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A’s 5th-starter battle gets under way in loss to Cubs

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 01:01:12 UT

Jesse Hahn started for Oakland, and if he hadn’t lunged for a grounder to his right in the second inning, his final line probably would look a lot neater. Both runners came in, Szczur was safe at first, and he scored after a double by Ian Happ and groundout by Jason Heyward. “He attacked the zone really well, his changeup looked really good, his curveball was sharper than ever,” catcher Bruce Maxwell said. Hahn allowed four hits, a walk and three runs and he struck out two in his 12/3 innings. Raul Alcantara, also in the running for the rotation, turned in two strong innings, allowing one hit and striking out one. Left-hander Ross Detwiler, who is in camp on a minor-league deal, worked a scoreless inning, allowing a hit and striking out one. Hahn’s early bullpen work has been impressive enough to put him in a neck-and-neck race with Andrew Triggs for the final rotation slot, but Alcantara is out of options and Detwiler said Saturday he has an opt-out clause he plans to invoke March 26 if he is not in Oakland’s plans, assuming he has offers elsewhere. Reliever Liam Hendriks, who had been scheduled to leave for Japan with Team Australia on Monday, said that he is bowing out of early play in the World Baseball Classic. “I’ve been wanting to go in my heart, but when I really sat down and thought about it, I’m not quite where I want to be when it comes to pitching in competitive games yet,” Hendriks said. The A’s have three players going to the WBC: reliever John Axford (Canada), reliever Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic) and non-roster catcher Ryan Lavarnway (Israel). Matt Joyce, one of the A’s primary free-agent pickups this winter, hit the team’s first homer of the spring, banging a 1-2 pitch to right off Jose Rosario in the fourth inning. [...] baseman Matt Chapman, one of the A’s top prospects, crushed a two-run homer to right off Rosario the same inning to tie the game. … Reliever Chris Smith gave up a tie-breaking solo shot to Cubs minor-leaguer Charcer Burks in the seventh.



A’s take on world champion Cubs to open Cactus League

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 18:57:27 UT

A’s take on world champion Cubs to open Cactus League Another new Oakland outfielder, Rajai Davis, put a major scare into Cubs-dom in Game 7, with his game-tying homer in the eighth inning for Cleveland, one of the more thrilling moments in recent baseball history. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week that he anticipates a raucous crowd. Oakland outfielder Mark Canha said, It should make for a good atmosphere — it’s always fun to play in front of a bunch of excited people instead of an empty stadium. The left-handed starter threw eight scoreless innings in his Oakland debut Aug. 10 after being acquired from Cleveland for cash considerations, but lost his next three starts. Detwiler, who is scheduled to pitch after Hahn on Saturday, re-signed with Oakland late as a free-agent non-roster invitee. Detwiler has thrown the pitch in bullpen sessions, and catcher Bruce Maxwell likes the looks of it, saying, It comes out of his hand well. Everyone knows he’s got that big curveball, and he spots his fastball well, so it’s a nice little wrinkle to add. First-round pick A.J. Puk drew a large crowd when he threw batting practice to hitters, and Melvin said of the 6-foot-7 lefty, He’s responding really well. Davis in center, Marcus Semien at shortstop, Joyce in right, Canha in left, Stephen Vogt at designated hitter, Matt Chapman at third, Yonder Alonso at first, Adam Rosales at second and Maxwell.



A’s Liam Hendriks opts out of WBC to focus on season

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:25:10 UT

Another A’s player has decided to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic, citing a desire to correctly prepare for the regular season. On Sunday, Oakland slugger Khris Davis stepped away from Team Mexico, saying he felt overextended and wanted to focus on his commitment to the A’s, and Saturday, reliever Liam Hendriks did the same, leaving Team Australia two days before he was expected to depart for WBC play in Japan. “I’ve been wanting to go in my heart, but when I really sat down and thought about it, I’m not quite I’m where I want to be when it comes to pitching in competitive games yet,” Hendriks said. Hendriks said he hopes to pitch for Australia in the second round should the team advance to play in San Diego next month. Manager Bob Melvin said, Obviously, the most important thing is getting ready for your team and if he feels like this affects that - looking at the travel and everything, it’s immense. The A’s still have three players in camp slated to go to the WBC: reliever John Axford with Canada, reliever Santiago Casilla with the Dominican Republic and non-roster catcher Ryan Lavarnway with Israel.



