Athletics

Why these A's spring performances that could translate into 2020 season

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AP

Why these A's spring performances that could translate into 2020 season

Let's take a trip back in time. Back when baseball was being played ... about one week ago. 

Since then, spring training games have been canceled and regular-season games will not be played until at least May due to the coronavirus pandemic

Before the spring games were done, there were some strong performances happening in the Arizona desert for the A's. 

Yes, to preface this, spring training numbers *don't matter.* But let's take a look:

The young lefty pitchers

For the first time in a long time, the A's rotation looks solid heading into the 2020 season.

Over the offseason, the team lost a couple of veteran pitchers in Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark, but have more than enough talent to make up for it.

The spring is the perfect time for pitchers to work on some of their specialty pitches. So Sean Manaea's 14.09 ERA was not the perfect way to define the fact that he was working on his slider, a pitch that he was happy with velocity-wise in one of his outings.

On the other side, we got to see young lefties A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo.

Puk only pitched in three innings this spring, but struck out two during those outings. He was shut down after being diagnosed with a mild shoulder strain.

But don't panic, manager Bob Melvin said multiple times that an MRI showed Puk has no structural damage. 

Puk has an extremely promising future, after coming off Tommy John surgery in April, 2018.

As for Luzardo, well, buckle up friends. We are in for a treat.

In Arizona, he pitched 8 1/3 innings and boasted a 1.08 ERA with 13 strikeouts and a 0.600 WHIP.

Glancing at social media, many people are incredibly excited to see what he's going to do this season.

Last year, he gave us a taste in his highly-anticipated MLB debut. In 12 innings, he accumulated a 1.50 ERA, fanning 16. 

Second base

The second base situation created some competition, with both Tony Kemp and Jorge Mateo performing well.

Kemp was slashing .345/.412/.483 with 10 hits in 10 games. The left-handed hitter is one of the favorites to possibly platoon with Franklin Barreto. 

Mateo, specifically, was showing off his speed during that time, proving that he could be an asset to the team. He stole four bases in 12 games during the spring and had 24 last season in Triple-A.

Speaking of Barreto, he was putting up solid spring numbers as well, slashing .306/.359/.528 in 13 games. Melvin knows when Barreto is good, he's deadly against opposing teams.

The starting job is his to lose ... or win. 

Catcher

We didn't get to see much of Sean Murphy, as he was slowly getting back into the grove coming off of knee surgery in October. 

He only played in four Cactus League games, but posted a .375 average and a 1.375 OPS with a home run in 10 plate appearances.

Murphy looks to be the starting guy behind the dish this season.

[RELATED: Canha could get rare opportunity during COVID-19 hiatus]

He was called up on Sept. 4 last season for his big-league debut and fared well. 

In 20 games he slashed . 245/.333/.566 with 13 hits in 53 at-bats.

A's A.J. Puk shares positive health update after shoulder setback

A's A.J. Puk shares positive health update after shoulder setback

Baseball players -- they’re just like us. Well, at least right now, while the sports world is on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A’s young lefty pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo are both doing the same thing most of us are while participating in social distancing. Luzardo is streaming a ton of shows on Netflix (yep -- even “Tiger King”), while Puk is catching up on some sleep.

The two are also staying in shape as best they can, as they told The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser recently on the A’s Plus podcast

Puk is able to throw off the mound at his facility in Iowa and is able to use the bullpens at the local colleges if need be. That also means he’s making progress coming off of a minor setback to a shoulder strain prior to the spring training cancelations.

“Everything’s feeling fine,” Puk told Slusser. “Probably the best my shoulder’s felt in a while, actually you know, since coming back from Tommy John.”

Puk said he heard that there could be a portion following the surgery where the shoulder could flare-up.

“You just kind of have to work through it, I think maybe I was just at that stage of it,” Puk said. “I’m feeling great right now -- just real happy where I’m at right now.”

Puk underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2018, and said there could be a silver lining with the regular-season delay.

“Maybe some extra time to get my stuff feeling good,” Puk said.

He’s getting sick of the “little injuries,” and wants to make sure he’s fully ready to go when, and if, the season begins this year.

Puk only was able to throw three Cactus League innings, but struck out two in the process.

Luzardo, meanwhile, is lucky in that he has teammate and fellow starting pitcher Mike Fiers just minutes up the road from him. The two have been working out, while maintaining social distancing, of course. 

Luzardo and Fiers are using free weights in the middle of an open field down in Florida and training with a mutual friend.

Luzardo knows he and Puk have a huge spotlight on them, with so much potential heading into their rookie seasons. But Luzardo is aware this hiatus is more than just a pushback to his first full year as a big leaguer. 

“In my shoes, my position is kind of irrelevant to the bigger picture. I’m not too caught up in how I’m affected by it rather than how other people are being affected by it.”

There’s a bigger picture there.

Luzardo came out of the bullpen last season and was sensational, boasting a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings. 

[RELATED: Buddy Reed hopes to reunite to Puk in majors]

MLB reportedly recently discussed a plan that could move the sport to the Phoenix, Ariz. area as soon as May. All 30 teams would be playing in the area, and would have to be quarantined to their hotels.

They both had different thoughts on that.

And another silver lining? Luzardo believes the absence of the sport of baseball now could make the heart grow fonder.

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Baseball can occasionally manifest some pretty fascinating personal connections.

Like how Mike Fiers, the eldest starter in the A's rotation, currently is forging an even tighter bond with Jesús Luzardo, one of his youngest counterparts.

“He only lives like 10 minutes from me,” Fiers told NBC Sports California on Tuesday from Florida. “So it’s not even like the home state, it’s like the home city.”

But their acquaintance didn’t start in Oakland. It actually began in the late 2000s.

“I remember him as a 10-, 11-year-old kid,” Fiers said. “Throwing bullpen [sessions] over by my high school, and helping out over there.”

Fiers has been following the lefty’s journey ever since. What a coincidence they’d end up on the same big league team.

“Obviously he became a big name coming through high school," Fiers said, "and his velocity getting up there, and then being a high draft pick.”

Now the two are workout partners in the strangest of times, with MLB, sports and much of life on complete pause.

Fiers and Luzardo get together every couple of days and complete socially-distanced pitching workouts, where they are able to push and provide each other inspiration.

“We cut it down to only a couple of guys,” Fiers said of the workouts. “We know how serious this thing is, and nobody wants to jeopardize their families and their livelihood.”

[RELATED: Fiers gifted Profar, Laureano for catches to save no-hitter]

The pair are taking thorough precautions in the no-contact sessions, which also feature strategically placed bottles of Purell hand sanitizer. There’s also a portable pitching mound, supplied by Fiers.

“We actually took that out to a church,” Fiers said. “It’s the only place we have left, a church parking lot. There’s a field next to it. So we just keep that pitching mound under a tree.”

It’s hardly the Coliseum, but it will have to do for now.