A’s bullpen proves to be music to Bob Melvin’s ears, again

Fernando Rodriguez pitched two hitless, walkless innings of relief for Sunday's win.

Fernando Rodriguez (33) pitched two hitless, walkless innings of relief for Sunday’s win.

In any city in either of the big leagues, there’s never a trouble differentiating between a winner’s clubhouse and a loser’s.

The winners get to play music. The loser’s don’t. And for the first seven game of this A’s just-completed swing through Houston, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, Oakland’s clubhouse’s silence qualified for library levels.

The music finally broke out Sunday in a 6-1 victory over the Reds that at least meant Oakland could fly back to the Bay Area with the solace of having won the finale.

Everybody takes part in the silence. Interviewees talk in hushed tones. Player-on-player conversations are muted. Mostly no one finds much of a reason to talk.

But not everybody is equally at fault for the losses. Yes, all of baseball, including the A’s, takes a win-as-a-team, lose-as-a-team approach to the game, but the reality is that some parts of the team are always going to be more culpable than others.

In the case of the A’s, members of the bullpen have pitched well enough to deserve music whenever they feel up to it. On Sunday, Fernando Rodriguez threw two scoreless innings followed by one each from John Axford, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.

Despite the A’s being 10 games under .500 at 26-36, that level of success is not new. In the final five games of the road trip, A’s relievers threw a combined 13.2 innings. Not only did the relievers not give up any runs, they only allowed one hit. The pen over that stretch inherited six runners. None of them scored.

On Sunday, the relievers brought the win home, allowing just one base runner.

Asked about the music, manager Bob Melvin deadpanned, “is that what that is?’’

Melvin said it was “miserable going home every night’’ during the losing streak. But given a 4-1 lead, the relievers made sure pitching on a very warm day was no impediment to a much-needed victory.

“Fernando was a rested as anybody we have in the bullpen,’’ Melvin said. “He’s been good with men on base, he’s been good against righties and lefties. I knew I could use him for two innings, then go to our guys we feel good about winning the game with.’’

The five innings without a hit – the only base runner was a hit batter from Rodriguez – was close to the A’s norm.

“We can do that,’’ Melvin said. “Probably our biggest strength on our team right now is the bullpen, particularly when we’re ahead. We just need to get a lead. We’ve had so many games when we’ve been behind.’’

Sunday, for once, the A’s weren’t behind. The relievers made sure that didn’t change.

And that, more than anything, was music for Melvin’s ears.


A’s turn again to Eric Surkamp to step into rotation Tuesday

Eric Surkamp will get promotion from Nashville to start against Rangers Tuesday.

Eric Surkamp will get promotion from Nashville to start against Rangers Tuesday.

The A’s aren’t quite ready to go with the next generation of starting pitching they are working to put together in the minor leagues, deciding that Tuesday’s start against the Texas Rangers will go to veteran Eric Surkamp.

The left-hander has been called up to the A’s three times previously, getting a total of six starts, going 0-3 with a 6.41 ERA and a 1.950 WHIP.

“We have a ix of guys, and when somebody goes down, there’s an opportunity for somebody else, and he’s in that mix,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s been up several times and continues to get opportunities, in this case because of injury.’’

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A’s add some local picks to finish off 2016 draft


Collin Theroux, from Oklahoma State via Serra High, was the A's 32nd round draft pick.

Collin Theroux, from Oklahoma State via Serra High, was the A’s 32nd round draft pick.

The A’s took their final 30 picks in the June draft Saturday, finishing with 35 collegiate players and six high school athletes.

Of the 30 players picked Saturday, 25 were collegians and five preps. The overall breakdown includes 19 pitchers, five catchers, eight infielders and nine outfielders.

Some notable picks from Saturday included some locals, including Collin Theroux, a catcher from Oklahoma State who attended Serra High and catcher Jarrett Costa from Westmont College who went to Washington High in Fremont.

The 24th round pick, outfielder Robert Bennie of East Stroudsburg, is the brother of current A’s minor leaguer Joe Bennie. And Oakland’s final pick of the draft, shortstop Brett Bittiger from Pace University, is the son of current A’s professional scout Jeff Bittiger.

The complete 2016 draft list:

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Khris Davis gets Saturday off after being hit on elbow again

Khris Davis was out of the lineup for the A's Saturday after being hit by a pitch on his left elbow Friday.

Khris Davis was out of the lineup for the A’s Saturday after being hit by a pitch on his left elbow Friday.

Left fielder Khris Davis was back on the bench Saturday with elbow pain, one day after having returned to the lineup.

Davis was hit by a pitch last Sunday on his left elbow. That forced him to miss games Tuesday and Wednesday in Milwaukee, his former home, but he was cleared to play Friday though he was cautioned to wear a protective elbow pad, just in case.

He wore it, but in his second plate trip Friday he was hit on the same elbow. The ball mostly caught the pad, but enough of it touched flesh that he was feeling pain during and after the game and again Saturday morning.

