The 2021 season is just a few days away, and there’s not much left for the Oakland A’s to get done before the end spring training. However, there was one major story line left entering their final exhibition tuneups against the San Francisco Giants.
Fifth starter candidate Daulton Jefferies made another strong start to cap off his candidacy for the Opening Day roster, and the A’s rolled past the Giants 9-3 on Saturday in the first of two Bay Bridge Series games to wrap up the Cactus League.
The A’s have figured out most of their roster already, especially on the position player side, and the writing is on the wall for the final bullpen spot. But there’s still a question remaining about who will fill in for the injured Mike Fiers in the rotation, and Jefferies is a leading contender alongside A.J. Puk and Cole Irvin.
All three are having strong springs, and each of them put in brilliant efforts in the last week totaling 14 shutout innings with 20 strikeouts between them. Jefferies got one more turn today, and while he wasn’t quite as unhittable as last time, he still finished with an impressive line.
Jefferies: 5 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 3 hits
All three walks came in the 2nd inning to load the bases, and he escaped the jam with a strikeout. Otherwise his only gift to the Giants was an HBP in the 3rd, which was soon eliminated in a double play, and he also stranded a leadoff double in the 4th. He finally allowed a run with two outs in the 5th on a solo homer by Mike Yastrzemski, a good lefty hitter who would almost certainly have been an All-Star last year if they’d picked teams.
It won’t be easy for the A’s to choose between Jefferies, Puk, and Irvin, but it’s the kind of decision with no bad or wrong answer.
Jefferies, spring: 1.50 ERA, 18 ip, 24 Ks, 6 BB, 2 HR, 10 hits
Out of the bullpen, the top highlight was Burch Smith, who tossed a scoreless inning of relief against his old San Francisco club that included two line drive singles and two strikeouts. The right-hander appears to be the front-runner for the final bullpen spot, as the A’s don’t expect to carry a spare starter as a long man and he’s the only other reliever still in camp. He’s got eight strikeouts to one walk this spring.
First baseman Matt Olson is just about ready for the season to get going.
He got warmed up this afternoon with a sac fly for Oakland’s first run, then drilled his team-leading sixth dinger.
His 18 RBI also lead the team, and Oakland’s next-highest marks in those categories are three homers (Brown, Chapman, Pinder) and 10 RBI (Laureano). Watch out, last year’s .195 batting average gave Oly a chip on his shoulder.
The game stayed close for most of the day, but a bench/prospect rally in the 9th blew it open. The most encouraging non-Olson highlight came in the 8th, when whiff-prone catcher Aramis Garcia found himself with an RBI opportunity — instead of striking out, he made enough contact for a sac fly that brought home what technically turned out to be the deciding run. He also singled and walked, but even just that sac fly was a good sign for a player and a team that is hoping to put the ball in play more, especially in impactful situations like these.
And defense? Of course there was defense. This is Matt Chapman’s team, after all.
Rule 5 draft pick outfielder Ka’ai Tom played center field, and got the following mention from insider Martin Gallegos:
Bob Melvin said they were still trying to get a feel for Ka’ai Tom’s outfield defense. Tracked the ball nicely for a catch on the run in center just now.
One more exhibition to go, and then the real ones start on Thursday!