Athletics

A's remain calm, loose hours before AL Wild Card Game vs. Yankees

A's remain calm, loose hours before AL Wild Card Game vs. Yankees

NEW YORK -- For most players on the A's roster, this will be the biggest game of their lives. But you sure wouldn't know it from watching them Wednesday.

“They came in the same,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “The music's loud, unbearable at times. But it's a good thing in the fact that it's kind of keeping them loose.”

A few hours before challenging the host Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game, the A's could be found in the outfield throwing footballs around and playing hacky sack. They have played loose all season long and don't plan on changing that in the playoffs, despite the raised stakes.

“There might be a little more pressure in this game,” Melvin acknowledged. “They'll feel it when they go out there. But offensively, we've done better on the road, and I think that's one of the reasons our position players are kind of looking forward to hitting in this ballpark, because it's a home run-hitting ballpark.”

Let's face it: Yankee Stadium is an intimidating place to play. The name alone carries decades of history that almost transcends the game. Names like Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Jeter, Rivera, and now Judge and Stanton.

“This is going to be about as hostile an environment tonight as they're ever going to see,” Melvin said. “They're excited about the venue. Yankee Stadium is a terrific place to play. They know it's going to be loud, they know it's going to be exciting, and I think they're looking forward to that.”

Often relegated to national indifference, the A's take center stage on this night. They know they have an opportunity to do something special.

“They're just excited about playing,” Melvin reiterated. “They're just going out and playing and trying to win.”

A's tab Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers to start exhibition games vs. Giants

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AP

A's tab Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers to start exhibition games vs. Giants

The A’s have two exhibition games coming up against the Giants next week, the only opportunities to face an opponent before the 2020 regular season starts.

Manager Bob Melvin announced Sean Manaea will start the July 20 exhibition at Oakland Coliseum, while Mike Fiers will start the July 21 preseason game at Oracle Park in a home-and-home with the A's geographical rival. Chris Bassitt scheduled to throw after that.

The A’s would have two days after that to prepare for Opening Day against the Los Angeles Angels on July 24.

Melvin hasn’t made a formal announcement on that game’s starter, though he should in the next few days. Manaea, Fiers and Bassitt couldn’t start on July 24 on full rest, so it seems unlikely they’ll get the nod to start the season.

Frankie Montas came to camp largely ramped up, has been universally praised and was “borderline electric,” Melvin said, in his last intrasquad outing. All signs point to him starting the opener, though A.J. Puk shouldn’t be eliminated from consideration.

[RELATED: Mike Fiers putting Astros cheating scandal behind him, moving forward]

Bassitt wouldn’t be ready if he assumes a rotation spot previously earmarked for Jesus Luzardo before he tested positive for coronavirus. His return date and immediate role remains unknown.

Melvin was wary of reporters doing the math to draw conclusions on an Opening Day starter.

“I’ll have something for you in the next few days,” he said.

A's have options for Jesus Luzardo's role upon return from quarantine

A's have options for Jesus Luzardo's role upon return from quarantine

Jesus Luzardo remains in quarantine well into the A’s second week of training camp after testing positive for coronavirus. Pitching coach Scott Emerson says the young left-hander is in great spirits. Manager Bob Melvin said recently that Luzardo’s itching to get back.

Luzardo can’t return just yet, stuck in isolation as the 2020 baseball season encroaches. His ability to overcome this setback before the season starts seems increasingly remote, leaving the A’s to at least consider the possibilities he won’t be a full-fledged member of the starting rotation to open the 60-game campaign.

Emerson emphasized that no decisions have been made at this point.

“Once we get him on the mound, we can look at the data to see where he’s at,” Emerson said. “Then you make an educated decision on how you go about building him into the mix.”

The A’s have options in that regard. Great pitching depth, especially with established starter Chris Bassitt able to step into the rotation from a swing man’s role, takes the pressure off having to push the 22-year old’s progress.

“This guy has a bright future,” Emerson said. “You have to look at big-picture thinking. Of course, we want him to start every fifth day for the next 20 years of his career but, in order to do that, you’re going to have to use your intelligence and experience as a coach, the experience as an organization and the data.”

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Part of that is going to take time. Building up a starting pitcher doesn’t happen overnight. They often start at about 35 pitches, Emerson said, adding 15-20 every time out. The A’s want their starters coming out of the three-week camp ready to throw between 75-85 pitches, with long relievers ready to carry the team into the late innings.

While he’ll eventually end up in the rotation, exactly where Luzardo fits while ramping up remains in question.

“When we get him on the team, do we start him the two innings or do we use him more in a leverage situation and pick the days he gets to pitch?” Emerson said. “Or the feeling might be that we’re running out of time right now, and let’s pitch him in games that are meaningful and stretch him out that way, and as the season goes on, we plug him in as a starter."

[RELATEDMike Fiers putting Astros cheating scandal behind him, moving forward]

Luzardo is currently indoors, trying to stay limber and in shape with dry drills and indoor exercises. The A’s want to see him throw some bullpens and eventually pitch to hitters in a controlled environment before entering him into a game. That would help measure his preparedness and the pitch-count restrictions he might initially be under.

"He’s already politicking to me that he’s ready to go, that he’s only going to need a bullpen or to throw to hitters once before being ready to go," Melvin said. "We want to make sure that he’s physically in a position to do it. He keeps himself in great shape. He threw during the layoff and was someone like [Frankie] Montas, who was throwing quite a bit. My guess, it won’t take us long. The sooner we get him back, the better. We don’t know when that’s going to be yet."