Athletics

A's spring training Day 15: Cotton, teammates pile up K's

A's spring training Day 15: Cotton, teammates pile up K's

MESA, Ariz. — Jharel Cotton took the mound to begin Tuesday’s game and promptly struck out the side in order.

It would establish a theme for the day, as first-round draft pick A.J. Puk also punched out the side in his first outing and Oakland pitchers rang up 14 strikeouts total in a 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Hohokam Stadium.

For Cotton, more important than putting up gaudy spring numbers is simply cementing his place in the A’s starting rotation. His first outing was a step in the right direction, though the Indians got to him for a run in his second and final inning when his command deserted him a bit.

“Cotton, I thought was really good,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Strikes the first four guys out. His command was off a little bit later with runners on base, but his stuff was really good.”

That fourth strikeout, to lead off the second, came with an asterisk. A third-strike wild pitch allowed Abraham Almonte to get all the way to second. Before long, Cotton had the bases loaded and no outs thanks to a walk and hit batter, but he got a big lift when first baseman Yonder Alonso made a diving stop to begin a 3-6-1 double play. The Indians would score only one run off him.

“I got in some trouble but I got out of it,” Cotton said. “I limited the damage so I was happy about that.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Puk said he felt first-game jitters while warming up, but he sure didn’t show it once he took the mound in the sixth. Showing command of his full repertoire, Puk struck out Erik Kratz, Lonnie Chisenhall and Almonte in order for a memorable first outing in big league camp.

“I was a little anxious in the bullpen to get going,” the 6-foot-7 lefty said. “Then I finally got my name called and got ready and just tried to throw strikes and see what happens.”

Puk was pleased to get a swing-and-miss with his curve, a pitch he’s getting reacquainted with for the first time since high school. But Melvin was most encouraged by his changeup. “It’s something we asked him to work on and he brings it right into a game,” Melvin said. “To do that and use a pitch he may not be as familiar with in his first time on the mound, it shows you he’s pretty coachable too.”

LIGHTER SIDE: Third baseman Trevor Plouffe’s first hit with the A’s ended up being a homer off vaunted Indians closer Andrew Miller. The towering blast easily cleared the left field wall and wound up ricocheting off a startled fan who was sprawled out on the grass, apparently trying to squeeze in a nap. The fan was OK and kept waving to everybody afterward just to prove he was awake.

Plouffe expressed relief that the fan was OK, adding with a smile: “As long as it’s not a kid. A grown man should be watching the game.”

FAMILIAR FACE: A’s center fielder Rajai Davis went 1-for-3 in his first game playing against the team he helped lead to the World Series last year. As he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, he gestured toward the visitor’s dugout in respect.

“Just to be able to see them again, it’s like a family reunion,” Davis said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Marcus Semien connected for his first homer of the spring, showing opposite-field power with a two-run blast to right off Mike Clevinger in the first. … Minor league first baseman Rangel Ravelo broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth with the A’s third homer of the day, as Oakland evened its Cactus League record at 2-2. … Fifth-starter candidate Andrew Triggs went two innings and allowed an unearned run on two hits. He struck out three in a row to end the top of the fourth. … Matt Olson drew the start in right field and tripled to deep to center in the second, scoring on Josh Phegley’s sacrifice fly.

 

A's have plenty to figure out beyond clinching AL playoff spot

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USATSI

A's have plenty to figure out beyond clinching AL playoff spot

OAKLAND -- Climax met anti for the A's on Sunday, which is probably as it should be. After all, had they beaten the Minnesota Twins and locked up their American League playoff invitation, they’d have done it in nearly total seclusion.
 
On a Sunday when Tiger Woods shaved 10 years off his career, when Jimmy Garoppolo crumpled his left knee, when the Oakland Raiders buried themselves with another horrific second half of football, and with the Warriors preparing to retake everyone’s eyeballs, the A’s stood no chance of getting anyone beyond their diehardiest diehards to notice them at all.
 
Fortunately for their collective self-esteem, the A’s are used to being visible only under ultraviolet light, so losing 5-1 to Kyle Gibson and the Minnesota Twins on Fan Appreciation Day was only disappointing to them. They wanted to provide one final serendipitous show in this wondrous season to the folks who maintained interest and faith even when they looked their usual ordinary selves in the first three months. Instead, they got worked. 
 
“This was disappointing because we wanted to do it here,” A's manager Bob Melvin said after a game that resisted his team’s late-inning charms by being settled in the fourth inning. “If we could have gotten another runner on base in the eighth or ninth, the fans would’ve gotten into it more, and when they get noisy, we like to put a show on for them.”
 
