This was a game where everything went absolutely perfectly for the Athletics, the sweet Spring Training nectar we pray doesn’t lead to a regular season hangover. The pitching was dominant, holding the White Sox to a mere 4 hits and 0 runs across 9 innings. The offense was explosive, batting around the order in back-to-back innings for a combined 13 runs before the White Sox could blink. The defense was solid, with a couple of slick plays by Matt Olson and no errors. This is the game you want on a calm Sunday afternoon.
Jesus Luzardo was extremely impressive in his Spring Training starting pitching debut. Luzardo lasted 2 1⁄3 innings (due to his 40 pitch limit), yielding 2 hits but 0 walks and striking out 2. It was an excellent overall performance - the 20-year-old seemed to have great movement on his both his fastball and his breaking pitches and did a good job of keeping hitters off-balance. He seemed to be having mild difficulty controlling his curveball, but when it was in the zone it induced lots of swings and misses. His fastball was sitting around 94, which is great for this early in the season. He used all parts of the zone, worked quickly, and overall seemed extremely poised in his 2 1⁄3 innings. It’s a tired cliche, but he really looked like a Major League pitcher out there (or rather sounded like one, considering this game was radio-only).
Continuing with pitching, Norge Ruiz took a couple of innings and also showed promise after a poor showing across various levels in 2017. Ruiz gave up only a walk in his 2 innings while striking out 2. Like Luzardo, Ruiz worked quickly and did a good job of mixing his pitches to keep the Chicago batters on his rhythm rather than letting them develop their own.
The rest of the A’s pitching staff performed admirably to support the stars of the show. Daniel Coulombe cleaned up Luzardo’s 3rd inning, and Hatcher, Hendriks, Finnegan, and Blackwood each pitched quick, clean innings. Hatcher, in particular, looked great, striking out 2 in a very quick 6th.
Offensively, the A’s never gave the White Sox a chance. Matt Joyce started things as the first Oakland batter of the day, leading off the bottom of the 1st with a home run. Big Game James Shields unwound from there. After narrowly escaping the 2nd inning unscathed, Shields briefly rediscovered his changeup for a quick 3rd, then completely disintegrated in the 4th, as has been tradition the last few years for the $21 million per year pitcher.
It’s pointless to try to describe the 4th and 5th innings hit-for-hit, but they can essentially be summarized as “everyone hit everything.” Oakland put up 6 runs in the 4th and then topped that with 7 in the 5th. The Athletics batted around the order in both innings. Matt Joyce hit a grand slam, his second tater of the day, and Sheldon Neuse hit a 3-run home run, his 5th of Spring Training. James Shields and Michael Kopech were both utterly torched for the White Sox and it really only seemed like the innings ended because the A’s kinda got tired of having to circle the bases.
Both teams were fairly quiet offensively in the second half of the game; the last 4 innings took about half as long as the first 5. Top draft pick Austin Beck made a good attempt but ultimately failed to make a diving catch on a bloop single, then he worked a walk in a patient at-bat at the bottom of the inning. Greg Deichmann hit another double. But overall both teams went on cruise control, finishing the game quietly and efficiently.
This is the ideal Spring Training game. The White Sox may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like. The team fired on all cylinders and nobody was injured (we got confirmation that Josh Phegley broke two fingers last night and will be out for at least a couple weeks, but that happened last night so don’t put that juju on me). This was the game to watch. If the young players look like this once the regular season rolls around, this will be the team to watch.