A’s Kendall Graveman finds his style, ready for next level

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:17:22 UT

A’s Kendall Graveman finds his style, ready for next level MESA, Ariz. — Kendall Graveman had something of an identity crisis in the first half of the 2016 season, at least in terms of his baseball life. After coming over to Oakland the previous year in the high-profile Josh Donaldson deal, Graveman stumbled through his rookie season and even was demoted at one point. [...] as his second year got under way, Graveman wasn’t finding the consistency he wanted. [...] he became almost purely a sinkerballer. In the first half of the season, Graveman threw 53 percent fastballs — meaning his sinker — and in the second half 72 percent. In some starts, he was wielding his sinker at nearly Bartolo Colon-esque levels, more than 90 percent. “I really think he grasped what his game was the last half of the season — almost similar to Bartolo Colon, where you’re going to get a lot of fastballs, you’re going to get a lot of movement, you’re going to get a lot of grounders,” A’s pitching coach Curt Young said. Kendall is really just getting into that. “If the game presents itself where I can throw one pitch, I’ll do that,” said Graveman, who will start Sunday’s game against the Angels at Hohokam Stadium. There are days I’ll have to mix it up, but you saw toward the end of last year, there were days I could use 80 to 85 percent fastballs for seven innings. The growth process has been knowing how to miss and where to miss on occasion. With his transition to sinkerballer, Graveman solidified his status as the A’s No. 2 starter in making a team-high 31 starts, and with Sonny Gray underperforming and dealing with an injury, Graveman really was the team’s ace much of the second half. “His last 15 starts, he was lights out, and he’s made himself into a legitimate top-of-the-rotation-type starter,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. [...] to be able to fight through that and find his identity, that’s a big corner he turned in his career and you saw it. Graveman, 26, was 1-6 with a 5.36 ERA in his first nine starts, then went 9-2 with a 3.33 ERA over his next 16 starts as he shifted the way he pitched. “The goal is to continue that upward trend,” he said. Last year, the goal was to get to 180-plus innings and this year, it’s to get to 200, and to just continue to throw strikes. Graveman points not to Colon as an inspiration, but Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, a Cy Young finalist who also throws a sinker as much as 70 percent of the time. Locate with the sinker and mix in a few offspeed pitches with it and it will take you a long way, Graveman said. If you locate 85 to 90 percent of your pitches, you can look back and you’ve had a pretty good season. Manager Bob Melvin has taken note of Graveman’s focus on location this spring, from the first bullpen session on. Talk about maturity: There are a lot of things he’s doing differently from a year or two ago and I think the confidence is extremely high at this point. Graveman now looks back on his rough rookie year, when he went 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA, as a necessary step in his development. Be a better fielder, make a better pitch, hold runners better. The game is always evolving; we have to evolve also. Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sslusser@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @susanslusser A look at Kendall Graveman’s monthly statistics in 2016, his second full season in the majors: Starts Record ERA Source: TV/Radio: MLB Net (delayed), 95.7



Ross Detwiler back with A’s, complete with new pitch

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:37:27 UT

The left-handed starter threw eight scoreless innings in his Oakland debut on Aug. 10 after being acquired from Cleveland for cash considerations, but he lost his next three starts. “The overall numbers might not look great but there were times he pitched really well for us,” manager Bob Melvin said. Detwiler, who is scheduled to pitch after Jesse Hahn in Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the Cubs, re-signed with Oakland late as a free-agent non-roster invitee. The coaching staff and the players here are people I enjoy being around. Detwiler has thrown the pitch in some bullpen sessions, and catcher Bruce Maxwell likes the looks of it, saying, It comes out of his hand well, it’s got late break to it, on then off the plate. Everyone knows he’s got that big curveball and he spots his fastball well, so it’s a nice little wrinkle to add.



