Athletics

Daniel Mengden proves more effective as starter than follower in A's win

Daniel Mengden proves more effective as starter than follower in A's win

Daniel Mengden never would come right out and say it, but he's clearly much more comfortable starting a game than following an opener.

After two subpar outings as a follower, the right-hander was spectacular Wednesday night in a start, leading the A's to a 2-0 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis.

"It was all about executing," Mengden told NBC Sports California. "Me and Beau [Taylor] had a great game plan going in. The cutter ended up being really good tonight. We utilized that a lot tonight against a lot of the righties and even backdoor to the lefties. But overall, just getting ahead, staying ahead, and going from there."

Mengden tossed six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and one walk with five strikeouts. He threw 64 of his 93 pitches for strikes, including first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he faced.

  

"It was terrific," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters. "We've been talking to him about this for a while. [When] he finds a rhythm in his timing, stick with it.

“He was quick to the plate every time there was somebody on base. He had the same delivery, the same times, and he was throwing the ball where he wanted to throw it. He was getting ahead, he was throwing strikes. ... Hopefully, he takes that into the next start because that was an impressive start, as we've seen him do in the past."

Mengden's last two outings with Oakland came in follower roles, and they did not go well. The 26-year-old allowed seven total earned runs on 10 hits and four walks in just 6 2/3 innings, both A's losses.

On Wednesday, Mengden didn't have to worry about an opener, and he looked like a completely different pitcher.

"Routine," he stressed. "It's just something us starters do every time we go out there. We have our routine. I'm very routine-oriented.

“It's just a great feeling ... having kind of a rhythm going into the game rather than having to time it and have to kind of wiggle your way into getting loose [after] an opener."

Mengden has shown this capability in the past, throwing complete-game shutouts in each of the last two seasons. For him, the issue always has been consistency.

"I thought he did a really good job with his pace," A's catcher Beau Taylor told reporters. "I kind of feel like sometimes he lulls a little bit. That was one of the biggest points we were trying to get before the game."

After multiple stints in Triple-A this year, Mengden knew he had to make a good impression Wednesday. With Frankie Montas serving an 80-game PED suspension, Mengden has a golden opportunity to earn a full-time spot in the A's rotation for the rest of the season.

"I've been called up and down so many times, so I knew the time was going to come eventually to come back," he said. "I was always ready and hungry for the opportunity."

MLB free agency: Five infielders A's could target this offseason

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MLB free agency: Five infielders A's could target this offseason

The A's infield appears mostly set for the 2020 season, but there are still questions to answer at second base and behind the plate. Oakland could choose to bring back Jurickson Profar and Josh Phegley, or they could instead turn to the free agent market at those positions.

With that in mind, here are five infielders the A's could target in free agency:

Stephen Vogt - C

We know that the A's have already reached out to their former catcher to discuss a reunion. Vogt is coming off a strong season with the Giants, slashing .263/.314/.490 with 10 home runs, 24 doubles, and 40 RBI in 99 games.

The 35-year-old is still extremely popular in the A's organization and among Oakland fans. He would be an excellent mentor for young Sean Murphy, with the two forming a potent platoon behind the plate.

Vogt figures to earn a raise from this year's league-minimum salary of $555K but should still be affordable for the A's, if they choose to move on from Phegley.

Jason Castro - C

Castro represents another left-handed bat to platoon with Murphy behind the plate. The 32-year-old is a Castro Valley native and played his college baseball at Stanford.

Castro posted a .232/.332/.435 slash line with the Twins this season, blasting 13 homers and 30 RBI in 79 games. He is also one of the better defensive catchers in the league, particularly when it comes to pitch framing.

Castro earned $8 million this year in the final season of his three-year contract with Minnesota. He almost certainly won't get that much money in his next contract, though he may still be more expensive than Vogt.

Eric Sogard - 2B

Sogard spent his first six major league seasons in Oakland, where he became a fan favorite, thanks in part to his distinctive "Nerd Power" glasses. This season, Sogard reminded us that Nerd Power can also translate to some serious production on the field.

The 33-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career, slashing .290/.353/.457 with 13 home runs, 23 doubles, and 40 RBI in 110 games between Toronto and Tampa Bay. If the A's choose to trade or non-tender Profar, Sogard could take over the starting second baseman job and add a much-needed left-handed bat to the lineup.

Sogard earned just $555K this year and will get a significant raise in free agency. However, he could still cost less than Profar's projected $5.8 million in arbitration.

Jason Kipnis - 2B 

Kipnis has spent his entire nine-year career with the Indians, slashing .261/.333/.417. This past season, those numbers dipped a bit to .245/.304/.410, but he still notched 17 homers, 23 doubles, and 65 RBI in 121 games.

The 32-year-old should still have some productive seasons in front of him and, like Sogard, he would provide another left-handed bat in the A's lineup, if Oakland decides to move on from Profar.

Kipnis just completed a six-year, $52.5 million deal with Cleveland but figures to come a bit cheaper now. The A's might even be able to snag him on a one-year contract.

[RELATED: Five relievers A's could target]

Ben Zobrist - 2B

Zobrist is 38 years old but can still swing the bat when healthy. The former A has a career slash line of .266/.357/.426 in 14 seasons, the last four coming with the Cubs.

Zobrist only played in 47 games this year due to personal issues, but in 2018, he hit .305/.378/.440 with nine home runs, 28 doubles, and 58 RBI in 139 games. The switch-hitter could provide the A's with an additional left-handed bat against right-handed pitching.

Zobrist earned $12.5 million this year in the final season of a four-year, $56 million deal with Chicago. With his age and uncertainty, he could be available for fairly cheap.
 

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

"It made me feel a little lost in the world."

Former A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history on Sept. 23, 2017, by being the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. 

He detailed that day to NBC Sports Bay Area/California in NBC Sports' documentary, "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports."

"When I got to the field, I immediately walked into my manager's office -- had a sit down with him and our GM in private, told them what I was going to do, told them how I was going to go about it -- told them my plan, reasons, and shed a few tears because it's a heartfelt subject for me ... " 

Maxwell knew the backlash he would receive, he just wasn't prepared for the magnitude of it. He received death threats -- and still does to this day.

"The fact that somebody actually took the time to find out what school my sister coached basketball at in Texas, somebody took the time to find out where my mother lived," he explained. 

Maxwell then admitted he rarely left home when he headed back to Arizona following the event. 

"I was miserable," he said. 

He didn't want to do anything. Not exercise, not even talking to his parents.

"At that moment in time, I was standing for something way bigger than myself," Maxwell explained.

Just a few weeks later, the 28-year-old made headlines once again when he was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery worker.

Maxwell told NBC Sports Bay Area/California he was in a certain mental state, and in addition to what was currently going on, he felt he needed to grab his gun in order to protect himself.

"I'm in my house, I'm defending myself, just in case this happens to be one of these crazy-ass people that are sending me threats," Maxwell said

He didn't feel like himself. Not even like a human being, he explained.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien shares mental health journey]

But now, he's freely talking about it and wants to leave his mark on the world with more than just what's going on between the foul lines.

You can watch all of the "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports" vignettes right here. The full documentary will play all month on NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California.

Check our channel listings page for times and dates.