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Spring Game #4: A’s finally fall, but fight until the end

Oakland took their first loss of the spring, but not without a valiant comeback effort in the 9th.

Sean Murphy had a big hit in the 9th.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s finally lost their first game of the 2018 Cactus League on Monday, but not without a fight. The White Sox held a five-run advantage entering the 9th, but by the time the final out was recorded the A’s had put the tying run in scoring position. However, Chicago held on for the 7-6 victory.

Oakland starter Kendall Graveman was strong in his spring debut, with his fastball sitting 94-96 mph (via Julian McWilliams, The Athletic). He induced his signature GIDP grounder in the 1st inning, but in the 2nd the White Sox put together enough hits to bring home one run.

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Chicago piled it on against the bullpen. Santiago Casilla gave up a run in his usual uninspiring outing, and on-the-bubble youngster Raul Alcantara got blown up for three more while failing to even get out of his inning. Eric Jokisch, Nolan Blackwood, and Simon Castro all did fine, but minor league free agent Jeremy Bleich got knocked around for the second time in as many outings.

On the other side of the ball, the big name was White Sox youngster Michael Kopech. The flamethrowing right-hander is one of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline (consensus top 20), and he showed why on Monday. According to Martin Gallegos of the East Bay Times: “Fastball was clocked at 101 mph as he just overmatched a few A’s hitters through two innings.” Kopech wasn’t as dominant as A.J. Puk had been for the A’s on Sunday, but he ended up with similarly scoreless results. In one Oakland highlight, Stephen Piscotty “[drilled a] 97 mph from Kopech to right field for a double that one-hops the wall” (via James Fegan, The Athletic).

The A’s did scrape together a couple of runs in the middle innings, and both times Brandon Moss was in the middle of the rally. In the 5th he doubled ahead of a Bruce Maxwell RBI single, and in the 6th he singled to set up an RBI hit for Mark Canha (off of former A’s prospect Dylan Covey!).

It wasn’t until the 9th that Oakland really mounted a charge. By this point it was deep into the minor league portion of the contest, but some key A’s prospects were in the mix. Minor league free agent Slade Heathcott opened with a single and eventually scored on some shoddy defense. Catching phenom Sean Murphy came up with two runners on and doubled them both in, and then 2017 draftee Kevin Merrell singled Murphy in. By that point Merrell represented the tying run, and he quickly stole second to reach scoring position. However, offseason acquisition Ramon Laureano grounded out to end the comeback just short of completion.

Unfortunately, the biggest piece of real news from this game was a major injury. White Sox 3B Jake Burger, a Top 100 prospect who was last summer’s 11th overall draft pick, tore his left Achilles while running out a grounder. That’s tough news for both player and team, and Athletics Nation wishes him a speedy recovery.

Key lines

A few notable performances in the box score:

  • Graveman: 2 ip, 1 run, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits

I can handle the hits. Graveman will always be susceptible to hits. I like the no walks, and the GIDP grounder. Those are the things he needs to do to succeed, regardless of how many hits are falling.

  • Alcantara: ⅔ ip, 3 runs, 2 BB, 3 hits

Yikes. Not the best start to an audition for the final bullpen spot.

  • Bleich: 1 ip, 2 runs, 1 ER, 1 K, 0 BB, 3 hits

A passed ball by Sean Murphy didn’t help, but still this was another stinker for Bleich. He was the minor league free agent pitcher I was most intrigued by entering the spring, and two spring games doesn’t change that, but so far he’s been blech.

  • Piscotty: 1-for-2, 2B, BB
  • Moss: 2-for-3

Nice showings by a couple of vets. Also good to see Maxwell get back on the horse after his concussion scare on Friday, as well as Canha as he fights for relevance in the organization. Somehow Matt Olson didn’t homer, in three entire plate appearances.

  • Merrell: 1-for-2, RBI, run, SB

Just a young prospect in the minor league portion of the game, but this piece of play-by-play stood out to me for a player whose calling card is his elite speed. With two outs:

Kevin Merrell singles on ground ball to catcher Alfredo Gonzalez. Sean Murphy scores.

  • Nick Martini: 0-for-1, BB

He wasn’t a big factor in this game, but Martini’s line so far through seven plate appearances: 2-for-4, 2B, 3 BB, 1.464 OPS. Interesting start.

The White Sox outplayed Oakland on both sides of the ball for most of the afternoon, but the prospects showed up at the end to give us something positive to take away. We’ll do it all again tomorrow against the Indians, but until then here’s a happy video to keep you going.