Athletics

Thinking positive: A's players embrace Zen-like philosophy while on DL

Thinking positive: A's players embrace Zen-like philosophy while on DL

OAKLAND — This season obviously has been a trying one for the A’s, but they’re finding creative ways to cope with it.

There’s a Zen-like theme permeating the clubhouse, from the incense that’s occasionally burning, to a locker that temporarily housed bamboo and a Japanese rock garden, to the bonsai tree that now sits by the dugout during batting practice.

A baseball clubhouse isn’t the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of Eastern philosophy. But the A’s have a group of players who have spent large chunks of time on the disabled list, rehabbing together and trying to keep the inactivity from driving them batty.

It’s taken them on a search to ease the mind as well as heal the body.

“The DL’s a dark place,” right-hander Chris Bassitt said, “and you’ve got to kind of get out of that darkness.”

When the A’s leave on road trips, players rehabbing from long-term injuries usually stay back in Oakland and continue to rehab under the supervision of assistant trainer Brian Schulman. That develops a bond between players who can relate to what each other are going through.

Bassitt, knowingly or not, seems to have spurred the whole Zen-like vibe when he began listening to yoga music at the Coliseum one day. Pretty soon players were gathering in the training room with the lights off “just to relax for five minutes and let everything go,” as Bassitt explains.

Bassitt’s locker gradually became a shrine of sorts. Realizing he didn’t need all of the space while rehabbing, he temporarily moved his belongings out. Soon, players started decorating it with rain sticks, bamboo, a rock garden and other items.

Think of the locker belonging to Pedro Cerrano in the movie “Major League,” minus anything exploding during a team prayer.

“Some guys had some stuff and we found some stuff on Amazon,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “It kind of came together pretty organically. Everybody had something in there.”

Bassitt knew something was up when he went off for a minor league rehab outing, and teammates were texting him asking for permission to fully take over the locker.

“I was expecting some small stuff, not fountains and fish and all that other stuff that was in there,” he said.

The whole idea has light-hearted roots but players agree that the benefits are real when it comes to relieving tension and keeping things loose through the peaks and valleys of coming back from injury.

Asked to name a player who perhaps surprised him with how much he embraced the whole vibe, Doolittle identified outfielder Jake Smolinski.

“He’s not going to talk about it, but Smo’s the chi master,” Doolittle said. “He plays it real close to the vest.”

Someone brought in a bonsai tree that reliever Michael Brady has become caretaker of. He was seen clipping its branches in the clubhouse earlier on this homestand, and he brings it out to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted a bonsai tree and there was one here,” he said. “I looked at the soil. It was a little dry so I watered it. It looked like it needed some clipping. I read a quick Wikipedia article.

“I was joking around saying it’s a metaphor for the team: ‘The healthier the tree, the healthier the A’s.’ … I take it out every morning and I bring it in before games.”

Whatever symbols are put into use, the primary goal is to clear out the negative mindset that can set in for a player who’s navigating his way through the “D.L. jungle,” as Doolittle put it.

“Believe it or not, there’s a lot of guys that actually do use meditation a lot,” Bassitt said. “They’ll never say it, but there’s a lot of guys that do. You get positive thoughts and kind of re-set yourself.”

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.