Results tagged ‘ Ben Sheets ’

Pitchers and catchers report: Rainy day roundup

Seems like just a day ago I was teasing my sister about the rain she was getting in Northern California. And there I was, texting her from my patio while working under the perfect 75-degree sun in Arizona. Silly me, for not thinking karma would actually come back to get me so soon. But such was the case this morning as I stepped out of the car bright and early on pitchers/catchers reporting day under dark clouds just waiting to topple me with big, cold raindrops. Out of courtesy, they waited a whole hour before letting loose, but that didn’t help the fact I was standing sans umbrella and rain coat while waiting for A’s players to enter and leave the clubhouse facilities, which were closed all day due to physicals. Luckily, all seven of us media people didn’t have to shiver much longer before being allowed to stand in a small hallway just around the corner from the clubhouse. The players must have loved it, as we created somewhat of a red carpet entrance by standing on both sides of the walkway. At the same time, they must have also rolled their eyes after passing us, knowing full well it would be hard to escape without coming back from their physicals to talk to us. A few got by, but we did catch up with several notable guys. Here’s a good-size collection of what I heard today:

Bob Geren reported that Justin Duchscherer has been experiencing stiffness off and on in his lower back for a couple of weeks, the most recent time being this morning after throwing a 20-pitch bullpen session yesterday. He’ll be reevaluated tomorrow morning before pitchers and catchers begin their first official workouts at 9:45 a.m. Geren didn’t sound overly concerned, but the team must be slightly worried given Justin’s history with back injuries. Should be interesting to see if he is limited to certain activities tomorrow. 

Ben Sheets held an informal media session after his physical and appeared very confident heading into tomorrow’s workouts with zero restrictions. He is following the same throwing program as the other A’s pitchers and will throw his second bullpen session (his first one came Friday) tomorrow. The A’s big offseason acquisition admitted it was a little strange “putting on the green” after being in Milwaukee for so long, but he said he’s excited for the challenge of a new league. Sheets added that he tries different things every spring but usually comes out of it with the same two pitches (fastball and curveball) he’s used since he was 11 years old. “They ask about the changeup and I’m usually eh about it,” he said. “I’ll throw it here and there.” He’s tried all forms of a cutter but insists they all look the same – “straight as a string.” However, he might try learning what he called his 12th cutter since he likes what he sees of Duchscherer’s cutter. Said Sheets: “I believe in location and a breaking ball, and we’ll go from there.”

On another note, Sheets said he attended the Super Bowl. He grew up a life-long Saints fan and even used to wear a Saints jersey to the ballpark every Sunday when he played with the Brewers. We’ll have to see if that tradition continues here in Oakland. Sheets on the game: “Great results. Maybe I’ll get that feeling soon.” A’s fans can only hope…

Vin Mazzaro has completely recovered from the shoulder tendinitis that shut down his season early last year. Like every other pitcher (aside from maybe Duchscherer now), he is not limited in any way.

Brett Anderson told us he’d like to work on his changeup to have another weapon against right-handed hitters. He said he feels a little more relaxed entering camp knowing that he has a better grip on job security, which allows him the chance to work on different aspects of his game. Brett recently turned 22 and celebrated with family and friends at a dinner in Stillwater, Okla., where he spent his offseason.

The always entertaining Dallas Braden provided a much-needed 20 minutes worth of comic relieve for us reporters in the hallway. First of all, on a more serious note, he spoke of the left foot that caused him to put a hold on his season last year after only 22 starts. He still feels lingering effects from the nerve irritation that developed last year and still has no feeling in two of his toes. On top of that, Braden had a nasal endoscopy in December because of a deviated septum and resulting breathing problems. He can now breathe and sleep comfortably, but that wasn’t before he experienced a few days of post-procedure effects. If you don’t like blood, I advise you to skip to the next paragraph, but this story is too good not to share. After his operation, Braden had to keep a cotton ball under his nose. One day, his grandmother ran to the store to get more cotton balls and Dallas decided to remove the one he had on. The result: a “waterfall” of blood everywhere. He called his grandma and yelled: “You gotta come back here. I don’t know what’s going on. You gotta take me to the hospital.” Upon grandma’s return, blood was all over the sink and she thought he had shot someone or something. Now, a flood of blood should normally not be so humorous, but leave it to Dallas to make it such.

Josh Outman, another recovering pitcher, talked about his recovery from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and the resulting surgical effects in the form of shoulder soreness, which shut him down for six weeks. However, he says he still plans to be back with the team by midseason — hopefully in the rotation rather than the bullpen. For more on Outman, see a full story on him later tonight at the A’s site.

