Oakland A’s spring training: Three key questions following day one in Mesa

With coronavirus health and safety protocols in place for the start of the 2021 season, pitchers and catcher’s report day looked a little different than in years past. Similar to the truncated 2020 season, players must undergo intake testing and practice social distancing.

Frankie Montas tested positive and is feeling symptoms for COVID-19. Sean Murphy will report late recovering from a collapsed lung.

Reporters are not allowed anywhere near the action. All conversations with manager Bob Melvin and the players and staff are over Zoom.

But bench coach Ryan Christenson worked to ensure the schedule and set up felt as familiar as possible for Wednesday’s throwing sessions. The participants: Paul Blackburn, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk, Jake Diekman, Dany Jiménez, Brian Schlitter, J.B. Wendelken, Cole Irvin, Grant Holmes, James Kaprielian, Burch Smith, Ben Bracewell, Jeff Criswell, Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard. Here are some takeaways from Day 1.

How is A.J. Puk and what will be his role?

It was a good start to spring for oft-injured A.J. Puk, who looked fresher than usual in his side session on Wednesday.

“I think surgery really did a lot for him in that he just looked free and easy,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There were times you watched him (last year) and you could tell he was feeling something and guarded. A lot of times his shoulder. Today it wasn’t the case at all. He told me he feels great. He’s in great shape. Ball had a lot of life. He looked really good.”

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Injuries kept popping up for Puk, the A’s 2016 first-round pick, keeping him from any consistent playing time in the big leagues. A nagging shoulder issue that hindered his bounce-back after throwing sessions finally forced the decision for Puk to get surgery last September without any big league playing time in 2020.

If the clean bill of health keeps up, the A’s are going to try to build Puk up as a starter while also embracing other options for the tall left-handed pitcher. To manage his workload, it’s still possible they aim for Puk to start the season off out of the bullpen. He has yet to make his first big league start — the 25-year-old came out of the bullpen during his 2019 debut, allowing four runs with 13 strikeouts and five walks in 11.1 innings.

Starter or reliever? That will become clearer as spring training progresses. The key for a modern pitching staff is to simply have depth — and his versatility helps. For now, health is important. That the manager noticed a distinct free and easiness in Puk’s throwing today certainly is a good sign for Day 1.

Who will be the closer now that Liam Hendriks is gone?

That might not be a relevant question. While the A’s might narrow down the group of eligible names to pitchers the staff feels most comfortable with in high-leverage situations. Jake Diekman, J.B. Wendelken, Lou Trivino are all options to pitch in the ninth inning — but all options are open.

“We want to talk to players about …read more

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Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


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