Athletics

Zito returning to Oakland to celebrate 2002 AL Cy Young award

Zito returning to Oakland to celebrate 2002 AL Cy Young award

Former Cy Young winner Barry Zito will return to the Coliseum on Saturday to take part in the A's Turn Back The Clock festivities. 

The fan giveaway is a bobblehead featuring both Zito and former A's shortstop Miguel Tejada. This is the 15th anniversary season of Tejada winning the AL Most Valuable Player award and Zito winning the Cy Young award while with Oakland. 

Former A's catcher Ramon Hernandez, who also was on that 2002 squad, will be on hand Saturday along with Zito. 

Zito left the A's after the 2006 season and spent the next seven years with the Giants before returning to the A's to finish his career in 2015. 

A's starter A.J. Puk ready to pitch restriction free in shortened MLB season

A's starter A.J. Puk ready to pitch restriction free in shortened MLB season

A.J. Puk got some curious stares while walking through the A’s clubhouse last week. Teammates couldn’t immediately identify the tall, lanky pitcher who had lost 10 pounds, and dramatically trimmed down his trademark locks.

The hair is high-and-tight now, for the first time since the A’s drafted him No. 6 overall back in 2016.

“Some people didn’t recognize me,” Puk said in a Friday video conference. “I told them I came in the Mateo trade.”

The front office recently shipped infielder Jorge Mateo to the Padres for a player to be named later. The return hasn’t been set yet. The A’s would be thrilled to get a dominant left-hander with ace potential like Puk.

Puk’s so good he has drawn Randy Johnson comparisons, and they won’t cease just because their hair no longer is identical. Their size and stature still is similar. So is the fact that, like Johnson, Puk can flat out bring it.

A’s fans saw that during a 10-game cameo in MLB late last year, where he struck out 13 over 11.1 innings. One bit of warning for those who assume we’ll see the same Puk in 2020: The A’s still had him in shackles, preventing him from throwing his full pitch arsenal.

The A’s were careful with a prized prospect who had Tommy John Surgery in April 2018, wanting to avoid a significant setback. He had a minor one during spring training, with some shoulder soreness common to those with UCL repairs. Baseball’s layoff due to the coronavirus allowed Puk to fully heal, and the shortened season has removed any inning restrictions that could have come into play over 162 games.

All that means Puk finally is free and clear. He can throw any pitch he wants, from a high-90s fastball to a buckling curve. His innings won’t be monitored closely.

Puk is free and clear in every sense.

“Mentally it feels great to know that I’m really feeling good to only worry about getting out there to worry about executing pitches,” Puk said. “I’m not worried about any of the rehab stuff. It’s a lot better than what it was previously.”

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

That should scare opponents. So should this fact: Puk’s arm feels better than ever.

“I was able to clean up some of my mechanics,” Puk said. “It was a long grind coming back from Tommy John and then ramping it back up. A lot of times young guys come back and deal with some shoulder stuff, so hopefully that’s all in the past and I’m able to go forward.”

Once his shoulder felt right and he was able to get on the mound, Puk started sending video to trainers and pitching coach Scott Emerson in search of mechanical refinements.

“My arm angle’s just a little bit higher than what it was, and I’m trying to get more direction instead of pulling off and getting my pinching sensation in my shoulder,” Puk said. “That has been gone and that has been helpful.”

The hair was still long at that point, but Puk knew he wanted to cut some before reporting to the team’s summer training camp. He ended up chopping it all off. That’s nearly a foot of hair he left with his mom to donate when the time is right.

Puk is restriction-free and ready to attack a shortened season and realize his vast potential in the big leagues.

I would’ve probably been on an innings limit in a normal situation. Now that it’s only 60 games, hopefully that’s only 12 starts, with some playoff starts after that. It’s a quick year, but it’s one I’m looking forward to.

“…Everything’s coming together right now and it’s a good spot to be in.”

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Buster Posey took several days of Giants training camp to deal with what was termed a personal issue. It turns out he spent that time weighing whether to play baseball this season during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Posey announced Friday that he would opt out and explained exactly why. Turns out he has a damn good reason.

His family adopted two twin girls born July 3 at just 32 weeks. They are in the NICU now and Posey said they will be in a particularly vulnerable state for at least four months. That’s more than the entire 2020 MLB season, even if everything goes right.

Posey made an easy decision, the right one.

That’s clear to most, including A’s manager Bob Melvin.

“In his case, I don’t know why you would want to play with what’s going on there,” Melvin said in a Friday video conference. “Each guy looks at it a little differently, so I’m not surprised that some have opted out. I’m certainly not surprised about Buster, now knowing the whole story.”

While most are supportive of easy choices like Posey’s or the less straightforward, detractors have proven vocal even in a decided minority.

A’s relief pitcher Jake Diekman has a higher risk for complications if he contracts COVID-19 due to a pre-existing condition but chose to play the season. The team is cognizant of that while strictly adhering to health and safety protocols during training camp.

[RELATED: Zaidi, Kapler support Posey's decision]

Whether someone chooses to play or not, Melvin says, that player will receive backing from around the sport.

“Whoever decides to opt out will be fully supported,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot at stake right now. It’s easy once you’re out on the field and it feels great again and everyone likes playing, but the underlying factor and issues are still there. If there’s somebody who has reservations, whether it’s Jake, who says he doesn’t have any, will be fully supported and I don’t think they’ll be criticized by the baseball community.”