- Two Athletics pitchers, meanwhile, are dealing with injury issues. Right-hander Kendall Graveman is suffering from some shoulder issues, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets, though the seriousness isn’t yet clear. And while the MRI results were promising for fellow righty Jesse Hahn, MLB.com’s Jane Lee reports on Twitter, his triceps problem is likely to require a DL stint. Jharel Cotton will come up to take a rotation spot this weekend.
Sonny Gray’s two most recent starts for the Athletics have altered his stock in a hurry, writes ESPN’s Buster Olney. Gray’s struggles over the past 13 to 14 months have been tied not only to injury but to a (quite possibly related) drop in his swinging-strike rate, but he’s racked up swings-and-misses in his each of his past two outings thanks to a revitalized breaking pitch. Gray’s velocity spiked in his most recent start, as well — an outing in which he completed seven one-run innings and whiffed 11 Marlins hitters on just 88 pitches. Olney suggests that Gray could emerge as the top trade target on the market if this trend continues much longer, as the A’s are typically willing to deal earlier than most clubs, there are motivated buyers already (e.g. Cubs, Yankees, Astros) and Oakland may wish to cash in while Gray is looking impressive.
Speaking with Evan Drellich of CSNNE.com on Saturday, Athletics third baseman Trevor Plouffe confirmed that the Red Sox had interest in signing him as a free agent during the offseason. In the end, Plouffe chose to ink a deal with Oakland because it presented a clearer path to playing time at the hot corner than Boston did at the time. “I wanted to play third base and [the A’s] came and right away and expressed their interest in that, and to me it was kind of a no-brainer,” said Plouffe, who’s on a one-year, $5.25MM contract. “I was going to come here and get a chance to start at third. Kind of after last year, not being able to play a ton of games, prove that I can stay healthy again — that was kind of the real selling point for me.” As Drellich notes, it turns out Plouffe would have had an opportunity to play had he signed with the Red Sox, whose third base options (including Pablo Sandoval) have dealt with injuries this season. Plouffe could still end up with the Red Sox around the trade deadline, Drellich adds, and the 30-year-old realizes it’s possible he’ll head elsewhere if the A’s aren’t in contention. “Of course. You can’t be naive about that fact,” acknowledged Plouffe, a .248/.318/.421 hitter in 148 plate appearances this season.
More from the American League:
- White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada and manager Rick Renteria each played key roles in the team’s signing of highly touted outfield prospect Luis Robert, according to Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Like Robert, both Abreu and Moncada hail from Cuba, while Renteria is the only Spanish-speaking manager in the majors. The White Sox put together a video presentation for Robert which featured narration in Spanish from Renteria and appearances from Abreu and Moncada, both of whom encouraged Robert to join the franchise. The White Sox’s attitude toward Cuban-born players has impressed Abreu, who told Hayes through an interpreter, “The way this team has treated the Cuban players and the Latino players in general, that’s something that is important and I really, really appreciate it.”
- Red Sox left-hander David Price didn’t last long in his rehab start Friday, so he’ll make at least one more before rejoining the big club, manager John Farrell announced Saturday (via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald). While Price “feels great physically,” per Farrell, he’s not stretched out to the team’s liking. Price, working his way back from a strained elbow, went two innings and threw 65 pitches in his initial start for Triple-A Pawtucket. That fell well short of the 85- to 90-pitch goal Boston had set for Price, who will take the hill again for Pawtucket on Wednesday.
- Chris Illitch is officially the controlling owner of the Tigers, having gotten approval from the league’s other 29 owners earlier this week, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). Illitch is taking over for his father, Mike Illitch, who passed away in February after a nearly 25-year run at the helm of the Tigers.
- Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle is set to begin throwing from flat ground over the weekend, Joe Stiglich of NBC Sports California was among those to tweet. He could be back on the bump by the middle of next week — though obviously it will still be a while longer before he’s back in the majors. The southpaw has dealt with a shoulder issue that is of added concern given his history, though the hope remains that he has avoided a significant injury this time around. Meanwhile, righty John Axford is set to return from his own shoulder-related DL stint in the next two days, Stiglich also adds on Twitter.
