There’s a new rule in spring training this year, allowing teams to end an inning after their pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. It’s not exactly a mercy rule, as it doesn’t require any runs be scored, but it sort of works out the same way.
The Oakland A’s hit so well on Monday in their second 2021 Cactus League game that they got the Cincinnati Reds to invoke that mercy rule. Twice.
The A’s went on to win 13-5 for their first victory of the spring, but more importantly a slew of hitters looked great including several prospects.
The new rules actually make a lot of sense. For the first two weeks of spring, games are scheduled for only seven innings, though teams can agree to adjust that number depending how much work they want to get for their players. The mercy rule prevents pitchers from having to overextend themselves, or the need to hurriedly warm up the next reliever earlier than planned to get out of a jam in a meaningless exhibition contest. The whole point of spring is to warm up and be healthy on Opening Day, not to spend four hours slogging through a blowout between exhausted non-roster invitees for the sake of formality.
In this game, the rules worked out as a nice set of bragging rights for Oakland. In the 3rd inning they got a pair of two-run homers, first from non-roster veteran infielder Pete Kozma and then from first baseman Matt Olson, and Olson’s was a moonshot. Per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle: “The A’s bullpen is behind the RF fence and the visiting bullpen is behind the A’s bullpen. I’d say Olson’s homer landed behind both bullpens, a bit more down the line.”
And that wasn’t even one of their mercy innings. That didn’t come until the next frame.
In the 4th, outfield prospect Cody Thomas hit a fly that got lost in the sun and landed for a triple. Then came a parade of singles from various prospects— catcher Aramis Garcia, outfielder Greg Deichmann, and infielder Vimael Machin. With two runners on, two out, and three runs in, the Reds called it and ended the frame.
It happened again in the 5th. Matt Chapman drilled a double with one out, a good sign as he recovers from last year’s hip surgery. Then a walk, double, single, walk, and double drove home four runs with just one out on the board, and once more the Reds said enough.
It almost happened a third time in the 6th. The A’s got another two-run homer, this one from outfield prospect Buddy Reed, and then shortstop prospect Nick Allen was hit in the helmet by a fastball (but he stayed in the game). But Cincy was able to retire three of the next four batters to end the inning the old-fashioned way.
Reds pitchers only actually recorded 15 outs in this game, between the mercy rule and Oakland being the home team with a lead. In that time the A’s scored 13 runs on 14 hits and three walks, including a trio of dingers and another trio of doubles (plus a fake triple).
But spring numbers mean nothing without context. Here are the takeaways:
- C Aramis Garcia could be the MLB backup this year behind Sean Murphy, but he must prove his Hit tool in order to reduce his strikeouts and fully unlock his power, and he’s bat-first so he must hit to produce. Seeing him make contact for hard line-drive singles both times up was the most encouraging thing possible. Click here for more info on Garcia.
Impressive day for A’s catcher Aramis Garcia, who threw out Aristides Aquino by a bus length and hit two sharp singles. Important camp for ex-Giant with catcher Sean Murphy shelved. pic.twitter.com/a5uC2M8s2F— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) March 1, 2021
- IF Vimael Machin is battling for a job at second base this spring, where Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder are the main competitors for at-bats. Machin hit a ball well on Sunday and got BABIP’d when it found a glove instead of going down the line for a double, but on Monday he didn’t get robbed. Two well-hit liners found outfield grass for singles, including one for a pair of RBI in a clutch moment.
- OF Buddy Reed has already made spring headlines with his defense, but it’s his bat that’s held him back in the minors. He went 0-for-3 Sunday, but on Monday he announced himself on offense with a home run. He’s got some power, but like Garcia he needs to make more contact in order to use it in games, so this was a nice data point.
- OF Greg Deichmann hit both his balls the other way, one for an out and one for a bloopy but well-earned hit. Always nice to see a beefy lefty slugger use the whole field, even when he’s not clearing the fence. He also drew a walk. Click here for more info on Deichmann.
Pitching and Defense
There were highlights on the other side of the ball too, including some by the same players.
Reed and Allen starred on defense in Sunday’s opener, and on Monday they joined forces for another nice play. With a runner attempting to steal second, the catcher threw the ball wide and into center field. Reed collected it and threw to third, where shortstop Allen was covering, to nab the runner as he tried to advance, quickly erasing the error that had begun the sequence. (And a few minutes later, Reed homered.)
The catcher who made the throwing error wasn’t Garcia, though, who had already been lifted for a replacement. Earlier in the game, Garcia did get a chance to use his arm and he came through, cutting down Alex Blandino at second base “by about 15 feet,” per Kawahara. (Note that Blandino is not normally a basestealer.)
There was a notable misplay, though that might be too strong a description. Kozma started at second base and ranged back to chase a deep popup on the grass, and he wasn’t quite able to make what would have been a spectacular catch — and then it clanked off his glove so sharply that the runner reached third for what was ruled a triple.
It wasn’t a bad play by Kozma, just great effort and awful luck, but it was his second defensive chance of the spring and neither has ended well — he previously made a fielding error on Sunday against the Dodgers. That’s not the impression the almost-33-year-old is hoping to make as the emergency middle infield defender. But hey, he did hit a dinger!
Pete Kozma's spring so far: Made an error at 2B in his first fielding chance on defense, and hit a homer in his first plate appearance. We're only two games in and baseball is already drunk.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) March 1, 2021
As for the pitching, No. 10 CPL prospect Grant Holmes got the start and worked two frames. He issued a pair of walks, but his only hit was the “triple” that sounded more like an error or maybe a lucky single.
Five relievers took it the rest of the way, and the most impressive was minor league free agent signing Matt Blackham, who struck out the side. The other end of the spectrum was lefty Nik Turley, who allowed a pair of homers. Click here for more info on Blackham.
It’s just spring, and we have to temper our excitement about good things just as diligently as we write off the bad stuff. But this was a fun game to follow, and it was especially nice to see Reed put up a second straight star performance. Mix in positive signs from Machin, Garcia, Holmes, and Blackham, plus an Oly Toledo blast, and you can’t as for much more out of a Monday afternoon in early March.