TOKYO — Every schedule has its challenges over the course of 162 games, but this is extraordinary.
After the A’s open the season in Japan and then play the Giants in the three-game Bay Bridge Series, they will embark on a stretch of 18 consecutive game days. The first eight are at the Oakland Coliseum against the Angels and Boston Red Sox. Then they go on the road for 10 at Houston, Baltimore and Texas.
Not only is there an obvious fatigue factor in play here, but playing for 18 straight days also throws a wrench into how the A’s can go about assembling their 25-man roster. Normally teams can stash a starting pitcher, for the A’s perhaps young phenom Jesús Luzardo, in favor of another player they would like to have on the roster. The A’s are going to need all of their starting pitchers, whichever five they end up being.
“That 18 straight is something that came up in every meeting this spring to remind ourselves that we need to make decisions that allow us to have the depth to get through April,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “If you can weather that storm on the field and get through with healthy bodies, all those things are critical as we get through the first three weeks.”
The A’s had a stretch of 20 straight days with a game last year and actually handled it well. They went 11-9, but that stretch came much later in the season from Aug. 17 to Sept. 5.
Add that with fear of a possible lingering jet lag for players from the Japan trip and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster.
But if given the chance to do it over again, Forst would still decide to make the trip happen. He is appreciative of the invites to play overseas and said the trips allow the organization a chance to create a broader fan base.
“Whatever drawbacks there might be are dwarfed by the experience and what we’ve gotten out of it the last two trips,” Forst said.
The Opening Day against the Mariners in Japan will be the earliest MLB has ever opened a regular season.
It’s not ideal for the players, but they’ll do the best they can with the situation.
“You don’t really have a choice,” said A’s designated hitter Khris Davis. “It’s go-time.”
What might help the A’s is having the three exhibition games with the Giants after the Japan trip. It allows players to shake off some of the jet lag in games that don’t count.
“When the game starts you feel fine. Then afterward it feels a little funky to go back and play some spring training games,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think it’s probably prudent to have a few off days and three more games based on the fact that going back is a little more difficult as far as the time change.”
Montas’ March continues
Frankie Montas had a brilliant spring. He posted a 0.69 ERA in the Cactus League, and that success seems to have followed him to Japan.
The right-hander was impressive in the A’s exhibition win over the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Sunday. Montas often utilized his newly-added splitter mixed in with a 96 mph fastball to retire the side in order and close out the victory.
He had the edge on a roster spot early on more based on the fact that he was out of minor league options. But it’s his performance over the past month that has likely locked him down for a 25-man roster spot as one of the A’s five starting pitchers when the regular season resumes in Oakland.
“He’s a different guy,” Melvin said. “You see a lot more confidence on the mound. It’s the mix of pitches that set him apart from where he was before. He was a fastball guy who can throw his breaking ball when he was ahead in the count. Now he’s a true three-pitch guy throwing splits in off-counts and 3-2 breaking balls.
“When you’re throwing 96 mph and making teams aware of his other pitches, he’s going to be that much better.”