Athletics

Healthy Paul Blackburn ready to prove he belongs in A's starting rotation

blackburnus.jpg
USATSI

Healthy Paul Blackburn ready to prove he belongs in A's starting rotation

OAKLAND - After a strong 2017 season, Paul Blackburn struggled with both injuries and poor performance last year.

The A's right-hander went 2-3 with a 7.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in six starts and missed the final three months with an elbow injury.

Now just days away from spring training, Blackburn is fully healthy and ready to prove he belongs in the A's starting rotation.

"I've never really lost confidence in myself," Blackburn said to NBC Sports California. "I know last year I struggled at points, probably the worst I've ever struggled in pro ball. It's never gotten to that point where I didn't believe in myself. I think just believing in yourself can go a long way."

Blackburn, 25, was a first-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2012. The Antioch native hasn't yet lived up to his potential, but he will have a great chance to earn a spot in Oakland's rotation to start the season.

"I feel good," Blackburn said. "I've been cleared for spring training and everything. I've gotten off the mound three times now and everything is feeling good, back to normal."

Blackburn doesn't have dominant stuff and relies on movement and location to retire hitters. Perhaps more importantly, he believes he has improved his preparation this offseason, which could allow him to take his game to another level.

"Just kind of going a little deeper into scouting reports," he explained. "You can find those little things where you've struggled and see what you can do differently and then build off that. I think that's what will lead to success and kind of getting to that next step."

[RELATED: Paul Blackburn should provide solid pitching depth]

As it currently stands, Blackburn will likely slot in as the A's No. 4 or 5 starter. However, that position could be in jeopardy when injured pitchers Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea, and possibly A.J. Puk return. Blackburn knows he has to perform well early if he wants to remain in the rotation all year.

"I want to make every start," he said. "That's really the number one goal I have for myself. Be a guy who, when my spot comes up in the rotation, they know I'm going to pitch that day. I want to be that guy who's able to do that."

Barry Zito returns to Oakland feeling like new person after MLB career

Barry Zito returns to Oakland feeling like new person after MLB career

OAKLAND – Back in 2002, Barry Zito seemed to have it all. Money, fame, athletic success.

Zito had just won the American League Cy Young Award at the young age of 24. He should've been the happiest person in the world. But instead, he felt empty.

Now, 17 years later, the former A's and Giants pitcher feels like a brand new person.

"I don't identify with my accomplishments anymore," Zito told NBC Sports California. "If I pitched well, I was a good person. If I didn't pitch well, I was a terrible person. And that was really how I viewed the game for so many years. I finally detached from that."

Zito lives in Nashville, Tenn. with his wife and two children and has a new life as a professional musician. He also just wrote a book, called Curveball, which comes out later this year. It details his path to happiness following baseball.

"It's really about chasing fame and money and all of those things that we were raised to think were going to fulfill us and make us happy," Zito said. "I'm just trying to tell a real vulnerable story through baseball experiences and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow didn't really exist. Yeah, financially I'm comfortable and all that, but really, the things that we think are going to make us happy don't. I'm just trying to give people a very raw look behind the scenes at the darkness that really ensued when I started to take myself too seriously, take my career too seriously. 

"A lot of things that we're taught in American culture – go out and be successful and be famous and be on the cover of Us Weekly, right? Because those are the people we want to be like. But man, it's an empty thing going on. So it was a lot of fun being able to tell that story."

Zito was back in Oakland on Monday, teaming up with Energy Upgrade California for Earth Day. He led the Coliseum in an "unplugged" rendition of the national anthem – no microphones or video boards – to demonstrate how Bay Area residents can conserve energy by doing their part.

"We're just inspiring people to do some little things that probably will not make a huge impact in their personal life," Zito said. "Change some lightbulbs to LEDs or replace those HVAC return vents that I didn't know about when I was playing because I was not handy, but I'm learning now how to take those vents out. ... Wash your clothes in cold water. Things like that just save a little bit of energy and it all adds up. I just want to keep California golden. As a native of California, I just want to do whatever I can to inspire people to take responsibility for the environment."

Despite his struggles to find happiness throughout his playing days, Zito still cherishes the Coliseum memories he and his teammates created.

"The ballpark brings everything back," he said. "I guess it was almost 20 years ago now, which is crazy. ... Those memories are still fresh in my head. Going down on the field and seeing those guys warm up and hit batting practice, all the good vibes come back. I miss this place."

[RELATED: A's clear hurdle in push for Howard Terminal ballpark]

But Zito stresses he has left baseball in the rearview mirror. He is living a new life now and loves every moment of it.

"I'm pretty detached from most of sports in general," Zito said. "I don't watch a lot of baseball, I don't watch a lot of TV or hear a lot of news, unfortunately. I'm kind of in my cave where it's family and music, and that's about my whole life. But I love the way it is."

Giants bullpen gifts manager Bruce Bochy a personalized bottle of wine

bochy.jpg
USATSI

Giants bullpen gifts manager Bruce Bochy a personalized bottle of wine

You can never go wrong with wine as a gift. You can especially never go wrong with a three-liter bottle of wine as a gift. 

That's exactly what the Giants bullpen did for Bruce Bochy. And it couldn't be more perfect:

Yep, that's a giant bottle of wine signed by the Giants bullpen with an old baseball card of Bochy on it when he was a member of the Padres.

What a perfect gift.

MLB.com's Maria Guardado reported the Giants purchased the bottle from the Roberto Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh.

Unlike the wine, it appears Bochy hasn't aged a bit. 

Cheers!