Heard more from Michael Taylor today. He basically said he’s going to be the best he can be to win a roster spot, but if the team doesn’t deem him ready, that’s OK too because it will give him more to work on at Triple-A Sacramento. With all the outfield commotion going on this spring, I see Taylor starting the year in Sacramento, mostly because I believe the A’s want to preserve his service time and make sure he’s up for good once he arrives. Until that time, I suspect he’ll tear it up with the River Cats.

We also talked to Andrew Bailey for a bit. He once again described his whirlwind of an offseason and how he’s not taking anything for granted this spring despite a guaranteed roster spot. “There are guys here like me last year,” he said. “You never know who’s behind you.” Bailey spent the offseason working out with fellow bullpen mate Craig Breslow, whose offseason home was about 10 minutes from Bailey’s.

Position players spotted in camp today: Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, Eric Patterson, Cliff Pennington, Landon Powell and Travis Buck

That should do it for now. Expect more tomorrow as pitchers and catchers begin workouts at Phoenix Municipal, where I’ll be reporting from all day — hopefully under the sun. Take care, and enjoy what’s left of your Saturday night.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for lots of updates throughout my days in camp. It’s a perfect way to stay connected to the team as news unfolds: http://twitter.com/JaneMLB

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Greetings from Papago Park

Lots of A’s — pitchers, catchers, position players — have been working out at the team’s Papago Park facilities in Phoenix even though pitchers/catchers don’t have to officially report until tomorrow. It’s easy to see why given the weather (77 degrees today) and easily accessible fields there. When I took my first trip to the park yesterday afternoon after a quick flight from Oakland, I made my way around the fields accompanied by only a squirrel or two. Today, though, the lots were filled when I wandered over there mid-morning. Some highlights:

I quickly ran into Justin Duchscherer, who is sporting a little more scruff than usual. He looks great and genuinely says he feels better than great — physically AND mentally. If you recall, Justin was ready to return to the team in August after recovering from elbow surgery. The only thing keeping him away from the field was his battle with depression, which he has since treated. Physical health is not an issue for him, and he will have no restrictions come Sunday when pitchers and catchers work out together for the first time. Justin lives in Arizona, so he’s been doing plenty of baseball activity all offseason. Today was one of the few times he’s been out to Papago with everyone, but trust me when I say he appears to be physically and psychologically healthy.

Brad Ziegler is dealing with what he calls typical allergies he always gets when he comes out to Arizona, leaving him with a slightly raspy voice. He got an allergy shot yesterday, though, and is not letting it affect his workouts. He threw a bullpen today right before Joey Devine, who received a good amount of encouragement from pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Ron Romanick. Romanick has played a key role in guiding Devine along his rehab schedule. To read more about his quick recovery from Tommy John surgery, you can go here. Also, here’s a picture of Devine throwing off the mound today.

Devine.jpgJake Fox has to be one of the friendliest guys in the game. At least that’s the impression I got after he found me to introduce himself. Usually the reporters are the ones who have to make the effort to jump start the initial introduction process, but Fox came right over in catcher’s gear, which is why I didn’t even recognize him in the first place. He helped out with some bullpen sessions today before taking BP, and you’d think the guy has been around the team for years. Definitely a likable guy who should make friends fast and bring an all-around good personality into the clubhouse.

It didn’t take long to spot the highly anticipated Michael Taylor, who spent more than an hour taking BP while showering the outfield grass with hits left and right. Luckily there was a good amount of guys shagging balls – a group that included Cliff Pennington, who took part in his first full day of workouts Friday. Taylor looks just as you probably imagined — big. You can spot him a mile away, but at the same time he’s no Big Hurt or Big Papi. More trimmed and toned. Here’s a picture of him signing an autograph for an eager fan, who begged Taylor to wait around for a minute while he ran to his car to get one of Taylor’s baseball cards.

Taylor.jpgTravis Buck has been working out at the facilities for a couple of weeks and looks to be in great shape. I didn’t recognize him at first due to a hairstyle change. Gone are the Goldilocks days. Buck’s going with a much shorter ‘do now and is hoping the change will be a sign of good change to come at the plate, where his struggles have been the topic of much discussion this offseason after the A’s signed FA outfielder Gabe Gross.

I also had the chance to meet Max Stassi, the A’s fourth-round pick in last year’s draft. He was busy catching a few bullpens before I caught up with him and, not surprisingly, he’s yet another nice guy. Lots of those on the A’s roster every year it seems. And while Stassi is here as a non-roster invitee having only spent time with the A’s short-season Vancouver team, there’s no denying his excitement and work ethic. Looks like he’ll be a great addition to the big league team in a couple years.

