Athletics

Brugman sent down, De Aza impressing in outfield battle

Brugman sent down, De Aza impressing in outfield battle

MESA, Ariz. — Jaycob Brugman was among four roster cuts the A’s made Monday morning, thinning out the outfield competition with about three weeks of spring training left.

His demotion points to the strong impression non-roster invitee Alejandro De Aza has made in his bid to make the club as an extra outfielder.

There’s still lots of moving parts in how Oakland’s Opening Night roster could look, and one unresolved issue is whether the A’s keep four or five outfielders.

Khris Davis, Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce are locks for the roster, with Mark Canha a strong bet to platoon with Joyce in right field. De Aza and Jake Smolinski are the top contenders for a fifth outfielder spot, but Smolinski has yet to play defense in a game this spring because of a nagging right shoulder injury.

De Aza, a nine-year veteran who spent last season with the New York Mets, has earned praise from manager Bob Melvin all spring, and he threw out a runner at third Sunday against the Cubs after entering the game in center. He also handles the corner spots well.

“That’s not the first guy he’s thrown out,” Melvin said of De Aza, who throws and bats left-handed. “He keeps the ball down and hits the cutoff man, so even if there’s not a play at the base he’s throwing to, it can be redirected. He’s a veteran guy, a pro, and he knows how to play the positions.”

The other three players optioned to Triple-A Nashville along with Brugman were right-hander Paul Blackburn, reliever Bobby Wahl and infielder Yairo Munoz. Blackburn, an Antioch native who was acquired from Seattle for Danny Valencia, entered camp on the fringe of the battle to make the A’s rotation.

He figures to begin the season in Nashville’s rotation, and Melvin had good things to say about the 23-year-old despite a rough outing Friday against Kansas City when he allowed five runs.

“He’s got a full four-pitch complement,” Melvin said of Blackburn. “I think the curve ball’s gonna be an important pitch for him. I know in the past, it was really good and then he kind of went away from it. His changeup’s good, he’s got subtle movement to all his pitches.”

Asked whether he could envision Blackburn getting a call-up at some point this season, Melvin replied: “It wouldn’t surprise me at all. And depending on how the bullpen shakes out over the course of the season, he’s potentially a length guy as well.”

Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Raul Alcantara are the leading candidates for two open rotation spots behind Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton (Sonny Gray will begin the season on the disabled list with a lat injury).

Minor league right-hander Daniel Gossett also remains in camp and Melvin has talked highly of him too.

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Stephen Vogt hasn't played since Thursday because of a right heel issue, but Melvin said the veteran would DH on Tuesday and get back behind the plate Thursday, following the A's day off Wednesday.

Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

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Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

Ryan Christenson has worked his way up the coaching ladder in the A’s farm system, and on Thursday he was named the team’s new major league bench coach.

The announcement makes Christenson, 43, the right-hand man for manager Bob Melvin and essentially the No. 2 man in the dugout. It also settles a position that was in flux over the course of the 2017 season. Mark Kotsay began this past season as bench coach but stepped away from the team in June to be with his family after his daughter, Sienna, suffered a serious eye injury.

Kotsay is expected to remain with the big league club in some form of non-everyday role. Chip Hale finished the season as bench coach but will now switch back to third base coach, a position he originally was hired for leading into the 2017 season. Hale also coaches Oakland’s infielders.

“At some point in time we knew Ryan was going to be here,” Melvin said. “He went through all the classifications (managing in the minors). He did well with a young group. It’s a good fit bringing him in, and he’s ready for the bench coach role. He’s done a lot of managing.”

Though the bench coach works in closest tandem with a manager throughout the game, Melvin also noted the importance of having a third-base coach that thinks right along with him and is on the same page. From that standpoint, he said having Hale in that role is important.

“Chip’s so good at third, that even though I’m used to having him on the bench, it’s tough not to use him (at third),” Melvin said. “Certainly this isn’t a demotion for Chip.”

It’s the first appointment on a major league staff for Christenson, who has spent the past five seasons managing in Oakland’s farm system, starting with low Single-A and working his way up to Triple-A Nashville this season. He led Double-A Midland to back-to-back Texas League titles in 2015-16, and his teams went 391-307 (.561) over those five seasons.

The rest of Melvin’s coaching staff will return intact in 2018. That includes pitching coach Scott Emerson, who took over that role midseason after the firing of Curt Young, and hitting coach Darren Bush. Like Christenson, Emerson and Bush both were promoted from within the farm system to their eventual spots on the big league staff.

All three men have extensive history coaching the large group of young players that are establishing themselves as the A’s core, and that’s a factor worth keeping in mind when evaluating the makeup of this staff.

Emerson, who assumed Young’s duties in June, will return as pitching coach despite the A’s staff posting a 4.67 ERA, highest by an Oakland staff since 1999. A’s pitchers also surrendered an Oakland-record 210 home runs.

“Similar to Ryan, he knows everybody, what we have here and in the minor leagues,” Melvin said of Emerson. “He’s been a good fit here and continues to be a good fit.”

Bush oversaw a group of hitters that showed improvement as the season wore on, scoring the fifth-most runs in the American League after the All-Star break. The A’s set a franchise record for strikeouts – in line with the rise in whiffs throughout the majors -- but also hit the fourth-most homers in franchise history.

Melvin’s staff is rounded out by first base coach Mike Aldrete, bullpen coach Garvin Alston and assistant hitting coach/catching coach Marcus Jensen. Steve Scarsone, who filled in as interim third base coach from June through the rest of the season, will resume his duties as a traveling instructor throughout the farm system.

Young A’s fan writes letter to team after fires take home, beloved memorabilia

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Twitter @KatieUtehs

Young A’s fan writes letter to team after fires take home, beloved memorabilia

Young Athletics fan Loren Jade Smith is among the thousands of people affected by the Northern California wildfires. Along with his family's home, the fire storm took his most valued possession -- his A's memorabilia collection. 

In his disappointment, Smith wrote a letter to the A's that has since gone viral. 

After the letter was shared throughout the Twitterverse, A's President Dave Kaval said the team would reach out to Jade and his family to replace his memorabilia. 

And since Kaval's announcement, the A's community of fans has responded with offers to send the young fan some memorabilia. The A's have even set up an address where fans can send Smith their gifts.