Athletics

Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

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Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

ARLINGTON, Texas — Morale understandably could be rock-bottom for a last-place club by the time game 162 rolls around.

Contrast that with the energy and vibe in the A’s clubhouse following a 5-2 victory over the Rangers that closed out the 2017 season. Though the A’s finished last in the American League West for the third consecutive season, there’s a feeling that better times might finally be on the horizon for 2018.

Oakland (75-87) finished the season with a flourish, going 17-7 over the final 24 games. Over the final 79 games starting July 4, or roughly the entire second half of the regular season, the A’s played better than .500 ball at 40-39.

Will it mean anything by the time Opening Day 2018 rolls around? Manager Bob Melvin thinks it should.

“I think we’ve accomplished enough to have a good feeling going into next year,” he said. “I want guys, when they come to spring training next year, to be in a different mindset than we’ve been. We want to hit the ground running next spring. The timeliness of getting some of those younger guys here, the success they’ve had, would lend to a different atmosphere for us next spring and certainly some different expectations as a group.”

One of those young guys, starter Daniel Mengden, was late to the party. Having been hampered by a fractured foot, and later a strained oblique, Mengden was recalled from the minors Sept. 5 and proceeded to go 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA over five starts to close the season.

That included a sterling seven-inning effort Sunday, when he held Texas to four hits and no runs, striking out eight. For a rotation that saw Sonny Gray depart via trade, Kendall Graveman suffer shoulder issues and Jharel Cotton and other young starters endure struggles, Mengden’s performance was a late-season revelation.

“That’s the best work we’ve seen from him,” Melvin said. “And to come out of the pack, so to speak, like he did and perform as well as he did, at a time we were struggling a little bit in our rotation … He put himself right back up there in the pecking order going into next season. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.”

Mengden got ahead of hitters with his fastball, and that helped make his changeup and slider more effective.

“It’s a huge amount of confidence for me, for our team. The last month we played really well,” he said. “It boosts the confidence a lot, coming in here doing what I did. I’m looking forward to next year.”

Khris Davis hit his 43rd homer to establish a new career high. But it’s another veteran who constitutes the first order of business for Oakland this offseason.

The A’s hold a $6 million option on second baseman Jed Lowrie with a $1 million buyout. They're thinking strongly about bringing Lowrie back after a productive — and healthy — season that included an Oakland-record 49 doubles and solid defense.

“This is a young team that has a lot of talent,” Lowrie said. “The option is completely out of my control, but I like playing with these guys.”

Expect the A’s to look to bolster the pitching staff, both the rotation and bullpen, over the winter, to complement a promising core of position players that Melvin hopes will continue to develop and provide the foundation for a rise up the standings.

“I think it brings a little hope for next year,” Davis said of the A’s strong finish. “Hopefully we can remember this in the winter and have some dog piles next year.”

Chad Pinder showing value to A's with his versatility

Chad Pinder showing value to A's with his versatility

You never know where you might find Chad Pinder in the field.

The 26-year-old has started games at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field this season.

“I like it,” Pinder said. “It's fun. You just do the work. You go out and take ground balls if you're playing second, take balls in the outfield if you're playing the outfield. I enjoy it.”

Pinder takes pride not only in playing multiple positions, but playing them all well. He has committed just four errors in 47 games this season, while leading the A's with three outfield assists.

“There are certain things we can do because I can play multiple positions,” Pinder said. “I like being able to help the team that way.”

“He's been extremely versatile for us,” added A's manager Bob Melvin. “I don't think I'd put him on the mound, but everything else is open for him.”

For what it's worth, Pinder says there is no position he can't play, including catcher.

“I love catching,” he smiled. “That was one of my main positions growing up.”

Pinder estimates he last played catcher in eighth or ninth grade, but believes he could serve as an emergency catcher for the A's.

“I'd like to think that I am. We'll see if that ever pops up,” Pinder said.

With all the injuries the A's have suffered this season, Pinder's versatility has been extremely valuable. He has contributed with the bat as well, slashing .246/.325/.442 with six home runs and 14 RBI. In Saturday's win against the Angels, Pinder nearly hit for the cycle, going 3-for-3 with a home run, triple, and single.

“When he gets on a roll, he's as productive as anybody we have,” Melvin said. “You look at exit velocities and so forth, when he squares one up, it's as good as anybody on our team.”

A's walk off Angels, win first series vs AL West since April

A's walk off Angels, win first series vs AL West since April

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- Jonathan Lucroy hit an RBI single off the center-field wall in the 11th inning and the Oakland Athletics capped their comeback Sunday with a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

The A's rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie it at 5, then took advantage of control problems by a pair of Angels relievers to win.

Jed Lowrie led off the 11th with a single and Jake Jewell (0-1) hit Khris Davis with a pitch. After Matt Olson flied, Eduardo Paredes replaced Jewell and walked Mark Canha to load the bases.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought left fielder Justin Upton in for a five-man infield but it didn't matter. Lucroy hit a deep drive to win it.

Canha hit an early two-run homer, and added a tying single with two outs in the ninth. Marcus Semien homered to begin the Oakland ninth.

Albert Pujols hit his 625th career home run, Chris Young also went deep and Mike Trout reached base five times for the Angels.

It was another blown save for Scioscia's bullpen, the 15th by the Angels this season.

Blake Parker gave up two runs in the ninth. He also had a blown save Wednesday in Seattle. Canha's tying single came off Cam Bedrosian.

Pujols' drive off Daniel Mengden was his fourth this month and 11th overall this season. It also moved the Angels' 38-year-old slugger within five home runs of tying Ken Griffey Jr. for sixth place all time.

Pujols also had an RBI single in the third.

Trout had homered in four of his previous six games. He had singles in the fifth and ninth, walked twice and was hit by a pitch.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Athletics: 3B Matt Chapman (right thumb contusion) added throwing to his regimen, one day before his scheduled visit with a hand specialist in Los Angeles. Chapman's biggest hurdle remains swinging a bat. . LHP Brett Anderson (strained left shoulder) is headed for Arizona to pitch in extended spring training.

UP NEXT

Angels: RHP Jaime Barria (5-2, 2.61 ERA) faces the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener of a two-game series Monday in Anaheim. Barria's ERA is the lowest among all rookies with at least 40 innings pitched this season.

Athletics: RHP Paul Blackburn (1-1, 11.05 ERA) starts against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday to begin Oakland's 10-game road trip.