Athletics

How Frankie Montas went from 'dark place' to A's Opening Day starter

How Frankie Montas went from 'dark place' to A's Opening Day starter

A's starter Frankie Montas had it all going his way last summer. A 9-2 record, including five consecutive wins, and a virtual ticket to the 2019 All-Star Game as of June 20.

The next day, Montas was handed an 80-game suspension by MLB after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

In the months that followed, Montas kept himself in physical playing shape. But struggled with the mental anguish.

“I ain’t going to lie, I think I went three and a half weeks without watching a baseball game,” Montas said during an interview with NBC Sports California on Feb. 20 in Mesa, Arizona. “I wasn’t there, but, supporting my boys from the house. I missed it.”

“That was a dark place for him,” manager Bob Melvin said in February.  “To have to go through that and watch his team succeed, a guy that was so important to us over the course of the first half.”

The A's didn't allow Montas' suspension to derail their 2019 season, though. Instead, they found steam from separate places starting in mid-June, and still managed to hit the 97-win mark by the end of the season. Montas says he was proud of how teammates responded to the adversity, but the individual lesson wasn’t lost.

“I did learn a lot last year,” Montas said about being instantly removed from his job. “Being able to miss it, that woke me up. Like, you’re playing this for something. This is not just for you, but for your family, and the fans. It just makes you appreciate the game a little more, and love a little more too.”

And now the focus turns to 2020. Montas was officially named the A's Opening Day starter by Melvin on Saturday, and he will headline an elite rotation Oakland hasn’t seen in decades.

“I’ve always thrown hard, had a good arm,” Montas said in February. “The thing for me was to try and control it. Through my progression in the minor leagues, I was wild, was not a guy to go out and throw strikes. I’d walk five or six people. Trying to limit walks was a big challenge for me, and stepping up my game.”

[RELATED: Making case for Montas as Cy Young winner]

Montas says there’s no personal need to prove himself, and that his performance from last season is exactly where he’d like to continue from.

“He’s as driven as he’s ever been, and he’s smiling every day,” Melvin said. “He’s happy to be here and the guys embrace him, they understand he made a mistake. There’s always second chances, and he’s handling himself beautifully right now.”

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.”

[RELATED: Luzardo's outing shows A's have something special]

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.”