Athletics

A's more than happy to take flier on former All-Star Matt Harvey

A's more than happy to take flier on former All-Star Matt Harvey

OAKLAND -- It was only four years ago that Matt Harvey was one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball.

The right-hander had just finished his third season with the Mets, recording a sub-three ERA each year while averaging better than a strikeout per inning. From there, it's been a rapid decline, due in part to injuries, but also just poor performance.

The A's decided it was worth taking a chance on the 30-year-old former All-Star, signing him to a minor-league contract and assigning him to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he will pitch Saturday night.

"You look at some of the stuff, it doesn't look too much different than it did last year," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We're just going to give him some starts down in Triple-A and see where we are with that. You can never have too much depth. You never know about injuries and so forth, so we're giving him an opportunity to get some starts under his belt and we'll see where we go with him. We're not sure yet either."

Harvey did show some signs of bouncing back last season, as Melvin referenced. After getting traded from the Mets to the Reds, he went 7-7 with a 4.50 ERA, despite pitching in hitter-friendly Cincinnati.

That earned him a one-year, $11 million deal with the Angels, but he never came close to living up to it. Harvey went 3-5 with a 7.09 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 12 starts, ultimately getting designated for assignment and then released last month.

Harvey did pitch well in his one start against Oakland this season, allowing just two runs on four hits in six innings on March 29. Melvin came away impressed with what he saw.

"He came out and looked like he was throwing hard, looked like he was elevating like he has in the past, and had a good breaking ball," the A's skipper said. "I was impressed by his stuff, so he's a good guy to take a chance on."

Let's be honest, there was a reason Harvey was available and willing to sign a minor-league deal. He's clearly nowhere near the pitcher he was four years ago. But his velocity still is decent -- his fastball lives at 93 mph -- and he throws four different pitches. Plus, if there's any organization that can get his career back on track, it's the A's.

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Last season, Oakland squeezed quality innings out of down-on-their-luck veterans Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill. This year, it's been Brett Anderson and Homer Bailey. Perhaps Harvey can follow in their footsteps.

"I think we are a place that maybe even some of the guys who are free agents look to," Melvin said. "We're not afraid to take a chance on a guy who's been banged up a little bit. So yeah, I think any pitcher in (Harvey's) situation right now, you would probably look to our club and say, 'Can I get an opportunity?' Because we've resurrected quite a few guys in the past."

A's vs. Rangers lineups: Mike Fiers makes first start since hand issue

A's vs. Rangers lineups: Mike Fiers makes first start since hand issue

OAKLAND -- The A's open their final home series of the regular season Friday night when they welcome the Texas Rangers to the Coliseum.

Oakland swept the Rangers last weekend in Texas to improve to 11-5 in the season series. The A's enter Friday's action with a two-game lead in the AL wild-card race, ahead of both Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

Right-hander Mike Fiers will get the start for Oakland after leaving his last outing in Texas with numbness in his right hand. The 34-year-old had an MRI earlier this week, which came back clean, and he felt fine during Tuesday's bullpen session.

For the season, Fiers is 14-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts. In 12 career games against Texas, he is 3-3 with a 6.50 ERA.

The Rangers will counter with left-hander Mike Minor. The 31-year-old is 13-9 with a 3.33 ERA this season, but the A's knocked him around for seven earned runs in five innings his last time out. Minor is 2-3 with a 4.83 ERA in eight career appearances against Oakland.

The A's have loaded up their lineup with right-handed bats, as they typically do when facing southpaws. First baseman Matt Olson is the only left-hander in the lineup, batting third.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Rangers game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 7:07

Texas Rangers (74-79)
DH Shin-Soo Choo
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Willie Calhoun
RF Nomar Mazara
3B Danny Santana 
2B Rougned Odor
1B Ronald Guzmán
CF Delino DeShields
C Jose Trevino
LHP Mike Minor (13-9, 3.33 ERA)

Oakland A's (92-61)
SS Marcus Semien
3B Matt Chapman
1B Matt Olson
CF Mark Canha 
RF Ramón Laureano 
DH Khris Davis
C Sean Murphy
LF Chad Pinder
2B Sheldon Neuse
RHP Mike Fiers (14-4, 4.09 ERA)

Liam Hendriks' shift in energy big factor in surging success with A's

Liam Hendriks' shift in energy big factor in surging success with A's

You feel it.

Whether you're witnessing it in person or watching it on a screen, the energy a pitcher exudes once he sends the batter to the dugout with no apologies, no reparation. It's magnetic.

You feel it.

A's Australian-born pitcher Liam Hendriks isn't an exception to the rule, as a matter of fact, he's the lesson. 

Call it confidence, call it arrogance -- whatever your term is, it's survival of the fittest on the diamond. 

Hendriks detailed some of this mentality in the latest Momentum documentary: "Resiliency: The Road to Becoming an All-Star." But I wanted to know more.

When you approach Hendriks in his workout shorts. His curly hair is a bit disorderly, he's calm and approachable. But that's not who he is when he's on the bump. He's on one side of the battle of the egos -- and he's going to win.

"For me, it’s just convincing myself that no matter what, I’m better than you," Hendriks told NBC Sports California. "So it’s not necessarily arrogance, it’s just extreme confidence. But for me, if I have to think ‘Oh I can’t throw it here, because that’s where they’re good,' that’s where I get in trouble. So for me, it’s just convincing myself that I’m better than whoever is at the plate."

The hitter has the same mentality which turns into the ultimate matchup. The loser oftentimes is he or she who doubts themselves.

"You need to have that confidence and arrogance going out there to be like 'It doesn’t matter, I’m gonna win this battle no matter what,'" Hendriks said.

"No matter what I throw, if I’m convicted and I believe that I’m better than them I’m gonna get it done."

Twelve-year pitching veteran Peter Moylan has been enjoying watching Hendriks taking care of batters and the journey he took to get to his All-Star season.

"I think what we do have in common is absolutely f-----g loving to prove people wrong," Moylan said. "I was told I was done so many times in my career and I'm sure he has heard it too."

But Moylan's approach on the rubber is a bit different from Hendriks' animalistic attitude, and he compared the closer's mindset to that of another Aussie, Grant Balfour. Moylan had to find a sense of stillness.

"It's what works for them," Moylan added. "I needed to stay under control and calm when I pitched."

Hendriks agreed that there are times he needs to remain calm as well.

But there's always time for this ... 

"I love watching Liam blow a stack after the third out," Moylan added. 

That intensity makes a difference.

"When you go out on the mound, there's a certain level of -- kind of raising testosterone that you kind of have to have to go out there and repeat against other guys that are doing the same thing," Chicago White Sox reliever Evan Marshall said.

"You have the mentality of going out there for your family, you just have to find little motivations that can drive you to push harder."

He also said slamming a couple of RedBulls helps.

"Caffeine's big in the bullpen, all bullpens sponsored by RedBull ... and Excedrin," he laughed.

He echoed Hendriks' sentiment.

"They can't beat me," Marshall explained. "My stuff is better than them."

And if it's bad out on the field, the bullpen feeds off of it.

"Like yesterday, we had a bullpen day, and we only gave up one run to the Twins who set the home run record this year, so one after another we were just kind of running out there like 'It's my turn to do my job and set it up for the next guy.'"

Then, Marshall made it rather simple.

"But while you're out there it's time to, I dunno, rage."

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You can rage, sure. But where's the line between cocky and confident?

Dallas Braden notices the difference.

"You’re confident as you move through the world," he said. "Confident as you move through the clubhouse. You’re cocky as soon as you take the mound because -- how can you not be? If you’re Liam Hendriks toting around 100 miles per hour how can you not be?"