MESA, Ariz. – Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir will be skipped the first time through the A’s Cactus League rotation, an effort to provide a little extra rest for Oakland’s two top starters.
Manager Bob Melvin said it’s a precautionary move and that it leaves plenty of time to get both ready for the regular season. The A’s play their Cactus League opener Tuesday against the Giants.
Gray, 25, threw 219 innings last season, his first full year in the majors. Kazmir logged 190 1/3 innings, the most for the 31-year-old lefty since he threw 206 2/3 in 2007. Also worth noting: Kazmir’s second-half ERA was 5.42, compared to 2.38 before the All-Star break. So it could be beneficial to ease off his workload when possible early in the season in the hopes it will pay off down the stretch.
STOCK RISING: There’s expected to be stiff competition for three open spots in the starting rotation, and right-hander Chris Bassitt has impressed early on. He faced hitters for the first time Thursday, and Melvin liked what he saw from the 6-foot-5 right-hander. Bassitt, Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn were all acquired in offseason trades, and they’re all competing with returners Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz for the three openings. Sean Nolin, also acquired via trade, is out right now while recovering from sports hernia surgery.
“A lot of movement, very few good swings,” Melvin said in assessing Bassitt. “Those guys can’t help but try to compete a little more than the veterans who are just getting their work in.”
CAMP BATTLE: Nate Freiman has spent a good portion of time in the majors over the past two years, but Melvin acknowledged that the first baseman is fighting an uphill battle to make the 25-man roster out of camp. Ike Davis is expected to start at first against right-handers, and the A’s could go with either designated hitter Billy Butler or Mark Canha -- both right-handed hitters – against lefties.
Canha’s status as a Rule 5 pick works against Freiman. The A’s must keep Canha on the 25-man roster all season or offer him back to Miami, so there’s incentive to carve out a spot for him if his performance warrants it. Just two years ago, it was Freiman whom the A’s acquired as a Rule 5 pick, and he stayed with Oakland the entire year after playing the previous season at Double-A.
LIGHTER SIDE: Gray took the mound wearing glasses Thursday, and it was no fashion statement. His left eyelid was puffy due to an irritation of some sort, and doctor’s orders call for Gray to ditch his contacts for a few days. He found it challenging trying to pitch with glasses, saying whenever he tried to locate the catcher’s mitt out of the corner of his eye from the stretch, everything was a blur.
That in itself doesn’t qualify as “lighter side” material, but the site of Gray standing next to second baseman Eric Sogard – who wears glasses full time – was enough to make one do a double-take.
“He looks great in glasses … fantastic,” Sogard beamed.
Replied Gray: “I don’t know how you do it.”
ODDS AND ENDS: Reliever Tyler Clippard, a candidate to close until Sean Doolittle returns from injury, faced hitters for the first time and looked sharp. Not a whole lot of hard contact off him. … MLB is conducting mandatory meetings to address the issue of domestic violence with all 30 teams this spring. A’s players had their 90-minute session Thursday morning, and coaches and front office staff will have the same meeting at a future date. “Certainly we support that, with all that’s going on in sports, really in everyday life these days,” Melvin said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed, and if we can school our guys on it and make them very aware of it, then we try to combat the problem.”