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4:52PM

Greatness of the A's lives on in Mesa

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — Spring training is supposed to be about the future, about preparation for the season ahead. And while the Oakland Athletics are no less diligent than any other major league team in that assignment, so much here at their home ballpark, Hohokam Stadium, is about a glorious past.

Along the main concourse that leads from the entrance to the stands are posted huge photo murals of former A’s greats, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, the late Catfish Hunter and others, memories of the championship years, of the last franchise in baseball to win three World Series in succession.

So far away, and these days apparently so unattainable. In 2015, the A’s had the worst record in the American League. Such a contrast to the success reflected in the photos. Still, this is the time of hope and optimism in baseball. And on Friday afternoon, with the A's 9-4 winners over the Colorado Rockies, there was a great deal of both.

Now in his sixth year as manager of the A’s, Bob Melvin sees last year as an aberration, a failure unusual for the organization, a failure created by an obscenely high number of injuries.

“We were in the postseason three years in a row, so last year did not sit well with anybody who’s still here,” said Melvin. “Look at the injuries we had to the guys who were performing well. We’re completely redoing our bullpen, which was a big issue for us. So we didn’t feel like we were that far off.”

Melvin is 54, a onetime catcher from Cal whose career began with Detroit and continued with the Giants. “My first day at Candlestick Park in 1986,” recalled Melvin, “and Willie Mays (coaching) and Willie McCovey have the lockers on either side of me.” If that wouldn’t intimidate a young player, nothing would.

The trades by A’s GM Billy Beane are just another issue, part of the job. Melvin managed the Diamondbacks to first place in the National League West in 2006, then did the same thing with the A’s in the AL West in 2012 and 2013.

“We didn’t feel we were that far off,” said Melvin about the current A’s. “Shore up a couple areas, and we feel we’ll be a lot better.”

The area where the A’s were supreme was pitching, and Melvin, hardly alone in the dugout or the clubhouse, was enthralled with the performance of Sean Manaea, the lefthander Oakland obtained last July from Kansas City who was making his first start. It was impressive.

Manaea went two innings, allowed one hit and struck out four.

“Up to 97,” said Melvin, “throwing four changeups in a row, which is kind of his work-on pitch to get a strikeout, breaking balls, two-seamer (fastball), four-seamer. We were impressed with him before, but even more so right now.”

Manaea is from Indiana State, Larry Bird’s school. Maybe he can’t hit 20-foot jumpers, but he can hit the corners of the plate. He did miss the first baseman on a pickoff, but that didn’t bother Melvin, who said, “He likes to throw over, and he had him off balance, he would have picked him off.

“When you see a young kid like that trying to perfect his game, something we talked about early in camp, the little things to get yourself ready, get better every day, it’s definitely impressive.”

So the A’s have pitching, they believe. They also have hitting. Franklin Barreto, who was with Stockton in the Cal League last season, homered as a pinch hitter. “Didn’t take him time to get going,” said Melvin.

Asked if it were a surprise, Melvin said, “No. When you watch him take batting practice, watch him go about his business here, he knows what he’s doing. When he steps up like that, first time up, that was...”

That was what's making the A’s impatient for this season and beyond. Khris Davis, picked up only a couple weeks ago in a trade, had a double and three runs batted in.

“We’re always optimistic here,” said Melvin.

Just keep looking at those photos of the good old days. If the A’s could do it then, certainly they could do it now.

9:39AM

S.F. Examiner: Can Washington rescue the no-D, no-win A’s?

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — The old guy looks good in green and gold. To the A's, anyone who can show them how to pick up a moving ball looks good.

It's been Warriors fans chanting, "Defense, defense," but it's the Athletics' fans who needed to be shouting it. Which is the reason A's management brought back the old guy, Ron Washington, whose head is clear after personal issues prompted his resignation as manager of a Texas Rangers team that won two American League pennants on his watch.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 

9:13AM

S.F. Examiner: For A’s, it’s more of same old same new

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The guy for the A’s invariably is named Billy. There was manager Billy Martin in the early 1980s, virtually homegrown (Berkeley, next door), who knew what he had in roster talent. So he created a force-the-issue style, which the late columnist Ralph Wiley labeled “Billy Ball.”