Others floating around the facilities included Andrew Bailey, Ben Sheets, Trevor Cahill, Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez, Tyson Ross and Jared Lansford (Carney’s boy), among others. As I mentioned before, pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, but it should be a quiet day over at Phoenix Muni. The players have been advised to take the day off, as they won’t get another off day until March 16 after they begin official workouts Sunday. However, I’ll be over there bright and early tomorrow, so look for more updates again here by afternoon and all throughout the day on Twitter. Hope to gather more pictures for you as well.

Off to find some dinner here in the desert. Any food recommendations around the Tempe/Scottsdale/Phoenix area are always welcome, as are any comments/rants/opinions about the A’s.

Happy Friday!

Count your outfielders

All is apparently not quiet on the Western Front. Talks of the A’s in pursuit of one-time Oakland player Johnny Damon have fizzled this weekend, but according to multiple reports — including FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and ESPN’s Buster Olney — the club is now in “serious discussions” with free-agent outfielder Gabe Gross. The 30-year-old Gross, who hit .227 with six homers and 36 games for Tampa Bay last year, would presumably offer the A’s a left-handed option off the bench and yet another backup outfielder.

Over the past couple weeks, both Beane and Geren have boasted about what could shape up to be the best defensive outfield in the league with Davis in LF, Crisp in CF and Sweeney in RF. The A’s also have the highly touted Michael Taylor waiting in line, not to mention options in Eric Patterson and Travis Buck — the latter who the A’s seem to have lost a lot of hope on, especially if a Gross signing gets done. So with the A’s entering camp with more outfielders than some can count, it begs the question of why Beane is so interested in signing an outfielder rather than what he calls a much-needed utility infielder.

At the same time, it’s Beane. And where his mind goes at this time of the year is anybody’s guess. After all, it’s fair to say the Ben Sheets signing didn’t make much sense — considering the pitching depth — before the deal came into fruition. And now that it has, it makes great sense barring any injury. But Gross is not Sheets. And he’s not Crisp. Or Kouzmanoff. So what gives?

Bailey, Wuertz and more

Good things really do happen to good people. Today’s case in point: Andrew Bailey. He’s one of several overly friendly (in a good way, of course) guys on the team, and he deserves everything that’s come his way in the past year, including his All-Star and Rookie of the Year honors. Good fortune has apparently followed him into 2010. Last night he was honored in a halftime ceremony at his alma mater Wagner College. The head honchos there decided to retire Andrew’s No. 17 – which he said came as a complete surprise when approached about it in the middle of the offseason. His former coach, Joe Litterio, couldn’t say enough about Andrew. You can read the full story here.

Also on the good-guy radar today is Michael Wuertz. The new daddy of son Braxton avoided arbitration and agreed to a two-year deal with a club option for 2012 this afternoon. When I spoke to Michael, he seemed very relieved knowing he’ll likely be in the same place for a couple years.

Add in the Ben Sheets signing and interesting Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections that have the A’s finishing first in the AL West this year, and I have to say it’s been a pretty good week for fans of the green and gold. Curious to hear your thoughts/arguments/ramblings related to the PECOTA news. Have to admit I’m not a big fan of those types of projections, but I know a lot of you are. So have at it…

Depth comes with decisions

For those still not sold on yesterday’s signing, I urge you
to join the pro-Sheets club. Why? Because it’s a win-win for all — Sheets gets
to pitch in a pitcher-friendly park, put up good numbers and re-enter the
market at season’s end and/or be moved to a contender for prospects come July
if the A’s are out of contention.

Basically, it’s a smart move for both sides — unless, of
course, Sheets gets hurt. But after listening to both the right-handed pitcher
and Beane talk extensively both during and after the press conference about
Sheets’ questioned health, I firmly believe he’s not going to be crowding the
trainer’s room this year. Billy said the guy keeps himself in remarkable shape,
and Ben went on for about five minutes about how extensive his physical was
before the deal was done.

Billy was asked if he felt anxious about having his rotation
led by two guys who didn’t pitch an inning last year. Definitely a fair
question, and one that I’m sure has plenty A’s fans wondering about too. Here’s
Billy’s answer:

“I wouldn’t say anxiety. Bigger anxiety was going into last
year having so little experience in our starting rotation. Ben opted to have
the surgery a year ago in an effort to make sure he was completely healthy, so
I have less concern than I would had he not had the surgery.

