Athletics

Mark Canha continues Khris Davis impression in A's win vs. Mariners

Mark Canha continues Khris Davis impression in A's win vs. Mariners

OAKLAND ‚ÄĒ Make no mistake, Mark Canha is not Khris Davis. But, he sure can do a pretty good Khris Davis impression.

Canha homered for the third straight game Friday night, his sixth round-tripper in nine contests since returning from a sprained wrist, as the A's beat the Mariners 6-2 for their seventh consecutive win.

"It always helps when somebody gets on a hot streak," Canha said after the game. "It always helps when you have that one guy where you're like, 'Yeah, he's up!' That kind of happens for different guys at different times and I think it just happens to be right now. This is me kind of knocking on wood and hoping I can keep it going."

Before the game, the A's officially placed Davis on the 10-day injured list with a left hip/oblique contusion. With the reigning home run-champion out of the lineup, Oakland desperately needed someone to fill the void.

Enter Canha.

"I guess you could say it's timely," Canha said of his hot streak. "It's good that I'm filling his shoes. I'm just trying to be Khris Davis right now and this is my best version of it."

A's manager Bob Melvin has certainly taken notice of Canha's recent power surge and hopes to see it continue in Davis' absence.

"It's a lot of homers," Melvin marveled. "If you're looking for a replacement for Khris, that's the guy. He feels good at the plate. He's getting good swings, he's seeing some pitches, taking some walks. It's good, really good."

Friday also marked Canha's third straight game as the A's designated hitter. Many players struggle in that role, at least initially, as it can be challenging to stay mentally sharp between at-bats.

Clearly, that has not been the case for Canha.

"I really like it," he said. "I like not having to run out there on the field. It's nice to just kind of hang out in the dugout and wait for my at-bat to happen. I'm enjoying my time as a designated hitter so far."

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It's not like Canha is just hitting home runs. The 30-year-old has raised his on-base percentage to .353, third-best on the A's, and his .953 OPS leads the team and ranks seventh in the American League. 

"I'm in my fifth year now and I think I'm just getting better," Canha said. "I've learned a lot in my career and now I'm being given some time, and I think I'm just getting better as I've matured as a hitter."

How Liam Hendriks turned into A's bullpen star one year after being DFA'd

How Liam Hendriks turned into A's bullpen star one year after being DFA'd

Tuesday marked a significant anniversary for Liam Hendriks. Not a happy anniversary, but an important one.

On June 25, 2018, the A's reliever was designated for assignment and ultimately outrighted to Triple-A.

"It was the fifth time I got DFA'd," Hendriks reminded NBC Sports California. "It wasn't just the first or the second, it was the fifth!"

The Perth, Australia native was 29 years old at the time and had spent eight years in the majors, including three with Oakland. He was still recovering from hip surgery and his struggles were undeniable with a mammoth 7.36 ERA. Still, the demotion was eye-opening.

"It was very humbling," Hendriks admitted. "I think I got a little complacent. I felt like my position was solidified, which it wasn't. Coming back from my hip injury, I had some battles going on there. But other than that, I think I went down there (to Triple-A) and was able to kind of find myself again."

Hendriks significantly increased his fastball velocity, which has lived in the high-90s since the end of last season. He pitched well for the A's last September, primarily in an opener role, allowing just two runs in 13 innings. However, he struggled in Oakland's Wild Card Game against the Yankees, allowing two earned runs in the first inning.

This offseason, the A's re-signed Hendriks to a one-year, $2.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration. The right-hander has made sizable improvements to his curveball and slider, in addition to his fastball, becoming a true three-pitch reliever.

"I've just been throwing a lot more breaking balls for strikes," Hendriks explained. "The fastball looks a little bit more explosive, but when I throw my slider and curveball for strikes ... I'm also using my curveball a lot more this year than I have in the past."

The difference has been staggering.

In 36 appearances this season, Hendriks is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, recording 53 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.

"He's been terrific," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's come in throwing bullets. After we sent him down last year and he came back up, he found velocity through a different workout routine and playing long-toss. Next thing you know, he's throwing 97 miles an hour."

Added third baseman Matt Chapman: "He's been nails. He comes in, throws strikes, throws hard, and gets after it. I like when he gets out there."

Hendriks has climbed all the way up the A's bullpen's pecking order, from essentially an afterthought to Oakland's primary setup man. Now with Blake Treinen on the injured list, Hendriks has taken over the closer role.

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"I'm throwing the ball well right now," he said. "I'm just happy to be doing that. If it's in the ninth, it's in the ninth. If it's not, it's not. It doesn't change my mentality."

The way he's performing, that's just fine with the A's.

Bob Melvin returns to National League roots to key A's win vs. Cardinals

Bob Melvin returns to National League roots to key A's win vs. Cardinals

The A's received a number of great performances in Tuesday night's 7-3 win over the Cardinals.

Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, and Marcus Semien all blasted home runs, and Khris Davis added a two-run double. But you could argue that the best showing of all belonged to Bob Melvin. The A's manager made all the right decisions, with just about every substitution working to perfection.

Melvin's first big move came in the bottom of the fourth inning when the Cardinals, already leading 3-1, put two men on base with only one out. Starting pitcher Chris Bassitt was laboring, having already thrown 94 pitches, so Melvin chose to turn to his bullpen early.

He brought in recently-recalled right-hander J.B. Wendelken, who proceeded to retire Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong -- the Cardinals' Nos. 1 and 2 hitters -- and get out of the jam.

"J.B. was huge," Melvin told reporters after the game. "He's not used to coming in the game like that. ... If that gets away from us right there, it's a whole different game."

Wendelken ended up only facing those two batters, but that was enough to earn him his first career win.

"It's a huge deal," he told reporters. "We were in a (position) to come back and win, without a doubt in my mind. But when you're asked to come into that situation, you're there to put out the fire and kind of carry us a little bit deeper into the game. Coming into that situation and having those boys come up and have the bats come alive was pretty awesome."

Bringing in Wendelken was actually only half of Melvin's first key move. The former National League manager made a double switch, also inserting Chad Pinder at second base, a decision that paid off the very next inning. Pinder blasted a two-run home run to the top deck in left field, also known as 'Big Mac Land,' to tie the game at three.

 

"You look for ways to try to get him in the game," Melvin said. "He's contributed to this team in so many different ways. To be able to come off the bench, he's used to doing that."

Pinder said it was the first time he's ever come into a game by way of a double switch.

"It's an interesting situation to be in," he told reporters. "That could've played a role in going up to the plate with no thoughts in my head, just 'I'm going up there just to hit.' You don't have anything to think about. You're not dwelling on things before the game. You're not thinking about different things. You're just going up there trying to get a pitch to hit."

Later in the fifth, with the A's up 5-3, Melvin turned to his bench again. With two on and two out, he called on slugger Khris Davis to pinch-hit for Wendelken. Davis came through with a two-run double to make it 7-3.

"Khris Davis' hit was big, having to come off the bench and get a pinch-hit there," Melvin said. "There were so many contributions tonight. ... A lot of good things happened for us tonight by a lot of guys."

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From there, Melvin turned to four more relievers to lock up the victory. All four kept the Cardinals off the board. In total, the A's bullpen tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings, with seven strikeouts.

"Trying to cross my fingers," Melvin said of his tactical moves. "But yeah, it's fun to do the National League game every now and then."