Athletics

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 exhibition loss vs. Giants

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 exhibition loss vs. Giants

OAKLAND -- The A’s played a baseball game Monday that didn’t count for anything, but it still was better than no baseball at all. We’ve gone more than four months of MLB's normal season without a pitch thrown against true opposition, a streak snapped locally when the A’s and Giants squared off in one of two exhibition games leading up to a shortened 60-game season that starts for Oakland on Friday against the L.A. Angels.

The final score was 6-2 with the Giants winning, by the way. Not that you really care.

You shouldn’t, anyway. You shouldn’t try to mine absolute truths or trends from any performance exhibited in a rare intrasquad game in this abbreviated training camp.

This was a trial run for everybody in baseball’s hopefully isolated new world order, created to facilitate baseball during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic that continues to rage across the country.

The players have to get used to another team in the building, to auxiliary dugouts and social distancing. Game presenters worked out kinks in their home game delivery, with one practice run before Opening Day on Friday.

There was a ton to take in during this unique affair as the A’s prepare for a regular season unlike any other.

Here are three takeaways from the Bay Area’s first professional baseball game in a long, long time:

A’s trying to re-create authentic game atmosphere

The A’s have put significant effort into creating as normal a game environment as possible while missing the one element that truly makes it special.

They worked on finding proper volume for pumped-in crowd noise that clearly was taken from an A’s game. And yes, that included the drums normally beaten all game long by loyalists out in the right-field bleachers. It was oddly quiet in the early going, but the crowd noise increased as the game went along.

They showed off new fan cutouts and homemade signs lining the outfield wall. They even show a green/white dot race on the video board that entertains between innings, apparently even without fans in the audience.

It still feels off, despite great efforts, without the buzz only an alternately silencing and erupting crowd can bring. That just can’t be replicated, especially with only game officials and impartial media in the stands.

A’s reserves tried to make up for lost fans early, cheering wildly for their teammates from the auxiliary dugout in section 122.

Watching a game like this, after seeing several in a professional capacity and many more as a young fan, certainly was unique. It wasn’t bad considering the circumstances, but nowhere close to what it was and will be again after this public health crisis ends.

[RELATED: A's starter A.J. Puk to open season on injured list]

A’s feel for A.J.

Left-handed starter A.J. Puk wasn’t at Oakland Coliseum on Monday evening. He was in Los Angeles getting a shoulder strain checked out by a renowned orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an ailment that landed him on the injured list.

That’s bad news for the A’s and a pitcher they were counting on heavily for the 2020 regular season. The 25-year old dealt with a similar shoulder strain in the spring but recovered after baseball hit the pause button in March. Having another bout of shoulder problems isn’t a great sign, though the A’s certainly are keeping fingers crossed Puk can come back fast after dealing with injury issues since having Tommy John surgery in April 2018.

“I hope’s going to be alright, and that it’s not too serious,” Mike Fiers said in a video conference with reporters. “We could definitely use him this year. We would love to have him. I’m sure it’s hard on him to be set back again. He has been dealing with this for a while, so I hope he can recover and get back to pitching without having to worry about injury.”

Celebrities in the “crowd”

The A’s have done an admirable job filling the sections closest to the field with fan cutouts on sale to the general public. Most of them are of diehards clad in green and gold, showing the loyalty of their relatively small, yet rabid fan base.

If you look carefully, however, there are some celebrities in their midst. Jose Canseco and Dennis Eckersley showed up. So did Vida Blue and Dave Stewart and a number of other A’s legends. Some MLB Network personalities in the crowd as well, and finding those they know could be a fun scavenger hunt/drinking game for fans watching at home wishing they could be here.

A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

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A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

A's bench coach Ryan Christenson said he "unintentionally" gave a Nazi salute during Oakland's celebratory handshake line after Thursday's win over the Texas Rangers.

"I made a mistake and will not deny it," Christenson said in a statement released by the team. "Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive. In the world today of [COVID-19] I adapted our elbow bump, which we do after wins, to create some distance with the players. My gesture unintentionally resulted in a racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in. What I did is unacceptable, and I deeply apologize."

The NBC Sports California broadcast showed Christenson raising his right arm with his palm facing down while A's closer Liam Hendriks approached.  Hendriks quickly grabbed Christenson's arm, bending it at the elbow for the coach's "elbow bump" celebration, which he said is done due to MLB's coronavirus safety protocols. Christenson then turned around and repeated the initial gesture.

"No, no straight arm, you have to bend your elbow," Christenson said Hendriks told him in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, referring to the coach's usual celebration.

"Oh, I see what you mean, oh no, it's like 'Heil Hitler,' " Christenson said after he turned, in his and Hendriks' recounting to Slusser.

The salute, typically followed by exclamations of "Heil Hitler" or "Sieg Heil," was a compulsory tribute to Adolf Hitler within the Nazi Party and, later, all of Germany under the Nazis' rule from 1933 through 1945. Still used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists long after the end of World War II, the Anti-Defamation League says the salute is "the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world."

The A's said in a statement that they were "deeply sorry this happened on our playing field."

"We do not support or condone this gesture, or the racist sentiment behind it," the A's said in a statement. "This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a [club] and many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country."

Before the A's released the pair of statements, Christenson told Slusser that he "wasn't doing that intentionally" and that "I just blacked out, my mind wasn't there and I spaced out."

"I'm cringing inside picturing myself," Christenson told Slusser. "Of course I'm sorry for it -- it's like standing there with my middle finger up. Anyone should know better."

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

Whatever he’s doing appears to be working.

Khris Davis proved his recent adjustment at the plate is paying dividends, as he tallied his second multi-hit game of the season during the A’s 6-4 sweep over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

Davis said the coaching staff and teammates are to thank for the recent surge -- particularly hitting coach Darren Bush, who first suggested an alteration with Davis' hands.

“Yeah, I just put my hands back and further up a little and it’s been helping me be more accurate to the ball,” Davis said after the game. “I’m finding less swings and misses and a little better contact.”

“It’s all pretty comfortable right away, usually when you have to make an adjustment and you feel it click, you just run with that and don’t look back so it’s brought some comfort in the box so I’m going to keep working with it,” Davis said.

Davis went 2-for-3 on Thursday, driving in two runs in the 4th inning to break the game open.

“I think it’s a positioning thing, just having them further back -- less room to go,” he added. “They’re just already ready to fire and it’s been working.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Davis wants to be the everyday designated hitter, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case with his lack of production. Mark Canha has been taking over the DH spot in some of the outings, but it’s something Davis is ready to earn back.

“It is what it is,” Davis said. “And, I just have to capitalize on my opportunities that I do get. It’s s--tty, but I’ve been here before, I’ve lost my job before a couple times and I’ve had to battle back and this is nothing new to me.”

It turns out the oblique injury Davis suffered last season when he ran into the wall in May ended up leaving a bigger mark than just on his skin. 

"I think when I got hurt, I had been getting set up in a different way,” Davis said. “My body just wasn’t adjusting to that injury and just when I put my hands further back it just freed things up.”

[RELATED: Luzardo's outing shows A's have something special]

Oh, and his teammates are helping him a lot too.  

“A lot of good teammates, they know what it’s like to go through a struggle and they just kept reminding me that I could hit all around, I don’t have to hit a home run or whatever, but they constantly say that I’m a good hitter, I’m [not just] a power hitter.”