PHOENIX -- The A’s treated fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium today to a little of the late-inning drama they usually reserve for the Coliseum, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 6-4 in a split-squad game with three runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Tuesday’s walk-off hero was Luke Montz, who’s in camp this spring under fairly strange circumstances. Montz, a 30-year-old journeyman catcher who had a brief appearance in Oakland last season, can’t catch in games right now -- he’s recovering from surgery on his right shoulder last August, and hasn’t yet been cleared to throw to bases.
That means Montz is catching bullpens and side sessions to keep his legs strong. He can throw the ball back to the pitcher, but not to the bases, and said there’s no timetable for when that might happen. For now, he’s taking his at-bats at designated hitter, where he went 1-for-4 on Tuesday, the lone hit being a two-run homer off Brewers right-hander Johnny Hellweg to send the A’s and their fans off happy into the Arizona afternoon.
"It’s been a grinding camp, you know you can’t catch," said Montz. "But it was very comfortable coming into camp when (manager Bob Melvin) walks up to you and tells you what you’ll be doing, DHing. … It just gives you kind of a relaxed feeling."
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Montz appeared in 13 games for the A’s early last season and went 5-for-28 with a home run and five RBIs. He spent the rest of the summer at Triple-A Sacramento before his surgery in mid-August, hitting .246 with nine homers for the River Cats in 33 games.
"He’s got some power, no doubt about that," Melvin said. "When you get a split-squad game like this, you can run him out there and get him all the at-bats at DH. And he really put a good swing on (the home run)."
Montz won’t make the 25-man roster out of spring, but his main priority right now is getting fully healthy. In the meantime, getting multiple at-bats in games like Tuesday are valuable for his timing as a hitter.
"It’s my bat that’s really going to carry me," he said. "I’m not known as a defensive specialist catcher anyway. I’d love to go up there and catch, but if anything hitting is important. … Getting four at-bats in that game right there was huge."
* Right-hander Dan Straily said he was pleased with how he got ahead of hitters in his Cactus League debut against Milwaukee. Finishing them off was another story. Straily retired the first four hitters he faced, but six of the final eight reached base on four hits and two walks as Straily allowed three runs in two-plus innings.
"He had trouble putting some guys away with two strike pitches, got some fastballs up late in the count," Melvin said. "He’ll probably be a little more refined next time out."
Straily said overall he was encouraged by how he felt throwing 40 pitches, mixing in his fastball, changeup and slider.
"It’s nice to go out there and knock the rust off," he said. "It’s not like I was all over the place. Obviously I’m not trying to walk leadoff hitters or anything like that, but I was just missing and I’m ready to work on that and work on finishing hitters."
Straily would seem to have an inside track on the fifth rotation spot after going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA last season and starting Game 4 of the ALDS. He sounded like he isn’t taking anything for granted, though, when asked if he feels like he’s battling for that job.
"I feel like that’s way above my pay grade, a question for Bob and (pitching coach) Curt (Young)," Straily said. "I’m here to go out there on the mound and do my job."
Ostensibly the other candidate for that fifth spot, left-hander Tommy Milone, started the A’s away game in Mesa against the Chicago Cubs and allowed three runs on five hits in three innings. The A’s lost that game, 6-4.
* Tomorrow’s main story in The Bee will focus on reliever Dan Otero securing his spot in the A’s bullpen with his performance in the second half of last season. It’s making for a slightly more stable spring than last year, when Otero was waived by the Giants, then claimed and designated by the Yankees, and then claimed by the A’s in a matter of days. He says building trust in his sinker -- his go-to pitch last season -- with help from the A’s coaches and catchers was a big force behind his success.
The notes will lead with John Jaso homering in his second game back behind the plate this spring coming off the concussion that ended his 2013 season prematurely. Jaso said he feels "like I just kind of hopped right back into it" defensively, which is big for him as he intends to make the 25-man roster out of camp as a catcher.
* Otero has a firm hold on what Melvin this morning said are six jobs in the bullpen that are pretty much sewn up. That would seem to suggest right-hander Jesse Chavez has the inside track on a spot as well as a middle-inning and long-relief guy.
There are quite a few candidates for the seventh and final spot in that case, including left-handers Fernando Abad, Drew Pomeranz and whatever starter doesn’t crack the rotation. Right-hander Evan Scribner shouldn’t be forgotten, and then there’s Eric O’Flaherty’s impending arrival at midseason, assuming he recovers smoothly from Tommy John. It’s a crowded picture there, which the A’s certainly don’t mind.
* Melvin this morning also opted not to tip his hand regarding his Opening Day starter, saying he has a "pretty good idea among three guys." That’s likely Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, though Melvin even backed off of that somewhat, saying the A’s would feel good with any one of their six starters. As Melvin has said before, the A’s are content with the fact they don’t have a designated ace, but do feel they have depth.
* Outfielder Billy Burns stole two more bases in the away game Tuesday, giving him seven on the spring -- or seven more than the Cubs had to that point. Melvin said Burns typically has the green light to run, depending on situations.
"He’s shown he knows what to do, too, when guys are really quick to the plate," Melvin said. "He is fearless, but he’s not reckless. We want to give him some autonomy and see how he handles it and to this point he’s handled it really well."
* Yoenis Cespedes made his defensive debut in left field against the Brewers and made a nice catch on a hard-hit line drive on the game’s opening play. Maybe more impressive, he also refrained from throwing home on an RBI single later in the game -- team orders.
"The training staff doesn’t want him to air it out right away," Melvin said. "He was cocked and ready to go, but you could see him think twice about it."
Half-jokingly, Melvin added: "At least he’s listening now."