MESA, Ariz. –- The theory, and it’s a good one, says that converting from starting to relieving boosted the velocity on Liam Hendriks’ fastball.
Certainly that was a help. But Hendriks, who made his exhibition debut for the A’s with a scoreless inning Saturday, also credits some changes he made heading into the 2015 season, when he was still with Toronto, for helping his fastball jump from the low-90’s to the mid- to-high 90’s.
Notably, he began incorporating Pilates workouts in his offseason routine to improve his flexibility, his lower body strength and core strength. Hendriks credits his wife, Kristi, for getting him involved in that.
“She had done it, and she said, ‘You should come, you’d get a lot out of this,’” Hendriks said. “I went down there and started doing that, and I loved it. It was a real eye opener when you’re getting out there for the first time and I’ve got 80-year-old women doing a lot better core stuff than I was. It kind of humbles you really quickly. By the end of it, I got the hang of it.”
[STIGLICH: Manaea impresses in A's debut, earns another start]
Hendriks, 27, made the full-time switch to relieving last season and posted a 2.92 ERA in 58 games with the Blue Jays, averaging 9.9 strikeouts and 1.5 walks per nine innings. The A’s acquired him in a straight-up trade for right-hander Jesse Chavez in November, and Hendriks factors in as one of the key new pieces in the A’s bullpen.
He gave up a hit and struck out one Saturday, handling the third inning as the A’s tied the Milwaukee Brewers 8-8 at Hohokam Stadium. Hendriks pairs a slider with his live fastball, though he said he didn’t have the command he wanted in his A’s debut.
“My location was still a little awry, but that happens the first game out there,” Hendriks said. “I’m just happy the ball was coming out good. This is my first spring training in Arizona, and people warned about the difference between here and Florida. The balls don’t break as much out here. I’m just trying not to overthrow it if it doesn’t move as much. The trainers warned about overthrowing stuff if the ball’s not breaking.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin said Saturday that his plan is for Ryan Madson, another bullpen newcomer, to serve as the eighth-inning setup man for closer Sean Doolittle. But Hendriks and fellow hard-throwing right-hander John Axford will see their share of late-inning action as well.
NOTEWORTHY: After the Brewers erased a 7-6 A’s lead in the top of the ninth on Yadiel Rivera’s two-run homer, Josh Phegley answered with a game-tying homer in the bottom half, and the game ended in an 8-8 tie so both teams could conserve their pitching.
Phegley was happy to contribute with the bat, but now the catcher is ready to get some innings behind the plate after being slowed by a sore shoulder. He threw to bases Saturday, and Melvin said if Phegley fares well Sunday, he would likely catch Monday against the Kansas City Royals.
“I’m glad I got another at-bat, but I was hoping we would hold on and I wouldn’t need one,” Phegley said of his homer. “But it was a good way to end the day.”
Fellow catcher Stephen Vogt, on the mend from elbow surgery, started at DH and went 0-for-2.
A defensive highlight from Saturday: Second baseman Jed Lowrie charging in and making a nifty glove flip to first on Orlando Arcia’s slow roller to help out Hendriks in the third.
HEALTH UPDATES: Jarrod Parker is scheduled to throw two 20-pitch sessions Sunday with a batter standing in. The right-hander is being brought along incrementally after two years of recovering from elbow injuries, and there’s no date yet for him to get in a game.
First baseman Mark Canha was set to test his sore back by playing light catch and taking dry swings (not hitting a ball).
CAMP BATTLE: Eric Sogard, trying to win a roster spot in a crowded infield, drew the start at shortstop and went 1-for-2 with a run.
Outfielder Andrew Lambo continued his fast start by going 2-for-2 with an RBI and a run. He’s 4-for-8 in three games. Tyler Ladendorf, a utility man who like Lambo seems hard-pressed to make the 25-man roster, singled home two runs in the fifth.
PROSPECT WATCH: After a couple of defensive miscues Thursday against the Angels, infielder Chad Pinder contributed an RBI single Saturday.
FAMILIAR FACES: Lefty Sean Nolin was expected to compete for a spot in the A’s rotation before he was designated for assignment in February. The Brewers claimed him, and Nolin pitched an inning against his old team Saturday, allowing an unearned run.
Former A’s outfielder Shane Peterson went 0-for-1 with a run and one-time Oakland infielder Jake Elmore went 0-for-2.
OODS AND ENDS: Melvin made a clarification: If Sean Manaea pitches on Thursday, which is the current plan, he will do so in relief, as Rich Hill is down to start that day against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Melvin had indicated previously that Manaea’s next outing would be a start.