Athletics

Notes: A's Gray feels 100 percent healthy, ready for rebound in 2017

Notes: A's Gray feels 100 percent healthy, ready for rebound in 2017

OAKLAND — Sonny Gray’s biggest challenge this spring won’t come in the form of an opposing batter.

It will be fielding question after question about what went wrong in 2016 — and how to correct it — when all the A’s right-hander really wants to do is turn the page.

You think “fresh start” is a worn-out Cactus League cliche?

Don’t tell that to Gray, who feels healthy and eager to erase the memories from last year’s debacle of a season.

“There’s no reason to dwell on that, no reason to dwell on the injury or performance or anything,” Gray said during a media session in advance of the A’s FanFest on Saturday. “You just kind of turn the page and you move on, put all of your focus, all of your preparation on this upcoming season, and whatever happened last year was last year. There’s really nothing you can do about it now.”

A combination of injuries and command issues derailed the 2015 All-Star last season, sending him to a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA. It was a surprising left turn for a pitcher who rose to the level of the American League’s elite over his first two-plus seasons.

A strained trapezius, and later a strained right forearm, led to two D.L. stints and 60 games missed. On Friday, he revealed that the physical issues began as early as spring training. Asked specifically what began bothering him in the spring, Gray wouldn’t offer details. But he feels the physical woes contributed to his mechanics getting out of whack.

“I know that my arm, a lot of times when you have some issues and you’re not feeling 100 percent healthy, that’s when you start changing your mechanics,” he said. “You over-compensate for how you’re feeling, and when you start doing that, that’s when stuff can escalate quickly and snowball.

“Even some other stuff in the spring, I had issues going on and then it just leads to another and leads to another. Before you can take a step back and actually get healthy, it’s gonna continue to make the situation worse.”

A full offseason has the 27-year-old Gray feeling 100 percent again. He’s thrown off the mound twice so far, with A’s pitchers and catchers preparing to report Feb. 14. His work with a personal trainer has his lower half feeling strong. As for his mechanics, he said he feels “more compact” with the way the ball is coming out.

“I haven’t really changed my mechanics, it’s more or less just staying more under control and taking away some of the movement. To someone watching, you wouldn’t even notice. But to me, moving something three or four inches is a big deal.”

The A’s feel their starting pitching is a strength, with the hope that Gray rebounds to join Kendall Graveman atop the rotation, backed by highly regarded lefty Sean Manaea and then some combination of Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, Raul Alcantara, Daniel Mengden and perhaps others.

A return to form by Gray, who finished third in the 2015 AL Cy Young race, would deliver a shot of confidence throughout the entire clubhouse.

“He’s huge. He’s a top-five pitcher in baseball,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “To have him at the top of our rotation, it all trickles down from him. He sets the standard.”

Some other newsy tidbits from Friday’s media session:

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Manager Bob Melvin said Jed Lowrie is his starting second baseman if he’s healthy. Lowrie has been progressing well from foot surgery to repair ligament damage, a cyst and a bunion on his left foot.

“We’ve got a long spring to get him ready, and we’re not gonna push him too hard to begin with,” Melvin said. “But as we sit here right now, a healthy Jed Lowrie is the guy that’s going to play second base for us.”

If Lowrie’s healthy, and assuming newly signed Adam Rosales is the utility infielder, it could make it hard for either Joey Wendle or Chad Pinder to make the club, depending on how many outfielders the A’s want to keep.

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Catcher Josh Phegley is recovering well from knee surgery that ended his 2016 early, and Melvin said he’s hopeful Phegley is ready for the start of camp.

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Mark Canha is fully recovered from left hip surgery and a full-go for spring training. He’s also 10 pounds heavier, which he thinks will help his energy throughout the long season.

He joked that he and pitcher Chris Bassitt, sidelined most of last year by Tommy John surgery, had a contest at the end of last season to see who could put on more weight.

“I ended up winning that contest,” Canha said.

No surprise for someone with the Instagram account @bigleaguefoodie.

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Players expressed eagerness over the A's shifting FanFest from the Coliseum to Jack London Square. The event runs Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., with free admission, free autograph sessions and free food trucks, plus the usual Q&A sessions with players and coaches.

New A's President Dave Kaval will give what is described as a "State of the Team" address at 11 a.m. at the Ferry Dock Lawn. 

Nobody had more fun celebrating A's playoff berth than Matt Chapman

Nobody had more fun celebrating A's playoff berth than Matt Chapman

A's third baseman Matt Chapman had one thing on his mind Monday night, ahead of Oakland's 7-3 win over the Seattle Mariners. 

That's because, regardless of the result at Safeco Field, the A's had punched their ticket to the postseason.

"It was hard enough to focus knowing the Rays lost before the game," Chapman told NBC Sports California's Ray Fosse in a jubilant A's clubhouse. "I didn't even care what happened; I just wanted to get here and celebrate with my teammates because we worked so hard all season, and I feel like we deserve it."