But the show was mostly Minnesota’s, on a first-inning home run by Jake Cave and then a messy fourth highlighted by third baseman Matt Chapman’s rushed and errant throw to second base seeking a double play that wasn’t going to happen. That, and Gibson’s seven-plus innings of throwing balls that looked like strikes to a series of overeager Athletics hitters were more than enough for the Twins to create a healthy early lead that they preserved with very little bother.
 
It was additionally galling because the New York Yankees lost to the Cleveland Spiders ... er, the Baltimore Orioles, and the A’s could have closed to within a half-game in the standings, and a full game in reality of having home field in the wild card game.
 
Thus, a chance to leave town with the defeaning roar of approval from a healthy crowd of 35,754 ringing in their ears was lost, and what was gained was 30-plus extra boxes of miscellaneous celebratory whatnot to put on the plane to Seattle for a series that begins Monday night.
 
The A’s also got minimal clarity on starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, who had what Melvin described as “good movement and decent velocity,” but only 3 1/3 innings of actual work. That might have stretched to five or more if Chapman’s throwing error hadn’t turned a routine fielder’s choice by Tyler Austin into a three-run rally. The A’s bullpen, which has been a strength most of the year, has been kicking up blue smoke much of the past few weeks, so sorting out a relatively traditional starting rotation for the postseason remains Job One.
 
In other words, Mike Fiers starting against the Yankees is looking increasingly likely, though as Melvin correctly said, “There are a lot of things that have to get sorted out between now and [the postseason].”
 
Including the as-yet-undone task of getting into the damned thing. True, they have six more cracks to shoehorn themselves into October, and if that isn’t enough, they have an additional six courtesy the Tampa Bay Rays.
 
But the biggest advantage of finishing the job at home was finishing the job, period. The A’s have worked very diligently for three-plus months to have these conundrums, and could use the time between now and the end of business to sort them all out. They could especially do so in a relatively quiet atmosphere that the simultaneous ends of two NFL seasons, the renewed beatification of Tiger Woods, and the Golden State Warriors will only make more difficult.

A's fail to clinch AL playoff spot after dropping home finale to Twins

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AP

A's fail to clinch AL playoff spot after dropping home finale to Twins

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- The celebration will have to wait.

The A's failed to clinch an AL playoff spot at home, falling to the Minnesota Twins 5-1 on Sunday afternoon.

Jake Cave started the scoring early for Minnesota with a two-run homer in the first inning off Oakland starter Trevor Cahill. Matt Olson responded with a solo homer in the second to cut the lead to 2-1, but the Twins added three more runs in the fourth to provide some insurance.

Twins starter Kyle Gibson quieted the A's bats, scattering seven hits in 7 1/3 innings, and he earned the win, improving to 9-13 on the season. Cahill took the loss and fell to 6-4.

The A's magic number remains at one because of Tampa Bay's 5-2 win at Toronto. Oakland also remains 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees, who lost 6-3 to Baltimore, in the AL wild card race.

The A's will try again to clinch a postseason berth Monday night at Seattle, and they can clinch sooner if the Yankees beat the Rays in Tampa. 

Here's what else you need to know from Sunday's loss ...

--- Cahill struggled in his first start since Sept. 9, allowing five runs (three earned) on five hits in just 3 1/3 innings. He missed the last two weeks with an upper back injury. Cahill now has allowed three runs or more in his last five starts, and has an ERA of 7.45 during that stretch. His season ERA climbed to 3.91.

--- The A's bullpen covered 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Liam Hendriks pitched his eighth and ninth consecutive scoreless innings. During that stretch, he has allowed five hits and two walks, while striking out eight. Meanwhile, J.B. Wendelken pitched a scoreless ninth to lower his ERA to 0.71 in 12 2/3 innings.

--- Olson provided the A's only offense with his 28th home run of the season. That's a career high and leads AL first basemen. Olson also notched two singles, finishing the game 3-for-4. As a team, Oakland went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

--- Twins third baseman Ehire Adrianza did his best Matt Chapman impression with three spectacular defensive plays. In the second inning, with a runner on second and one out, Adrianza bare-handed a slow roller by Pinder and threw him out by a step. In the fourth, Adrianza made a sprawling stop on a hard-hit ball by Semien, robbing him of a base hit. Adrianza's best play of all came in the fifth inning, with two on and one out, when he snagged a hot shot by Chapman and turned a potential extra-base hit into an inning-ending double play.