Athletics

Josh Phegley making strong case to be A's everyday catcher early in season

Josh Phegley making strong case to be A's everyday catcher early in season

As recently as last month, there was a very real chance that A's catcher Josh Phegley might not make the team.

Oakland had signed veterans Nick Hundley and Chris Herrmann during the offseason and planned on platooning two of the three behind the plate. As it turned out, Herrmann would have to undergo knee surgery, leaving the two roster spots for Hundley and Phegley.

Through the first 17 games of the season, the two right-handers have mostly split time behind the plate, but that could change if Phegley continues at his current rate. In 11 games, the 31-year-old has a .313/.333/.656 slash line with three home runs and seven RBI.

The three homers are tied for second most among major league catchers, while the seven RBI are tied for third.

"He's taking advantage of (the opportunity)," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters on Thursday. "This is the first real opportunity that he's had. I'm proud of the fact he's really running with it. ... He's on a roll offensively."

That might be an understatement. Phegley extended his hitting streak to a career-high seven games in Thursday's 8-5 win against the Orioles. During that stretch, he's batting .400 (10-for-25) with three homers, two doubles, seven RBI, and eight runs scored.

"I know I can hit," Phegley told NBC Sports California before the season. "I've always been a good hitter. I just need an opportunity for more at-bats and if they're going to give it to me, I need to be ready."

Phegley is in his seventh major league season, the last five coming in Oakland. He struggled at the plate last year as Jonathan Lucroy's backup, slashing just .204/.255/.344 in 39 games.

Phegley's best season came in 2015, when he hit .249/.300/.449 with a career-high nine home runs and 34 RBI in 73 games. That was really the last time he had anything resembling consistent playing time.

He has earned that opportunity this year.

[RELATED: Khris Davis aims to be part of MLB history after another multi-homer game]

Phegley has always been solid defensively. He has a career fielding percentage of .992 and has thrown out 33 percent of attempted base-stealers. Now he has added an offensive dimension to his game, which has spurred the bottom of the A's lineup.

Hundley and Herrmann have both proven to be capable big-league catchers, but at this point, Phegley has earned regular playing time. If he keeps performing anywhere near this level, he should remain the everyday catcher all season long.

A's bullpen struggles again, wastes Mike Fiers start in loss to Twins

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A's bullpen struggles again, wastes Mike Fiers start in loss to Twins

Mike Fiers left Thursday's game against the Minnesota Twins in line for his eighth consecutive win. Unfortunately for Fiers, the A's bullpen couldn't protect the lead for him.

That's become an unwelcome trend this season and continued in Thursday's 6-3 loss, as Oakland blew its 17th save of the season, third-most in the AL.

Yusmeiro Petit entered the game with two on and one out in the seventh inning and the A's leading 3-1. Minnesota's Eddie Rosario belted Petit's very first pitch over the right field wall for a three-run home run, and the Twins rallied back for the series-opening victory.

"It probably crept a little bit more towards the middle than he wanted it," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters Thursday after the game. "But he's been a guy who's been doing (the job) for us in that situation all year. Every now and then you're going to give one up. Give (Rosario) credit. He put a good swing on it."

Fiers ended up with a no-decision and his win streak remains alive at seven. The right-hander delivered his 11th straight quality start, allowing three earned runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, with four strikeouts and four walks.

Fiers wasn't quite as sharp as he has been recently, but Fiers still found a way to limit the damage despite the many baserunners. He recorded the first out of the seventh inning, before allowing a double and a walk to put the tying runs on base.

At that point, Fiers had made 89 pitches and Melvin had a decision to make. Oakland's skipper elected to turn to his bullpen.

"It's a hot night, he's back out there again for the seventh inning, gives up a hit and a walk," Melvin explained. "So it's a situation where we usually bring (Petit) in. You've got to give Rosario credit. He hit a good pitch."

[RELATED: Optimistic Beane hopes A's are active at trade deadline]

Lou Trivino also had a rough night out of the A's bullpen, surrendering a pair of home runs in the eighth inning to give the Twins some insurance. Oakland's 'pen has only converted 56 percent of save opportunities this season, seventh-worst in the majors.

The A's bullpen has actually performed much better as of late, so perhaps this is just a minor hiccup. Oakland will try to even the series Friday night when they send Chris Bassitt to the mound.

A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third

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A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third

The A's will be without All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman as they take aim at their seventh straight win Thursday night in Minnesota.
 
Chapman left Wednesday's game after two innings with left ankle soreness and is considered day-to-day. He told reporters his absence is just precautionary and he should play on Friday.
 
"It just stiffened up on my throw across the diamond (in the top of the first) and then when I took that swing in the box (in the bottom of the first), it kind of just like caught, and then it didn't feel right," Chapman said after the game. "So it was more precautionary than anything."
 
Chad Pinder will fill in at third base and hit eighth in the order. Pinder homered in Wednesday's win, one of six A's home runs in the game. Jurickson Profar hit two homers of his own and will get another start at second base and bat seventh.
 
Designated hitter Khris Davis will hit sixth for the second straight game, with right fielder Mark Canha in the cleanup spot again. Canha notched his first career two-homer game on Wednesday.
 
Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers will be on the mound for Oakland, seeking his eighth straight win and 11th consecutive quality start. Fiers, 34, ranks second among American League starters with a 2.31 ERA since April 26. For the season, he is 9-3 with a 3.61 ERA.
 
Fiers is 6-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 12 career appearances against Minnesota, including 11 starts. Earlier this month, he allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings in a no-decision against the Twins.
 
Minnesota will counter with right-hander Kyle Gibson. The 31-year-old is 8-4 this season with a 4.03 ERA. In five career starts against the A's, he is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA.
 
Here are the full lineups for the A's-Twins game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.
 
Oakland A's (55-41)
Marcus Semien, SS
Robbie Grossman, LF
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramón Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Chad Pinder, 3B
Josh Phegley, C

Mike Fiers, RHP (9-3, 3.61 ERA)
 
Minnesota Twins (58-36)
Max Kepler, CF
Mitch Garver, C
Nelson Cruz, DH
Marwin Gonzalez, LF
C.J. Cron, 1B
Luis Arraez, 2B
Miguel Sanó, 3B
Jake Cave, RF
Ehire Adrianza, SS
 
Kyle Gibson, RHP (8-4, 4.03 ERA)