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Wild pitches are the undoing of Sonny Gray for once

Sonny Gray had two wild pitches help to beat him Friday in Cincinnati.

Sonny Gray had two wild pitches help to beat him Friday in Cincinnati.

Sonny Gray leads the league in wild pitches, and the A’s are perfectly happy that he do so. Most of the time.

The movement Gray has on his pitches is like nothing most other pitchers can muster. Batters swing and miss at his stuff all the time, even when it’s in the dirt, one of the reasons he was an All-Star last year.

Gray generally isn’t bothered by wild pitches, mostly because he’s able to pitch around the potential damage they cause. Friday night in Great American Ball Park, he couldn’t.

His first wild pitch came with the A’s in a 1-0 lead and gave the Reds their first runner in scoring position. Seconds later a grounder flattened out on third baseman Danny Valencia, scooting by him for a game-tying double.

After an infield hit got the runner to third base, a second wild pitch brought the go-ahead run home.

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A’s draftee Daulton Jefferies a huge Sonny Gray fan

Daulton Jefferies couldn't be happier about being drafted by A's

Daulton Jefferies couldn’t be happier about being drafted by A’s

(Updated with Friday’s draft picks at the bottom)

The A’s first day of drafting couldn’t have gone better for Daulton Jefferies.

Not only did the Cal Golden Bears’ right-handed starter get picked by Oakland along with two University of Florida starters who are his friends, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore, but he’s going to the team that employs his favorite pitcher, Sonny Gray.

“One of the great things about being at Cal is I could just jump on BART and go to the Coliseum and see all those Cal guys, Bob Melvin, Marcus Semien, Mark Canha,’’ Jefferies said. “My top guy, though, has always been Sonny Gray.

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Rich Hill won’t throw off mound for a week thanks to injury;

Rich Hill will not throw off a mound for a week as precaution against groin injuryi

Rich Hill will not throw off a mound for a week as precaution against groin injuryi

Rich Hill and the A’s got some good news from the MRI he had Thursday, but it was relative – he won’t do any mound work for six or seven days, and there’s no telling how much time beyond that will be needed before he starts a game for Oakland.

Hill hasn’t pitched since suffering a groin injury on May 29. He was getting better before the same problem flared up during a bullpen session Wednesday that led to the MRI. And that led to a stint on the disabled list retroactive to May 30.

While he won’t throw off a mound, Hill will continue to play catch on flat ground over the course of the next week.

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Daniel Mengden will make MLB debut Saturday vs. Reds

Daniel Mengden makes MLB debut Saturday

Daniel Mengden makes MLB debut Saturday

Daniel Mengden, the right-handed starter the A’s picked up in the deal that sent Scott Kazmir to the Astros last July, will make his Major League debut Saturday.

Mengden has been riding a rocket up all season, beginning at Double-A Midland, where he was 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 23 innings over four starts. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Nashville, where he’s lit up the Pacific Coast League with a 3-1 record, 1.39 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP that includes just 28 hits allowed in 45.1 innings.

Thursday night he got the word that he was joining the A’s, which was part of a busy off day for Oakland. Chris Coghlan was traded to the Cubs and Rich Hill went on the disabled list. Friday saw infielder/outfielder Max Muncy and right-handed pitcher Zach Neal recalled and Jesse Hahn sent back to Nashville.

That means the A’s will have a 24-man roster Friday before Mengden (pronounced Ming-den) is activated for his start against the Reds.

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A’s go heavy with college arms, following Florida’s A.J. Puk with Golden Bears’ Daulton Jefferies and Gators’ Logan Shore


The A’s used the sixth pick in the draft Thursday to draft a player many thought might go first in the draft, left-handed starting pitcher A.J. Puk out of Florida.

“I think I danced a little jig,’’ A’s scouting director Eric Kubota said when asked how he reacted to Puk falling from a potential No. 1 to land in the A’s lap. “At no time this spring did we think we’d have a chance to talk about him at six.’’

Oakland then went local, picking Cal right-hander Daulton Jefferies before going back to Florida to take Logan Shore, who was 11-0 for Puk’s Gators. Jefferies dropped, too, by missing eight weeks with calf and shoulder problems.

“If he’d pitched healthy all year, Daulton might have gotten to us at No. 6,’ Kubota said. “At one time or another we had all three of these guys as potential first-round picks.’’

The 6-foot-7 Puk said he’d heard he might go first or second, but was delighted to land with the A’s, who took his teammate, shortstop Richie Martin, with their first pick last year.

“He texted me right away,’’ Puk said in a conference call Thursday night. “I can’t wait to get there and play with him again.’’

Even so, the A’s aren’t his first priority. The Gators have a series this weekend against Florida State with the winner moving a step closer to the College World Series.

“We have a chance to win a national championship,’’ the 21-year-old Iowan said. “That’s what we are focusing on. The season’s been going pretty well.’’

