OAKLAND - The A’s finalized their opening day roster Saturday, meaning manager Bob Melvin spent part of the morning delivering happy news to some players and not-so-happy news to others. Two of his favorite conversations were those with outfielder Billy Burns and infielder/outfielder Tyler Ladendorf.
With outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick both starting the season on the 15-day disabled list, the window opened for Burns and Ladendorf to both make their first big-league opening-day rosters. So Melvin made sure to tell them in a memorable way.
"He said, ‘You want the good news or the bad news first?’" Ladendorf said. "I told him the bad news first, and he told me there wasn’t any bad news and I made the team."
Burns said he had his suitcase packed in case he would be flying to Triple-A Nashville after the Bay Bridge preseason finale Saturday. "He told me, ‘Where’s your luggage?’ And I was like, ‘They’re holding it for me,’" Burns said. "He was like, ‘Well you can unpack it, because you’re staying here with the team.’"
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Neither player could have scripted a better ending to a strong spring. Ladendorf batted .318 (21-for-66) with 13 RBIs to put himself in position for a utility role when Reddick went down with an oblique strain. Ladendorf said Melvin told him to be prepared for a platoon at second base -- likely with Eric Sogard, while Ben Zobrist fills in for Reddick in the outfield -- but Ladendorf has played some outfield as well.
Burns finished spring batting .373 and tied the A’s record for hits in a non-strike spring since 1991 with 31. Burns, who took up switch hitting only three seasons ago, showed marked improvement with his left-handed (non-natural) swing and defensively, as well. He will be the fourth outfielder to start the season (Reddick is expected to return by the A’s sixth game).
"I just feel blessed and honored and just thankful that they’d consider me for a position like that," Burns said. "Hopefully I can contribute to the team in whatever way it might be."
Ladendorf said this spring helped him put last season behind him. He was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse, at which point Ladendorf was hitting .305 through 68 games at Triple-A Sacramento.
"It felt like it was an off-field incident that kind of ended my season, and I had a lot of success on the field," Ladendorf said. "So I felt like I did turn a corner, especially with the bat. More than anything, it was a good feeling to come in (this spring) just trying to pick up where I left off. I didn’t come in thinking I had to come in and do more, so that was a great feeling. I came in and felt relaxed."
Burns said he, too, felt more relaxed this spring after being in his first season with the A’s organization last year following a trade from Washington. "I remember last year I was jittery and just nervous out there," he said. "This time it was like I was just playing in a baseball game. That’s huge for me."
Both will be part of opening-day festivities for the first time when the A’s host the Texas Rangers on Monday night at the Coliseum. The rest of their 25-man roster holds no real surprises. Right-handers R.J. Alvarez and Evan Scribner, as expected, won the final two spots in the bullpen after Ryan Cook was optioned. Here’s the full 25-man roster:
LHP Fernando Abad
RHP R.J. Alvarez
RHP Jesse Chavez
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Kendall Graveman
RHP Sonny Gray
RHP Jesse Hahn
LHP Scott Kazmir
LHP Eric O’Flaherty
RHP Dan Otero
LHP Drew Pomeranz
RHP Evan Scribner
R/R Josh Phegley
L/R Stephen Vogt
R/R Billy Butler
R/R Mark Canha
L/L Ike Davis
R/R Tyler Ladendorf
R/R Brett Lawrie
R/R Marcus Semien
L/R Eric Sogard
S/R Ben Zobrist
S/R Billy Burns
L/L Sam Fuld
R/R Craig Gentry
* The A’s placed six players on the 15-day disabled list: Crisp, Reddick, Sean Doolittle, Nate Freiman, Sean Nolin and Jarrod Parker. Notable is that neither Doolittle nor Parker are on the 60-day DL, indicating the A’s feel they could return sometime in May. If you missed the earlier item on Crisp’s surgery, it’s here.
* Probably the most notable player shipped out Saturday was left-hander Barry Zito, who was assigned to the minors and said he will accept a job at Triple-A Nashville. Zito wants to get stretched out to start and, most importantly, values the opportunity to keep pitching at the professional level.
Zito worked one scoreless inning in the A’s 2-1 loss to the Giants on Saturday. He came in from the bullpen to a standing ovation and left to more loud applause from the crowd, with featured both Giants and A’s fans cheering their former player.
"It was pretty cool," Zito said of his first appearance at the Coliseum in an A’s uniform since 2006. "Just being back on that A’s mound at the Coliseum, just awesome out there. It was a great experience."
"I think when he walked off nobody was really sure if he was pitching another inning or not," Melvin said. "But it was nice. I know he appreciated it."
* Zito relieved starter Drew Pomeranz, who allowed two runs in five innings in his final spring tune-up. Both scored in the fourth, when Pomeranz balked in a run with runners on second and third and then allowed an RBI double to Justin Maxwell.
"I just kind of lost my rhythm there the first few innings, especially in the fourth," said Pomeranz. "That fifth inning I got my rhythm back, ball felt good out of my hand, so I’ll take that as a positive."
Pomeranz was able to get out of jams in the first and second innings by inducing double-play ground balls, and said he noticed the difference going from Arizona to the denser air of the Bay Area, where his curveball broke more.
"Thought he threw the ball good again," Melvin said. "Pitch count got up there a little bit at times (but he was) able to combat that."
Pomeranz, who finishes the spring with a 2.38 ERA, goes into the season as the A’s fifth starter and will start the series opener against Seattle next Friday.
* The A’s wrap up the spring with a record of 22-11 -- a stat that has been thrown out the window by the time you’ve read this sentence. But it was meaningful in one way for the A’s. Because they had so many new faces this spring, Melvin said he felt it was important to create a "culture of winning’ from the outset. Despite losing their last two games to the Giants, the A’s played good, clean baseball for most of the spring, and the manager said they’re carrying a positive note into Monday’s opener and beyond.