San Francisco Giants

Cook still hopeful for Opening Day; Melvin ushers in Oakland A’s replay era

PHOENIX -- With two and a half weeks left before the A’s open their season against the Cleveland Indians on March 31, time would seem to be running out on the possibility of set-up man Ryan Cook starting the year on the 25-man roster.

Cook hasn’t faced hitters in camp yet, much less pitched in a Cactus League game, due to early-spring shoulder issues that put him behind schedule. He threw a 20-pitch bullpen session Thursday, two days after a 30-pitch session, and said he "felt great." Cook, for one, isn’t giving up hope.

"In my mind I have no doubt I want to be ready for Opening Day, and in my mind I still can," the right-hander said Thursday evening.

"With the way I feel right now, each time I throw, I was telling the guys I feel like I’m waiting to get sore the next day and it’s not happening. So I’m taking that as a good thing and I feel ready to go. And as soon as I can get in a game -- as soon as they let me get in a game, I should say -- I’ll be a lot happier."

Cook sounded like a frustrated man with the way his spring has gone and admitted he’s "starting to champ at the bit a little bit." His next step would be facing hitters in some kind of simulated setting and then pitching in a game, but he said he doesn’t know when he’ll take those steps.

The encouraging thing for Cook and the A’s is he came away from Thursday’s bullpen saying it was "the best I’ve felt, no doubt."

"Today I actually did really get after it with my slider, really tried and snapped off the strikeout slider or what in my head would be a strikeout slider," Cook said. "And I was able to really exert myself on the fastball."

In other words, Cook said, rather than just feeling like he could pitch at a normal effort, Thursday he actually did so. So how he responds to Thursday’s session will be telling. The A’s have been very cautious with Cook’s recovery, but it certainly sounds as though he intends to be in the bullpen mix when the A’s break camp.

* With the A’s on TV against the Colorado Rockies, Thursday night gave manager Bob Melvin his first chance to try out Major League Baseball’s new challenge process. And Melvin didn’t have to wait long to usher in the replay era, successfully challenging a safe-out call in the second inning of the A’s 10-5 win.

After Stephen Vogt and Nick Punto singled to start the inning, Coco Crisp hit a potential double-play grounder to second base. It was originally ruled that the relay beat Crisp to first base, though Crisp appeared to beat the throw, and Melvin quickly came out of the dugout and challenged the call.

Play stopped while an umpire donned a headset in foul territory near first base. The actual video review of the play, meanwhile, occurred in a booth at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. (It’s planned for reviews to eventually take place at MLB headquarters in New York).

After about two minutes, the umpire took off the headset and signaled "safe," bringing Crisp back to first base and eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd. One fan sitting near the press box yelled: "See, that’s what replay’s for!"

Though he wasn’t on the field at the time, A’s starter A.J. Griffin said he was paying attention to the replay process from the dugout.

"That was pretty interesting," Griffin said. "I don’t want to take anything away from the process, but for a safe-out call at first base it took a little while in my opinion. But it’s new for everyone.

"Hopefully it gets expedited a little better and it’s a little smoother. But I think it’s a good thing for the game."

As Griffin pointed out, the reversal would have been even more significant had the A’s already had an out in the inning. Vogt scored on the play, but a double play with one out would nullify that run.

"Stuff like that, that’s a big deal in a baseball game," Griffin said.

Melvin wasn’t as successful challenging another close play at first in the eighth inning. Daniel Robertson was called out on a grounder, and after review, the call was upheld. Melvin said the second review was actually more informative for him than the first.

"You’re going to have more camera angles (in the regular season), but those are the ones I want to find out about," he said. "We had it as semi-inconclusive, and you’ve got to find out which ones they’re going to overturn. If it’s really close they’re probably going to stay with the call that was made. So that’s what it’s for."

At least for Thursday night, Melvin said he challenged the two plays going mostly off of his live view of the play. During the season the A’s will have somebody monitoring the broadcast with whom Melvin can communicate before deciding whether to challenge a call, but Melvin said he didn’t do so Thursday.

* Griffin had a rough outing, allowing five runs on nine hits -- including two home runs -- in 3 2/3 innings. His spring ERA now stands at 10.38 in three games, but he said he feels he’s getting better with each start.

"I made people mishit a lot of balls today, had a few broken bats and bloopers and stuff," Griffin said. "Still got to get down in the zone more, but things are starting to shape up better and better."

It’s likely still too early in spring to be concerned with stat lines, but anything home run-related is notable with Griffin, who allowed a majors-high 36 last season. Thursday, he allowed a leadoff home run to Wilin Rosario in the second inning and a two-run homer to Tim Wheeler in the fourth. After the Wheeler home run, Griffin allowed two more hits -- both singles -- leading to Melvin removing him from the game.

"He’s just getting some balls up in the middle of the plate," Melvin said. "Usually he pitches down in the zone, and we’ve seen a couple of those. But we’ll keep working on it. He’s not happy about it."

Griffin said Rosario took advantage of a first-pitch fastball, while the pitch to Wheeler was a full-count fastball that was meant to be low and away but caught too much plate.

"He sure hit the crap out of it," Griffin said.

Griffin also hit leadoff batter Brandon Barnes in the first inning in a two-strike count and said he was trying to go inside with a pitch that "sailed on me." On the other hand, he got an inning-ending double play ball in the third and almost had another in the fourth.

"I’ve only got like three in me for the rest of the year probably," said Griffin, who had almost half of the balls put in play against him last season (49.5 percent, according to FanGraphs) hit in the air. "But I got those balls down, and that’s what happens when you get the ball down."

* The A’s starting lineup Thursday had a decidedly Opening Day feel, probably due in part to the game being televised and a primetime 7 p.m. start. At least the top six of CF Coco Crisp, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Jed Lowrie, LF Yoenis Cespedes, 1B Brandon Moss and RF Josh Reddick could be a regular-season staple against right-handers.

Another reason for that is the A’s are on the road Friday in Surprise against the Kansas City Royals, with a quick turnaround to a 1 p.m. start time, so Friday’s lineup will have few regulars. The tentative lineup posted in the clubhouse for that game goes: LF Burns, 2B Sogard, C Norris, DH Jaso, RF Taylor, CF Fuld, 1B Freiman, 3B Elmore, SS Robertson, with Dan Straily starting on the mound.

* First baseman Daric Barton (hamstring) took batting practice and could return Saturday in one of the A’s split-squad games. Melvin said Tommy Milone will start the A’s home game against the Rangers that day and Parker will start in Scottsdale against the Giants.

* Melvin said he’ll be present for at least part of Saturday’s game against the Giants, even though it’s customary on split-squad days for the manager to run the home game and the bench coach to handle things on the road. "I don’t want to always be the guy that’s at home," Melvin said.

* Outfielder Craig Gentry (back) took more swings Thursday and is "continuing to progress," Melvin said. "We’re getting closer with him."

Reliever Fernando Rodriguez, who’s returning from Tommy John surgery, threw 18 pitches in a bullpen session Wednesday.

* Tomorrow’s print story is on right-hander Sonny Gray, who’s preparing for his first full big-league season after his rapid rise to Oakland in 2013. Last season was such an emotional wave for Gray -- from a brief stay in big-league camp in spring training to spending the first half of the season at Triple-A to starting Game 5 of the ALDS for the A’s -- so how does he provide an encore?

* With that, my time in Arizona has come to an end after two weeks that absolutely flew by. I’ll be monitoring the rest of camp from afar and will catch up with both teams when they meet for the Bay Bridge Series beginning March 27 in Oakland. Thanks for reading and, as always, let me know of any topics that intrigue you or could be a story.