Mahershala Ali sets up ‘Moonlight’ screening for A’s players

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:20:33 UT

Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali, who is from Oakland and grew up in Hayward, organized a screening of “Moonlight” for the A’s players Thursday night in Scottsdale, Ariz. “He’s an Oakland guy and a big Athletics fan, and he wanted the guys to see it,” said reliever John Axford, a movie buff who studied film and television at Notre Dame. Ali was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. Axford has gained attention for his annual Oscars picks, which he said he will post on social media within the next day or two. Free-agent addition Rajai Davis made a nice entrance for a new leadoff hitter: Sonny Gray started for the “home” team and allowed two hits, a single by Alejandro De Aza (who then stole second) and an RBI double by Mark Canha. “If you can throw good breaking stuff here in Arizona, it’s crazy the difference during the regular season how much sharper it is,” Gray said. Graveman allowed four hits and two runs; he was limited to 15 pitches because he is starting Sunday’s home game against the Angels. The two-inning game ended in a 2-2 tie; Jaff Decker rapped an RBI single off Cesar Valdez to even things in the top of the second and Paul Blackburn, in the mix for the fifth starter’s spot, pitched a scoreless inning for the “away” team, allowing two hits. Yairo Muñoz smoked a homer to straightaway center field off lefty Daniel Coulombe, but starter Sean Manaea, minor-leaguer Daniel Gossett and starter/reliever Zach Neal all threw scoreless innings.



Major goal for A’s in 2017: Reach base much more often

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 22:57:07 UT

Reach base much more often Oakland — the “Moneyball” team, with on-base percentage presumably embedded in their DNA — was at the very bottom of the league, with a .304 on-base percentage, the lowest by an A’s team since 1979’s .302 mark. Failing to put runners on is not a recipe for success: that 1979 club lost 108 games. [...] last year the A’s finished in last place in the AL West for the second year in a row. “It was huge,” catcher Stephen Vogt said of Oakland’s struggles with on-base percentage. There weren’t a lot of runs to drive in. Khris Davis hit 42 homers last year; 25 of them came with the bases empty; 17 of Marcus Semien’s 27 homers were solo shots, as were, astonishingly, 12 of Vogt’s 14 home runs. “We’re going to have to get better as a group,” Melvin said. (Hitting coach Darren Bush) will go to a guy and say, ‘You swung in this count, why? Even in the dugout, if you’ve got a (opposing) starting pitcher who’s thrown a lot of pitches, the awareness the next inning ‘Hey, if we keep on this pace, we can get him out of here earlier.’ Track records, more than anything, predict on-base percentage, and the A’s parted ways with three of their top four OBP guys last year, trading Josh Reddick in July and Danny Valencia after the season, and letting Billy Butler go during September. [...] baseman Trevor Plouffe has a career OBP of .308, while Rajai Davis brings some good attributes to the leadoff spot, but his on-base percentage last year was .306. If you’re taking balls and swinging at strikes, whether you’re putting them in play or not, it increases your chances to walk, and it also shows you’re seeing the ball well. What I don’t like to see is the negative stuff, pointing fingers, even if it’s just at yourself. Because there are times you’re going to be aggressive, swing at the first pitch, and it’s not going to work out. Once we establish mental toughness as a group during spring training, things will line up. Email: sslusser@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @susanslusser



Rajai Davis triples, scores in A’s first intrasquad game

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 21:30:38 UT

Rajai Davis, who was last spotted rounding the bases after a dramatic game-tying homer in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series last fall, made a little noise in his first intrasquad game with Oakland since 2010. Davis, who signed with the A’s as a free agent this offseason, tripled his first time up, off A’s No. 2 starter Kendall Graveman, and catcher Stephen Vogt immediately drove Davis in with a single up the middle. Sonny Gray started for the “home” team on Field 4 at Fitch Park and allowed two hits, a single by Alejandro De Aza (who then stole second) and an RBI double by Mark Canha, and he also walked Phegley. “Canha hits a pitch down that’s moving all over the place to right-center field,” marveled manager Bob Melvin, who ran down a long list of players who had good at-bats Thursday. Graveman allowed four hits and two runs in his brief time on the mound; he was limited to 15 pitches because he is starting Sunday’s home game against the Angels. The two-inning game ended in a 2-2 tie; Jaff Decker rapped an RBI single off Cesar Valdez to even things up in the top of the second and Paul Blackburn, in the mix for the fifth starter’s spot, pitched a scoreless inning for the “away” team, allowing two hits. Yairo Munoz smoked a homer to straightaway center field off lefty Daniel Coulombe, but No. 3 starter Sean Manaea, minor-leaguer Daniel Gossett and starter/reliever Zach Neal all threw scoreless innings. “It’s good to see him get a good swing right away, too,” Melvin said, adding that Canha will be in the starting lineup in Cactus League opener against the Cubs on Saturday.



