Athletics

Here are three questions facing A's as 2019 season opens Vs. Mariners

Here are three questions facing A's as 2019 season opens Vs. Mariners

The A's and Mariners are officially just hours away from opening the MLB season in Japan. For those die-hard fans (and insomniacs) who plan to stay up all night to watch the game, here are four questions to keep an eye on:

Who bats third?

Jed Lowrie's departure leaves a huge hole in the middle of the A's lineup. Oakland has a few candidates to fill that void, including newly-acquired second baseman Jurickson Profar. However, Stephen Piscotty and Matt Olson are probably the best options at this point.

With the A's facing left-hander Marco Gonzales in the season opener, expect to see the right-handed hitting Piscotty batting third. If he performs well, it could be his job to lose, though Olson figures to get some opportunities against right-handed pitchers, at least early in the year.

Who starts at catcher?

The A's also lost their starting catcher from last season as Jonathan Lucroy signed with the rival Angels. With Chris Herrmann injured, the starting job will go to either Nick Hundley or Josh Phegley, both of whom performed well in spring training.

Hundley figures to have the edge to start the season due to his better offensive numbers over the years. The 35-year-old has a career OPS of .706, compared to Phegley's .635.

Is Mike Fiers ready to be a number one starter?  

Fiers gets the honor of starting on Opening Day. The 33-year-old is coming off the best season of his career, going 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA between Detroit and Oakland in 2018. He was rewarded with a two-year, $14.1 million contract this offseason.

Throughout his career, Fiers has primarily been a fourth or fifth starter. This year he finally has his chance to be an ace. The right-hander certainly has the right mindset to handle any added pressure, but the A's would like to see him get off to a good start.

'Damn proud:' San Jose native Mark Canha elated following Sharks victory

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USATSI

'Damn proud:' San Jose native Mark Canha elated following Sharks victory

OAKLAND – Mark Canha won two games Tuesday night, and he didn't even take the field.

The A's outfielder got a day off as Oakland beat Texas 11-5 at the Coliseum, but the San Jose native was just as happy about the Sharks' 5-4 comeback victory to beat the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's awesome," Canha said. "I knew they were going to win tonight. I didn't want to say anything all day. I kind of just kept it to myself. But I knew that there were some good vibes from the team, just the way they came out the last two games and played loose and got those wins. It seems like a very resilient team. I knew that they had it in them to win a big, emotional game tonight. They did it and I'm damn proud of them."

Canha, a diehard Sharks fan, and A's reliever Liam Hendriks actually opened the dressing room doors for the Sharks before Game 5 last Thursday. San Jose won that game 5-2 and rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.

Canha says he knew from the Coliseum crowd Tuesday night that the Sharks were doing something big.

"I mean, I wasn't checking the score or anything, but I could tell," he said. "There were some cheers in the crowd during the game that I know were related because it would just be during a lull in the game and the crowd would erupt. So I figured something crazy was going on."

Canha was right. Trailing 3-0 in the third period, the Sharks scored four unanswered goals on a five-minute major power play to take the lead. After Vegas tied the game at four, San Jose won in overtime on a gorgeous goal by Barclay Goodrow.

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"I saw what happened (on the jumbotron)," Canha said. "Sounds like they won in pretty spectacular fashion. I'm just super happy for them."

Meanwhile, Canha's A's have taken the first two games of their series against the Texas Rangers. They will go for the sweep Wednesday afternoon.

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."

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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."