It was an early lead, and then a late deficit, and then a dramatic comeback, and then a blown save, and by the end they just called it a tie.
Such is life in the Cactus League, where the Oakland A’s and Cleveland Guardians played to a 9-9 stalemate on Sunday. Both teams had gotten their scheduled work in, and the standings don’t matter in spring training, so there was no need for extra innings to determine a winner.
The A’s used a starting lineup of mostly their familiar veterans for the first half of the afternoon, and it went pretty well. Ramon Laureano drilled an RBI double, Tony Kemp lined a double into the RF corner, Chad Pinder singled and stole a base, and Sean Murphy ripped a pair of doubles — one of them on a 102 mph liner.
On defense, shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Kemp looked good turning a double play.
But the big story in the starting lineup was Billy McKinney. He was the A’s 1st-round draft pick back in 2013 but was traded away the next summer, and now he’s back as a non-roster minor league free agent at age 27. Normally an outfielder, he got the nod at first base today, appropriately wearing jersey number 28 just like the last guy who played that position here.
The lefty certainly made a statement today. In his first at-bat he hit a sharp RBI single down the 1B line, and if not for a nice defensive play by the Cleveland first baseman then the ball might have streaked into the corner for extra bases. In McKinney’s next at-bat, he blasted a two-run homer.
2 H, 1 HR, 3 RBI— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) March 20, 2022
Big day for Billy McKinney pic.twitter.com/U1zsxFZ2z7
It’s just one spring game, but it was a nice first impression by a fun lotto ticket. He produced with his bat and looked comfortable on defense at a spot he hasn’t played a lot in his career, including smoothly fielding a grounder for an unassisted putout. Let’s keep an eye on him!
For this year's unexpected breakout star, how about Billy McKinney as a first baseman? It's got everything: late-blooming 1st-round prospect stock, position switch, former Athletic returning for second stint, a person named Billy. Sounds like a classic A's story.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) March 20, 2022
On the pitching side, Cole Irvin got the start and cruised through two decent innings. A’s insider Martin Gallegos has this update on Irvin:
Cole Irvin is now throwing a cutter this Spring. He learned the grip watching a Pitching Ninja interview with Corbin Burnes on YouTube. He also was sitting 92-93 with his fastball and said he was hitting up to 95 in three-inning bullpens at home this offseason.
Irvin had this to say about his mindset entering the season, per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:
“Kind of a new thing I’m attempting this year is I want to be angry out there (on the mound) a lot. ... I’m not trying to necessarily, say be a prima donna, but I want to compete and I want to earn a lot of respect this year as a rotation guy.”
After five innings, with Oakland leading 4-1, the prospects came in to finish the game. Top starter prospect Daulton Jefferies got knocked around for four runs, and dynamic bullpen candidate Domingo Acevedo was tagged for a two-run dinger, putting the Guardians ahead 7-4 on the scoreboard.
But then the youngsters battled back! New infield prospect Kevin Smith crushed a solo homer just to the left of dead-center, which took some sting out of seeing Matt Chapman obliterate one for the Blue Jays earlier today. A single and two walks loaded the bases, and then non-roster infielder Christian Lopes unloaded for a go-ahead grand slam.
*spring training voice*— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) March 20, 2022
GRAND SLAM pic.twitter.com/mmFTQRet59
That would have been enough for one crazy day, but the seesaw tilted one more time. Prospect Grant Holmes came in for the 9th, and Cleveland scratched out two runs to tie it up.
A few more notes:
- In addition to his dinger, Smith also made a good enough defensive play at shortstop (ranging into SS/3B hole) that the broadcast mistook him for fellow prospect Nick Allen for a minute. That’s high praise!
- Outfield prospect Mickey McDonald went 2-for-2.
- On a day when outs were hard to come by, lefty reliever Sam Moll tossed a perfect inning with two strikeouts.
Another pretty good day of baseball! The A’s are off Monday, so spring action resumes Tuesday.