Last fall, it came as something of a surprise when the Athletics elected to tender a contract to first baseman Yonder Alonso. Though it cost the club just $4MM, that seemed a fairly hefty sum for a player who had contributed so little in the preceding season.
At the time, Alonso was coming off of a 2016 campaign in which he slashed just .253/.316/.367 over 532 plate appearances. While he continued to post low strikeout rates — 13.9% on the year — Alonso hit only seven home runs and also rated poorly with the glove.
Still, the A’s maintained faith. Oakland had parted with what turned out to be a significant asset — lefty Drew Pomeranz — to acquire Alonso, and clearly believed there was more to be found in his bat. What he has done thus far, though, has probably still come as a surprise.
Over his first 125 trips to the plate thus far in 2017, Alonso has been a revelation. He’s striking out more than ever, with a 21.6% K rate, but is also walking at a career-best 12.0% rate. And the former top prospect has finally tapped into his power potential, with a dozen long balls — matching his cumulative tally over the prior two seasons and 934 plate appearances. All said, he’s currently carrying a .291/.376/.664 batting line.
That remarkable turnaround has come despite a pedestrian .282 BABIP, so there’s obviously more at play than batted-ball fortune. Clearly, Alonso has employed some fundamental changes to his approach. At present, he’s hitting fly balls at a 54.2% clip while putting it on the ground just 24.1% of the time. That’s a stark reversal of his career rates of 33.6% flies and 44.4% grounders. As Eno Sarris of Fangraphs explored this spring in a remarkably prescient piece, it’s part of a dedicated plan.
We’ll obviously need to see how pitchers respond, and Alonso replies, before making any final assessments. But the early returns are obviously quite promising. And it’s fair to say that the opposition has taken notice. Remarkably, Alonso is seeing first-pitch strikes at only a 44.8% clip — a precipitous dive from his 58.7% career rate.
Alonso has accomplished the breakout not by swinging more, but by swinging more aggressively. In fact, he’s currently carrying a career-low 42.4% swing rate while chasing out of the zone at a career-low 23.5% rate. But he’s swinging through pitches 9.0% of the time, a fair bit above his typical levels (7.9%), which has led to the bump in strikeouts. Obviously, though, the contact has been much better when he does make it. Alonso’s exit velocity is over 91 mph, comfortably above league average, and his launch angle of 22.10 degrees is nearly double that of the field (12.89 degrees).
So, what’s it all mean? As noted already, Alonso will need to demonstrate that this is sustainable, even as the league adjusts. And there’ll surely be some regression, as his current 26.7% homer-per-flyball ratio likely will dip. (For his career, it’s just 8.1%.) There’s also the question of platoon splits. Alonso has historically struggled badly against left-handed pitching, with a lifetime .240/.307/.353 batting line. He has popped three dingers off of opposing southpaws thus far, but has only one other hit to go with two walks in his 23 plate appearances without the platoon advantage. And metrics have continued to see a decline in Alonso’s once-excellent defensive work at first. Still, his profile has clearly changed for the better, and that also means he’s now looking at bigger earnings when he hits the open market after the season.
It’s way too soon to put hard numbers down for contract expectations. And it’s worth bearing in mind that many accomplished sluggers failed to find the money they expected last winter, so the upside is perhaps limited. Despite swatting 47 home runs, Mark Trumbo took down just three years and $37.5MM, while even Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t find a fourth year. There’ll be competition next year, too, with more established sluggers like J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Carlos Santana, and perhaps Justin Upton also slated to hit the open market. At first base, Alonso will need to contend with Eric Hosmer, as well. It’s perhaps also now conceivable that Alonso could do enough damage that he’s worthy of a qualifying offer — though that possibility could well be foreclosed by a mid-season trade.
Alonso only just turned 30 years of age, so his representatives at MVP Sports can rightly tout that he’s a relatively youthful free agent. And that list of free-agent competitors hasn’t exactly gotten off to a compelling start, as a whole. If Alonso can stay healthy and productive, he could find himself among the top bats available next winter. He has already turned the A’s $4MM investment into a bargain, and that could look like a pittance when he signs his next contract. As things stand, it seems reasonable to believe that Alonso could command a three or four-year guarantee when he puts pen to paper next winter.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- In some more positive injury news, Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea is scheduled to return from the DL and start tomorrow night’s game against the Mariners, A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters (including MLB.com’s Dave Sessions) on Friday. Manaea hasn’t pitched since April 27 due to a strain in his throwing shoulder. The promising young hurler has a 5.18 ERA, 10.0 K/9 and a 2.25 K/BB over 24 1/3 IP for Oakland this season.
