Athletics

Normally hot A's bats go cold at worst possible time, can't save season

Normally hot A's bats go cold at worst possible time, can't save season

NEW YORK — The A's were tied for fifth in Major League Baseball during the regular season with a .266 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Wednesday night, they went 0-for-6 in those situations, leaving nine men on base in their 7-2 American League Wild Card Game loss to the Yankees.

“Their pitching showed up tonight,” said designated hitter Khris Davis, who produced the A's only offense with a two-run homer in the eighth inning. “They made good pitches when we had baserunners on, and we've just got to tip our cap to them this one.”

“It's frustrating,” A's manager Bob Melvin added. “We just didn't do enough offensively tonight. You do have to give them credit. They pitched really well.”

[RATTO: Simple answer for A's is ...]

The fourth and fifth innings, in particular, proved costly for the A's. They loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but Yankees starter Luis Severino struck out Marcus Semien to end the inning. In the fifth, the A's put runners on first and second with no outs for the middle of their lineup, but Yankees reliever Dellin Betances came in and retired Matt Chapman, Jed Lowrie and Davis to strand the runners.

“We had runners on,” A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “We had the bases loaded once, we had runners on first and second with nobody out, but couldn't get that big knock. ... They pitched us well.”

Added Melvin: “Severino got off to a good start, and Betances came in and shut it down. After that, other than the one swing from KD, they just shut a really good offense down.”

The Yankees, on the other hand, cashed in on their limited opportunities, going 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position and leaving just three runners on base.

In playoff baseball, that can make the difference between winning and losing, and it sure did Wednesday.

A's A.J. Puk shares positive health update after shoulder setback

A's A.J. Puk shares positive health update after shoulder setback

Baseball players -- they’re just like us. Well, at least right now, while the sports world is on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A’s young lefty pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo are both doing the same thing most of us are while participating in social distancing. Luzardo is streaming a ton of shows on Netflix (yep -- even “Tiger King”), while Puk is catching up on some sleep.

The two are also staying in shape as best they can, as they told The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser recently on the A’s Plus podcast

Puk is able to throw off the mound at his facility in Iowa and is able to use the bullpens at the local colleges if need be. That also means he’s making progress coming off of a minor setback to a shoulder strain prior to the spring training cancelations.

“Everything’s feeling fine,” Puk told Slusser. “Probably the best my shoulder’s felt in a while, actually you know, since coming back from Tommy John.”

Puk said he heard that there could be a portion following the surgery where the shoulder could flare-up.

“You just kind of have to work through it, I think maybe I was just at that stage of it,” Puk said. “I’m feeling great right now -- just real happy where I’m at right now.”

Puk underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2018, and said there could be a silver lining with the regular-season delay.

“Maybe some extra time to get my stuff feeling good,” Puk said.

He’s getting sick of the “little injuries,” and wants to make sure he’s fully ready to go when, and if, the season begins this year.

Puk only was able to throw three Cactus League innings, but struck out two in the process.

Luzardo, meanwhile, is lucky in that he has teammate and fellow starting pitcher Mike Fiers just minutes up the road from him. The two have been working out, while maintaining social distancing, of course. 

Luzardo and Fiers are using free weights in the middle of an open field down in Florida and training with a mutual friend.

Luzardo knows he and Puk have a huge spotlight on them, with so much potential heading into their rookie seasons. But Luzardo is aware this hiatus is more than just a pushback to his first full year as a big leaguer. 

“In my shoes, my position is kind of irrelevant to the bigger picture. I’m not too caught up in how I’m affected by it rather than how other people are being affected by it.”

There’s a bigger picture there.

Luzardo came out of the bullpen last season and was sensational, boasting a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings. 

[RELATED: Buddy Reed hopes to reunite to Puk in majors]

MLB reportedly recently discussed a plan that could move the sport to the Phoenix, Ariz. area as soon as May. All 30 teams would be playing in the area, and would have to be quarantined to their hotels.

They both had different thoughts on that.

And another silver lining? Luzardo believes the absence of the sport of baseball now could make the heart grow fonder.

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Baseball can occasionally manifest some pretty fascinating personal connections.

Like how Mike Fiers, the eldest starter in the A's rotation, currently is forging an even tighter bond with Jesús Luzardo, one of his youngest counterparts.

“He only lives like 10 minutes from me,” Fiers told NBC Sports California on Tuesday from Florida. “So it’s not even like the home state, it’s like the home city.”

But their acquaintance didn’t start in Oakland. It actually began in the late 2000s.

“I remember him as a 10-, 11-year-old kid,” Fiers said. “Throwing bullpen [sessions] over by my high school, and helping out over there.”

Fiers has been following the lefty’s journey ever since. What a coincidence they’d end up on the same big league team.

“Obviously he became a big name coming through high school," Fiers said, "and his velocity getting up there, and then being a high draft pick.”

Now the two are workout partners in the strangest of times, with MLB, sports and much of life on complete pause.

Fiers and Luzardo get together every couple of days and complete socially-distanced pitching workouts, where they are able to push and provide each other inspiration.

“We cut it down to only a couple of guys,” Fiers said of the workouts. “We know how serious this thing is, and nobody wants to jeopardize their families and their livelihood.”

[RELATED: Fiers gifted Profar, Laureano for catches to save no-hitter]

The pair are taking thorough precautions in the no-contact sessions, which also feature strategically placed bottles of Purell hand sanitizer. There’s also a portable pitching mound, supplied by Fiers.

“We actually took that out to a church,” Fiers said. “It’s the only place we have left, a church parking lot. There’s a field next to it. So we just keep that pitching mound under a tree.”

It’s hardly the Coliseum, but it will have to do for now.