Athletics

Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

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USATSI

Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

ARLINGTON, Texas — Morale understandably could be rock-bottom for a last-place club by the time game 162 rolls around.

Contrast that with the energy and vibe in the A’s clubhouse following a 5-2 victory over the Rangers that closed out the 2017 season. Though the A’s finished last in the American League West for the third consecutive season, there’s a feeling that better times might finally be on the horizon for 2018.

Oakland (75-87) finished the season with a flourish, going 17-7 over the final 24 games. Over the final 79 games starting July 4, or roughly the entire second half of the regular season, the A’s played better than .500 ball at 40-39.

Will it mean anything by the time Opening Day 2018 rolls around? Manager Bob Melvin thinks it should.

“I think we’ve accomplished enough to have a good feeling going into next year,” he said. “I want guys, when they come to spring training next year, to be in a different mindset than we’ve been. We want to hit the ground running next spring. The timeliness of getting some of those younger guys here, the success they’ve had, would lend to a different atmosphere for us next spring and certainly some different expectations as a group.”

One of those young guys, starter Daniel Mengden, was late to the party. Having been hampered by a fractured foot, and later a strained oblique, Mengden was recalled from the minors Sept. 5 and proceeded to go 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA over five starts to close the season.

That included a sterling seven-inning effort Sunday, when he held Texas to four hits and no runs, striking out eight. For a rotation that saw Sonny Gray depart via trade, Kendall Graveman suffer shoulder issues and Jharel Cotton and other young starters endure struggles, Mengden’s performance was a late-season revelation.

“That’s the best work we’ve seen from him,” Melvin said. “And to come out of the pack, so to speak, like he did and perform as well as he did, at a time we were struggling a little bit in our rotation … He put himself right back up there in the pecking order going into next season. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.”

Mengden got ahead of hitters with his fastball, and that helped make his changeup and slider more effective.

“It’s a huge amount of confidence for me, for our team. The last month we played really well,” he said. “It boosts the confidence a lot, coming in here doing what I did. I’m looking forward to next year.”

Khris Davis hit his 43rd homer to establish a new career high. But it’s another veteran who constitutes the first order of business for Oakland this offseason.

The A’s hold a $6 million option on second baseman Jed Lowrie with a $1 million buyout. They're thinking strongly about bringing Lowrie back after a productive — and healthy — season that included an Oakland-record 49 doubles and solid defense.

“This is a young team that has a lot of talent,” Lowrie said. “The option is completely out of my control, but I like playing with these guys.”

Expect the A’s to look to bolster the pitching staff, both the rotation and bullpen, over the winter, to complement a promising core of position players that Melvin hopes will continue to develop and provide the foundation for a rise up the standings.

“I think it brings a little hope for next year,” Davis said of the A’s strong finish. “Hopefully we can remember this in the winter and have some dog piles next year.”

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.