Athletics

The road gets no easier for A's as they wobble home from 1-5 trip

The road gets no easier for A's as they wobble home from 1-5 trip

SEATTLE — The A’s hit the road one week ago as a confident bunch with designs on climbing upward in the American League West standings.

They return home to quite a different story, having completed a disheartening two-city road trip that saw them drop five of six, including Wednesday’s 4-0 blanking by the Seattle Mariners that saw the A’s fail to advance a runner past first base.

Compounding things, first baseman Yonder Alonso exited Wednesday’s game in the seventh inning with a sore left knee after twisting it while trying to hold up on a swing in the fifth. He’ll be re-evaluated in Oakland and his status for Thursday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox is up in the air.

Where exactly did things go wrong for Oakland as a team over the past week? That’s just it. If the A’s could pinpoint just one area to correct, they could start working to fix it. But in getting swept at Texas, their bullpen was the culprit. In Monday’s series opener at Safeco Field, starter Sean Manaea spotted the Mariners four early runs with faulty command.

Errors have bit them regardless of the day and made things tougher. And on Wednesday, one night after hitting three homers and scoring nine runs, the A’s offense was bottled up by Mariners right-hander Christian Bergman, who registered his first major league victory as a starter since September 2014.

“Offensively, I don’t know that we’ve looked much worse,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Now, you’ve got to give their pitcher some credit. He was on the corners, down at times. He had a little cutter. … (But) I didn’t expect that.”

It’s only mid-May, but the big picture already is beginning to look bleak for the A’s.

They were seven games out and tied for third place after completing a 4-2 homestand May 10. A week later, they are 11 1/2 games off the pace and mired in last place. Their 1-5 trip coincided with the first-place Astros rattling off a 9-1 stretch. Texas has won eight in a row to climb into a share of second place with the Angels, winners of four straight. But because the Astros aren’t taking their foot off the gas, the Rangers and Angels are stuck eight games back.

Not that the A’s are in position to worry about the outside world right now. They’ve got enough issues on their plate. The most pressing immediate concern is the health of Alonso. He said after the game he doesn’t feel his knee is a major concern, but he also wasn’t venturing a guess on whether he’d be in Thursday’s lineup.

“I was stopping my swing halfway and just got a little bit stuck,” Alonso said. “… I was trying to pivot. My whole body just turned and my back foot never really turned.”

Alonso cooled off at the plate during the trip, going 2-for-19. But it goes without saying that the A’s can’t afford to lose their home run and RBI leader for any length of time.

Oakland (17-23) now returns home and faces a daunting stretch of schedule, starting with four against the Red Sox, who will send Chris Sale to the mound Friday. The A’s catch a breather for two games against the Miami Marlins (14-25), but then hit the road to face the AL East-leading New York Yankees and the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. They’ll return home from that six-game trip and welcome the Washington Nationals, who lead the NL East by a wide margin.

Regardless, the A’s need to focus on playing more fundamentally sound baseball regardless of who’s in the opposing dugout.

“I think as a group we know we can play a lot better,” right fielder Matt Joyce said. “We’ve just got to find a way to do it. Come back tomorrow, face a new team and start over again.”

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

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AP

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

OAKLANDThe Oakland A’s named Matt Williams as third base coach on Bob Melvin’s coaching staff for the 2018 season, the club announced today.

Williams spent five seasons on the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff as first base coach (2010) and third base coach (2011-13, 16) and also managed the Washington Nationals for two seasons.  He was named National League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA in his first season as manager in 2014, guiding the Nationals to a 96-66 record and an NL East title.  He went 83-79 in 2015 for a 179-145 (.552) record in two seasons as manager.

Williams played 17 seasons in the majors with San Francisco (1987-96), Cleveland (1997) and Arizona (1998-2003).  He was a .268 career hitter with 378 home runs and 1218 RBI in 1866 games.  Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

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Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

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AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.