After the season, then he’ll learn what he needs to know about Oakland.

What he knows now isn’t much.

“I’ve seen the movie `Moneyball,’ that’s about it,’’ he said when asked about his knowledge of Oakland.

The A’s know plenty about him. They have long liked the electricity in his left arm and harbored some dim hopes of taking him. But with the Phillies, drafting first, linked with Puk all along, the A’s thought they’d be going elsewhere for their first pick.

Perhaps the biggest mark against Puk was his 2015 arrest along with Gators teammate Kirby Snead for criminal trespass. The two were charged with a third-degree felony for climbing a fenced-off crane without permission.

“We saw the crane one night, and it was an immature idea to try and climb it to see the view,’’ Puk said. “Someone called the cops and I got arrested.’’

It didn’t seem to slow his Florida career, despite a brief suspension.

Scouts say that Puk will have his fastball generally sitting at between 93-96 mph, and when he pumps it up, he can hit 97 or 98. His slider has the potential to be a killer pitch for him, breaking away as it does to lefties and hammering inside against right-handers.

Puk hasn’t quite mastered making his changeup look like his fastball, but even so, it’s a pitch he said “is still developing. It will be big for me.’’

A Cedar Rapids, Iowa native, Puk said he grew up wanting to follow in the footsteps of C.C. Sabathia, another big lefty with a Cy Young Award to his name. Sabathia would be proud of the numbers Puk put us this year, including a .195 opponents’ batting average and 95 strikeouts in 70 innings.

“He’s just a big physical lefty,’’ Puk said. “He’s a big left-hander. I’ve always just watched him pitch and thought I could be him someday.’’

Puk is first pitcher taken by the A’s in the first round since they tabbed Sonny Gray with their first choice back in 2011. Scouts mostly say they’d like to see Puk continue to work on a changeup that would make him a three-pitch pitcher and a candidate to be a top-of-the-rotation guy.

The 240-pound Puk comes from a football-centric family. His father, Dr. David Puk, was an academic All-American football player at Minnesota from 1982-85. Uncle Stephen Puk lettered for the Gophers in 1984. Another uncle, J.J. Puk, was an all-Big 10 linebacker at Iowa from 1986-87. And a third uncle, Kevin Puk, played at Stanford from 1989-91.

For all of that, A.J. was sold on baseball from the time he was 9. He was a starting quarterback as a sophomore at Cedar Rapids’ Washington High, but skipped out on football after that, preferring to hit and pitch for the Virginia-based Canes Baseball travelling team.

Always a tall kid, he developed a style where he throws from the third base side of the mound, getting impressive extension when he releases the ball. How impressive?

This is what his Florida teammate, center fielder Buddy Reed summed it up earlier this season then talking to CSNPhilly.com:

“On the mound he’s probably 8-foot, he has a 97-100 mph fastball that moves; he’s got a sweeping slider and a really good changeup. As a hitter, you might want to bunt. If you can’t do that, good luck.’’

Jefferies, a member of the U.S. collegiate national team, was 6-0 in his first six starts this season for Cal, but was scratched from a start on April 1 and wound up missing eight weeks with various injuries, including calf and shoulder woes.

“He can really pitch, he’s very athletics,’’ Kubota said of Jefferies. “We felt there was no chance he would get to us at 37. He has a 90-95 mph fastball to go with a plus slider and a plus changeup.’’

While most players will immediately go to rookie league teams, Jefferies, assuming he signs, probably would head to Arizona for some injury rehab work on his shoulder. Kubota said nothing has been decided, but the organization seems confident Jefferies’ is mostly healthy and just needs a little therapy to get back in to prime shape.

For the season he was 7-0 with a 1.08 and an opponents’ batting average of .185. He struck out 53 and walked only 8 in 50 innings as a junior after being an All-Pac-12 first team pick as a sophomore.

He made two late-May starts and threw well enough to convince scouts he was worthy of being a first-day draftee.

While Puk generally pitched in the second game of weekend series on Saturdays, Shore pitched the Friday night series openers for the Gators. He was a Baseball America first team All-America and was the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year and goes into the post-season with an 11-0 record and 2.44 ERA. He owns a school record winning streak of 16 consecutive games.

“Shore is very competitive, very advanced,’’ Kubota said. “To be honest, it’s not a sexy look, pitching at 88-92 (mph). We’ve seen him throw up to 94. We’ve seen him get outs for three years. He’s really advanced as a pitcher.’’


Power left-handed starter A.J. Puk A’s first draft pick

The A’s used the sixth pick in the draft Thursday to draft a player that many thought might go first in the draft, left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk out of Florida.

Puk, whose fastball touches 99 mph and who has a nasty slider, is the first pitcher taken by the A’s in the first round since they tabbed Sonny Gray in the first round of the 2011 draft. Scouts mostly say they’d like to see him work on a changeup that would make him a three-pitch pitcher and a candidate to be a top-of-the-rotation guy.

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