“Quite frankly, we were very pleased with the physical he
went through. Ben keeps himself in great shape, as does Justin, so we’re
anticipating them having a real good year. We can take a little bit of pressure
off our rotation because we now have some depth, which we haven’t had in the
last few years. Going into Spring Training, we have seven or eight guys.”

Later, Bob Geren was promptly asked about his starting
rotation. Is Sheets your ace? “Oh yea,” he replied. Quite a change from last year,
when Geren didn’t choose his OD starter (Braden) until five days before the
first pitch was thrown. He said Duchscherer, Braden and Anderson would likely
follow in that order, although I see a couple different options there since
Geren usually likes to go R-L-R or L-R-L. Both Geren and Beane made it very
clear that the fifth spot is not Cahill’s for certain — which I suspect
several people assumed would be the case. I, for one, though, do see Cahill –
who turns 22 in March — landing that fifth spot.

He definitely didn’t make as many strides as fellow rotation
youngster Anderson did last season, but he did improve on keeping the ball down
in the strike zone near the end of the year. His sinker has potential to be
very dangerous, but he’s gotta be careful with the long ball (he gave up an
Oakland-rookie-record 27 homers last year).

Then there’s Gio. The guy’s got what Geren deems the best
stuff on the staff, but keeping Gio in check mentally is what’s preventing him
from becoming a bona fide Major League pitcher. I talked with Gio for a long
while about this last week, and he said he feels he’s turned a page when it
comes to calming down on the mound. He’ll have to walk the talk come spring,
but if what he’s saying proves to be true, then he could definitely be in the
mix for the No. 5 spot.

Mazzaro is the final candidate for the job and, frankly, the
one several around the league pegged as the next big thing last spring. He was
usually mentioned in the same breath as Anderson and Cahill, and people were
going gaga over comparing the trio to The Big Three of Hudson, Mulder and Zito.
He was called up in June and quickly had heads turning by posting a 0.00 ERA in
his first two starts. But then he suddenly lost eight in a row, suffered a
shoulder injury and was never heard from again. Less walks and more strikes,
along with a slightly more poised appearance, and Mazzaro’s a big leaguer. But
when that time will come, no one knows. So for now, I see him getting schooled
at Triple A to start the season.

Don’t forget about Josh Outman, who should be back
mid-season. Including him, that’s 8 pitchers available to start. So when Billy
grabbed Sheets, was part of the plan to trade one of the younger pitchers for a
much-needed utility INF? “I think it’s fair to say we’ll hold on to the young
guys. We’ve finally got a little bit of depth.”

Depth? Yes. Lots of decisions left to make? Oh yes.

In a perfect world, what does your rotation look like?  

Sheets, Damon on As radar

All those thinking the A’s rotation is
the one area need not be touched heading into Spring Training, think again.
Recent reports are pointing toward a possible Ben Sheets signing in Oakland.

The 31-year-old free agent, who missed
all of 2009 because of elbow surgery, threw a pitching session in front of
several scouts and team officials — including those from Oakland — on Jan. 19
at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. His fastball topped out at 92 mph,
and his curveball was highly affective.

Now, almost one week later, the A’s are
apparently very much still interested despite Sheets’ desire for a guaranteed
$8 million in 2010. And while Billy Beane declined to comment, citing his
policy against discussing free agents, multiple reports say Oakland is
definitely in the mix. Other teams reportedly in a bidding war for the
right-hander include the Mets and Rangers.

The A’s do have some money to spend,
and Sheets would not only offer the A’s an added veteran presence in a very
young rotation, but also provide the club with some trade bait (Gonzalez?
Mazzaro?) to aide in their efforts in landing a power-hitting SS – the one area
on the field where depth is missing.

So while the Sheets interest may seem
somewhat of a head-scratcher at first glance, the notion doesn’t seem too crazy
upon further review – especially when Billy’s involved. However, the team is
also linked to an even stranger idea: Could Johnny Damon be back for a second
tour with the A’s if the Sheets signing doesn’t go down? Doesn’t quite make
much sense, but reports say it’s a definite maybe.

Last week at A’s Media Day, Geren
insisted he may have one of the best — if not, the best — defensive outfields
in the league with Davis in LF, Crisp in CF and Sweeney in RF. Damon’s not
exactly Gold Glove material out there, and he wouldn’t be much of a need at DH
either with Cust, Fox and (hopefully) Chavez already as options there.

Needless to say, the A’s roster could
be slapped with some changes by week’s end. Should be interesting to see how it
all plays out.

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