Athletics

Rookies Cotton, Montas both loom large in A's pitching future

Rookies Cotton, Montas both loom large in A's pitching future

OAKLAND — In a drab performance that will be forgotten as the games begin to tick away, the A’s on Wednesday at least got to see a pitching tandem they hope will be a part of their future foundation.

Frankie Montas entered in the fifth inning for his A’s debut, relieving starter Jharel Cotton, who wasn’t his sharpest but holds promise as part of Oakland’s young starting pitching core. Montas threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to provide a highlight in Oakland’s 5-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels.

The outing had significance for Montas. He and Cotton came over from the Dodgers together last summer in the trade-deadline move that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick out of Oakland (the A’s also landed minor league righty Grant Holmes in the deal).

From that standpoint, Montas and Cotton always will be linked. On Tuesday night, Montas bummed a ride home from the Coliseum and told Cotton he’d be ready in the bullpen if needed Wednesday.

“I was like, ‘I got your back, just in case. I got you,’” Montas said after Wednesday’s game. “Thank God that I got to save those runs for him.”

Montas, 24, entered with runners on the corners and coaxed a double-play liner from C.J. Cron to end the fifth. By then, the damage had been done off Cotton — five runs, though three of them came off mostly soft contact in the second.

Things didn’t go great on his night individually, but Cotton was happy to see Montas succeed after the hard-throwing reliever made the A’s 25-man roster with an excellent spring. Cotton and Montas grew tight last season before the trade while Montas was rehabbing a rib injury with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“I was talking to him all the time during the spring, going ‘Dude, you’re gonna make the squad,’” Cotton said. “He’s one of my good buddies, and I wanted him to make the squad. He did really well in spring and came out and showed what he has today. He is a big leaguer. It’s pretty cool to have him around.”

Cotton, 25, entered the season with just five big league starts under his belt. But with Sonny Gray sidelined, he opens the season as the A’s No. 3 starter. He gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings Wednesday, but he can take some satisfaction from striking out Mike Trout in his first two battles ever against the two-time MVP. He threw Trout a variety of pitches in a first-inning whiff. In the third. Cotton jumped ahead 0-2 and challenged Trout with a 94 mile-per-hour fastball that the five-time All-Star swung through.

“I made a good pitch. I threw it up into his non-hit zone,” Cotton said.

Where might that be?

“I guess it’s up,” he said. “Hopefully … Hopefully it works next time.”

Montas made the roster as a multi-inning reliever, so chewing up 2 2/3 innings in a game the A’s were trailing saved manager Bob Melvin from burning through more relievers. But Melvin said before the game that, with John Axford hitting the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder strain, Montas enters the mix as a late-inning option when the A’s have a lead.

Montas appears ready for whatever duty after appearing in just seven minor league games last season because of two separate rib fractures. Wednesday marked his first major league game since 2015, when he debuted with the White Sox.

Both he and Cotton appeared in Baseball America’s preseason top 10 list of A’s prospects — Cotton at No. 4 and Montas No. 5.

“It was good to pitch again in a big league stadium,” Montas said. “It feels awesome.”

Oakland or New York? A's players debate AL Wild Card game's location

Oakland or New York? A's players debate AL Wild Card game's location

Entering the final week of the regular season, it appears all but certain that the A's and Yankees will face off in the American League Wild Card Game. The only question remaining is which team will host it.

As of Monday, it would be the Yankees. New York leads Oakland by 1 1/2 games and owns the tiebreaker. But how much does home-field advantage actually matter in a winner-take-all game?

Since Major League Baseball introduced the Wild Card Game in 2012, road teams actually have gone 7-5 (4-2 in the National League and 3-3 in the American League). But the A's still say they would prefer to play the game at the Coliseum.

“I think we're comfortable with both, but at the same time, it would be more of an advantage to play here because this place is so loud,” outfielder Ramón Laureano told NBC Sports California. “It's really fun to play here when it's packed.”

Said designated hitter Khris Davis: “We'll embrace anything that comes our way. We'll accept the challenge if it's on the road, but if it's at home, I think we'd like that a little bit more. Just being in front of our own fans, there's nothing like home.”

Oakland's home and road records are similar this season. The A's finished their home schedule 50-31, and they're currently 44-31 on the road with six to play. But the offense has been significantly better away from the Coliseum.

[RELATED: Yankees star Didi Gregorius suffers wrist injury]

In 75 road games, Oakland has scored 406 runs, an average of 5.4 per game. At home, they totaled just 369 runs in 81 games, or 4.6 per contest. The A's also have belted a league-leading 123 home runs on the road, compared to 91 at home.

The pitching numbers present a different story, however. Oakland has allowed just 3.8 runs per game at home this season, compared to 4.4 on the road.

“You always want to play at home because this can be a real home-field advantage and we've played really well at home in the second half,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “But if, hypothetically, we're in the playoffs and we play a Wild Card Game, we're not afraid to play on the road. We've done really well on the road this year, and our offensive numbers are a little bit (better).”

The statistical splits are more dramatic for the Yankees. New York has been dominant at Yankee Stadium, finishing its home schedule with a 53-28 record, while going 42-32 on the road. The Yankees' bats especially thrived at home, averaging 5.6 runs per game, compared to 4.7 on the road.

However, New York's pitching staff performed better outside of hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. At home, the Yankees allowed an average of 4.3 runs per game. On the road, that number dropped to 3.8.

You can break down the numbers any way you want, but in a one-game scenario, all the stats go out the window. While both teams would prefer to host the game, they have each shown the ability to beat quality opponents on the road.

A's notes: Failures with runners in scoring position an oddity in Twins series

A's notes: Failures with runners in scoring position an oddity in Twins series

OAKLAND -- The A's went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in Sunday's 5-1 loss, finishing their three-game series with the Twins an astounding 0-for-21 in that stat.

“That does not happen very often with us,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “We're usually pretty good with runners in scoring position. We were not this series.

"Usually those things tend to even out. Unfortunately they didn't even out today.”

For the season, Oakland ranks sixth in MLB with a .268 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Some other notes from the day at the Coliseum ...

-- A's right-hander Trevor Cahill has allowed three or more runs in five consecutive starts, and he owns an ERA of 7.45 during that stretch. But Melvin thought he looked better against the Twins.

“I actually thought his delivery and his stuff -- the movement on his stuff -- were really good, some of the best we've seen,” Melvin said. “All things considered, I think it was a step in the right direction for him. The last time we saw him, he was completely out of whack and hurting a little bit. You could tell within his delivery, it just wasn't smooth. But I think he looked OK today.”

Cahill agreed" “My stuff was a lot better. I was able to command a lot better for the most part. I just couldn't get that out when I had to.”

-- Matt Olson blasted his 28th home run of the season to extend his career high. Those 28 homers also lead all American League first basemen.

"It's nice to see some results, for sure,” Olson said. “The more the merrier, but wins are No. 1 right now.”

-- A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy threw out his 27th attempted base stealer of the season, extending his major league lead. Lucroy also recorded his 79th assist of the season, an Oakland record for catchers.

-- J.B. Wendelken pitched a scoreless ninth to lower his ERA to 0.71. The young righty has allowed only one earned run in 12 2/3 innings for Oakland this season.

-- A's starting pitchers have a streak of 37 consecutive games of seven innings or fewer. A's starters have pitched 807 1/3 innings this season. The fewest in a non-strike season in A's history is 858 2/3 in 1997.

-- The A's fell to 39-20 since the All-Star break, still the best record in Major League Baseball.