Five things from A’s HQ: A pitcher struggles, another shines and a third is hurt

Oakland Athletics’ Sean Manaea, Daulton Jefferies, Liam Hendriks have dissonant outings vs. Brewers

MESA, ARIZONA – FEBRUARY 19: Oakland Athletics’ Liam Hendriks (16) throws a pitch during spring training at Lew Wolff Training Complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)
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The scream came from somewhere beyond the backstop. It was loud and, in some ways, deja vu. The man had seen enough.

“Get him out of there,” he hollered.

A few batters later, manager Bob Melvin obliged. And just like that, Sean Manaea’s first outing of 2020 ended much like his final one of 2019 — with an early exit.

Manaea’s first Cactus League start was supposed to signal a new beginning for the 24-year old southpaw after he gave up three home runs and four total earned runs, wearing the loss in the A’s wild-card defeat against the Tampa Bay Rays.

For now, the fresh start will have to wait.

After retiring the Milwaukee Brewers’ first three batters, Manaea was tagged for a half-dozen runs and a half-dozen hits in the second inning of the A’s 14-4 loss Monday. He allowed three doubles to the first four batters of the frame — then the real damage came.

On a 78 mph slider, third baseman Lucas Erceg drilled a two-run shot to right. Two batters later, Orlando Arcia took an 89 mph hurl from Manaea deep to the opposite field. At that point, the yelling fan’s request was granted.

“Results-wise, six runs is six runs and that sucks,” Manaea said. “I just wanted to go out there and throw my slider and get a feel for it, and I think I accomplished that today. It’s a good starting point to work off of. Obviously, (the Brewers) getting hits off of it means I’m not finishing, I’m not throwing to the right locations.”

Obviously, this was Manaea’s first start of the spring. It means nothing. The game had no broader implications. And no one is looking too deep into Manaea’s outing; but those in green and gold would have enjoyed seeing him exercise the demons from that October night in Oakland.

“Initially he said, ‘I lost the (wild card) game.’ We scored one run, he didn’t lose the game,” Melvin said. “Once he got to camp here and once he got a little distance from it in the offseason — and it’s the way it was for all of us, too.”

Melvin admitted he puts no stock into pitchers’ first few outings in the desert, especially when they come in context like Manaea’s. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Manaea is going to be in the starting rotation.

Where he slots into that picture, though, has some wiggle room, especially as it relates to Melvin selecting an opening day starter down the road. Regardless, he believes he can’t go wrong with that selection.

“Literally, you could throw it in a hat and pick it out and I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot of things that go into picking your Opening Day starter — so we’ll probably wait a little while to give you that news.”

Liam Hendriks tosses perfect inning, working on a hesitation

Two things really excited Liam Hendriks Monday afternoon, two main reasons he was grinning at his locker. First of all, he pitched a perfect inning in the third, fanning a pair and flashing impressive velocity, hitting as high as 96 mph.

Oh, yeah, and the A’s closer’s day was practically finished before lunch.

“I get to leave here soon,” Hendriks said, “so that’s good.”

Hendriks’ appearance Monday was his first of this young Cactus League season. He noted some first-game kinks, most notably a little “discombobulation” between his lower and upper half — something that went unnoticed by onlookers during his 1-2-3 inning.

The one thing onlookers may have noticed, however, was the slight hesitation Hendriks used before he whipped a 96 mph heater that caught Brewers’ catcher David Freitas looking for an inning-ending strikeout.

The hesitation initially started as a way to keep Hendriks’ from falling forward on the mound. He wanted to maintain his balance, so he began using the hesitation as a mere exercise to emphasize his posture staying back.

“And it kind of grew from there,” Hendricks admitted.

To him, it’s “work in progress” — and the first test came Monday. He said he’s not sure if he’ll implement it during the season, but noted that it could be something he uses on an off-and-on basis.

“He’s finding new tricks,” Melvin joked.

Added Hendriks: “It would be something that I could add in every now and then if I’m just not feeling great or if I have an opportunity to kind of take advantage of a hole. You can kind of read guys’ swings. Some guys have big leg kicks and you can kind of throw their timing off.”

Hesitation or not, Hendriks will be integral going forward for Oakland’s bullpen, especially now that reliever Blake Treinen is with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last season, Hendriks’ fourth with the A’s, he racked up 25 saves, put up a 1.80 ERA and made his first All-Star team.

