Praise be, the A’s won! Even in spring training, it’s just flat out better than losing. Same as sun is more enjoyable than rain, so Sunday was a good day. For future notice, today I had a chance to interview Stephen Piscotty and pitching coach Scott Emerson, the latter being a long and thorough enough interview that I will break it into multiple parts (we talked about several of the A’s young starting pitchers one by one). Look for those to “air” between now and the end of spring training...As for the game:
- Sean Manaea’s stuff looked good to me, though the results were mixed given that he allowed HRs on back-to-back pitches and only escaped further disaster thanks to a line drive DP.
A lot of balls were squared up along the way, but in between Manaea was often very much in control. What stood out to me was how good his changeup was but how little he threw it. I’m in the camp that prefers the changeup to the slider as a second pitch (Manaea may agree after the slider he hung to Kyle Schwarber that is still traveling).
I get the impression Manaea sees himself as a “fastball, slider, changeup” pitcher but his biggest success (such as the second half of 2016) has come when he presented more as a “fastball, changeup, slider” pitcher. I just think the changeup fools batters more and that as good as the slider can be, it’s a pitch hitters are more apt to pick up earlier.
Bottom line? With the stuff, control and command I saw I could see Manaea being successful with perhaps a slightly improved game plan — and a couple fewer mistakes, for sure.
- Andrew Triggs looked filthy. It’s really hard to pick the ball up out of his hand and the movement on his pitches often comes late. Yes, he wasn’t facing a lot of the Cubs’ starting lineup but watching what he threw I don’t think Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo would have fared much better.
In contrast to the inconsistency of Jharel Cotton and Daniel Mengden or the tepid stuff of Paul Blackburn, Triggs makes few big mistakes and looks like the pitcher opposing hitters — LH and RH alike — don’t really want to face.
Because of the late action on Triggs’ pitches, hitters’ swings often break down mid-swing, and that’s a really good sign. I don’t know if Triggs will break camp as one of the A’s 5 starting pitchers, but he looks like clearly one of the 5 best right now.
- Dustin Fowler looked almost exactly like I have been hearing, both in the field and at the plate. The first pitch of the game was lined hard to left-center and with a good jump and read, Fowler glided (glid?) over to make the catch, a play he made look easier than it was. At bat, though, Fowler’s timing looked off, something he even seemed to be aware of when he swung through a high breaking pitch in a sac fly situation, then looked at his bat as if it had cheated on him. (How do I know this look? That’s not important.)
Overall, this is probably good news since there were more questions about Fowler’s CF defense than there were about his hitting. The question is how ready he is for April big league pitching, but especially with Boog Powell walking around with a leg packed in ice it seems inevitable that Fowler will face major league pitching on March 29th.
- Marcus Semien actually stood out to me on defense — who would have thought, watching the first half of 2015, that this sentence could ever be uttered? Semien speared a low-liner whose one hop was the most difficult possible, the one they call an “in between hop” even though that is a dubious concept. It’s kind of like when someone says they are “between jobs” and you want to ask, “How can you be sure? Maybe you’re just coming off your last job ever.” I have no idea exactly how those two things are related, but I believe they are and I hope someone, in the comments, will explain.
Semien also lunged to spear the line drive which resulted in a key 6-4 DP to ease Manaea out of a 2-on nobody out jam, and looked especially fluid making the rest of the plays he handled.
Overall, the A’s played a crisp game punctuated by the long ball courtesy of Matt Chapman, Sean Murphy, and Mark Canha. Particularly good to see was power from Murphy, after his slugging vanished in the transition from Stockton to Midland and did not resurface in Fall ball.
But it is also worth noting that Matt Olson had two important “under the radar moments”. On a Stephen Piscotty broken bat single to CF Olson, not fleet of foot, got a great read and went 1B to 3B. He also came up with a runner at 3B and one out, and with 2 strikes on him made solid contact to rap an RBI single through the right side.
The A’s will hit homeruns. They hit homeruns last year but won only 75 games. Those “little things,” such as shrewd base running and good situational hitting, are probably more important than the dingers, and today Oakland was firing on all cylinders.