It's been a while since AN checked in with perennial AN favorite SF Chronicle A's beat reporter Susan Slusser. She has a great story today about the A's forgetting their bats yesterday. Would it be too easy to make a joke about the A's missing bats for the past couple of seasons? Probably.
I thought this would be a great time to check in with Slusser as we close in on opening day 2006.
Blez: You've been down in Arizona for a month now. Tell me what's been the most surprising development out of camp.
Susan Slusser: Nothing's been an out-of-nowhere crazy surprise, but it has been great to see Freddie Bynum make things hard on the decision makers. He's had himself a sensational spring, just you want to see from a kid who's out of options - make a statement. Plus, he's such a great kid, and he's worked so hard to turn himself into a valuable utility type guy, it's neat to see it all come together.
Blez: Have there been any big disappointments out of camp?
Slusser: I think the A's would have liked to see more out of the candidates for the second lefty spot in the bullpen; no one stepped up in that race and made the coaching staff and front office take notice, which is one reason they picked up Halsey. Of course, there probably is no second lefty spot on the roster right now, so in terms of major disappointments......well, it doesn't qualify. There might have been a little concern about Joe Blanton getting knocked out early in his first few starts, but it doesn't nearly rise to the level of disappointment.
Blez: Has this been the most boring camp you've attended with the lack of competition for open spots, etc.?
Slusser: I thought it might be a really quiet spring, but it seems like there's been plenty to write about. Bynum's spring has made things a little more interesting, Frank Thomas has been a story throughout, and the WBC was an interesting little change. The personalities in this clubhouse are so good and there are so many great talkers, there's never a real problem finding a topic. That said......I'm guessing the roster and the roles turn out to be exactly as predicted back in mid-February.
Blez: What's it been like being around Milton Bradley? Has he been keeping to himself mostly?
Slusser: After the first day or two, Milton seemed to blend in pretty well in the clubhouse, and after the first week, he started to be a little more open with the reporters, too. I think he might have his moods, but then, don't we all? And even when he's grumpy, he's polite, which is a neat trick. He had one day where he vented some about the Dodgers and how they dealt with his knee injury last year - and while he was clearly mad the entire time he was talking to us, he was totally under control and very interesting.
I get the impression he's making a lot of friends on the team and feels very comfortable; he goofs around as much as anyone else does (I think you all heard about the green wig on St. Patrick's Day). He even mentioned that he's been TOO nice and he needs to be mad to play well. He's an intense guy, and that's probably a good thing for a team that can be a little laid-back at times. One friend of his told me that the only thing the A's need to be concerned about with Milton is keeping him healthy and on the field, and I think that's probably true.
Blez: Do you think the A's will have the best rotation in the American League?
Slusser: I think they're right there with the White Sox. I'm not going to discount that rotation after the postseason they had, and they're even better now, with Vasquez. The A's have more upside to their guys, though - more potential superstars. And dollar for dollar, there's no doubt which the better value rotation is.
Blez: Should A's fans be concerned about Chavez's shoulder?
Slusser: Yes and no. Until he gets it repaired, he will have times where he has a lot of shoulder soreness and you'll be able to tell when that is because he'll be bouncing the ball a lot. He seems to get the job done even when it bothers him, though. And he should get a few more days off this year, so he might be able to manage it better.
Blez: How did Dan Meyer look? Did he have the velocity back?
Slusser: He looked like a different guy from last spring. I don't know if the velocity is back all the way, but it was better than it was and his control was good. The main thing is that he pitched with confidence. I know the staff was happy with what they saw - I wouldn't be surprised at all if Meyer is in a big-league rotation next year.
Blez: Do you think this team has any glaring holes that will need to be addressed?
Slusser: No. I mean, there might be some room to improve the bullpen a bit, but almost every team could say that. But glaring holes, absolutely not.
Blez: Does Frank Thomas seem like he's 100 percent or close to it?
Slusser: He will never run at 100 percent again, I don't think, and that foot won't ever be right, according to the medical staff. But this is as good as it's going to get. The A's will just hold have to hold their breath that the foot/ankle holds up. So far, so good, as far as they're concerned - it's all gone according to plan.
Blez: Is this the year we finally see 35 starts out of Rich Harden?
Slusser: With all the work he's done, and having that shoulder surgery (which he did specifically to make sure he stays healthy), I certainly hope so. Rich is a max-effort guy in everything he does, and there are no guarantees, but he believes that surgery will prevent the sorts of muscle strains he had last year, and he's been sensational this spring. I'll give you a cautious yes on that one.
Blez: Do you think Jason Kendall has a bounce-back year?
Slusser: Absolutely. He's been too good a hitter for too long to think otherwise. He started to pick things up toward the end of last season, too, when he'd seen some of those pitchers a second and third time, and now he knows the league and he doesn't have to worry as much about the A's young staff. He might be near the bottom of the order, but I think he'll have an excellent year, maybe back to All-Star level.
Blez: Do you think the A's win the AL West this year and finally win at least a round in the playoffs?
Slusser: Yes, yes and more than that. Count me among those who think this is the most solid all-around team in the league. And they're set up well for the postseason with that pitching and defense.
Blez: And finally, can you share the funniest moment of the spring?
Slusser: It's a tie between Milton Bradley wearing the green wig onto the field (earlier in the day, he was also wearing shamrock boxers over his workout clothes) and Mikey Thalblum forgetting to bring the bats to Tucson the other day -- and finding out only when the GM called to tell him. I hear Billy sprinted outside to get cell phone reception because he couldn't wait to be the one to get on Mikey for that.
Blez: Thank you so much for your time, Susan.