Athletics

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

OAKLAND — Stephen Vogt made an unexpected appearance in left field Wednesday night, and his performance got approval from a pretty good outfield authority.

Former A’s teammate Josh Reddick was watching from the Houston Astros’ dugout and thought the catcher-by-trade handled himself very well.

“I was talking to (Houston manager) A.J. (Hinch) and I said, ‘It’s gonna be interesting because you know at least one ball’s gonna get to him,’” Reddick said. “You start laughing because four of the five that were hit that inning were hit to him.”

With the A’s bench short-handed, manager Bob Melvin sent Vogt to left after he pinch-hit for Rajai Davis, and indeed Vogt got a workout throughout the top of the eighth. That added a bit of levity to a 5-1 loss that otherwise provided the A’s very little to cheer about.

They were bottled up by Astros right-hander Mike Fiers and four relievers as the Astros won their ninth in a row at the Coliseum and their third straight in this four-game series. A’s starter Sean Manaea was rolling through five scoreless innings before Houston blitzed him for three runs in the sixth. The Astros tacked on a couple more late runs against Oakland’s bullpen and that was enough on a night the A’s mustered just four hits total.

After Vogt delivered an RBI groundout that scored the A’s only run in the seventh, Melvin wanted to keep Vogt’s left-handed bat in the lineup, so he asked the veteran catcher if he could handle left.

“I said yeah, absolutely,” Vogt said.

It’s easy to forget that Vogt came up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ system playing a lot of outfield, and he played more than a dozen games in the outfield in 2014 for the A’s, mostly in right.

He sure got tested. The Astros’ first four hitters of the eighth all hit balls in Vogt’s direction. He got a routine fly from Brian McCann, a difficult low liner off the bat of Yuli Gurriel that he smothered for a single, a double from Alex Bregman that he did a good job cutting off and a sacrifice fly to the warning track from Jake Marisnick.

“I had the adrenaline shot run up and I was loose and ready to go,” Vogt said. “Obviously I was a little more focused than probably your average outfielder out there. I’m glad the first one came to me, otherwise I would have been sweatin’ it for a while.”

Vogt has lost time recently behind the plate against right-handers to Josh Phegley, who has done an effective job controlling the running game. And though you shouldn’t by any means expect to see Melvin running Vogt to the outfield often, you also shouldn’t assume it won’t happen at all.

At some point, the A’s figure to call up catcher Bruce Maxwell as part of the crop of young players they’re trying to give more time too. If the left-handed hitting Maxwell were to share catching duties with Phegley, and if the A’s were to trade Yonder Alonso (again, we’re talking ‘ifs’ here), it’s conceivable Vogt’s left-handed bat could be put to use at spots other than catcher, perhaps at first base or, in a pinch, even the outfield.

His old teammate thinks he could pull it off.

“I remember him playing in right in ’14 when I was (injured),” Reddick said. “He did a pretty good job out there, it’s not like he’s foreign to it. He knows what he’s doing.”

Astros, Angels look like A's biggest competition in new-look AL West

Astros, Angels look like A's biggest competition in new-look AL West

After a busy offseason, the AL West could look a lot different than it did a year ago. Every team in the division lost key pieces and will have to adjust to new faces in the clubhouse.

In 2018, the A's made a surprising run to the AL Wild Card game by winning 97 games. But the Astros won the division with 103 victories and are again the heavy favorites to repeat as AL West champions.

Oakland's run to another playoff berth will be challenging, as they've suffered injuries to slugger Matt Olson and top prospect Jesús Luzardo

Regardless, the A's enter 2019 with the goal of playing October baseball once again. But to do so, they'll have to outlast a remade AL West.

[RELATED: MLB Power Rankings]

Here's a breakdown of the A's competition entering the season:

The Favorite: Houston Astros

Newcomers: Michael Brantley (OF), Robinson Chirinos (C), Aledmys Diaz (SS), Wade Miley (SP)

What they lost: Dallas Keuchel (SP), Charlie Morton (SP), Tony Sipp (RP), Marwin Gonzalez (OF), Martin Maldonado (C), Evan Gattis (DH)

Despite losing Charlie Morton and possibly Dallas Keuchel in free agency, the Astros are once again a heavy favorite to win the AL West crown. Houston added left-hander Wade Miley to join Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Collin McHugh in the starting rotation, and their bullpen is still one of the best in baseball.

The Astros will also feature a deep and dynamic lineup, led by MVP candidates Alex Bregman and José Altuve. Michael Brantley and Robinson Chirinos are solid additions and the club returns Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Yuli Gurriel as well.

Until they are dethroned, the Astros are the team to beat in the AL West.

The Contender: Los Angels Angels

Newcomers: Trevor Cahill (SP), Matt Harvey (SP), Cody Allen (RP), Justin Bour (1B), Jonathan Lucroy (C)

What they lost: Garrett Richards (SP), Jose Alvarez (RP), Blake Parker (RP)

The Angels believe they have addressed their starting pitching issues by signing Matt Harvey and former A's pitcher Trevor Cahill. The two veteran right-handers will join Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Jaime Barria in the rotation.

Los Angeles also improved its bullpen by signing former Indians closer Cody Allen. The 30-year-old struggled last season but put together four straight impressive years before that.

The Angels lineup should be productive with Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Justin Bour, and Kole Calhoun doing most of the damage. If they find a way to get consistent pitching, they could challenge for a Wild Card spot, if not the division title.

Stock falling: Texas Rangers

Newcomers: Lance Lynn (SP), Jesse Chavez (RP), Shawn Kelley (RP), Shelby Miller (SP), Hunter Pence (OF)

What they lost: Adrián Beltré (3B), Jurickson Profar (INF), Robinson Chirinos (C), Matt Moore (SP), Alex Claudio (RP)

The Rangers could be in for a long season. After winning just 67 games a year ago, Texas lost Adrián Beltré to retirement and Jurickson Profar to the A's.

The Rangers' pitching staff was the biggest problem last season, finishing with a combined ERA of 4.93. That ranked 28th out of MLB's 30 teams. Texas did add starters Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, as well as relievers Jesse Chavez and former Athletic Shawn Kelley.

The Rangers may be slightly better than last year, but it will be a massive surprise if they end up anywhere near .500.

Roster overhaul: Seattle Mariners

Newcomers: Yusei Kikuchi (SP), Hunter Strickland (RP), Cory Gearrin (RP), Edwin Encarnación (DH), Mallex Smith (OF), Jay Bruce (OF), Domingo Santana (OF), Tim Beckham (SS)

What they lost: Edwin Diaz (RP), James Paxton (SP), Nelson Cruz (DH), Robinson Cano (2B), Jean Segura (SS), Juan Nicasio (RP), Alex Colome (RP), Mike Zunino (C), Ben Gamel (OF)

Despite winning 89 games last year, the Mariners completely overhauled their roster with an eye on the future. Seattle cut ties with stars like Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano.

The Mariners did add highly-touted Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi and former Giants closer Hunter Strickland, both of whom pitched well against the A's last week in Tokyo. Seattle's lineup was also productive in the season-opening series against Oakland.

While the Mariners are a long shot to contend, they certainly have talent and could surprise teams in the AL West.

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

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USATSI

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.