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."

[RELATED: How Canha became one of the most selective hitters in baseball]

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.

Khris Davis Q&A: A's slugger discusses teammates, favorite breakfsat

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Khris Davis Q&A: A's slugger discusses teammates, favorite breakfsat

MESA, Ariz. -- Khris Davis remains one of the most influential bats in the A's lineup. And not just because of his long-ball potential.

Teammates bookending him in the lineup also typically see better pitches when “K.D.” is leaving the yard at a frequent clip.

The designated hitter is ready to put a rough 2019 behind him in order to get back to being the feared masher he was in the previous three seasons.

Davis is a rare interviewee, but this Q&A gave us a great chance to get to know him better at spring training.

NBC Sports Bay Area: Teammate you would trust most to babysit your children?
Khris Davis: Oh, man. I’ll go with [Matt] Chapman. Because he’s actually really good with kids.

How many times can you wear the same jeans without washing them?
I’d say as soon as they get dirty. So probably five times. You’re supposed to wear them until they get dirty.

If you could clone yourself, what would you make that clone do?
Go to school ... finish up my school.

The bat you use, why did you choose it?
I got that model from [A’s coach] Mark Kotsay actually -- he gave it to me. I was in the minor leagues with the [Milwaukee] Brewers, He was a major leaguer at the time. The first time I used it, I hit a home run, and I fell in love. It’s an L162, kind of a custom model. 34 Inches, 31.5 ounces.

Were you named after anybody?
No.

Best smell of baseball season?
I’ll say the baseball or leather. I like the leather smell.

Can you still write in cursive?
Yes. I don’t personally choose to, but I can.

Teammate you would assume spends the most time personal grooming?
I hope it’s not me, with the braids, high maintenance. I’ll go with [Chad] Pinder, but there’s a lot of choices. Everybody in there takes care of themselves.

Only one breakfast for the rest of your life, what’s on that plate?
Pancakes.

If you were a media member covering the A’s spring training, what would your No. 1 story be?
I’m not sure. It’s been a quiet offseason -- maybe that’s the story? There it is!

Amount of time on average you spend preparing for the opposing pitchers?
I like to time him up on deck. I like to watch a little video. Nothing excessive, including batting practice. I’d say probably 30 minutes. It’s nothing crazy, I’m not like a studier. I just want to see different things, like his release, his arm angle, and see what his stuff does.

Can MLB players be friends with their coaches?
Yeah, absolutely. I am friends with all of our coaches.

One MLB player you’d be a fan of if you didn’t play?
I like hitters. [Cody] Bellinger is pretty nasty.

Best way to split a lunch or dinner tab with a teammate? We’re told you’re pretty generous?
I do offer to pay, but hopefully, somebody is there to pick me up and join. Share maybe? The veterans should take care of the younger guys, obviously, but it’s nice if there’s multiple veterans, right?

A.J. Puk's strikeout of Kris Bryant shows how special A's lefty can be

A.J. Puk's strikeout of Kris Bryant shows how special A's lefty can be

Allow A.J. Puk to reintroduce himself.

The A's young, hard-throwing left-hander made a cameo at the end of last season working out of the bullpen. He's expected to be a staple of the A's rotation this season, and he gave fans a glimpse of what makes him so special Saturday when he struck out Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant on three pitches to open the A's first spring training game. 

That last pitch made me feel things.

Puk, along with fellow southpaw youngster Jesus Luzardo, gives the A's rotation two potential aces in the making. During his one inning of work Saturday, Puk featured all four pitches in his arsenal -- four-seam fastball, changeup, slider, curveball -- and lit up the radar gun by touching 97 mph. 

But it was the punchout slider to Bryant that has people buzzing.

"First one of the year, it was a pretty good one to start out with. I was pretty happy with that," Puk said of the slider, via The Athletic's Alex Coffey.

[RELATED: Why A's no longer view Puk, Luzardo as prospects]

After coming off UCL surgery in 2018, Puk worked his way back to form last season before getting the call up to Oakland late in the year.

Now, he and Luzardo are ready to be the face of the A's rotation for years to come. If that slider to Bryant was any indication, the Green and Gold are in great hands.