Athletics

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

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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."

MLB The Show 20 player ratings: Where A’s roster ended up on 100 scale

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USATSI

MLB The Show 20 player ratings: Where A’s roster ended up on 100 scale

We won't have live Oakland A’s baseball for a while. For now, we have to improvise.

One of the ways the league is making sure everyone stays home is by implementing a way to watch MLB The Show 20 in a tournament put on by the players themselves.

In the game, you’re able to create essentially your own legacy in Major League Baseball.

Just like most games based on professional sports, each individual is given an overall rating.

Here are how some of the A’s players fared, out of a possible best score of 100:

3B Matt Chapman: 92
Closer Liam Hendriks: 88
1B Matt Olson: 86
SS Marcus Semien: 85
CF Ramón Laureano: 83
RP Joakim Soria: 83
SP Sean Manaea: 81
RP Yusmeiro Petit: 81
RP J.B. Wendelken: 78
P Frankie Montas: 76

You can see the rest of the A’s numbers, as well as other players across the league, in this video:

For Matt Chapman, he’s unsurprisingly one of the best third basemen in the game according to The Show’s player ratings -- No. 4 in that category to be specific. Right behind Houston Astros star Alex Bregman, who was rated a 95. 

Nolan Arenado leads the hot corner with a 99 overall rating. Chappy earlier this year told NBC Sports California where he believed he ranked compared to Arenado, Bregman and even Anthony Rendon. Rendon was signed by the Angels in the offseason, which only beefed up the AL West at that position.

Last season, Chappy put up solid numbers earning his first All-Star selection and his second, and consecutive Gold and Platinum Glove Awards. He hit 36 home runs and slashed .249/.342/.506 with 91 RBI.

For Liam Hendriks, who was rated the second-highest on the team, he was the third-highest among closers, with Kirby Yates leading the category.

Last season, Hendriks was sensational with a 1.80 ERA and a 0.965 WHIP in 85 innings. He also earned the first All-Star selection of his career.

[RELATED: Mike Fiers details mentality behind no-hitters]

Marcus Semien also earned high marks with his 85 rating. He was tied with the likes of Adalberto Mondesi, Carlos Correa and Trea Turner. Not a bad group to be associated with.

The ratings at shortstop had a lot to do with fielding abilities. Despite the shift in power we get to see among middle infielders, the glove was a highlight here -- but the bats were all but ignored. Semien has improved drastically over the last couple of seasons with both his glove and offensive game. He was appreciated here.

Angels star Mike Trout also received a 99 rating, which goes to show who the rest of the league has to measure up to.
 

A's Mark Canha misses hitting the most amid MLB's coronavirus hiatus

A's Mark Canha misses hitting the most amid MLB's coronavirus hiatus

A’s outfielder Mark Canha was sipping on a glass of Lagavulin 16 scotch when he recently sat down for an interview with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil, via FaceTime, of course.

Canha remained in Arizona following the cancellation of spring training and delay of MLB's Opening Day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He stressed the importance of self-quarantining during the hiatus, but admitted he was really missing baseball. He misses his teammates for sure, but especially his time in the batter’s box. 

“Hitting a baseball is such an imperfect art, or -- maybe not an art, but an imperfect thing -- just perfection is never attainable,” he said. “So, it’s just like there’s always something to work on.”

Last season, Canha was dubbed one of the most underrated players in the game. He told NBC Sports California during spring training, he was ready to become more than that as a more well-known name this season. He mirrored those sentiments with Brazil. 

“You’re always looking for more, striving to be the best you can," he said. “In my personality, I’m kind of like a workaholic -- not a workaholic, but I’ll hit in the cage until my hands bleed, kind of guy.

“I really miss it," he added.

[RELATED: Canha could see birth of second child during COVID-19 hiatus]

In 2019, he hit a career-high 26 home runs and slashed a terrific .273/.396/.517, good for a 146 wRC+.

“I suppose I could try and go out and hit right now, but it just feels like it doesn’t make any sense,” Canha said. “It’s kind of one of those things where if you’re not facing pitching, you’re going to make adjustments anyway, so what’s the point?”