Athletics

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma selected to College Football Playoff field

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USATSI

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma selected to College Football Playoff field

Kyler Murray’s college football career could end where he hopes his Major League Baseball career will begin -- in the Bay.

Oklahoma made the cut when the four-team College Football Playoff field was announced Sunday, so Murray and the Sooners (12-1) will play Alabama (13-0) on Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl in Miami.

Should they shock the top-ranked Crimson Tide, they’d advance to the national championship game Jan. 7 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

[RELATED: Murray recreates iconic Bo Jackson photo in Heisman campaign]

Murray signed a $4.66 million contract with the A’s last summer and has said he’ll join them after one season as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. That season has gone better than many might have believed: Murray should be a Heisman Trophy finalist after passing for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns, and running for 892 yards and 11 more scores in 13 games.

“He is a very dynamic guy in terms of athletic ability, his quickness, his ability to make plays with his feet,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on ESPN, “and he’s turned into a really, really efficient passer who has good skill guys to make good plays to go along with the rest of their weapons.”

Murray’s athleticism has been on display all season, showing everyone why the A’s spent the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft on him. He’s an outfielder in baseball, and his swing looked pretty sweet during a visit to the Coliseum in June.

Clemson (13-0) will meet Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas, in the other CFB semifinal.

Some believed Ohio State (12-1) and even Georgia (11-2) deserved to be in the CFP field over Oklahoma. But there are just four spots, the 13-member selection committee made its decision, and now it’s up to Murray and the Sooners to do the work.

Why A's closer Liam Hendriks refuses to let himself feel comfortable

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AP

Why A's closer Liam Hendriks refuses to let himself feel comfortable

The A's closer job isn’t up for grabs. It belongs to Liam Hendriks.

That isn’t a fire take or dismissal of other relievers on a quality staff. There’s simply no position battle or thought of one, and rightfully so.

Hendriks was a 2019 All-Star, after all, a right-hander who can reach 96 mph and freeze foes with a "wicked sly-dah." He converted 25 saves for last year’s 97-win A’s team and was a “savior in that bullpen.”

That’s pitching coach Scott Emerson’s opinion, at least. The phrase was followed by more praise for the 31-year old Australian finally coming into his own over a long and winding professional career.

Emerson’s compliment ended with an unwavering vote of confidence.

“Liam has proven that he can get big outs with the game on the line,” Emerson said. “That’s our guy.”

Hendriks would’ve wanted to earmuff it for that last part.

He doesn’t believe he has a job title at this point, with no interest in hearing otherwise. He certainly doesn’t want to be known as, Liam Hendriks: All-Star closer. Definitely not in spring training.

“Oh God, no. I don’t see myself in that regard,” Hendriks said Wednesday. “I’ve told people even heading into this year that I don’t want anything given to me. I’m coming into camp trying to make the team. I’m here to prove I belong and prove that I can fill any role they need me to. I have no idea what my role will be next year, and I need that mindset. I don’t want to become complacent. If I come in assuming that I’ll be given something, even a roster spot, that’s when trouble sets in for me. That’s a sign I’m taking things for granted and I don’t want that. Ever.”

That’s Hendriks’ experience talking. You know his story well, the one where a scrappy right-hander with great stuff was designated for assignment five times but never gave up and finally reached the pinnacle of his profession.

Fellow A’s reliever Jake Diekman believes young players should commit Hendrik's experience to memory and lean on it during tough times trying to make it big.

“Any minor leaguer should look at [Liam] as an example,” Diekman said. “You’re going to get brought up and you could easily get sent back down even if it doesn’t seem warranted. He’s proof that you have to trust your ability and stick with it, because at some point it can all click.”

[RELATED: A's closer Hendriks can relate to Sharks' Jones struggling]

These inspirational, finally-make-it-big baseball stories are often about the convergence of talent and timing. Hendriks was in the midst of a season where he was borderline unhittable while A’s incumbent closer Blake Treinen struggled with injuries and performance. The A’s looked to Hendriks for help, providing save opportunities upon which he capitalized.

He plans to do that again in 2020 for a loaded Athletics squad with high expectations. He plans to earn and convert his chances and be even better than he was a year ago. There’s humility in his words but confidence in his stuff, his demeanor and his ability to persevere.

That last trait is vital and was ultimately learned by doing. Hendriks went through real highs and lows getting to this point, experiences that made him the person and pitcher he is today.

“I spent several years in the minor leagues, a lot more than some and a lot less than others,” Hendriks said. “You sit there and learn and struggle with certain things, but you need perseverance to get through them. There were multiple years where I thought I played well and deserved to move up to the next level and it didn’t happen. It was a humbling experience that taught me to stop worrying about what everyone else does or focus solely on getting called up. Life isn’t always direct or easy or straight forward. You just have to keep on fighting.”

Why A's Frankie Montas feels no pressure after 80-game PED suspension

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AP

Why A's Frankie Montas feels no pressure after 80-game PED suspension

MESA, Ariz. -- It was one inning of the "Frankie Montas Show" in the desert on Wednesday.

Closer Liam Hendriks was poking fun at the right-hander in the clubhouse saying the bullpen had a new arm. 

A's manager Bob Melvin told the media Montas would only get that solo inning, but the 1-2-3 outing went by so fast if you'd blinked you might have missed it. It was an anticipated spring debut after a season of missing out for the right-hander. 

Montas was suspended after testing positive for PED's last June. He wants to move on from that, and Melvin repeatedly said the 26-year-old is excited to contribute to the team this season. But Montas doesn't believe he has any extra responsibilities despite missing a chunk of time.

"I don't feel like I have anything to prove to be honest with you," Montas told reporters after his outing. "I just want to have the ball every five days and go out there and compete and do my best."

A smile barely left his face as he talked about some of his pitches that hit in the 96-97 mph range. Montas also was able to throw his two-seamer as well as his changeup, slider and splitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Last season in 16 starts, Montas boasted a 2.63 ERA with 103 strikeouts and a 1.115 WHIP in 96 innings.

[RELATED: Canha ready to be more well-known in the game]

Montas will be vying for a starting spot in a promising looking rotation. And despite the pressure being off him heading into the season, he's not getting too comfortable.

He also said that with a smile.