Athletics

Has Liam Hendriks' emergence created closer controversy for A's?

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USATSI

Has Liam Hendriks' emergence created closer controversy for A's?

For the second straight year, the A's have an All-Star closer. They just happen to be two different people.

Last year, Blake Treinen put together a historic season, going 9-2 with 38 saves and a minuscule 0.78 ERA. The tall right-hander notched 100 strikeouts against just 21 walks in 80 1/3 innings, becoming the first pitcher ever to record at least 30 saves and 100 strikeouts with a sub-one ERA.

This year, it's been Liam Hendriks' turn to dominate. The 30-year-old right-hander has posted a 1.24 ERA and 1.03 WHIP during the first half of the season, striking out 63 batters in 50 2/3 innings. Hendriks became just the third-ever Australian-born player to make the MLB All-Star Game.

"I came back and started throwing a little bit more curveballs and less two-seams and more four-seams," Hendriks told reporters. "At the end of the day, the biggest thing for me is throwing breaking balls for strikes. As soon as I get that, everything else opens up."

Meanwhile, Treinen has taken a massive step backward after his terrific 2018 campaign. He already has allowed 17 earned runs, more than twice as many as all of last season, compiling an ERA of 4.17 with a 1.56 WHIP. Treinen's biggest issue has been his control. He has doled out 23 walks in just 36 2/3 innings, a rate of 5.6 per nine frames. Those struggles have caused him to lose his closer role to Hendriks, at least for the time being.

"We're still with Hendriks right now," A's manager Bob Melvin recently told reporters. "I had Blake in a tough spot (last Wednesday against the Twins), so I want to make sure I get him in a little bit of a lesser spot before we move forward with that. And at this point, Liam deserves to be there right now."

Since taking over as Oakland's primary closer, Hendriks has spun 9 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 15 without issuing a single walk and converting all five save opportunities.

"My mindset didn't really change," Hendriks said of his new role. "I was just going out there and saying, 'Whatever inning you want me to, I'll throw.' I think that's been the best thing for me. It's kind of taking away that edge and taking away that thing of like, 'Why am I throwing in the third inning? I should be throwing in the sixth.' It's just taking away that. It's just helped me to relax in games."

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Melvin has seen Hendriks improve in a multitude of areas this season.

"He's done a lot of things that have made him better. He's quicker to the plate now, I think he's got better rhythm now, he's got better off-speed stuff, he's throwing a lot harder now due to a different workout routine and long-tossing and so forth. From where he was (last season) to where he is right now, it's been terrific to see."

So for now, there doesn't appear to be any closer controversy in Oakland. Hendriks is the guy. But what happens if he has a couple of rough outings after the All-Star break? Does Melvin stick with him or turn back to Treinen? Those will be significant questions to monitor throughout the second half of the season.

Five ways A's have had eerily similar season to 2018 playoff campaign

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USATSI

Five ways A's have had eerily similar season to 2018 playoff campaign

As the late, great Yogi Berra once said, it's déjà vu all over again.

Through 94 games, the A's 2019 season has followed a very familiar pattern, almost perfectly mirroring last year. Both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns saw Oakland get off to a slow start, only to catch fire just prior to the All-Star break.

Of course, the A's still have plenty of work to do if they want to match last year's 97-win total, but to this point, there are a handful of stunning similarities between the two seasons.

Same exact record 28 different times

This year's A's squad has already had the same exact record as last year's team on 28 different occasions. From 1-2 to 31-31 to the club's current mark of 53-41, this season has followed last year to a T.

There have also been numerous occasions where the 2018 and 2019 records have been just a game or two apart. It's really quite eerie examining the two schedules side by side.

Within three games of last year's record the entire season

Perhaps even more amazing than matching last year's record 28 times already is the fact that Oakland has never been more than three games behind or ahead of last season's pace. Even when last year's A's fell to 5-10, this season's team was only two games better at 7-8. And when this year's A's plummeted to 19-25, they were only three games behind last season's 22-22 mark through 44 games.

Now 94 games into the season, the two records have never separated more than that margin.

Nearly identical season-lows

Last year, the A's got off to a sluggish 5-10 start. That ended up being the most games they would fall below .500 all season. This year's low mark was just slightly worse at six games under .500.

Oakland stumbled to a 15-21 start and then hit that number again at 19-25. Since then, the A's are 34-16.

Matching season-highs

On July 12 of last year, the A's beat the Astros to improve to 53-41, getting to 12 games over .500 for the first time all season.

A year later, Oakland completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox to push their record to 53-41, and it once again was the first time they have been 12 games over .500 this season.

[RELATED: Giants, A's move up in MLB power rankings as trade deadline nears]

Mid-June turnarounds

On June 15, 2018, the A's lost to the Angels and fell to 34-36. From there, they would win 19 of their next 24 games to improve to 53-41. This season on June 16, Oakland lost to the Mariners and dropped to 36-36. They responded by winning 17 of their next 22 games to again improve to 53-41.

Will this season's script continue to follow last year's right into the postseason? Stay tuned.

Why Ramon Laureano's power surge doesn't surprise A's manager Bob Melvin

Why Ramon Laureano's power surge doesn't surprise A's manager Bob Melvin

OAKLAND -- Just by looking at Ramón Laureano, you'd have no idea he could crush baseballs as far as he does.

The A's centerfielder stands at 5-foot-11 and is more well-known for his blazing speed, but this season, he has truly become a bona fide slugger.

Laureano, 24, blasted his 18th home run of the year Sunday, helping the A's sweep the White Sox, 3-2. His 18 homers rank third on the team and are three away from passing Coco Crisp for the most round-trippers by an Oakland centerfielder in the last 19 years.

Laureano's power surge might come as a surprise to some, but not Bob Melvin.

"At some point in time, we felt like he had a chance to be a 30-home-run guy," the A's manager said. "Maybe on pace a little sooner than we expected based on experience in the big leagues. But not (surprised) at all if you watch him take (batting practice). He's a strong guy all the way around, whether it's throwing arm, whether it's speed -- he stole a base today pretty easily -- and he's got a lot of power. So understanding the league, making adjustments and so forth, no not a surprise to me."

The power aspect of Laureano's game is relatively new, however. Prior to this season, he had never hit more than 15 home runs at any level of professional baseball. Laureano credits his weight room work -- he added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason -- and plate adjustments for the improvement.

"Over the years, I get older and bigger," he said. "(The power) will come. I just try to help the team win in whatever (way) I can."

Laureano has been especially productive as of late. Sunday marked his fourth home run in the last five games and his 12th since the start of June. He's also shown the ability to hit the long ball to all parts of the field, including center and right.

"Just stay back (on the ball)," Laureano said of his main plate adjustment. "That's it."

Incredibly, Laureano has hit two more homers than reigning home run champion Khris Davis this season. He trails Matt Olson by just one long ball and Matt Chapman by three for the team lead.

[RELATED: A's acquire Bailey from Royals]

Perhaps most importantly, Laureano's increase in power has not caused a drop in any other part of his game. He is still reaching base and using his speed on offense, and of course, his centerfield arm remains spectacular.

We've said this before, but the A's really owe the Astros a nice gift basket for letting Laureano get away.