huge difference for us, I can tell you that as a player."Balfour's call to action for Oakland fans shouldn't be necessary. The A's are playing exciting baseball, and Friday night they showcased their ability to thrive when the pressure is highest."Those close ballgames like that, to come out on top is big," Balfour said. "You know going into the playoffs you're not going to have a blowout game. You're going to have two good teams, good pitching. It's going to be close, going to be tight. It's good to come out on top tonight."And you better believe the atmospheric change registered in the A's clubhouse."Heck yeah," Donaldson said. "Everywhere you go, everybody's got their A's gear on wanting to talk A's baseball. It's a great atmosphere in the city of Oakland."It's a playoff atmosphere.

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

OAKLAND — With so much attention focused on who might be the next wave of A’s infielders coming up from the minors, Chad Pinder is making quite a statement in the present.

Pinder enjoyed another big day at the plate Sunday with a two-run homer and a double in the A’s 12-3 loss to Boston. That came on the heels of Saturday’s 460-foot home run that made him just the fifth player to reach the second deck just above the Coliseum’s first level of luxury suites.

For fans around the country who might have seen that mammoth blast on highlight shows, it likely was their first introduction to the 25-year-old Virginia native. However, those within the organization witnessed Pinder’s steady rise through the farm system since he was drafted as a sandwich pick between the second and third rounds of the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think it’s a shock what he’s doing,” said A’s designated hitter Ryon Healy, who was part of that same draft class. “I think he’s always been that caliber of player. He’s always had that potential and it’s coming to fruition right now and it’s really fun to watch.”

Pinder, who made his big league debut in September but began this season with Triple-A Nashville, is hitting .286 over 21 games with Oakland. He’s homered in four of his past eight, and he provided a boost over the weekend as the A’s took three of four from the Red Sox.

The right-handed hitting Pinder was in the lineup all four games — with the Red Sox starting lefties on the mound for the final three contests, the A’s stacked their lineup with righties, giving Pinder a stretch of consistent playing time.

He’s provided enough of a spark that he warrants consideration to remain in the lineup even though the A’s are scheduled to face right-handers during their two-game series with the Miami Marlins that begins Tuesday at the Coliseum.

Granted, it’s not the biggest sample size either way, but Pinder is actually hitting better against righties (.348, 8-for-23) than he is against lefties (.231, 6-for-26). Four of his five home runs also have come against right-handers.

Asked whether Pinder could draw more starts against right-handers, A’s manager Bob Melvin replied: “Potentially, yeah. You want to try to stay consistent with the lineups you have, but if you have a hot hand, you look for ways to get him in there.”

Working in Pinder’s advantage is the versatility he’s shown since being recalled from Nashville on April 16. The A’s always knew Pinder could handle second, shortstop or third as needed, but he’s also shown to be a capable option in right field with a strong arm for the outfield.

Pinder was the Texas League (Double-A) Player of the Year in 2015 and ranked No. 7 on Baseball America’s preseason list of A’s prospects. He’s making the most of his time in the majors.

On the minds of many Oakland fans is when a couple more infield prospects who are impressing at Triple-A — middle infielder Franklin Barreto and third baseman Matt Chapman — might get their first crack in the bigs.

Barreto, ranked as the No. 25 overall prospect in the majors in Baseball America’s most recent ratings, is hitting .311 with six homers and is tied with Matt Olson for Nashville’s RBI lead at 27. Chapman, ranked the 95th overall prospect, missed two weeks earlier this season with a wrist injury but has shown signs of heating up offensively. He’s hitting just .237 but has eight homers and 15 RBI.

Two other Nashville players, who have both seen time with the A’s, are putting up noteworthy numbers: Olson, a first baseman/outfielder, is hitting .276 with 10 homers and 27 RBI, and corner infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez is tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 12 homers to go with a .245 average and 25 RBI.

The A’s are working with Barreto and Chapman to hone their approach at the plate and control the strike zone. General manager David Forst maintains the A’s will be patient with both, noting that Pinder benefited last year from a full season at Triple-A before his promotion.

“The calendar needs to turn over,” Forst said. “They need at-bats. Matt missed a couple weeks with the injury, but they just need more days and more at-bats. We don’t have an ‘X’ on the calendar anywhere where this is the day. We’ll know when it’s time.”

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

OAKLAND — The A’s officially welcomed John Axford back into their bullpen fold Sunday, and they got some encouraging news about another reliever.

Sean Doolittle was expected to only throw a flat-ground session before the series finale against Boston, but he wound up throwing 15 pitches off the mound as well. That’s the first time Doolittle has thrown from the mound since joining the disabled list May 3 with a strained left shoulder. Next up is a 25-pitch session off the mound Wednesday.

The early indications are that Doolittle’s current shoulder woes aren’t as severe as the ailments that sidelined him for major portions of the past two seasons.

Axford was reinstated from the 10-day DL Saturday for his own shoulder strain, but his season debut came Sunday, when he handled the eighth inning and allowed one run. He was sidelined during the season-opening series against the Angels when he hurt his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen.


All indications are that first baseman Yonder Alonso will be available to return to the lineup Tuesday for the opener of a two-game interleague series against the Miami Marlins. A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Sunday’s game that he considered Alonso as potentially being available off the bench. Given the A’s are off Monday, it’s reasonable to assume Alonso will be ready Tuesday when the Marlins start right-hander Jose Urena on the mound.


The A’s are plenty familiar with Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland from his days with division rival Texas. But Moreland continues to do damage against Oakland even though he’s out of the AL West. Moreland’s two-run homer in the sixth off Andrew Triggs marked his third homer of the four-game series, and his 19th homer in 80 career games against the A’s. That’s his most homers against any major league club.


The run Axford allowed in the eighth snapped a streak of 27 scoreless innings at home by the A’s bullpen. Josh Smith allowed five runs in the ninth.