The man in charge nearly the last 18 years, from 1997 to the present to be specific, has been general manager Billy Beane. He knew what he didn’t have, mainly cash. Aided by a few people who brought new thinking to the sport, he developed an idea that author Michael Lewis called “Moneyball.”

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner

9:40AM

S.F. Examiner: Baseball bubble isolates from football foibles

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz — We’re in a bubble down here, Sesame Street with Saguaro.

The Niners are coming unglued. Bruce Miller arrested? What next? Jim Harbaugh coaching third for the A’s?

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 

9:59AM

Joy is gone from the A’s season

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The joy is gone from the Athletics’ season. There’s a sense of helplessness at O.co Coliseum, a feeling that no matter what happens — and technically, they even could get to the World Series — the ending will be gloomy.

They’ll never catch the Angels, who remarkably about a month ago they led by 3½ games and now trail by 10½. That’s a given. The Angels got hot as the A’s went cold. And even by losing, the Angels on Tuesday night reduced their magic number to two.

What the A’s needed in their return home after a tough road trip with a decent ending was not only a victory but an efficiently played game, one that their fans — starting with the 19,385 in attendance — could use as a benchmark. Hey, they’re out of it, but they’re in it.

No, they’re not.

The A’s were dreadful Tuesday. Scott Kazmir threw two wild pitches. The infielders threw balls all over the place, charged with only two errors. The Texas Rangers, the team with the worst record in the majors, beat Oakland, 6-3. And everyone including A’s manager Bob Melvin was rocked mentally.

It’s like dressing up in a new suit and five minutes at dinner spilling ketchup on the trousers. It’s embarrassing. Or in Melvin’s words, “It’s disappointing.”

Poor Bo Mel. All a manager can to is encourage his players and fill out the lineup card. OK, in that madding lefty-right business, in the eighth, he can yank Brandon Moss, who had homered in the sixth, for righthanded batting Nate Freiman, who struck out. But playing percentages isn’t entirely sinful. Playing as did the A’s — spaced out, it seems — is very sinful. And very irritating.

“We just didn’t look like we were ready to play,” said Melvin, “for whatever reason. We got beat all the way around.”

The A’s yet may get to the wild card game. Then what? Do they perform as they did Tuesday night, watching Rangers' grounders bounce their way to hits and then watch Jake Smolinski hit his first major-league home run? Or are they able to reach back to the team they used to be in May and June?

“It was a hard thing to do,” Melvin said of pinch-hitting for Moss. Moss hasn’t had much success against lefties, and the Rangers had brought in Neal Cotts. Well and good, but a guy puts one into the seats his previous at bat, even against starter Nick Tepesch, and you figure he’s doing something right.

Then again, pulling Moss and inserting Freiman wasn’t the reason the A’s got bounced. They were, in a word, inept. They were too much like the team that lost 21 of its last 31 games. Whatever happened to the team that won 30 of its first 51?

“We didn’t play very good defense tonight,” said Melvin. “That’s the disappointing part. There’s an urgency.”

There’s also a mystery, or is there? The A’s have not been the same since they traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester the last day of July.

The A’s surmised with their budget they couldn’t sign Cespedes when his contract expired at the end of the 2015 season. The A’s — general manager Billy Beane — surmised, as the last two years in the playoffs they couldn’t beat Detroit without one more great starting pitcher.

Everything flip-flopped. Now the A’s not only might not face the Tigers, they might not even make the postseason. And the young A’s, who were built both physically and mentally around the enthusiastic Cespedes, fell apart after the deal.

The other kids start thinking, “If they trade him, what’s going to happen to me?” They lose their confidence. The team starts losing games.

So, Cespedes, a fan favorite, is gone. Lester probably also will be gone. And worst of all, the A’s postseason chances may be gone. Such a fragile balance.

Melvin, who’s been through the good times and bad times, with Arizona before coming over to manage the A’s, was asked how he deals with what happened to the A’s against Texas.

“Yes,” he admitted, “it bothers you. But you have to come back and play another game.”

And, they hope, play it far better than the last one.

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