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Spring Game #14: A’s shut out, but shine on pitching and defense

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Frankie Montas returns, and Buddy Reed strikes again

Division Series - Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s didn’t do much at the plate on Sunday, collecting just two hits in their Cactus League game against the Chicago White Sox. So, let’s skip that side of the ball, and focus on what they did well in a narrow 1-0 loss.

The name of the game today was pitching and defense, and the A’s put together enough of it to win if only the White Sox hadn’t put together slightly more. It all came down to a solo homer in the 8th inning, which turned out to be enough to make the difference.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread! ***

Oakland began the day by debuting their fourth MLB starter, and for the fourth time it went beautifully. Frankie Montas cruised through three scoreless innings, allowing just a pair of hits in the 2nd. There were a couple of loud-ish outs along the way, but in general the big right-hander stayed in control, and he induced swinging strikeouts on two different pitches — once on a sinker that bored hard down-and-in, and then on a chase slider outside. Here’s the sinker, to the first batter of the game, Tim Anderson.

His velocity operated around 95-97 mph, and he reached as high as 99 on a sinker. He didn’t even throw his splitter until the 3rd inning.

Montas: 3 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 2 hits, 34 pitches

He, Bassitt, Luzardo, and Manaea combined for the following line in their spring debuts: 13 innings, 2 runs, 13 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 5 hits. Yowza.

Some more Montas highlights, including the slider strikeout:

The rest of the game was covered by a trio of one-inning relievers, and then three innings by another depth starter.

In the 4th inning, Jordan Weems got some help from his defense, which we’ll get to in a moment. He should have given up at least one run in what was not his sharpest outing, but instead he gutted through a scoreless frame despite a hit, a walk, and a deafeningly loud out.

The next two innings were cleaner. Jake Diekman needed only eight pitches to get three harmless batted balls, and Lou Trivino absolutely wiped out two batters with swinging strikeouts and then fielded his position perfectly to cover first base on a groundout.

The rest of the game went to Cole Irvin, who wasn’t great and wasn’t terrible. His first inning was shaky and featured a few baserunners, and he led off his second frame by serving up the solo homer that proved to be the only run of the day. The dinger came on a mistake pitch but not that bad of a mistake (over the plate but not up), and if it hadn’t been to a beefy slugger like Matt Davidson maybe it would have just been a single or a double.

From there Irvin settled down, retiring six of the next seven batters on a bunch of weak contact and a pair of strikeouts.

Irvin: 3 ip, 1 run, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits, 1 HR

One run on seven hits and two walks is a pretty good day for a pitching staff. Most of the time it earns you a win.

Defense

The pitching was only half the story today, though. They put together a strong effort on their own, but also got some serious help from the defense behind them. And the key highlight came from exactly who you expect, spring phenom Buddy Reed.

When Weems entered in the 4th, the first batter he faced was reigning MVP winner Jose Abreu. Weems made a mistake on 2-1 and left a pitch way up, but got lucky when Abreu swung through it. He then made exactly the same mistake on the next pitch, and this time Abreu didn’t miss it. The ball was gone off the bat, drilled to straightaway center.

But wait. Reed glided over with such ease that you got the impression he could have started from the dugout and still gotten there in time, then he took a perfectly timed leap next to the 411-foot sign and caught the ball well above the lip of the wall. It wouldn’t actually have been a homer, because Hohokam Stadium has an enormous extension above the CF wall, so if Reed hadn’t caught it then it would have bounced off for a double reminiscent of Boston’s Green Monster. But in terms of functional athletic ability, he may as well have robbed a dinger.

The next gem came from catcher Aramis Garcia. He had a tough day at the plate, striking out twice, but in the 7th he gave Irvin an assist with his arm. Irvin’s first batter, Eloy Jimenez, reached base on a single, and then he tried to steal second. It was ... not close. It’s only 90 feet between bases, but I think Garcia might have thrown him out by 100 feet. Two batters later came a line drive single, so this caught-stealing probably saved a run.

Next up is second baseman Tony Kemp. He was back in action off the bench after being hit by a pitch a few days ago, and in the 8th inning he found himself playing on the other side of the 2B bag thanks to a heavy defensive shift. He got a grounder to his right, made a diving stop, and delivered just enough of a throw to first base to retire the runner. He effectively made the play from the shortstop position, albeit not quite as far from 1B as shortstops are often asked to cover when diving to their right.

Offense

The entirety of the A’s offensive achievements today can be expressed in one sentence.

Stephen Piscotty singled in his first at-bat, the A’s worked a few tough walks against ace Lance Lynn and another off reliever Evan Marshall, and teenage top prospect Tyler Soderstrom singled in the 9th against an actual MLB pitcher to raise his spring line to a ridiculous 3-for-6 in what is effectively his professional debut.

That is all.

Oh and I forgot, Jed Lowrie almost homered on the first pitch he saw from Lynn, but it fell on the warning track. Dang, needed a second sentence.

***

Just a quiet spring day, and one-third of it was attributable to facing Lance Lynn, who beats everybody. Otherwise, the only takeaways you need are that Montas is back and still awesome, Trivino looked filthy, Reed is physically a titan among Little Leaguers if only he can learn to make contact, and Garcia has an arm behind the plate.