Detwiler originally came to Oakland last July after a trade from the Indians, and the southpaw posted a 6.14 ERA, 4.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 over 44 innings (seven starts in nine outings) in the green-and-gold. Detwiler signed a minors contract with the A’s over the winter but opted out of that deal at the end of Spring Training, only to sign a new deal with the club the next week.
Pitching exclusively as a reliever at Triple-A, Detwiler had a 7.50 ERA through 12 innings, though Slusser notes that the lefty had pitched better as of late, with just a 1.17 ERA in May. Still, it seems as if a call-up to the A’s roster wasn’t in the card, so Detwiler will now look for an opportunity elsewhere.
Best known for a productive stint as a swingman with the Nationals from 2009-14, Detwiler has struggled over the last two seasons, posting a 6.73 ERA over 107 IP with the A’s, Indians, Rangers and Braves. Never a big strikeout pitcher (only a 5.5 career K/9), Detwiler has had increased troubles allowing walks and homers for the last two years, reducing his margin of error to zero.
The A’s have released outfielder/first baseman Andrew Lambo, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). Lambo had been on the DL at Triple-A Nashville with a wrist injury, but had been recently cleared to play.
Lambo was limited to just 56 minor league games and one MLB game in 2016 after undergoing surgery to treat testicular cancer. The 28-year-old happily made a full recovery from that procedure and signed a new minor league deal with Oakland last October.
Originally a fourth-round pick for the Dodgers in the 2007 draft, Lambo has hit .189/.230/.295 over an even 100 career plate appearances in the majors, appearing in 60 games with the Pirates and A’s since 2013. He got off to a slow start in Triple-A this season (undoubtedly the wrist injury was a factor) but overall, Lambo has a .276/.342/.456 slash line in 3340 PA over his minor league career.
- The Athletics have outrighted outfielder Jaff Decker to Triple-A Nashville, where he began the season. The A’s added Decker to their 25- and 40-man rosters April 15, and he proceeded to hit .200/.322/.260 in a career-high 62 plate appearances before they designated him Tuesday. A former high-end prospect, the 27-year-old Decker owns a .269/.370/.410 line in 1,542 Triple-A PAs.
The Athletics announced on Thursday that right-hander Jharel Cotton has been optioned to Triple-A Nashville. While Cotton has been impressive at times, he’s also allowed five or more runs in three of his starts, including a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Angels on Tuesday. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, GM David Forst suggested that Cotton merely needs to improve his consistency and may not be long for the minors. ““Jharel has pitched better than what his overall line shows,” said the GM. “…[H]e just needs some more consistency with his performance. The bottom line is that we currently have six starters who are probably deserving of being in the big leagues; Jharel needs to continue to improve in Nashville so he’s ready when the next opportunity arises.” Cotton’s demotion will clear a spot in the rotation for lefty Sean Manaea, who is returning from shoulder troubles early next week. Manaea will be joined by Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs and Jesse Hahn in the starting five.
- While there’s been plenty of talk about Yonder Alonso altering his launch angle and adopting a more fly-ball-heavy approach, Athletics hitting coach Darren Bush tells Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area that Alonso hasn’t fundamentally changed his approach at the plate. Rather, Alonso has adopted a leg kick that has improved his timing and the quality of his contact. “All he’s trying to do is be in position and execute a good swing, and the by-product is the ball is going the way that it should,” says Bush. “…This year, his leg kick is just on time. He’s given himself time to read the pitch, he’s given himself time to execute his swing. … He doesn’t have a two-part swing. It’s just one fluid swing.” Alonso, once one of the game’s to overall prospects, has been a light-hitting first baseman for years but is off to a ludicrous start in 2017. To date, he’s batting .303/.389/.687 with 11 home runs and five doubles through 113 plate appearances.