A’s Bob Melvin OK with pitchless intentional walk

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 03:54:18 UT

Managers often aren’t keen on rule changes, especially those announced less than six weeks from the start of the regular season. Melvin cited a game at Texas last year in which he had Marc Rzepczynski come in the game to intentionally walk Adrian Beltre to load the bases — then Rzepczynski hit Rougned Odor to send in the game-winning run. Melvin took some heat for the decision to have the new reliever issue the intentional walk, possibly throwing off Rzepczynski, but both Melvin and Rzepczynski said at the time that a big-league reliever should be able to handle that duty without incident. Melvin said that managers can have pitchers throw a couple of pitches and then give the intentional-walk sign to put the hitter on first. Melvin, though, finds the change preferable to some others that are being considered to improve pace of play, such as pitch clocks and limiting mound visits. The A’s are hopeful that reliever Santiago Casilla, signed as a free agent this offseason, will be able to report to camp in the next day or two. Casilla, 36, is one of four potential closers for the A’s this season, although it is most likely that the right-hander primarily will be in a setup role. Melvin said that during coaches’ batting practice, Ryon Healy hit three balls in a row off him over the batter’s eye.



A’s outfielder Kenny Wilson, 27, looks for 1st big-league shot

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 03:19:58 UT

A’s outfielder Kenny Wilson, 27, looks for 1st big-league shot “I feel old,” the nonroster outfielder cracked. “Some people peak later, it takes longer to put things together,” said A’s minor-league instructor Steve Scarsone, who managed Wilson at Triple-A Sacramento three years ago. Manager Bob Melvin singled out Wilson for praise after coaches’ batting practice Wednesday, saying he appears to have a nice swing, some pop and a lot of coachabilty. Wilson said that he really enjoyed his partial season with Sacramento and Double-A Midland in 2014 after being designated for assignment by Toronto. Wilson is coming off a rough season in which he hit .219 with Miami’s Triple-A New Orleans club. An excellent defensive outfielder, Wilson comes to an A’s team with minimal outfield depth, so there is little doubt the front office will be keeping tabs on him in case there is a need. Worst-case scenario, he’s in Nashville, doing the things he needs to do, which he will, and he could be a viable option.



Kenny Wilson in A’s camp looking for first big-league shot

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 21:57:57 UT

“I feel old,” the non-roster outfielder said with a smile. “Some people peak later, it takes longer to put things together,” said A’s minor-league instructor Steve Scarsone, who managed Wilson at Triple-A Sacramento two years ago. Manager Bob Melvin singled Wilson out for praise after coaches’ batting practice Wednesday, saying he appears to have a nice swing, some pop and a lot of coachabilty. Wilson said that he really enjoyed his partial season with Sacramento and Double-A Midland in 2015 after being designated for assignment by Toronto. What would really make him most excited would be a chat with part-time A’s instructor Rickey Henderson. “Being sent to Double-A last year was a blessing, I was able to clear my mind, be myself, just play, not worry about numbers, just finish the season strong and I did that,” he said. An excellent defensive outfielder, Wilson comes to an A’s team that has minimal outfield depth, so there is little doubt the front office will be keeping tabs on him in case there is a need. Worst-case scenario, he’s in Nashville, doing the things he needs to do, which he will, and he could be a viable option.



