OAKLAND — After collecting hits and runs by the bunches for much of the Cactus League schedule, the A’s wobbled to the spring training finish line as an offense.
They scored just four runs total in getting swept by the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series, capped by Saturday’s 6-3 loss in which No. 4 starter Andrew Triggs looked shaky for the second outing in a row. Not that the annual exhibition series is ever an indicator of what’s to come in the regular season, but A’s manager Bob Melvin would have liked a better showing against the rival club.
“I didn’t particularly care for the last three games,” Melvin said. “That’s not the way we want to end the spring.”
The A’s did swing the bats a little better Saturday, after mustering just one run total over two nights at AT&T Park. As the season opens Monday night with a four-game home series against the Los Angeles Angels, it’s the beginning of a test to see if Oakland really can transform into a different offensive club as Melvin hopes.
Last year, the A’s were the lowest-scoring American League team primarily because they struggled so much getting on base. Their .304 on-base percentage was last in the league, and the lowest by an Oakland team since 1979. To that end, the A’s are embarking on quite the challenge:
Become a better on-base team without having significantly changed the offensive personnel in that part of the game. Right fielder Matt Joyce is the only new addition who arrives with a track record as a high on-base percentage guy.
So the A’s focus all spring was on becoming a more patient team at the plate, working counts more and taking more walks. Taking the entire 34-game exhibition schedule into account, the results were encouraging.
The A’s entered Saturday fourth in the Cactus League in walks (131) and on-base percentage (.353). Melvin liked what he saw in his hitters in that department.
“I do like the at-bats,” he said Saturday morning. “I do like the fact that everybody’s bought into it for the most part, understanding that that’s what we have to do to be successful. Sometimes it’s just bringing in a couple guys that (could) increase that. It rubs off on the other guys.”
He’s referring primarily to Joyce, the nine-year veteran who shapes up as a critical piece for the A’s. He’s batted anywhere from first through third in the order this spring, and it was interesting that he hit leadoff Saturday with Rajai Davis down in the ninth spot.
“It’s one of our lineups,” Melvin said. “It might not be Monday’s lineup, but it’s one of our lineups.”
Surely, Davis will see his share of time in the leadoff spot too. His speed is a huge threat once he gets on base, but getting there is the issue. His career .314 on-base percentage does not mesh perfectly with how the A’s are hoping to improve this season offensively.
Joyce, who got on base at a .403 clip as a part-time player last year with Pittsburgh, hit just .196 this spring but entered Saturday tied for the Cactus League lead with 14 walks. He was asked how his approach changes based on whether he’s hitting first, second or third.
“I think it just depends on the game, depends on who’s pitching, depends on the situations that present themselves,” Joyce said. “You just have to watch the game and dictate what your approach is going to be and what you’re trying to do depending on those situations. For me, I still wanna be aggressive on pitches that I’m looking for early in the count and have that aggressive mindset.”
Triggs gave up a grand slam to Nick Hundley in the fourth inning Saturday and also hit two batters. In his final two spring starts combined, the right-hander allowed 14 hits and 12 earned runs over 7 1/3 innings.
“He’s got to throw the ball over the plate a little more precisely at times,” Melvin said. “His breaking ball wasn’t as consistent as it normally is, and therefore he threw a little bit of a hanger to Hundley.”
Triggs felt he had a productive day in that he wanted to work on his cutter, and he thought he threw some good ones.
“I accomplished what I was trying to do,” he said. “The results obviously need to be better than what they were. But in terms of pitch selection and getting ready for Thursday night, I was pretty pleased.”