MESA, Ariz. — The topic of conversation, at last, can go back to baseball for A’s outfielder Andrew Lambo.
He is back in Oakland’s major league spring camp, trying to turn heads as a non-roster player after already winning a much bigger battle.
Seven months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Lambo got clearance to resume full baseball activity in December. He underwent surgery to remove a tumor last June and was declared cancer-free a few months later.
One lingering concern, a lymph node in his stomach that was found to be slightly larger than normal, was put to rest after a scan found his lymph nodes all over his body are just a bit bigger than normal, which is the case with some people.
In mid-December, Dr. Leslie Ballas gave him the complete green light. And now the 28-year-old Lambo — one of the chattiest, most outgoing players in any clubhouse he enters — is happy to rediscover the subtle things he missed while being away from the game.
“We all go through journeys and different life experiences,” Lambo said Tuesday, as A’s players underwent their physicals to start spring training. “That’s the one thing about coming back. You also get that wonderful dry sense of humor that we get out here in the baseball world, which is what we miss.
“It’s good to be back around guys that could really care less. People have gone through probably worse surgeries on their bodies than what I did.”
Lambo had a nice spring with Oakland last year but started the season with Triple-A Nashville before getting his cancer diagnosis. He rejoined the A’s in September for a series in Anaheim and got in uniform to take part in pregame drills. Now there’s no restrictions on him, and he’s happy the focus can shift from his health to his game.
“God bless ‘em,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s here, he’s healthy. I know he’s excited. I’m not trying to speak for him, but whenever you go through something like that, that’s bigger than baseball, and whenever you get back to doing what you love to do, there’s a certain amount of passion that goes along with it. And I’m sure that’s there for him.”
BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE ALERT: Catcher Josh Phegley looks noticeably trimmer as he tries to rebound from a 2016 season cut short by a right knee injury.
Phegley had surgery to remove a cyst from his knee in July, but then was hospitalized with a case of synovitis (inflammation) in the knee, which also became infected. He never returned to the field in ’16 but is fully cleared for the start of camp, though Melvin said Phegley may be held out of some drills early as a precaution.
Phegley has adjusted his catching stance to where he’s now lined up square with the pitcher. Before, he set up with his right leg behind his left to allow for a quicker throw, but he believes that was putting too much pressure on his right leg.
Carrying less weight should also help. Phegley weighs about 220 right now, 10 to 15 pounds lighter than last season. He’s a big part of the A’s picture if full strength — a right-handed hitter with some pop, not to mention the strongest arm of the A’s primary catchers. Stephen Vogt and Bruce Maxwell both hit left-handed.
“He’s one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and he crushes lefties,” Vogt said.
NOTEWORTHY: Reliever Santiago Casilla, who signed a two-year $11 million contract in January, likely won’t report for a couple of days as his visa paperwork is finished in the Dominican Republic. A’s pitchers and catchers hit the field for the team’s first workout Wednesday, with the full squad reporting Saturday. Casilla is one of the candidates to be Melvin’s closer.
STOCK RISING: Ok, maybe it’s impossible for a guy’s stock to rise before the A’s even hold an official workout. But Vogt and Phegley both raved about right-hander Jesse Hahn, who has thrown off the mound to both catchers in pre-camp workouts.
“Let’s not forget this guy throws 96, 97 miles per hour with sink, and one of the better curveballs in baseball,” Vogt said. “He could be sneaking up on some people to make this rotation.”
HEALTH UPDATE: Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront both threw off the mound Tuesday — albeit with the catcher set up in front of the plate — the first time either has done so since undergoing Tommy John surgery early last season. There’s still a long road ahead for both, as neither pitcher is guaranteed to return to the A’s before the All-Star break. But Tuesday was a positive step forward. And Bassitt is using this time of recovery to clean up his mechanics, trying to correct his tendency to fall off to the first-base side with each pitch.
“Obviously my mechanics last year, and honestly for 27 years, were horrendous,” said the 27-year-old Bassitt, who apparently came out of the womb chucking fastballs.