A's Insider notebook: Ross' rockets turning heads


A's Insider notebook: Ross' rockets turning heads

Feb. 22, 20111

PHOENIX -- Injuries are an unwelcome reality of spring training, but when they come they're frequently shrugged off with reminders that "it's early," and that a camp injury is far superior to one suffered in the regular season.A's reliever Michael Wuertz, held out of workouts because of his sore right shoulder, was singing that very tune Tuesday -- but he'd re-arrange the notes.Icing his ailing wing as his teammates poured out of the Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Wuertz spoke excitedly -- well, for Weurtz, "excited" means with discernible facial expressions -- about the new course of action the A's are taking in their treatment of what he said is an annual issue.Last year, Wuertz explained, he tried to push through the pain, which typically dissipates late in the spring. That approach didn't work so well; the shoulder issue lingered, and Wuertz was never quite the same shutdown setup man he'd been the previous season.This year, Wuertz has been told by new head athletic trainer Nick Paparesta to simply shut it down for a spell.Duh, right? Seems more like a dose of common sense than expert medical advice. Wuertz conceded as much, adding with a smile that one might be surprised by some of the training theories he's seen and heard over seven seasons in The Show.Pararesta, however, has quickly earned the respect of Oakland's players, many of whom have been hammered by injuries over the past four years."The guys knows how to keep guys on the field," closer Andrew Bailey offered. "He's proactive. He's organized. He's always got a plan, a clear plan that you understand. He's been awesome."ROCKET ROSS
Although Josh Outman's recent bullpen sessions have created quite a buzz, one of Outman's fellow candidates for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation has been opening some eyes, too.Tyson Ross, a former Cal and Team USA star who opened last season in the A's bullpen, command the attention of anyone within earshot during his side session Monday."I wasn't even there, but I heard about it," said catcher Kurt Suzuki. "He was blowing, like, 97-98 mph."Ross, whose upright delivery has prompted more than a few scouts to suggest arm trouble might be in his future, appears to be making slightly better use of his lower half this spring, and the results have been impressive."He's got a huge arm," Suzuki said. "He's going to be a big leaguer for a long time once he gets up here for good."CAHILL GETS THE NOD
To the surprise of nobody, A's manager Bob Geren on Tuesday announced that his Opening Day starter will be Trevor Cahill. Opening Day for Cactus League play, that is. The A's travel to nearby Mesa to take on the Cubs on Sunday, and Cahill will get the ball first at venerable HoHoKam Park.It keeps him on his one-on, two-off throwing schedule, and it keeps him in line to be Oakland's starter on Opening Day of the regular season.Geren isn't likely to announce his starting rotation for a while, but as former pitching coach Curt Young used to say at the start of every spring, anyone with handle on basic math should be able to figure it out pretty quick.The numbers point to Cahill, with lefty Dallas Braden in the No. 2 spot. Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez are throwing on the same day thus far.SHARING TIME
A common sight during the team's workout at their minor-league complex at Papago Park was that of hitters talking with pitchers and amongst each other, offering feedback and other information during live batting practice.Daric Barton, for instance, gave newcomer David DeJesus a quick mental cheat sheet before DeJesus stepped into the box against Braden. Later, Barton explained to Braden exactly how his ball was moving and when."That's actually one of the neater things about this environment," Geren said of spring training. "You see everyone just talking baseball, and really getting into it. It's a great thing to see as a manager, because players a lot of times see things that maybe the coaches don't or can't."

Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs


Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs

OAKLAND – Three things you need to know about the Raiders’ 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night:

1. Back from the brink

The Raiders are still under .500. They face an uphill climb getting back into playoff consideration following a crippling four-game losing streak.

Still. 3-4 is a whole heck of a lot better than the alternative.

“Yeah, 2-5 did not sound good,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That made our stomach hurt. We wanted to come out here and get a big win. This is a big win. For our team, especially with the adversity we’ve gone through.”

The Raiders looked lost during their downturn, when a loaded offense averaged 13.1 points per game. They fell to 14th in the AFC and last in their division. Perceived strengths proved suspect. Everything was called into question.

If the Raiders were drowning, Thursday was that point in the movie where the hero reappears taking a huge, dramatic breath.

The Raiders are alive again, especially in beating the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. There’s work ahead to make it more than a really fun night, but Thursday proved their survival instincts are still keen.

“It felt good,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I wish it would have happened a few weeks ago. We wouldn’t be sitting here like that. You all would have been talking like ‘OK, we’re on a run.' I’m glad to get things going.

“I told them today I was going to go out there and let it rip. I told some other guys to go out there and let it rip. This offense was trying to be too perfect. We had high hopes going into the season when we started, then we hit adversity. We couldn’t find a way to get out of there fast enough. Now we’re getting out of this, but we have to keep it going. One thing we have been doing is we’ve been working as hard as we do every week. It’s starting to pay off.”

2. Dormant volcano erupts

The Raiders offense was horrible four straight games. The season’s first two games proved what a loaded unit can do when functioning well, but those efforts got lost in a wash of bad play.

