Athletics

Clean-shaven A's starter Mike Fiers reveals story behind strange beard

Clean-shaven A's starter Mike Fiers reveals story behind strange beard

In the dog days of summer, baseball players need to do things to keep the clubhouse loose.

Even if that means performing in front of 31,928 fans and thousands more on TV with the strangest beard imaginable.

That's exactly what A's starter Mike Fiers did Saturday night in Texas.

In case you missed it, Fiers was sporting a beard that looked like the letter "G."

While the beard might have gotten some laughs from his A's teammates and fans, it didn't help Fiers, who left the game in the second inning with right arm nerve irritation. He will undergo tests after experiencing numbness in his right hand.

After the A's 8-6 win over the Rangers, the beard was gone. Fiers met with the media in Arlington and he had shaved the "G" off his face.

"I got hurt," Fiers said when asked why he shaved. "I can't continue that. Just had to shave that off. One-start thing."

As Fiers explained, the strange beard was conceived with the help of his teammates.

"Just being funny, having fun with these guys," Fiers told reporters. "It's a long season, we're in mid-September and just to give the guys a laugh, I'm kinda the guy they want to laugh at, so they dared me to do it or didn't think I'd go out and pitch with it. But I don't care."

Fiers and his teammates got their inspiration from exactly the place you would expect -- the internet.

"We were just looking up fun things to do because I was thinking about shaving my beard and starting fresh," Fiers said. "But we were thinking about something funny to do and we were searching on Google for funny beards and that was one of them that came up."

Fiers' beard might have been a laughing matter, but the numbness in his hand isn't.

Before he does any more funny stuff on the field, he needs to make sure he's healthy.

A's have plenty of outfield options should Stephen Piscotty miss time

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A's have plenty of outfield options should Stephen Piscotty miss time

The A's will march through spring training without Stephen Piscotty, who was formally shut down Friday with an intercostal strain. Manager Bob Melvin said the veteran would be out indefinitely, though he didn’t rule out a return by Opening Day.

Piscotty starting that March 26 home game is far from certain, but him missing a few games to start the season isn’t a massive blow.

Why? The A's have tons of outfield depth.

Ramon Laureano and Mark Cahna would take up two spots, with Robbie Grossman able to fill in well and play consistently. He played 138 games for the A's last year and Oakland re-signed him in free agency. Chad Pinder can play every position and is comfortable working from the grass. Second baseman Tony Kemp has experience out there, too.

P.S. All those guys can field. All of those guys can hit.

Plan A obviously is having Piscotty play soon and play a ton. He’s a quality all-around player and valued clubhouse presence. There are plenty of alternatives.

“[The outfield] looked really crowded, and that’s a good problem to have,” Melvin told reporters on Friday, via MLB.com. “But the more you do this, the more you realize how important depth is. Not only with pitching, but with position players. It’s very rare now that you get through spring training healthy.

"Things have changed a bit in how you deal with spring training. It’s about getting off the field healthy. We do have some depth there.”

[RELATED: Why Melvin is confident Khrush will bounce back this season]

That will allow the A’s to be patient with a regular starter. They can let him get fully healed and ramp up accordingly, into the regular season if necessary. If he starts on the injured list -- that’s a massive “if” at this stage -- it could open a roster spot for an outfield prospect.

At the very least it means more spring training at-bats for promising players in major league camp like Seth Brown, who has some power, or Dustin Fowler, who's trying to reclaim an MLB gig. Skye Bolt is another option.

The A’s could choose to replace Piscotty with another outfielder in a straight position swap, or they could evaluate prospects from other positions considering how much outfield depth already is set to make the club.

How Sean Manaea used Asia trip to move on from A's wild-card game loss

How Sean Manaea used Asia trip to move on from A's wild-card game loss

Sean Manaea follows strict routines designed to maximize starts in the A's rotation, but such regimentation doesn’t extend to all aspects of his life. The left-hander freely admits he isn’t much of a planner outside baseball, which is how he ended wandering through Australia in 2018.

Manaea traveled across the globe on a whim, all by himself.

“That was really the first time I ventured outside the country on my own,” Manaea said. “I loved it. It was awesome. I didn’t have to listen to anybody. I just traveled and immersed myself in the culture.”

That experience was strictly for fun. This last offseason trip abroad had a purpose.

Manaea needed a hard reset only distance could provide. The 28-year-old had just wrapped a season saturated in stress, most of it spent rehabilitating a shoulder injury that kept him out a calendar year. Then came a triumphant return, with five dominant starts spent on top of the world.

The AL Wild Card Game sent him crashing back to earth. The Tampa Bay Rays rocked Manaea in a 5-1 victory that ended the A’s season, driving him from the game with four earned runs on three jacks in two-plus innings. A 97-win season came to a crashing halt, fortifying the A’s horrid reputation in elimination games.

Manaea swore he would help buck a bad trend and couldn’t, saying the loss was "solely on me." Failure stuck with him against his will, try as he might to move on from a bad moment. That’s when he decided, on a whim, to stuff one backpack -- yeah, that’s all he brought -- and get out of his own head.

Manaea spent a month in in Southeast Asia, far away from the game and his haunting mistakes. He took a companion to Maldives before wandering through Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia alone.

“I wanted to get lost and see how that side of the world works,” Manaea said. “That was a reason why I wanted to take off, but I also wanted to get baseball out of my head. I was thinking about it too much and needed to back away and reset some things.”

Manaea can afford to travel in style, to hire drivers and local fixers and stay in fancy hotels. That’s not his preferred mode of travel.

“I’m there for the experience of the place I’m in,” Manaea said. “I don’t have an interest in going somewhere else and then living a life of luxury. I want to experience the local culture, to get outside the cities and head for the villages and learn as much as I can about people in a different part of the world.”

Even while doing that, it still took a while to truly let go. Baseball left his head after a week or two, allowing him to properly recalibrate.

Manaea wasn’t longing to stay away forever. The month away left him recharged, rejuvenated, ready to come home and get back to the routines that make him a dominant pitcher when healthy.

“That was huge for me,” Manaea said. “I came back with a reignited passion for the game. I was really raring to go after I got back.”

[RELATED: How Sean Manaea is taking on leadership role with A's]

Manaea entered spring training ready to be a leader and dominant part of an excellent A’s rotation, with last year’s struggles now and forever in the rearview.

“The wild-card game sucked,” Manaea said. “It was really, really disappointing. After taking all this time off and getting so far away from everything, I slowly realized that I learned so much from it. I’m not happy about it but in a way, I’m glad that it happened. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that moment, but after this experience I feel like I can’t be beat.

"You get knocked down sometimes, but you get back up smarter and stronger.”