How A's diverse bullpen could be key to success in 2020 MLB season

How A's diverse bullpen could be key to success in 2020 MLB season

The A’s bullpen has been looking mighty fine early in the 2020 MLB season.

Heading into Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels, the A’s bullpen had been pretty sensational. 

“It’s exciting, obviously you have a bunch of guys who have done it before, filtered in with a couple of the new guys,” A’s reliever Liam Hendriks told reporters after the game. “We have [Jordan] Weems out there as well.”

Hendriks then explained that he had known T.J. McFarland previously, and the new face of Burch Smith, who could be an asset to relieve Yusmeiro Petit in some of those multi-inning scenarios, was added to the pen as well. Hendriks said having most of the core back was helpful.

Jake Diekman returned this season and A's manager Bob Melvin said the southpaw has some sneaky velocity and credited his slider which has looked more consistent. It's a pitch Diekman had been working on which could cause some damage coming from the left side, especially against righties. 

“We have a pretty diverse pen out there and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Hendriks added.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

It’s diverse, and it’s durable. And it looks to continue that way. Melvin credited the fact that they haven’t been overusing any of the relievers, which adds to the success.

The team will eventually push the starters to go longer, of course, but until then, their setup looks great and their confidence shows.

“Every single guy that threw today was able to kind of go out there and put up a scoreless inning -- it’s always weird, those first couple, you’re never sure where you’re at, where you’ll be as good as last year, and it’s very tough this summer camp thing because you’re pitching against your own guys where it’s really hard to get that adrenaline going,” Hendriks said. 

Heading into Sunday’s game, the A’s had the third-highest Average Leverage Index (1.401) in the league.

I’ll explain.

The Average Leverage Index measures the pressure pitchers face during a game, and 1.0 aLI is considered average, so A's relievers are being put into high-pressure situations. And, yes it’s a small sample size, but before you fill my comments about this, it’s something to pay attention to. The team has been able to dip into their pen and cause destruction from happening, minus a few bumps in the road.

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Yes, it’s early, but more and more we’re able to see just how different the arms are, but all of those molded together cause to fill in holes starters might create.

That’s a pretty cool thing. 

A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

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A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

A's bench coach Ryan Christenson said he "unintentionally" gave a Nazi salute during Oakland's celebratory handshake line after Thursday's win over the Texas Rangers.

"I made a mistake and will not deny it," Christenson said in a statement released by the team. "Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive. In the world today of [COVID-19] I adapted our elbow bump, which we do after wins, to create some distance with the players. My gesture unintentionally resulted in a racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in. What I did is unacceptable, and I deeply apologize."

The NBC Sports California broadcast showed Christenson raising his right arm with his palm facing down while A's closer Liam Hendriks approached.  Hendriks quickly grabbed Christenson's arm, bending it at the elbow for the coach's "elbow bump" celebration, which he said is done due to MLB's coronavirus safety protocols. Christenson then turned around and repeated the initial gesture.

"No, no straight arm, you have to bend your elbow," Christenson said Hendriks told him in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, referring to the coach's usual celebration.

"Oh, I see what you mean, oh no, it's like 'Heil Hitler,' " Christenson said after he turned, in his and Hendriks' recounting to Slusser.

The salute, typically followed by exclamations of "Heil Hitler" or "Sieg Heil," was a compulsory tribute to Adolf Hitler within the Nazi Party and, later, all of Germany under the Nazis' rule from 1933 through 1945. Still used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists long after the end of World War II, the Anti-Defamation League says the salute is "the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world."

The A's said in a statement that they were "deeply sorry this happened on our playing field."

"We do not support or condone this gesture, or the racist sentiment behind it," the A's said in a statement. "This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a [club] and many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country."

Before the A's released the pair of statements, Christenson told Slusser that he "wasn't doing that intentionally" and that "I just blacked out, my mind wasn't there and I spaced out."

"I'm cringing inside picturing myself," Christenson told Slusser. "Of course I'm sorry for it -- it's like standing there with my middle finger up. Anyone should know better."

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

Whatever he’s doing appears to be working.

Khris Davis proved his recent adjustment at the plate is paying dividends, as he tallied his second multi-hit game of the season during the A’s 6-4 sweep over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

Davis said the coaching staff and teammates are to thank for the recent surge -- particularly hitting coach Darren Bush, who first suggested an alteration with Davis' hands.

“Yeah, I just put my hands back and further up a little and it’s been helping me be more accurate to the ball,” Davis said after the game. “I’m finding less swings and misses and a little better contact.”

“It’s all pretty comfortable right away, usually when you have to make an adjustment and you feel it click, you just run with that and don’t look back so it’s brought some comfort in the box so I’m going to keep working with it,” Davis said.

Davis went 2-for-3 on Thursday, driving in two runs in the 4th inning to break the game open.

“I think it’s a positioning thing, just having them further back -- less room to go,” he added. “They’re just already ready to fire and it’s been working.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Davis wants to be the everyday designated hitter, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case with his lack of production. Mark Canha has been taking over the DH spot in some of the outings, but it’s something Davis is ready to earn back.

“It is what it is,” Davis said. “And, I just have to capitalize on my opportunities that I do get. It’s s--tty, but I’ve been here before, I’ve lost my job before a couple times and I’ve had to battle back and this is nothing new to me.”

It turns out the oblique injury Davis suffered last season when he ran into the wall in May ended up leaving a bigger mark than just on his skin. 

"I think when I got hurt, I had been getting set up in a different way,” Davis said. “My body just wasn’t adjusting to that injury and just when I put my hands further back it just freed things up.”

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Oh, and his teammates are helping him a lot too.  

“A lot of good teammates, they know what it’s like to go through a struggle and they just kept reminding me that I could hit all around, I don’t have to hit a home run or whatever, but they constantly say that I’m a good hitter, I’m [not just] a power hitter.”