Athletics

Why A's starter Frankie Montas never stopped training during pandemic

Why A's starter Frankie Montas never stopped training during pandemic

Major League Baseball shut down in mid-March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A’s right-hander Frankie Montas did not. He kept throwing, kept training, kept pushing himself hard to improve upon last year’s excellent first-half form.

His Twitter followers saw snippets of what he was up to during the shutdown. He was lifting crazy weight, throwing bullpens and simulated games and once even hitting triple digits with his fastball.

That’s why it shocked no one that Montas was ahead of most everyone when the A’s reported to summer training camp last week at Oakland Coliseum.

“I was pretty built up,” Montas said. “I was going four innings in simulated games and live BP. Right now, I could probably go four or five innings. I feel like my arm is in shape. I was training the entire time in Arizona.”

This isn’t the first time Montas has been in Arizona largely by himself, waiting for a return to baseball. He experienced something similar after being suspended 80 games for violating the MLB policy on performance-enhancing drugs. It slammed the brakes on a 9-2 start with a 2.70 ERA over 90 innings.

Montas didn’t sulk over that difficult work stoppage. He grinded out bullpens and simulated games at the team’s Mesa, Ariz. training complex in hopes of making one regular-season start when the suspension lifted. He did so, pitched well but didn’t throw again after the A’s got eliminated in the wild-card playoff.

A’s manager Bob Melvin believes that period still fuels Montas’ motivation.

“I think part of it stems from him not being able to contribute much in the second half last year,” he said. “We got him back for one start last year and he contributed, but his focus was that he was going to be ready to come into camp this year. He was in spring training and certainly was in version 2.0. He’s pretty driven at this point.”

Montas followed a similar routine to his hiatus last year, albeit with some minor tweaks to account for the pandemic.

“I have a wife and a kid, and my wife is pregnant,” Montas said. “It’s hard for me to stay away from people but I tried to keep the distance while still being able to work and stay ready. It was the same strategy but different situations.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Montas found a weight room to train and a cage where he could throw to hitters and simulate game situations with the help of some tech. He also tinkered with his slider, refining variations that can either bite or sustain a greater loop. Add that to a devastating split-finger fastball he used to great effect in 2019. Oh, and his high-90s fastball can hit 100, as we saw on social media. 

Yeah, he was firing triple digits to a high school kid.

“He was pretty good,” Montas said with a laugh. “Let’s give him some credit.”

[RELATED: A's Matt Chapman adjusts personal goals in shortened 2020 MLB season]

Montas very well could be the A’s ace this season. The fact that isn’t already established speaks to the depth and talent around him in the rotation, but Melvin believes Montas is an upper-echelon pitcher as talented as most anyone.

“He’s electric,” Melvin said. “I’d match him up with anybody in our division, anybody really in the league right now. The trick is sustaining it and doing this for a longer period of time, but the fashion with which he’s throwing right now is pretty exciting.”

Astros vs. Oakland A's live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

Astros vs. Oakland A's live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

The A's are rolling.

Oakland has won six straight games as they welcome the rival Astros to the Coliseum for the first time since Houston's cheating scandal was unearthed in the offseason.

The A's (9-4) are coming off a sweep of the Rangers, while the Astros (6-6) lost two out of three to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Here's how you can watch the A's play the Rangers online (download the MyTeams app here!) and on TV:

Friday, Aug. 7

When: A's Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 6:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

Saturday, Aug. 8

When: A's Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 1:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

Sunday, Aug. 9

When: A's Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 1:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

Marcus Semien's hard work paying off as he builds A's culture, tone

Marcus Semien's hard work paying off as he builds A's culture, tone

Austin Allen’s single to score Matt Chapman in the bottom of the 13th set the things up for Marcus Semien in the A’s 3-2 win over the Houston Astros on Friday night.

Semien sealed the deal with a walk-off single to center field. Semien smiled celebrated with an ice bath from Tony Kemp. It was a much-need victory over the Astros for both Semien and the A's.

For Semien, the big hit was a long time coming. 

“For me, it’s trying to be on time,” Semien told reporters following the 13-inning game. “I’ve been struggling with my timing a little bit, so just being on time, and same thing with Austin. Like I said, that guy was getting guys to chase up, so anything that is hard and a little lower, just attack it. I put a lot of work in earlier in the day just trying to hit line drives to the opposite field and it’s a good feeling when it clicks because for a while it hadn’t been clicking.”

Semien wasn’t hitting the ball hard, he explained. And when that happens, there’s a reason for it.  

“My stroke feels good, but sometimes it’s approach, sometimes it’s timing -- body position, a lot of things that could be,” Semien added. “That’s what early work is for, cage work. Once you get in the game, you just have to compete.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Semien said he has to create habits that work.

“It’s tough because you think you have to tinker with everything,” Semien added.

Semien wasn’t sure what that tinkering would consist of: Would he need to work on his swing? Not necessarily. The timing was definitely a factor, but Semien also believes opposing teams were attacking him differently.

That seems to be the case when he leaves a third-place AL MVP season behind him in 2019.

“They’re being more careful, you saw that with Texas,” Semien said. “I’m trying to take the low pitches, sometimes they’re calling them, and you just find yourself in 0-for-3 like that. I think today was a good day to build off.”

“They know last year I put up some good numbers and you’re not getting as much to hit. You think that you’re just going to get the same pitches that they threw last year and that’s part of it, kind of created some bad habits early on. Even since spring and Summer Camp, just hadn’t really been driving the ball well.” 

Semien said he’s working on that every day. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

“Marcus, I think has set the tone and built the culture here,” A’s starter Chris Bassitt told reporters during his postgame availability. “Obviously I think [Matt] Chapman and [Matt] Olson and those guys have caught on to just the work ethic that Semien brings every single day.”

[RELATED: A's fan creates GoFundMe to troll Astros with 'Asterisks' aerial banner]

Bassitt himself had a good outing, allowing just three hits and one earned run in seven innings. That brings his total to just two earned runs allowed in 16 2/3 innings this season. But this wasn’t about him at the moment despite his solid outing in the 13-inning game. He wanted to give Semien his moment.

“It’s not a matter of when [Semien] walks up to the plate, but whenever he does, you know you are getting the best effort from him every single night,” Bassitt said. “Doesn’t matter what at-bat, what inning. Anytime he walks up with the game on the line, I’m extremely confident in him.”