Athletics

Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart

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USATSI

Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart

HOUSTON — A subplot to Friday night’s game at Minute Maid Park is one that will likely repeat itself often over the next few years.

The A’s and Astros boast two of the better young third basemen in the American League in Matt Chapman and Alex Bregman. Both are under 25, excellent with the glove and sure to face each other plenty as AL West opponents. The difference right now is Bregman is a key piece to a team likely to contend for the World Series.

Dallas Keuchel dominated the A’s on the mound Friday, but he got a huge assist from his 23-year-old third baseman.

Bregman made several standout defensive plays and drilled an opposite-field homer off Sean Manaea in the Astros’ 3-1 victory. Paying close attention from the opposing dugout was Chapman, who’s part of the A’s young nucleus that’s taking its lumps as it tries to learn how to win consistently at the major league level.

“He definitely showed up ready to play today,” Chapman said of Bregman. “He was all over the place at third base. I like to watch opposing third basemen and see what they kind of do. He’s definitely good at his craft.”

The two know each other well. Chapman, 24, played at Cal State Fullerton while Bregman attended LSU. They never faced each other in college, but they played together on Team USA in the summer of 2013, and Chapman praised the way Bregman goes about the game.

“(Bregman) literally is a shortstop playing third,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “So the ones on the run, especially to his backhand, he’s used to making those plays. He was significant in where the game went.”

Bregman has filled in at shortstop lately for Houston with Carlos Correa on the disabled list, though Marwin Gonzalez played short Friday.

Manaea, his fastball still lacking its typical zip of late, went six solid innings and showed improvement after three consecutive poor outings. The difference Friday was his ability to pitch inside better. He had a good changeup to offset a slider that he’s still trying to rediscover the feel for.

“I was just trying to let loose and not worry too much about the little things —mechanics , pitch grips, finishing through the ball,” Manaea said. “Today I just threw everything out the window and let my arm take care of everything.”

But his margin for error was minuscule with Keuchel dealing over seven innings of three-hit ball. Manaea fell behind Bregman 2-0 in the third and watched Bregman deposit a ball into the right field seats. Manaea then got ahead 0-2 on the next hitter, MVP candidate Jose Altuve. He tried to go high and tight with a fastball but caught too much plate, and Altuve made it back-to-back homers.

Former Athletic Josh Reddick singled home another run off Manaea in the sixth for a 3-0 Houston lead.

That was sufficient for Keuchel, whose repertoire was an eye-opener for Chapman and some of the A’s other young hitters. Chapman -- who came in leading AL rookies in runs, homers, RBI and extra base hits since the All-Star break -- doubled off the lefty in the fifth. But the A's only run came on Matt Joyce's eighth-inning homer against reliever Chris Devenski.

“(Keuchel) was getting ahead,” Chapman said. “If he happened to fall behind, he was still making quality pitches. You can prepare as much as you want, but until you get out there and see for yourself, that’s how you make adjustments.”

Mike Fiers told J.D. Martinez about Astros cheating before 2018 ALCS

Mike Fiers told J.D. Martinez about Astros cheating before 2018 ALCS

November wasn't the first time A's pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle about the Houston Astros' sign-stealing nature.

After the Astros won the 2017 World Series thanks to a lot of help from trash cans, they returned to the American League Championship Series to face the Boston Red Sox. But if the Astros still were cheating, it didn't matter because the Red Sox knew it was coming. And not just because then-manager Alex Cora was part of the Astros' scheme the year prior.

"Alex Cora never influenced us and never told us about that thing," Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez told WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni and Fauria." "The only way I ever found out was in the playoffs was when Fiers, who is a really good friend of mine, reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, make sure you’re doing this because this, because this is what these guys are doing in the playoffs.' I was like, 'What? How is this a thing?' And then I mentioned it to (Cora) and he told kind of me about the whole system and everything like that. That was kind of why it was so crazy. (Cora) was so relaxed going into those playoff games because he knew and we were ready for it."

Fiers also alerted the A's to the scheme in 2018 and they brought it to the league. It was only when nothing was done that Fiers went public to make sure the playing field was leveled.

That's why David Ortiz's comments Thursday in which he said he disagreed with Fiers outing Houston two years after he won the World Series with them were so misguided.

Fiers tried to go about the matter quietly and even helped make sure Ortiz's old team was prepared for what awaited them in the ALCS. He could have spoken up in 2017, but he tried to right those wrongs in 2018 before making sure the Astros had their trash cans confiscated.

[RELATED: Projecting A's 26-man roster]

The Astros were able to bang their trash cans to one title, but Fiers made sure they wouldn't be able to repeat using the same old tricks.

Ryan Christenson tasked with 'grindy' chore of getting A's ready to go

Ryan Christenson tasked with 'grindy' chore of getting A's ready to go

For the last week, 64 players have been executing three-hour pre-planned morning workout sessions with the precision of a symphony.
 
The composer and conductor of all this is not A's manager Bob Melvin, but his bench coach Ryan Christenson.
 
“I was amazed on the second day I had it planned to end at 11:20 am,” Christenson said. “And we finished literally at 11:19, so it was a good day.”
 
With spring training games starting Saturday, the clock has been ticking to get pitchers, fielders and hitters to a certain readiness. Meticulous planning and monitoring are scattered between four fields, an extended bullpen and additional batting cages.
 
“I look around. I watch him running around sweating, he’s got that worried look on his face, I know that feeling,” Melvin, who used to run these camps when he was Phil Garner's bench coach, said.

Being tasked with getting everyone ready to hit the diamond is an important responsibility for a club that wants to get out of the gates faster this season than in years past. 
 
“This is my big chore you could say for the year, a little grindy,” Christenson admitted. “I find myself working on the schedule for a few hours even after the day is over.”

Christenson's meticulousness makes him the perfect man for the job. 
 
“He’s very attentive to detail,” veteran outfielder Stephen Piscotty said. “I just don’t think things slip by him, he’s on top of things, very organized.”
 
In near-identical fashion to Oakland’s current core of young, home-grown players, Christenson has been a manager at every level of the A’s minor league system, starting in 2013.  At one point or another, he has crossed paths with almost all the A’s who recently have arrived at the big league level.
 
“The timing of him getting here with the players he had in the minor leagues is a nice resource for me,” Melvin, who is beginning his 10th season with the A's, said.
 
“You get up in here and you already know what makes them tick, how they operate, what they’re like in the clubhouses, and that goes a long way,” said Christenson. “If you don’t have the relationship of trust with the players, and try to do some coaching or instruction or criticisms or compliments, it doesn’t have the same resonance.”

[RELATED: Projecting A's 26-man roster as spring training starts]
 
The A’s not only are lucky to have Christenson, but they’re also lucky to have kept him. This past winter, the former Oakland outfielder interviewed to be manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
 
“If they had happened to choose me, it would have been a difficult decision,” admitted Christenson, who said enjoyed experiencing the process.
 
“I’m not in a big hurry to jump in that [manager] chair. I love where I’m at. The opportunity I have here to be around guys that I know, guys that I pull for and know are great individuals. We have such a good nucleus here, great momentum going. Right now this is really where I want to be. I love sitting next to Bob Melvin.”