The A’s lost today in Tempe to the Los Angeles Angels by a final of 7-2, but that’s okay because it’s still Spring Training and Oakland probably got some clarity on the starting staff.
Starting pitcher Paul Blackburn was solid for four innings today, throwing 50+ pitches while yielding 2 runs against what is likely to be the Angels everyday starting lineup during the regular season. With injuries starting to hit the other starting options for the A’s, Blackburn is in pole position for a spot at the back of the A’s rotation to start the year.
Oakland seems to have decided on second baseman Tony Kemp (0-3, K) as the leadoff option against RHP this season, with Kemp and newly-acquired Christian Pache splitting leadoff duties all spring. With a righty on the mound to start the day, it was Kemp atop the lineup. The A’s got on the board in the first inning thanks to a 1-out Anthony Rendon error that allowed Elvis Andrus (1-3, R) to advance into scoring position and brought up the red-hot Sean Murphy (1-3, RBI, 2K) to the plate, who promptly brought Andrus home with a hard-hit single to left field.
Then it was Blackburn’s turn. After giving up a hit and a walk to the first two batters, Blackburn wiggled his way out of trouble by inducing a flyout and a double play to escape trouble. That wouldn’t be the last time Blackburn would get into trouble today, with the righty giving up a 2-run single in the 3rd inning on a missed slider to Justin Upton. Another hit put two on but Gold Glover Sean Murphy would make an excellent throw to first base to pick off a wandering Matt Duffy to end the frame. Blackburn would go one more inning and give up one more hit to end his day.
Bullpen option Justin Grimm continued his nice spring replacing Blackburn in the 5th, getting three outs against the heart of the Angels lineup in Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon. Grimm (4 games, 3.1 IP, 1 run this spring) is another pitcher on his way to cracking the Opening Day roster after his fine spring for Oakland.
Then things got out of hand in the 6th. Right-hander Adam Oller, acquired in the Chris Bassitt trade and competing with Blackburn for a rotation spot, got absolutely ambushed today, giving up tons of loud contact in his brief outing. A double and single in the 6th brought home the Angels’ third run of the day, followed by a double that came just inches short of a home run to lead off the 7th. Oller soon had the runner at second picked off, but threw the ball in the dirt and skipped it to CF and allowed the runner to third. Another double brought the runner in, and a home run would push the score to 6-1 and chase Oller. Lefty Sam Selman relieved him and finished the game out while allowing an unearned run in the bottom of the 8th.
With the recent injury developments of James Kaprielian and Brent Honeywell Jr., Blackburn came into today needing to get stretched out more than he has to this point in camp and he did just that while also holding what should be a potent Angels lineup to only two runs. Unless A.J. Puk (4.2 IP in 3 games) or Adam Oller (1.1 IP, 4 runs, 5 hits today) turn their springs around quickly, Blackburn put himself well ahead of those two for the #5 spot in the starting rotation with his performance today:
- Blackburn: 4 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, 1 K, 2 BB, 6 groundouts, 56 pitches
It’s not the best line in the world, but considering where the other options are right now, it’d be a mild surprise if Blackburn isn’t in the rotation to at least begin the season.
The offense continues its spring struggles, managing 6 hits and 3 walks for 2 runs. Aside from the unearned run in the first inning, mid-game replacement Sheldon Neuse (1-2, K, HR) hit a home run in the 8th, his team-leading second this spring.
- Neuse made a nice pick and throw from third base, and his arm strength was notably better than Chad Pinder, who started at third today and himself made a nice diving play earlier in the game only to one-hop the throw to first baseman Seth Brown, who made a nice pick to save an error on Pinder. With Neuse and Smith taking reps at third base this spring, there shouldn’t be any reason Pinder is playing innings there right now. He belongs in the outfield, where he thrives defensively.
- Dalton Kelly, already not having the best chance to make the roster, didn’t help himself today, committing an error in left field and a lazy fly ball out in his only at-bat as a mid-game replacement.
- Kevin Smith (0-2) made a nice throw from the hole to nab Stassi at first on defense, but also was caught stealing second base after reaching on a Rendon error.
- Stephen Vogt sighting! The presumed backup catcher got into his first game with the A’s this spring, replacing DH Elvis Andrus. He would strike out on three pitches against a left-hander in his only at-bat on the day, but it was good to see him finally in game action, and not a moment too soon with the season roughly a week away.
- And Stephen Piscotty got into his first game action this spring, as well. He would fly out and walk on 4 pitches in his two at-bats, but he seemed to be coasting in the outfield today, calling off Kemp on a popup to shallow right only to watch it fall feet in front of him, and jogging on a ball down the right field line that would fall in for a hit.
- Drew Jackson and Mickey McDonald both got two-out singles in their only plate appearances today, but Max Schuemann K’d to end the rally.
- Eric Thames replaced Brown at first base, flying out in his only at-bat. Billy McKinney, starting in left field today, went 0-2.
- Possible utility infielder Christian Lopes went 0-2 with a strikeout today while coming in to play second base.
Brush it off, A’s fans, because it’s spring and Oakland is right back at it again tomorrow against the Dodgers.