A’s hopeful Santiago Casilla will arrive in next few days

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 18:37:00 UT

The A’s are hopeful that new reliever Santiago Casilla, signed as a free agent this offseason, will be able to report to camp in the next day or two. Casilla, who started his career with Oakland but spent the past seven years with the Giants, was signed on Jan. 20, and the team anticipated that he would be late to camp because his visa process began much later than many other players coming from Latin American and Caribbean countries. Casilla, 36, is one of four potential closer for the A’s this season, although it is most likely that the right-hander primarily will be in a set-up role.



Consistent Tucker Healy might be relief option for A’s

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 06:23:39 UT

Most professional baseball players had a pretty good idea they’d play somewhere after high school or college. Healy, 26, was taken by the A’s in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft, and — with the exception of a 20-game stumble at Triple-A Sacramento in 2014 — has been one of the most consistent performers in Oakland’s system. “He’s got a real heavy sinker; guys don’t square him up very often,” A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman said. In 246 innings, he has allowed 187 hits and 13 homers while recording 334 strikeouts and 98 walks. Like many of the young relievers in camp — a strength of Oakland’s system — Healy isn’t likely to make the Opening Night roster, but given his track record, the right-hander is someone who could be up at some point this season. Steve Scarsone, who managed Healy at Sacramento and then again at Nashville (the A’s current Triple-A affiliate), said that Healy has good deception. “What I really enjoyed about Tucker was his evolution into an end-of-the-game guy with stuff that doesn’t necessarily play out as a closer — his fastball is 91-92 mph,” Scarsone said. Relievers Ryan Madson and John Axford are likely to get eased into Cactus League games.



Jesse Hahn to start Cactus League opener for A’s

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 06:00:39 UT

Jesse Hahn to start Cactus League opener for A’s Jesse Hahn endured a rough 2016 season and nearly dropped off the A’s radar, spending most of the year with Triple-A Nashville. [...] he’s starting the team’s Cactus League opener Saturday against the Cubs, a clear indication that not only does he remain in Oakland’s plans, but also that he is firmly in the mix for the fifth-starter spot. There (were) times instead of fixing the problem, I tried to be more aggressive and pitching in a way I’d never pitched before. Yes, in one of the A’s potentially bigger spring development’s, Hahn’s sinker, his best pitch, is back and diving in the nasty fashion the A’s recall from two years ago. “Hahn looks incredible right now,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. Vogt said Hahn is something of a stealth candidate for the rotation. “What happens a lot of the time in baseball is if you have one down year, people forget about you real fast,” Vogt said. Kendall Graveman will start Sunday at home against the Angels, Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea will throw Monday against the Giants at Scottsdale, and Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will work in Tuesday’s home game against Cleveland.



Happier A’s with CBA changes, new team president

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 02:29:56 UT

Teams are now responsible for making sure their players are acceptably fed, rather than players paying for clubhouse fare out of their meal money and then discovering that, in some places, that doesn’t equate to nutritious or appetizing choices. For example: having hot food options rather than sandwiches and wraps; or offering grass-fed beef vs. spaghetti and meatballs. [...] teams will provide $70 a day per head, including coaches and other traveling staff members, for meals and other items, such as grooming products. There were concerns that clubhouse managers would take a hit to their income with the new system, but many teams are making up most, if not all, the difference. Previously, some players had tried to ensure better options by providing bigger tips to clubhouse staff, but there was a perception that, on the road, big-money teams were getting fancier fare than small-market teams. Teams will send visiting clubs menus in advance of their arrival for approval, something on which A’s visiting clubhouse manager Mike Thalblum is already working. There were raised eyebrows last season when the Mariners started trying to collect the players’ dues themselves to cover clubhouse costs, rather than the time-honored system of the players paying the clubhouse managers directly. The A’s have some built-in drawbacks, including the fact that cramped conditions mean they can’t have a full kitchen on the clubhouse level, but the team has made strong efforts to focus on better nutrition and more appealing menus. Gray said that some of the CBA changes to standardize clubhouses, plus Kaval’s commitment to eliminating some stresses on players, could pay dividends down the road when it comes to attracting free agents who otherwise might be worried about amenities at an aging stadium.