Athletics

A's spring training Day 16: Gray dialed in during exhibition debut

A's spring training Day 16: Gray dialed in during exhibition debut

PEORIA, Ariz. — Sonny Gray’s pitching line Wednesday will quickly fade from memory, but it was clear what the outing meant to the A’s right-hander.

Looking to turn the page from the toughest season of his career, Gray threw two very sharp innings against the San Diego Padres in his Cactus League debut at Peoria Sports Complex.

After a leadoff double by Travis Jankowski in the first, Gray retired six consecutive batters, four via strikeout, and called it a day. More than just a clean first outing, for Gray it provided some validation for all the work he’s put in to get his game back on track.

“It’s been a while,” said Gray, who last year made just two starts after July because of injuries. “I know it’s just spring training, but to us, it’s a real game. Umpires … fans … everything. It’s nice to get back out there and be able to compete and execute and feel good, that’s the big thing. To be able to throw and feel good.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin wasn’t surprised that Gray placed more emphasis than might typically be expected on a first spring training start.

“If there’s another team with a different uniform on, it’s a real game for him,” Melvin said.

It wasn’t just two D.L. stints that sent his 2016 season wayward. Gray struggled with mechanics, which in turn affected his command. Much of his work from the middle of last season to now has focused on ironing out flaws in his delivery.

He threw 19 of 27 pitches for strikes Wednesday and was particularly sharp with his curveball and sinker, according to catcher Bruce Maxwell. Even on the double, surrendered to the left-handed hitting Jankowski on an 0-1 pitch, Gray wasn’t displeased with his pitch.

He talked before the season of his mechanics being more compact now, and he said Wednesday there’s a night-and-day difference when he’s feeling in sync on the mound.

“It’s pretty noticeable, if you look at the stuff I was doing last year, and you take (Wednesday’s) outing and look at that,” Gray said. “It’s really keeping my hands close to my body, limit the movement that way and maybe put my arm in a better spot on a consistent basis.

“It’s what I’ve done in the past, and over time it can slowly start to get away from your staples. Your mechanical staples. … When you catch it, you re-focus and work on it and get it right.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Third baseman Renato Nunez has been on the A’s radar as a prospect to watch since they signed him out of Venezuela at age 16. But with Matt Chapman pegged as the A’s potential future starter at third, and Ryon Healy having already shown he can play the position in the bigs, the 22-year-old Nunez finds himself in a logjam.

This spring, Nunez has been working some in left field, and Melvin said he wants to try to get Nunez time in left and perhaps at first base in games.

“You can’t ignore the offensive numbers,” Melvin said. “I think it’s finding the right position for him and/or maybe some versatility that allows him to hopefully get to the big leagues a little bit quicker.”

Nunez has combined for 89 homers over the past four seasons in the minors. He received his first call-up in September last season and went 2-for-15 with an RBI.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s mustered just two hits against the Padres and lost 5-0 in a game that finished in just 2 hours, 24 minutes. Daniel Coulombe, fighting for the final spot in the bullpen, gave up a run on two hits and struck out one in his only inning of work.

FAMILIAR FACE: Making the start for the Padres was Trevor Cahill, who was an All-Star and 18-game winner for Oakland in 2010. Cahill, who celebrated his 29th birthday Wednesday, pitched out of the Cubs’ bullpen in the NL Division Series and Championship Series last fall but was not on their World Series roster. He received interest during the offseason as a reliever but signed with San Diego on a one-year, $1.75 million deal to try to win a rotation spot.

Cahill allowed just a walk in two innings of work and struck out three.

ODDS AND ENDS: Alejandro De Aza, battling to make the A’s roster as a fifth outfielder, played center field and went 1-for-3 from the leadoff spot. … Top prospect Franklin Barreto started at second base and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. He reached base on a hit-by-pitch but was thrown out trying to steal second. … Cactus League fever hasn’t exactly caught hold yet, as Wednesday’s game drew a measly crowd of 1,864 fans. Poor weather surely has played a part in some low attendance figures so far, but crowds typically pick up as it gets deeper into March anyway.

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.