Athletics

A's spring training Day 11: Doolittle eager for Casilla to arrive

A's spring training Day 11: Doolittle eager for Casilla to arrive

MESA, Ariz. — It’s been a strange spring so far for the A’s bullpen, which holds big potential but has been shorthanded early in camp.

Consider Friday a step forward, as Sean Doolittle threw off a mound for the first time since workouts began Feb. 15. He’s being eased along slowly in an effort to keep his throwing shoulder fresh and healthy.

Any day now, Oakland also hopes to add Santiago Casilla to the mix. The right-hander, who signed to a two-year $11 million deal in January, has missed the first 10 days of spring training while awaiting his visa paperwork to be completed in the Dominican Republic.

Manager Bob Melvin had no updates for the media Friday. But Doolittle, for one, eagerly anticipates Casilla’s arrival.

“We hope he gets here soon,” Doolittle said. “I think he’s going to be ready for Opening Day regardless of when he gets here.”

Casilla, who rang up 123 saves for the Giants over the past seven seasons, is projected as a key piece for the relief corps. To this point Melvin hasn’t expressed public concern about Casilla’s absence, but he said the urgency will kick in a bit if the Cactus League schedule starts unfolding and Casilla still hasn’t reported. The A’s play their first exhibition Saturday against the Chicago Cubs.

A healthy Doolittle is just as important because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander in a bullpen otherwise dominated by righties. He threw off the mound before spring training began and has said he feels good. But he and the training staff are taking the conservative route after shoulder strains have limited him to 56 games over the past two years. His 20-pitch session Friday went well.

“All fastballs, but it was coming out clean,” Doolittle said. “I was really happy with how I was able to repeat things and put the ball where I wanted to.”

Doolittle got to know Casilla during spring camp in 2008 and ’09, when Doolittle was a prospect still playing first base and Casilla was in his first stint with Oakland.

“That’s a guy I think I can learn a lot from,” he said. “A lot of guys can learn from him.”

In other bullpen news, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that Liam Hendriks has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic and won't pitch for Team Australia.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sort of cheating to place Jharel Cotton in this section, as he’s likely to land in the starting rotation. But the right-hander was sharp facing hitters Friday.

“The deception just stands out with him,” Melvin said. “… He’s got an assortment of breaking pitches.”

Lefty A.J. Puk, last year’s first-round pick, faced hitters for the second time and gave up little in the way of hard contact, with his changeup standing out in particular.

BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE ALERT: After missing the majority of last season following left hip surgery, outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha has earned strong praise from Melvin early on. Canha will draw the start in left field Saturday and hit cleanup against the Cubs in the Cactus League opener.

“He worked hard in the offseason. His swing looks good,” Melvin said. “He looks like he’s in great shape and I think he’s out to prove a serious point this year — that he can be a very productive guy at the big league level, as we’ve seen before.”

As the roster stands, Canha lines up as a platoon partner with Matt Joyce in right field and could also see time at first or DH.

NOTEWORTHY: With exhibition play starting, the A’s held their final workout at the Lew Wolff Training Complex and will shift operations over to Hohokam Stadium, where they will hold batting practice and pre-game workouts.

ICYMI Catch up with third base prospect Matt Chapman and what he learned during an up-and-down year at Double-A in 2016. 

A’s president Dave Kaval talked at length about the team’s ballpark search in the most recent A’s Insider Podcast.

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

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Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

OAKLAND – It really was a freak injury. One swing of the bat, a seemingly inconsequential foul ball.

But during Thursday's loss to the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Matt Olson knew right away something was wrong.

"I generally have a pretty high pain tolerance," the A's first baseman said Sunday. "I couldn't grip the bat when I came back (to the dugout) so I knew something was up."

It turned out Olson had fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He underwent hamate excision surgery Friday in Los Angeles, and will be out indefinitely.

"It sucks," Olson admitted. "The timing of it is good and bad. Good because I get five or six days here to get ahead, but it sucks because it's the beginning of the year and you work all offseason to get to this point."

A's manager Bob Melvin added: "There are certain guys who you feel like are a little more replaceable than others. He's a tough one. ... He makes everybody in the infield better. All you've got to do is get it over in his direction. He's got a wide wingspan and he picks everything out of the dirt.

"It's tough not having him out there, but that's why we have a Mark Canha, a (Jurickson) Profar, and a Chad Pinder. It gives somebody else an opportunity."

Olson was not given a timetable for his return, but he noted a wide variance in other players with the same injury, anywhere from four to eight weeks. While he's obviously disappointed, he believes the team can survive without him.

"We've got guys -- Canha, Pinder, (Franklin) Barreto, and Profar -- all of those guys are very established and have good at-bats," Olson said. "They're guys who are going to get more at-bats because of it. I don't think it's a bad thing. It sucks for me, but I'm glad these guys are going to get a little more regular playing time."

[RELATED: A's have options at first base in light of Olson injury]

Although he hasn't missed any games yet, Olson joked he has already experienced the effects of sporting a cast on his right hand in his everyday life.

"I had to go to the store today to get stuff for my apartment. I got a ton of stuff. Then I got to the apartment complex, and thought I was going to have to make like five trips because I can only carry things with one hand," he laughed.

As Olson adjusts to life with just one functional hand, the A's must adjust to life without Olson's powerful bat in the lineup and his slick glove in the field. In both cases, it will be a difficult process.

Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target

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Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target

It's no secret the A's could use some starting pitching help.

The problem became more dire this week when the team announced talented left-hander Jesús Luzardo would be shut down for four to six weeks with a rotator cuff strain.

Though the season is already underway, there are still several starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel tops the list, but don't expect the A's to throw massive money his way.

Instead, Oakland may choose to pursue one of these five starters:

Edwin Jackson

Jackson certainly makes the most sense of anyone. The 35-year-old right-hander was the most pleasant of surprises last season. Jackson went 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts and was a key part of the A's clubhouse chemistry.

The two sides have been in contact for much of the offseason but have not been able to come to terms on a deal. That could change now that Jackson and the A's both figure to be a little more desperate.

James Shields 

At the age of 37, Shields is obviously nearing the end of his career, but he figures to get a shot somewhere in the league. The former All-Star went just 7-16 with a 4.53 ERA last season with the White Sox but did pitch over 200 innings.

Shields has a career ERA of 4.01 in 13 seasons. The right-hander would likely fair better on a team like Oakland, especially playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly Coliseum.

Miguel González

González is coming off season-ending rotator cuff surgery, but at just 34 years old he has a chance to bounce back. The right-hander went 8-13 with a 4.62 ERA in 2017, his last full season, but recorded a solid 3.73 ERA the year before.

González has a career ERA of 4.06 in seven major league seasons and could be another pitcher who would benefit from the Coliseum. He will be available for cheap, making him a low-risk signing.

Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo has struggled the past few seasons, but at just 33 years old, he still has time to regain his form. The right-hander has a career ERA of 4.06 in 12 big league seasons.

Gallardo's last productive season came in 2015 with the Texas Rangers. The former All-Star finished that year 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. Like González, he should be available for a low cost.

[RELATED: A's have options at first base after Olson injury]

Bartolo Colón

Yes, Big Sexy is still going strong at the age of 45. You've got to think someone will take a flier on the former Cy Young Award winner, who will be entering his 22nd major league season.

Colón has 247 career wins and a 4.12 ERA, though he struggled to a 5.78 ERA last season in Texas. But three years ago, the right-hander went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA and made his fourth career All-Star Game.