Spring Has Sprung! It’s Time For REAL Baseball!
It was getaway day in the desert yesterday, and collectively, I think this team is ready for the marathon that lies ahead. Following our Cactus League finale against the Rockies at Salt River Fields, players, coaches and staff were bused back to Phoenix Muni for quick showers, then on to Phoenix International Airport for the charter to Oakland. As I surveyed the situation on board, it’s clear that Manager Bob Geren and his staff are visibly pleased with the results they saw during six weeks of workouts and Spring Training games. And why not? Their check list is pretty much complete:
- Stay Healthy—The A’s came out of camp relatively injury free. Outside of All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and fifth-starter candidate Rich Harden, Geren’s club looks fit and ready. And even Bailey’s arm setback was a reprieve of sorts, as tearing adhesions from offseason cleanup surgery is a best-case scenario if ever I heard of one when a mandated trip to see Dr. Andrews (aka, Mr. Tommy John surgeon) suggested otherwise. While a specific timetable for their return has not yet been plotted, both Bailey and Harden (tight lat muscle) should be rejoining the team early in the season, perhaps even within a few weeks.
- Competition for Open Positions—Entering Spring Training, it would have seemed there were three primary areas of competition for roster spots. The hope was that several viable candidates would emerge and a healthy competition would ensue that might deliver the best possible options. Well, it absolutely went according to script. With Adam Rosales still on the mend from offseason foot surgery—he should be back by early May—there was a spirited battle for the utility infielder role. In fact, the smoke has yet to clear, as Eric Sogard, Andy LaRoche and Wes Timmons head north for the Bay Bridge Series still awaiting a final verdict. And Steve Tolleson, who briefly served in the same utility role last season, displayed his usual defensive prowess to make it a legitimate four-way competition until he was optioned to the minor league camp due to a sub-par batting average. Another interesting contest was waged by Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer for the No. 5 starter. Friday, the skipper gave McCarthy the nod, although he also suggested that Ross and Cramer are still prime candidates for the long reliever slot on the staff—a decision that will need to be made later this week. And to a lesser extent, a bevy of gifted relievers with quality major league experience, headed by Jerry Blevins, Joey Devine—and maybe even the reliable Brad Ziegler—tried to out-duel each other all spring for what essentially were one or two spots in a crowded bullpen. Devine, who like starter Josh Outman, made estimable progress this spring, was optioned this morning to allow him more time to ramp up following his Tommy John surgery from 2009. Final choices for Opening Night are still to come, but one thing is certain: some very capable pitchers and position players will be left off the 25-man roster that christens the season, and that suggests this is a deeper team than a year ago.
- Evidence of an Improved Lineup—While rarely did we see the projected Opening Night lineup together in any one Spring Training game, individually we saw promising glimpses of both our new acquisitions like David DeJesus and Josh Willingham, as well as returning hitters like Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki and Kevin Kouzmanoff, who this year will be asked to perform in positions more commiserate to their talents. While Hideki Matsui compiled a rather frigid batting average this spring, those long-time observers of the Japanese legend suggest that Godzilla is sure to appear when stadium lights are flicked on this weekend.
- The Return of the Big Four—Even though this quartet set the tone last season by anchoring a starting rotation that posted the best ERA in all of baseball, the relative youth of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden would generally suggest you can’t take last year’s performance for granted. So, while we have somewhat penciled in another stellar season for this group, it was nice to see each of them pitch with such purpose this spring. In short, they were as good as advertised. All four seem to be poised and ready for great seasons. And, of course, this is sweet music for new pitching coach Ron Romanick and Geren.
So now, the real season is upon us. As they might say in the boxing game, “Let’s get ready to rummmmbblle!”