Oakland A's

Despite no Gray and low expectations, A’s open season with high hopes

Sights and sounds: Opening night at Oakland Coliseum

The A's hosted the Chicago White Sox at the Coliseum in their season opener Monday night. The A's are hoping for improvement this season after finishing 2015 with a 68-94 record.
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The A's hosted the Chicago White Sox at the Coliseum in their season opener Monday night. The A's are hoping for improvement this season after finishing 2015 with a 68-94 record.

A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta said he received a phone call about 8:30 a.m. Monday informing him that Sonny Gray, the team’s scheduled Opening Night starter, had been up much of the night vomiting.

Gray was admitted to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a case of food poisoning and received three IV bags of fluids and some anti-vomiting medication, Paparesta said. Gray also received the news he would not pitch Monday night against the Chicago White Sox.

A bad omen for the next six months?

“We’ll find out,” right fielder Josh Reddick said before Monday’s game. “I hope not.”

Every year, even when we were division (winners), we were pretty far outcasts. We seem to thrive in that department. So why not go to some familiar ground and work from there?

A’s right fielder Josh Reddick

The A’s said Gray might be able to pitch Tuesday, though his illness prevented a flashy Opening Night matchup against White Sox ace Chris Sale. Instead, A’s fans got their first look at left-hander Rich Hill, the main rotation addition this offseason for an A’s team that finished last season with the worst record in the American League.

With his first pitch in an A’s uniform, Hill hit Chicago leadoff batter Adam Eaton. But he picked Eaton off first base and ended a scoreless first by striking out cleanup hitter Todd Frazier.

The 36-year-old Hill made only four appearances in the majors last season, recording a 1.55 ERA in four September starts with the Boston Red Sox. Yet he entered this spring as the A’s projected No. 2 starter and kept that designation despite an 11.25 spring ERA. An unproven rotation might be one reason national pundits seem unconvinced the A’s are poised to improve much on last season’s 68-94 record.

“That’s nothing new,” Reddick said. “Every year, even when we were division (winners), we were pretty far outcasts. We seem to thrive in that department. So why not go to some familiar ground and work from there?”

A’s manager Bob Melvin recently said having lower external expectations entering a season “certainly doesn’t hurt.” The A’s made three consecutive postseason appearances from 2012 to 2014, yet were not runaway favorites in the division in any of those years.

“I would hate to think we can’t perform with expectations,” Melvin said. “But this team has always in past years been a team that has not really at the beginning been expected to do much. We’re fine with that chip.”

The A’s believe their bullpen and lineup are deeper compared to last season, though there have been signs this spring that their defensive problems of last year – when they led the majors in errors – persist.

“It’s not going to be like we have one guy who’s going to drive in 130 (runs),” Reddick said. “We’re going to have to have multiple guys that drive in a lot of runs. We can’t really blow too many opportunities and we’ll just have to pick guys up when we need to.”

The rotation also suffered a blow over the weekend when Felix Doubront, the projected fifth starter, sustained an elbow sprain in his final spring outing. An MRI showed “insufficiencies” in the ligament, Paparesta said, and Doubront will travel to Cincinnati for a second opinion next week. Surgery has not been ruled out.

Such developments, though, did little to dampen the enthusiasm in Oakland for Opening Night. Melvin said he arrived at the Oakland Coliseum about 10:45 a.m., more than eight hours before the first pitch, and was surprised to see fans already waiting to get into the parking lot.

“There are rabid fans and then there are Oakland A’s fans,” Melvin said. “To see the excitement on their faces that early in the morning certainly got my attention.”

I would hate to think we can’t perform with expectations. But this team has always in past years been a team that has not really at the beginning been expected to do much. We’re fine with that chip.

A’s manager Bob Melvin

Fans may be more familiar with the A’s roster than at this point last year, when Oakland was coming off a personnel overhaul. While the A’s lineup for their first three games might look similar with the White Sox starting three left-handers, Melvin again intends to platoon players and could have four or five different starters in the lineup against right-handers.

“There’s a lot of talent, a lot of depth on the position player side,” second baseman Jed Lowrie said. “There’s some talent on the pitching side. It’s young, so you don’t always know what you’re going to get from young pitching. But if we get what we think we can get out of them, I think we’ve got a chance to surprise some people.”

Lowrie, a member of the last two A’s teams to make the playoffs, said preseason expectations are changeable.

“I’ve been on teams where expectations were through the roof and teams where they were low, and the team’s success always seems to boil down to how the team jells,” Lowrie said. “I think that’s the most important part, is having confidence in yourself and the guys around you.”

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