Athletics

Smith finds joy in 'unbelievable ride' despite being denied first win since '08

Smith finds joy in 'unbelievable ride' despite being denied first win since '08

OAKLAND — The only person in the A’s clubhouse who didn’t seem to feel bad for Chris Smith on Tuesday night was Chris Smith.

The right-hander, making just his second start in a big league career that began in 2008, got robbed of his first victory in nine years when his bullpen couldn’t hold a ninth-inning lead in a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay. But after talking to him, it was clear that his smile couldn’t have been bigger, his humor any more genuine and good-natured, if he had actually pocketed the ‘W’.

“It’s like ‘Whoo! What’s going on here?’” Smith said. “This whole thing has just been an unbelievable ride and I don’t want it to end.”

It’s easy to see why manager Bob Melvin sees value in his young pitchers being exposed to Smith, a 36-year-old who went back to college six years ago thinking his career was over, then threw for two independent league teams in working his way back to a major league farm system.

On July 8, he became the oldest pitcher in A’s history ever to make his first career start. In a second start Tuesday in place of Jharel Cotton, Smith limited Tampa Bay to three hits over seven innings. Santiago Casilla retired the first two batters of the top of the ninth before allowing a Rays go-ahead rally that left Smith with about as cruel a no-decision as one could imagine given the circumstances.

That seemed the furthest thing from his mind.

Smith said he had 22 people in attendance at the Coliseum. He had family fly in from Des Moines, Iowa.

“We planned on going to their house with (Triple-A) Nashville,” Smith said. “They found out I got called up and they said, ‘OK, we’re going to you now.’”

An aunt traveled down from Redding. Other loved ones came from Hesperia, where Smith lives. His sister, who lives in Salt Lake City, found out he was starting and drove all through the night to get to Oakland, then was on her way back after the game.

Smith’s only victory came in relief in the second outing of his career with the Boston Red Sox. He pitched two innings and was credited with a victory over Arizona on June 24, 2008.

Had he gotten Tuesday’s victory, Smith shared that “I was hoping … I didn’t get a shower of ketchup and mustard. I was gonna say ‘Guys, I got one of those, a long time ago, back in the first Bush administration.’”

What a memory it would have made for him and all is family and friends in attendance. It was setting up well too, with third baseman Matt Chapman making a couple of dazzling plays after his error in the second inning led to a Tampa Bay run.

“His history and everything, that’s awesome,” Chapman said. “That guy is easy to root for.”

After shortstop Marcus Semien snared a liner to end the top of the seventh, completing the longest outing Smith has had this season in the majors or minors, the pitcher walked off the mound with a grin on his face.

“Knowing my family was up there watching me was nice,” he said. “You gear up for the 6th, and you go out for the 7th and you complete the 7th. It’s like just an awesome feeling especially because I know I’m not supposed to be here doing this.”

What Matt Olson injury means for A's offense, defense at first base

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AP/USATSI

What Matt Olson injury means for A's offense, defense at first base

The A's fears became a reality Friday when Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson had to undergo surgery on his right hand.

No timetable has been provided for Olson's return, but a 2018 article in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine which studied similar procedures suggests he will likely miss three to seven weeks.

This is obviously a huge loss for Oakland. Beyond Olson's terrific defense, the 24-year-old provided tremendous power in the middle of the lineup.

Last season, Olson slashed .247/.335/.453 with 29 home runs and 84 RBI. That production won't be easy to replace, but the A's do have some reasonable options.

Platoon players Mark Canha and Chad Pinder can both play first base, and carry plenty of power in their bats. Canha clubbed 17 home runs and 22 doubles last year in just 365 at-bats. Pinder, meanwhile, hit 28 homers in 580 at-bats over the last two seasons.

Another option for the A's is to move Jurickson Profar to first base -- where he played 24 games last year -- and start Franklin Barreto at second. Barreto is coming off a terrific spring, hitting .375 (12-for-32) with a home run, four doubles, three RBI, five walks, and eight runs scored.

Barreto now has a great chance to make the 25-man roster in Olson's place. The 23-year-old has long been considered one of the A's top prospects, but has never had a chance to get consistent playing time in the big leagues. Oakland moved him from second base to the outfield this spring, but now a return to second makes sense.

[RELATED: Can A's regroup after rough beginning to season?]

The A's are fortunate to have enough offensive depth to survive the loss of Olson, but the biggest impact will likely show up on defense. Olson's height and scooping ability at first base will be incredibly hard to replace.

Nonetheless, Oakland showed the ability to overcome injury adversity last season. The A's just have to do it again this year.

A's first baseman Matt Olson undergoes surgery on his right hand

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AP

A's first baseman Matt Olson undergoes surgery on his right hand

The A's announced on Friday that 2018 Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson underwent successful right hamate excision surgery on his right hand. The surgery was performed in Los Angeles by Dr. Steven Shin:

Olson left Thursday's game against the Mariners in Japan due to some discomfort in his right hand as he was having some trouble gripping his bat. 

While we are unsure how long Olson will be out, this article in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine states similar injuries could sideline players from three to seven weeks with the median time ranging around five weeks.

For now, the A's do have Mark Canha who can play first base. Jurickson Profar is always an option as well since he can play anywhere. But he covers so much range in the middle of the infield, picturing him anywhere else but second base seems strange.

We knew this was looking like bad news when it happened, but now that we know for sure, the A's need to figure out a more direct plan knowing the team is without their first baseman and a very powerful bat to start out the season.