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In other bullpen news, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that Liam Hendriks has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic and won't pitch for Team Australia.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

Mike Fiers: 'I'm not doing anything right,' after ERA balloons to 8.28

Mike Fiers: 'I'm not doing anything right,' after ERA balloons to 8.28

OAKLAND – Mike Fiers was supposed to be the A's ace.

He certainly looked the part last season, going 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA after coming over from Detroit in early August. This year, however, has been a completely different story.

The Blue Jays treated Fiers like a punching bag Saturday afternoon, knocking the veteran right-hander around for six earned runs on nine hits in just 3 1/3 innings en route to a 10-1 victory at the Coliseum. Fiers has now allowed six earned runs in each of his last three starts and his season ERA has ballooned to 8.28.

"It's tough right now," said a dejected Fiers after Saturday's loss. "I'm just not doing anything right. That's what it feels like. For the team to be as good as we are, it's tough. It's a tough feeling to go out there and feel like you just make it harder for them every day."

The A's couldn't have seen this coming when they signed Fiers to a two-year, $14.1 million contract this offseason. The 33-year-old was coming off the best year of his career, finishing 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA between Detroit and Oakland.

"He pitched really well for us last year," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "We signed him for a reason. He's going through a rough stretch right now, but we fully expect him to go out and pitch better next time."

After an inauspicious season debut in Tokyo against the Mariners, Fiers appeared to right the ship with back-to-back outings of six innings and no earned runs. But in his three starts since then, he has surrendered 18 earned runs in just 10 innings, giving up 23 hits, including five home runs. 

"I honestly don't know," Fiers said. "I'm kind of confused on what's going on and why I'm not getting the job done. But I'm going to come to the ballpark tomorrow and I'm going to work hard and get back to how I pitch."

Fiers seemed to be rolling along through the first two innings Saturday, retiring the first six batters he faced. He gave up a run in the third and then came the disastrous fourth. Single, single, home run, home run, double. In the blink of an eye, Toronto had blown the game wide open.

"Just some balls in the middle of the plate and up," Melvin said. "There's always a fine line with him on what's up and kind of his style and where he pitches, whether it's the top of the strike zone or a little bit lower. He got some balls in the middle of the plate and they hit them hard."

[RELATED: Ex A's 2B Sogard brings 'nerd power' back to Oakland]

While it's still early in the season, Fiers knows he has to get back on track as soon as possible. At the moment, he doesn't have any answers, but he vows to find them.

"I'm going to keep working," he promised. "I'm going to keep practicing every day, working on my pitches, working on things I'm doing wrong. But I need to figure it out pretty quick."

A's Stephen Piscotty calls out fan who ran on field, tried to steal hat

A's Stephen Piscotty calls out fan who ran on field, tried to steal hat

There were a lot of runs Saturday at Oakland Coliseum, and not just by the A's and Toronto Blue Jays.

More running came from two fans who thought it'd be a good idea to interrupt the Blue Jays' 10-1 win by taking a stroll across the field.

It wasn't.

In the middle of the game, one fan made his best attempt to run on the field -- because, unfortunately, that's how people prank these days. It did not go well when he tried to escape.

He was near A's right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who talked about the weird event after the game.

"I just saw him out of the corner of my eye," Piscotty told NBC Sports California. "He was going up toward my head, probably trying to get my hat, [and] just bailed out."

[RELATED: Fans apprehended by security, umpire after running on the field]

This was new territory for Piscotty.
 
"That's the first time that's happened to me," he said. "I mean, I've seen them on the field, but I've never seen them charge a player. That's crossing the line quite a bit.

"It happened so fast, I was trying to figure out what was going on. He was clearly intoxicated or high or something. He was in a weird place."

The field is a weird place for anyone who isn't on the team. So, fans, stay off the field.