OAKLAND -- A’s manager Bob Melvin said his lineup for the preseason finale against the Giants was a likely preview of his opening day lineup, with one possible change. It turns out the only change is the starting pitcher.
Sonny Gray will take the mound for the A’s -- becoming the team’s first pitcher to start consecutive openers since Barry Zito in 2005-06 -- as Oakland introduces its new-look team tonight to go with its new-look scoreboards at the O.co Coliseum. Gray and second baseman Eric Sogard are the only two holdovers from last year’s opening day lineup. That matches the fewest returning starters from year to year in Oakland history.
It’s an illustration of the offseason turnover: Sogard is the A’s longest-tenured player, having made his debut in 2010. Only three of the 25 players on the opening day roster played for the A’s prior to 2013. Few people around the baseball world are picking the A’s to make much noise in a division that includes the favored Mariners and Angels. But as they get the season underway tonight against the Rangers, Melvin is confident.
"There’s some players that look to be really good players," Melvin said of the A’s roster. "In 2012 (after the last roster overhaul), I don’t think there were any expectations. … I think Billy’s done a great job of bringing in another group here that maybe even have a little higher expectations than what we saw in 2012.
"That doesn’t mean it’s (a division title) going to happen. But there’s a lot of similarities and there’s a lot of talent running around the field."
One other change Melvin would embrace: The A’s have lost their last 10 season openers, including four straight under Melvin.
“You want to give a good impression for your fans on opening night,” Melvin said. “I really would like to get this losing streak out of the way.”
Here’s who’ll be running around the field to start the game for the A’s:
And for the Rangers, who start right-hander Yovani Gallardo on the mound:
* This isn’t the outfield the A’s planned to start the season with. But with Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick down, Ben Zobrist starts in left field and Melvin chooses between Fuld and Gentry for center and right. Melvin said he’s comfortable with either alignment, but the A’s have "some metrics" to help them make the decision.
As for the outfield overall: "They’ve got some speed," Melvin said. "They can throw." Zobrist is perhaps more natural on the infield, but as Melvin pointed out, he played the notoriously tricky right field at AT&T Park last weekend with apparent comfort. "He keeps it pretty simple," Melvin said. "Does it about as fundamentally sound as you can, and leaves it at that."
* Marcus Semien has a good amount of pressure on him, expected to come in and take over the everyday shortstop job in his first full big-league season. Semien hadn’t played much shortstop in the majors before this spring, and said his Cactus League experience was beneficial.
Semien said defensively he was tested on a variety of plays and offensively he worked with A’s hitting coach Darren Bush on pitch selection and adjusting to opposing pitchers when they find a weakness in his swing. He sounds as interested as anyone to see whether playing every day -- an opportunity he didn’t have in Chicago -- will help him be more consistent at the plate.
"I haven’t played enough games in one spot to figure that out," Semien said. "Offense and defense are two totally different things. The only thing I have seen in my career is you don’t want to let your defense affect your offense, and vice versa."
* A few injury updates: closer Sean Doolittle played catch out to 75 feet today in his ongoing recovery from a slight rotator cuff tear. Josh Reddick went 1-for-4 in a rehab game in Arizona and Melvin said Reddick would likely be in Oakland to watch tonight’s game. Jarrod Parker is scheduled to throw an in intersquad game at Single-A Stockton; Melvin said his innings could be moved to Oakland if Stockton gets rained out.
* As part of the opening day festivities, former A’s infielders Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez are on hand to throw out first pitches. Chavez, 37, played in 44 games for Arizona last season before announcing his retirement in July. Ellis played for the Cardinals last season and retired earlier this year.
"It feels way too soon," Ellis said of getting the first-pitch honors. "But it’s fun to be out here and actually it’s fun to be back in this building."
A’s general manager Billy Beane has said there’s a standing offer to Ellis for a job in the organization. Ellis said it’s something he has thought about, but he isn’t quite ready yet to make that jump.
"I don’t want to go into something half-hearted," Ellis said. "When I do start, I want it to be full steam ahead. So it’s one of those things that I’m not going to do it until I’m fully ready to do it. I appreciate the offer, we talked about it, and he said when I’m ready to do it we can start."
Both players also weighed in on Barry Zito, their former teammate, returning this spring and taking an assignment to Triple-A Nashville. Both said it’s "great" Zito came back and that they admire his drive to continue pitching, regardless of what level.
"It just shows you how much he loves the game," Chavez said. "Obviously the juices are still flowing, and I wish the best for him."
Would Chavez or Ellis consider a similar comeback?
"Driving up to the ballpark was cool," Ellis said. "But the juices are not flowing. Not at all."