Athletics

A's spring training Day 12: Joyce, Chapman homer vs Cubs

A's spring training Day 12: Joyce, Chapman homer vs Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs rolled out their World Series trophy for an adoring sellout crowd to enjoy once again Saturday afternoon.

The A’s? They didn’t have any postseason glory to re-live, but their Cactus League opener came with some highlights too.

Matt Joyce homered to right field in his second plate appearance with Oakland, and hotshot prospect Matt Chapman picked up where he left off last spring, belting a two-run homer that rounded out the scoring for the A’s in their 4-3 defeat at Sloan Park.

Blue-clad fans filled the Cubs’ spring home to capacity, so much so that it made getting to the park an adventure for the A’s, who traveled across town from their own Mesa headquarters at Hohokam Stadium.

The A’s arranged for a police escort to guide their team bus through the traffic. Joyce drove his own car, with teammate Adam Rosales riding shotgun, and found himself in an enviable position.

“We actually were right behind the escort, leading the bus,” Joyce said. “The (cop) on the bike was like, ‘Pull over!’ and we’re like, ‘No, we’re with the A’s.’ We felt cool for sure.”

Joyce, batting third and playing right field, walked in his first time at bat. In the fourth, Jose Rosario caught too much plate with a 1-2 fastball and Joyce parked it on to the grass beyond the right field wall.

Three batters later, Chapman drilled a 1-0 pitch from Rosario to right-center for a two-run shot. Most of the A’s are familiar with Chapman’s power from last spring, when he hit a team-high six homers. Joyce, who joined the A’s as a free agent this winter, was impressed with the opposite-field stroke from the young third baseman.

“Man, he’s strong. He’s really strong,” Joyce said. “He’s going to be a fun player to watch, and watch him mature. You can tell, he’s quiet and he works his butt off. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”

CAMP BATTLE: Jesse Hahn, competing for the fifth starter’s spot, started for the A’s and was charged with three runs over 1 2/3 innings. Working on a limited pitch count, he gave up four hits and struck out two. He was victimized by poor luck in the second, when Matt Szczur hit a sharp comebacker that deflected off Hahn’s glove and leaked into left field for a two-run single. Jon Jay and Ian Happ each doubled off him that inning too, and Jason Heyward’s RBI grounder brought home another run for a 3-0 Cubs lead.

“It was pretty good,” Melvin said of Hahn’s outing. “Two balls hit down the line, little slicers, but those type of situations he’s trying to get some ground balls and they got him in the air. Certainly his first inning was better than his second inning.”

Raul Alcantara, another fifth starter candidate, tossed two scoreless innings while allowing one hit.

Catcher Bruce Maxwell said he liked Alcantara’s curve and that his splitter, a new pitch for Alcantara, kept a couple hitters off balance.

FAMILIAR FACE(S): Joyce enjoyed the chance to catch up with Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist as well as Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Joyce was with all three as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-14.

Zobrist, of course, played with the A’s in the first half of 2015. His Cubs double-play partner, Addison Russell, was traded from Oakland in 2014 in the deal that brought pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. Neither recorded a hit Saturday.

Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who the A’s shipped to Chicago last spring for Chris Coghlan, threw a scoreless second inning against his former club.

ODDS AND ENDS: Catcher Josh Phegley, coming off season-ending right knee surgery, has been moving well early in camp. Melvin said Phegley will start Sunday’s exhibition home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, with Kendall Graveman on the mound. … New center fielder Rajai Davis showed a glimpse of what the A’s hope is in store all season — he led the game off with a walk against lefty Mike Montgomery, then stole second and third. But Davis was stranded there. … With Khris Davis not playing, Mark Canha played left field and hit cleanup. He struck out in all three of his plate appearances. … Simon Castro, a non-roster reliever, entered for Hahn with a man on third in the second inning and coaxed an inning-ending groundout from reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant.

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

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USATSI

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.
 

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.