Despite rough outing, Bassitt says he’s never felt better

During the early period of spring training, Chris Bassitt doesn’t pay too much attention to his game lines. He’s thrown to hitters two times in the last five months, so of course he won’t be peppering his spots the same way he would in June.

For now, he holds more stock in how he feels, how hard he whips the ball out of his right hand and how sustainable he can keep his health.

The 31-year old Bassitt took about a month of downtime after the 2019 season concluded. He was worn down, beat physically. Everyone understands how long MLB seasons are, but Bassitt didn’t grasp how tough it was to make it through and come out on the other side healthy.

In the offseason, he spent most of his time lifting weights and increasing flexibility. His focus following a 2019 season where he started 25 games — posting a 10-5 record with a 3.81 ERA — became adding muscle and strength.

And, to him, the results have already shown.

Despite allowing two hits and two runs in the first inning of the A’s 7-3 loss to the Diamondbacks — most notably giving up a 413-foot shot to Ketel Marte on the seventh pitch of the game — Bassitt was more than pleased with how he felt.

“This might be the best I’ve felt this early,” Bassitt said. “As long as your arm feels good at this point, it’s obviously looking really good … Obviously you want results, you want to get things done, but health is the number one thing.”

As of now, Bassitt has his health, but not yet a defined role. The A’s pitching staff has an influx of youth with top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk expected to compete for a rotation spot. That would leave Bassitt on the outside.

He said he tries not to think about possibly being in a competition for a starting spot. To him, things will work themselves out over the next month in Mesa. And, besides that, what is he really going to do differently if he did know his role?

“If they told me I was a starter, I’m still doing the exact same thing as a bullpen guy,” Bassitt admitted. “So that whole process right now for the first two weeks or so doesn’t matter … The reality is, everyone is basically at zero — starters and relievers.”

For now, at least, it seems Bassitt doesn’t have to worry about breaking camp with the A’s for the first time in his career. Melvin said Bassitt has embraced the fluidity of his situation and excelled in the back-and-forth of starting and coming out of the bullpen.

“At some point in time, you have to embrace that — and he has. He put together one of our strongest seasons last year based upon the fact the he did everything he could for us,” Melvin said. “His bullpens have been great (this spring).”

Jorge Mateo handles second admirably

Perhaps there’s no position more up in the air than the battle for the starting second-base job. At the moment, Melvin’s options are abounding. Some of the top candidates include Franklin Barreto, Vimael Machin, Tony Kemp and Jorge Mateo.

On Monday, Mateo manned the position and had a phenomenal all-around day. In the third, Mateo flicked a single into right and then the 6-foot, 192-pound utility man showed off his speed and swiped second.

In the seventh, fielding a ball up the middle, Mateo covered ground in a hurry, backhanded the tough chopper and threw Chad McClanahan out at first. Of course, no position battle is going to be won in one day — especially if that day is in February — but, if nothing else, Mateo impressed his skipper on Monday.

“He’s done a nice job,” Melvin said of Mateo. “Like I’ve said before, we’ve seen him play really well here at big-league camp … Last year he didn’t get a ton of at-bats but he impressed. And playing a different position, he made a really nice play today, stole a base, got a hit.

“He’s off to a good start.”

Jefferies suffers bicep injury

In the fourth inning of the A’s loss, pitcher Daulton Jefferies left the game with what Melvin described as a bicep injury.

Jefferies was clearly bothered on the mound Monday afternoon. He registered just two outs while surrendering three hits and a trio of earned runs, including an Orlando Arcia ground-rule double that scored a pair.

When Melvin visited the mound midway through the frame, he admitted it was “pretty scary” to watch Jefferies’ reaction to his injury and “see his face.” At the moment, though, Melvin doesn’t know the severity of Jefferies’ injury or have a timetable for when he may pitch next.

“I hope we have some good news,” Melvin said when asked how Jefferies was doing. “He was having a tough time there. I’m not sure what the timeline is. I’ll talk to (head athletic trainer) Nick (Paparesta) now — he didn’t come and talk to me during the game, which is probably a good sign. It was pretty scary to watch his reaction and go out there and see his face.”

The 24-year old Jefferies, who was drafted by Oakland in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of California, made the A’s 40-man Cactus League roster but has yet to make his big-league debut.

In 2019, while pitching for the Double-A Midland RockHounds and Class-A Stockton Ports, Jefferies pitched in 26 games and tallied a 3.42 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 79 innings of work.

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