“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Robin Goodfellow, AKA Puck, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also A.J. Puk, to opposing Royals’ hitters.
Results are secondary in these early friendlies, but there are still tons of positives to discern from today’s ballgame against the Royals.
If top prospect A.J. Puk continues on his current development trajectory, he should probably sniff the major leagues at some point this season, despite being drafted just two years prior. In today’s game, Puk faced six batters, and retired all six via one strikeout and five ground ball outs. He managed to stay ahead of all hitters he faced, and used almost all the pitches in his growing arsenal while still limiting his pitch count to just a mere twenty-one pitches. The “Rather-Big Unit,” as I have grown to call him, gave this interview on his performance following his scheduled removal after two innings pitched:
AJ Puk discusses his spiffy first spring outing: pic.twitter.com/plDRHK1x03— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 25, 2018
Dustin Fowler also had a satisfying “debut” for the A’s, leading off and manning center field for the first half of the ballgame. Again, while it is only the third game of spring training, Fowler appeared strong at the plate and made the most of each of his appearances, notching a single and a walk over three at-bats. Never exactly lauded for his plate discipline, witnessing Fowler take good pitches and work a base on balls is encouraging for someone who probably will procure the majority of starts at center field this season, especially after missing so much action last year.
Fowler wasn’t the only Athletic walking today. Through just four innings the A’s worked six walks as a team (largely because of former prospect Heath Fillmyer having a world of control issues in his inning-plus long appearance), and the A’s were able to parlay two of those walks into runs. In two particularly good at bats, with the A’s down a run in the fourth inning, Matt Olson and Sheldon Neuse walked ahead of Jake Smolinski, and Smolinksi then blasted a home run off of Jake Newberry, Heath Fillmyer’s replacement, to deep left center field.
Fully recovered from his injury, Jake Smolinski should make an interesting case for the 25th man on the roster. His ability to mash left-handed pitching, when healthy, is well-founded, and comments from A’s management stating he was likely to see a lot of center field this season confirms the team’s interest as Smolinski as a backup outfielder for all three positions. With Renato Nunez’s hamstring injury, which may not be game-ready by the time the season starts, and Mark Canha’s declining effectiveness, this is Smolinski’s best chance to play his way onto the roster, and after today’s game he is off to a good start.
Beyond Puk’s soothing performance, the A’s didn’t pitch poorly in today’s game, but the defense didn’t help out at all. In the third inning, a would-be double became a three-base knock for Paulo Orlando, and Orlando promptly scored on the next batter. In the sixth inning, the Royals received a free base on a wild pitch that erased a double play opportunity, and eventually led to a second Royals’ run. Another wild pitch in the seventh turned a first-and-second-and-inconvenient situation into a second-and-third-and-lead-surrendering situation, tying the game up.
It is also the third game of spring, and even though defense is the single biggest issue on the team that has cost them hundreds of runs over the past three seasons and cost them the 2014 Wild Card Game before that, its probably not anything worth worrying about.
The B-List actors for both the A’s and Royals traded runs in the late innings, and the game ended a 4-4 tie.
There was a lot of encouraging baseball in today’s friendly versus the Royals, and despite the game ending in a tie, the team and fans alike should feel good about the overall performance.
The A’s take on the White Sox in their spring stadium tomorrow at noon.