Bob Melvin

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

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AP

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

OAKLAND -- After Shawn Kelley's stellar stretch run with the A's last season, it seemed likely he would return to Oakland as a free agent.

The 34-year-old right-hander appeared in 19 games last August and September, registering a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. But while there was initially mutual interest in a reunion, the A's decided to go in a different direction and Kelley signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

"We talked from the very end of (the season) about getting something done," Kelley told NBC Sports California. "I think when they got (Joakim) Soria and gave him that money (two years, $15 million), my agent called right away because we were kind of worried. We had been talking to (A's general manager David) Forst. Both sides were like, 'Yeah, let's get something done.' When Soria signed, we kind of saw the writing on the wall. And then (Forst) wished me luck in whatever decision I made. He said, 'We spent a little on a couple of guys and so we wish you the best and thanks for everything you did coming over, but we're out of money.'"

Kelley says he carries no hard feelings toward his former squad, as he understands the business side of baseball. He still has a great relationship with his old teammates and manager.

"I talked to all the guys when they came to Texas and I talked to them (Tuesday)," Kelley said. "I went over and gave BoMel a big hug and told him, 'Man, I'm sorry. I wanted to be here. It just didn't work out.' That's part of it. It wasn't for a lack of effort. There was obviously genuine interest from me and definitely some genuine interest from their side. Things just go different ways sometimes in free agency."

Kelley has carried last year's success into this season with the Rangers. He is already 3-0 with a save and a 1.80 ERA, as well as a 0.80 WHIP. He has notched nine strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a single walk.

"It's been great," Kelley said. "It's a good group. It kind of reminds me of what we had over there last year (with the A's), as far as a good mix of young guys with some veterans, a lot of energy, and a lot of will to not give in and keep fighting. It's been a good experience."

Kelley is extremely thankful for the opportunity the A's gave him last season, especially after the Nationals let him go following his now infamous -- and probably overblown -- glove-slamming incident. He believes his time in Oakland rejuvenated his career.

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"I had fun when I went over there and saw a renewed energy and passion for just going out and having fun and enjoying it, and it not feeling like work every day," Kelley said. "It was a great experience. I loved it."

For now, Kelley is happy to be a Texas Ranger, although he doesn't rule out a return to Oakland down the road.

"Hey, you never know," he smiled. "One day, I may be back."

Healthy Chris Bassitt erratic but effective in A's 6-1 win vs. Rangers

Healthy Chris Bassitt erratic but effective in A's 6-1 win vs. Rangers

OAKLAND -- It's been almost three years since Chris Bassitt had Tommy John surgery. Although he did return to the majors in 2018, the A's right-hander never quite felt fully healthy.

Until now.

"To say that this is the best I've felt would be an understatement," Bassitt said Monday night, after he threw five scoreless innings in his season debut, a 6-1 A's win over the Texas Rangers. "My [velocity] is back, everything is kind of back. To be honest with you, tonight I was not really built up, and conditioning-wise wasn't that great, but I mean, yeah, I'm back."

The 30-year-old struggled a bit with his control at the Coliseum, issuing four walks, but he allowed just two hits and struck out seven.

"Effectively wild, I guess," Bassitt said, with a laugh. "It was kind of just fill the zone up with everything and hope for the best."

A's manager Bob Melvin concurred with that assessment.

"He can be a little bit on the effectively wild side, where he walks a couple of guys, he hits a guy, he goes 3-0 on you, and comes back and strikes you out looking," Melvin said. "It's really tough to figure out where he's going to throw the ball. One's moving, one's cutting, [he has] a real slow curveball. He can kind of slow you down and speed you up.

"He's got a lot of movement, and as the game progressed, he got more and more confidence."

Bassitt hoped to begin the year in the A's rotation, but he suffered a bruised shin when he was struck by a batted ball during one of Oakland's exhibition games in Japan. He recorded an ERA of 3.27, with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings, in three minor-league starts this season.

Now, Bassitt has his first major-league win of the 2019 season. He heaped praise on catcher Josh Phegley for guiding him through Monday's outing and helping him overcome his erratic control.

"It's definitely not fun to walk that many guys because you put yourself in awkward situations a lot," Bassitt said. "But I give a lot of credit to Phegley, just because I don't think I shook one time. Not only that, it was just more so in between innings talking to him and [him] saying, 'Listen, this is what we're going to do. Trust it and let's go get 'em.' "

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Despite keeping the Rangers off the scoreboard, Bassitt was frustrated he couldn't pitch deeper into the game to spare Oakland's bullpen. But Melvin was more than content with the outing.

"He gave us what we needed," the manager said. "He came out with a zero on the board and the lead. That's about all we could ask from him today. ...

"It was a great start for him. I know he was excited about his start and wanted to get off to a good start, and he absolutely did. So I know next time out, he'll have a lot of confidence."

How A's J.B. Wendelken overcame Tommy John surgery to become bullpen fixture

How A's J.B. Wendelken overcame Tommy John surgery to become bullpen fixture

OAKLAND – Back in 2016, J.B. Wendelken was just trying to establish himself as a consistent relief pitcher at any level of baseball. 

The Savannah, Georgia native made his MLB debut with the A's that May, but struggled in eight appearances out of the bullpen. He allowed 14 earned runs in just 12 1/3 innings.

Wendelken wasn't much better in Triple-A, registering a 4.11 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 46 innings for the Nashville Sounds. As it turned out, there was a reason for his struggles: He needed Tommy John surgery.

"It was very tough to stay positive because I knew something wasn't right," Wendelken recently told NBC Sports California. "Every day you go out there, it was something else – some ache, some pain. You knew something wasn't right but I did my best at the time. ... Deciding to do surgery was actually the best decision of my life."

Wendelken missed the entire 2017 season as he recovered from the procedure. He admitted the rehab process was difficult, and often lonely, but he had help staying positive.

"Family. My lovely wife. Everybody kept me on track," Wendelken said. " ... I had some bumpy times coming down that rehab road, but overall, just overcoming that situation, it's eye-opening that you still have family there behind you no matter how low your lows are."

When Wendelken returned to the mound in 2018, he was a brand-new pitcher. The young right-hander was throwing his fastball with precision in the mid-to-high 90s, while also locating his curveball and changeup with pinpoint accuracy. 

"It was life-changing after surgery," he said. "I felt stronger and my confidence was up. ... It was a change for me with the feeling of how healthy I really was and that I could pitch here."

Even Wendelken couldn't have imagined how well he would pitch for the A's last season. In 16 2/3 innings, he allowed just one run, translating to a 0.54 ERA. He notched 14 strikeouts against five walks, and quickly became a trusted member of Oakland's bullpen.

"He was on the playoff roster for a reason," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "It all came together for him after his surgery to where the (velocity) was back and the command was back. His mechanics are as good as they've ever been."

"I definitely outdid my own expectations," Wendelken added. "My goal coming into last year was just to play for myself, try to enjoy the game again, and get back into it. I think I did that well with how I carried myself and went about my business."

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This season, Wendelken has picked up right where he left off, striking out 14 batters in 12 1/3 innings while walking just two. His 3.65 ERA is a little deceiving based on a stellar 0.81 WHIP and 2.65 FIP, which actually is better than last year.

"We expected him to be in this type of role based on what we saw last year," Melvin said. "A lot of guys have compared him to Lou Trivino's ascent. He's got a little bit to do before he gets to that level, but he's pitched himself into a role now where we're using him typically in plus games and, a lot of times, more than one inning."

Now 26 years old, Wendelken's patience and determination have paid off. He is firmly entrenched in the A's bullpen as one of the team's most reliable arms.

And he’s only just getting started.