Chapman played like a man who wanted to get to the clubhouse. He hit the game-winning home run -- his 24th homer of the season, extending his career high -- against the Mariners, and made sure he soaked it all in with his teammates.

I'd venture a guess that nobody on the A's had more fun in the postgame celebrations.

The 25-year-old is in the middle of a breakout season, leading the way for the A's with his glove and his bat. His 28 defensive runs saved are seven more than anyone else in the bigs, and he's fourth in the majors in slugging percentage (.614) since the All-Star Break. 

If he keeps that up in the postseason, he could have many more reasons to celebrate. 

 

A's club four homers to beat Mariners after clinching playoff spot

A's club four homers to beat Mariners after clinching playoff spot

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE  — The Oakland Athletics clinched their first playoff berth since 2014, then beat the Seattle Mariners 7-3 Monday night behind Khris Davis’ major league-leading 46th home run.

Jonathan Lucroy, Jed Lowrie and Matt Chapman also homered for the A’s, assured no worse than a wild-card berth.

Oakland was one out into the game when Tampa Bay was eliminated with a 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees. The A’s went on to win after Chapman broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run drive in the seventh off Shawn Armstrong (0-1).

Coming off three straight last-place finishes in the AL West, the A’s (95-62) are 4½ games behind AL West-leading Houston. They trail the Yankees by 1½ games for home-field advantage should they meet in a wild-card matchup.

Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon homered for the Mariners.

Few predicted the A’s could make the playoffs this season, a young team with few proven stars and a team that was 75-87 a year ago. Oakland won only 68 games in 2015 and 69 in 2016. The A’s have the third-lowest payroll among the 30 major league clubs at $78 million for their 40-man roster, ahead of only the White Sox and Rays.

Oakland was 34-36 and 11 games behind Seattle in the wild-card on June 15. The A’s have gone 61-26 since.

“We’ve had some younger players mature and become, for me, stars,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Monday before the game. “I think the two guys on the corners (third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson) should win Gold Gloves.

“Our defense is night-and-day to what it was and it’s gotten better as the year’s gone along. We’ve gone from last year being one of the worst defenses in the league to now one of the best. Our bullpen has been a strength for us all year. We don’t just rely on one facet. We seem to be able to win in different ways.”

One big contributor is Davis, the team’s designated hitter, with 120 RBIs. Davis has hit at least 40 homers and driven in over 100 runs in each of this three seasons with the Athletics.

Blake Treinen, who pitched a perfect ninth inning , is 9-2 and one of the top closers in baseball this season with 37 saves and a 0.81 ERA, the lowest of all major-league relievers with at least 75 innings pitched. Opponents have a .091 batting average against Treinen this season with runners in scoring position.

“It’s amazing,” Melvin said. “Not only is he doing it closing games, he’s doing in game when we’re tied and he’s pitching two innings at times. The numbers are absolutely fantastic. I don’t know that I’ve seen numbers like that from any closer in quite some time. He’s meant a lot to this team.”

The A’s are the only team in the majors with an undefeated record this season when leading after seven innings (68-0) and have the best record in one-run games at 31-13.

Oakland made key moves to bolster the pitching staff via trades over the summer by adding veteran relievers Juerys Familia and Fernando Rodney and starter Mike Fiers, who is 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA since joining the Athletics.

The A’s overcame losing key starters from their rotation down the stretch. That included left-hander Sean Manaea, who pitched a no-hitter on April 21 against Boston and is done for the year recover from arthroscopic shoulder surgery that took place this past week.

The Athletics will be making their fourth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons, all under Melvin, and their 27th overall. The A’s lost at Kansas City 9-8 in 12 innings in the 2014 wild-card game, the last time Oakland reached the postseason.

The last time the A’s reached the World Series was 1990, losing in four games to Cincinnati. Oakland won the 1989 World Series after the Bay Area earthquake, sweeping San Francisco.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Athletics: Oakland starting pitcher Daniel Mengden was on the ground writhing in pain when he took a liner off his right foot that was hit by Denard Span. Mengden was on the ground for about five minutes, but got up and surprisingly stayed in the game. LHP Ryan Buchter (5-0) got two outs, and three more relievers completed a six-hitter.

Mariners: LHP James Paxton, making his first start since Sept. 7 after a bout with pneumonia, allowed two runs — both on homers— and three hits. He left after four innings and 71 pitches because he was on a pitch count.

UP NEXT

Athletics: LHP Brett Anderson (4-5, 3.96 ERA) will make his third start Tuesday since coming off the 10-day DL (strained left forearm) on Sept. 13. Anderson is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA since coming off the DL.

Mariners: RHP Mike Leake (10-10, 4.10 ERA) will make his 31st start Tuesday. Leake gave up five runs in 6.1 inning in his last start at Houston, but allowed only one run over 13 innings in his two starts prior to that outing.