An MVP-caliber quarterback’s play was openly questioned for the first time. So was a bright young coordinator taking shrapnel for the team’s misgivings. Averaging 13 points per game will make a fan base an angry mob. The offense grossly underperformed, but raw talent didn’t diminish.

Production was hot lava, bubbling underneath the surface. It erupted on Thursday night, with the previously cautious Raiders offense opened up and consistently took yards in chunks.

In doing so, a lost offense may have found an identity, a fallback: The Raiders can flat out sling it.

Quarterback Derek Carr was throwing darts all over the field, completing 29-of-52 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.0 yards per pass play and, at times, threw people open or allowed receivers to make a play in tight coverage.

Pass catchers certainly did that. Amari Cooper had 11 catches for 210 and two scores. Tight end Jared Cook had six receptions for 107 yards. Michael Crabtree only had 24 yards, but snagged the game-deciding touchdown.

It felt and looked like the Raiders offense everyone expected each week, finally back on track. That was clear after Carr threw Amari Cooper a touchdown pass the first two drives.

“We struggled to do a lot of things over the last month,” Carr said. “To start fast, again I think that gives life to a team. That’s a sense of hope, which we always have and belief and those kind of things, but to start fast, it always just gives your team a little boost at the beginning that you have to have.”

In previous weeks, the Raiders were wound too tight. They strived for perfection and failed to attain anything close. They just let loose, and went for it. An offense with no TNT blew up, to the tune of six explosive plays.

“We got so many weapons, we got so many explosive athletes on our offense but just in these last four games that we loss we were just so out of whack,” running back Jalen Richard said. “It was little stuff here and there, technical, maybe a missed assignment here and there. Guys were doing their thing, guys were playing hard. We believed the whole game even when we got down a little bit. We pulled through and got the win.”

3. Return of the 2016 Raiders

Last season’s Raiders owned the fourth quarter. They generated seven come-from-behind victories last season thanks to offensive magic and timely defense.

That’s how they erased a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas City. They never wavered, even in tough times. The defense provided opportunity. With two minutes remaining, the offense got it done.

Derek Carr orchestrated an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Crabtree on the second straight untimed down brought on by defensive penalty.

That moment produced great emotion. It should’ve after completing one of the wildest comebacks in franchise history. The drive itself, however, was clinical.

The Raiders believed they would score. They expected it.

"There was no panic, or anxiety or anything like that,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “We were going to get the job done. There was never, ever any doubt.”

That’s exactly what last year’s Raiders did. On the regular. They couldn’t respond well to adversity in recent games. They found their magic on Thursday night.

Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December


Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December

In case you were asking, and you shouldn’t have been because this game deserves to be savored a bit longer, it’s December 10.
That’s when the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders play each other again, in case Thursday night wasn’t good enough for you.

You philistines.

And while there are some folks who won’t be happy (those who like the Chiefs or bet the Chiefs), there won’t be a more magnificently bizarre game this NFL season – because these two teams are exactly that.
The Chiefs, who two weeks ago were the best team in football as voted on by the instant punditocracy, made enough mistakes in the last two minutes of Thursday’s 31-30 defeat to lose 47-10.
And the Raiders did the same, capped off by Marshawn Lynch’s gloriously Oaklandish reaction to fellow citizen Marcus Peters’ late hit on Derek Carr – namely, “I got your rules and your respect for officials right here!”
But in the end – the glorious, bizarre, untimed end – the Raiders saved themselves from pre-Halloween doom, the Chiefs reverted to the team you can never fully trust, and the rest of the NFL can only shake its collective neckless head in wonderment at the power of the old American Football League.
Because that, ultimately, is what this was – a game out of time. This was a throwback game, all the way back to the mid- to late-60s, when the Raiders and Chiefs hated each other not out of historical duty but out of genuine solar-generated animosity. When they both played as though their cars were being looted in the parking lot, and when 750-yard combined passing nights were actually not that unusual. They were hell-bent then, and Thursday showed that they still have that bent in their DNA even now.
This was that era, played out in a way that old Raider and Chiefs fans can tell their grandchildren, “Now you’re sitting there scratching your head and all, but I’m telling you that used to happen all the time. You think Marcus Peters was bad? Google Ben Davidson on Len Dawson, little Tad.”
And it ended the only way it could for the good of the rivalry – with Oakland winning, and in the most staggeringly improbable way.
Not because the Raiders are more noble human beings or a superior life form from a time long ago, but because that December 10 game needs to mean something. The Raiders needed to win Thursday because losing meant their playoff hopes would be deservedly dead, and their remaining nine games would be reduced to competitive afterthoughts, and the year would be reduced to wondering why what should have been never came close to happening.
And the Chiefs needed to lose because running away with a division this difficult just seems wrong. There is nothing that says Kansas City isn’t better than Denver, or Oakland or the Fightin’ StubHubs, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Patriots may have eaten the AFC East and spit the bones into a dumpster long ago, but the AFC West clung harder to its AFL roots than the East ever did.
And Thursday was the evidence required to show that, at least for the Chiefs and Raiders, the old days can be recreated with a keen eye for the most malevolent details and the most bizarre turns of fortune.
Call it nostalgia on crank – seemingly the only thing we have left that can bond the generations in these otherwise mean-spirited days.