It hadn’t been years since Jesse Hahn last started a game. It just seemed like it.
The A’s had Hahn start Monday’s 6-4 win over Kansas City, giving him two innings in which he walked one and gave up a two-run homer but was otherwise able to pitch the way he wanted – his arm free and lose, no pain in his elbow or forearm and the ball moving well through the strike zone.
“It seemed like it was two or three years ago, although it was only nine months,’’ Hahn said of his start. He was able to reach his standard 95-mph with his fastball. The Mike Moustakas homer that cost him two runs came on a changeup that “I shouldn’t throw to him,’’ Hahn said.
DH Stephen Vogt caught Hahn as much as anybody last season but Monday was the DH and could only watch as Josh Phegley did the catching. Even so, Vogt, who drove in four of Oakland’s six runs with a pair of homers, took plenty of satisfaction from seeing what Hahn, whose last big league start was July 1, 2015, was able to do.
“It was real good to see Jesse go out and be able to do that,’’ Vogt said. “I’d faced him the other day in a simulated game, and it hadn’t helped my confidence level any. He threw some changeups and when he has that and his big curve it will make him that much better.’’
In an ideal world, the A’s would have Hahn begin the season as their No. 3 starter behind Sonny Gray and Rich Hill. Hahn was 6-6 with a 3.35 ERA in 2015, but that doesn’t tell the full story. In the final eight starts before landing on the disabled list he was 5-2 with 2.42 ERA while giving up only three homers and limiting opposing hitters to a .222 average.
What they don’t know is whether or not his elbow will hold up. He went on the DL with a forearm strain in early July that was supposed to sideline him for two weeks. That got stretched to a month, and ultimately he wound up missing the second half of the season. In the first half of the off-season, the A’s weren’t sure that Hahn would be ready to start the spring, but they’ve brought him along slowly, and optimism is growing that he will be ready come April.
“We had Jesse clocked at 95 (mph) today, and he had good sink,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “It was nice to see that out of him.’’
Hahn had been building to this start, as limited as it was, all spring.
“I tried to let it go,’’ he said. “I need to stop rushing the ball to the plate,’’ he said.
–The two Vogt homers were every bit as big a deal to the A’s as the Hahn start. Vogt is just over five weeks out from elbow surgery, and until his final two at-bats Monday, he hadn’t gotten to “trust the elbow.’’ “It was nice to take full swings,’’ Vogt said. Melvin said his catcher still can’t fully extend when making throw from behind the plate, but he’s getting closer. The plan is for Vogt to get in a game behind the plate sometime mid-March.
–Ryan Madson not only made his debut in an A’s uniform Monday, but he did it against the Royals, the team with which he won a World Series ring last year. He said facing the Royals in a spring game was no big deal. But to pitch in an Oakland uniform for the first time and get the kinks out – he had a 1-2-3 inning – was special. “If the stuff I had today is there all year long,’’ he said. “I’ll be real happy.’’
–Another pitcher getting his first appearance of the spring was another free agent pickup, John Axford. Like Madson, he had a scoreless inning to his credit, although he walked two. “When I got out there, I was nervous,’’ Axford said. “But it felt good to get out there.’’ He threw his first curve of the spring, in addition to a slider and a couple of changeups, although he stuck mostly with his fastball.
–Coco Crisp scored the A’s first run, coming around from first base on a third-inning Josh Reddick double. Melvin has liked what he’s seen of Crisp so far, particularly that he’s healthy and able to go all-out after being able to play in just 44 games a year ago thanks to wrist, elbow and neck problems. “He looks much different than last year,’’ Melvin said. The manager liked how Crisp broke well on a liner to center, how he ran the bases and on how he was showing power from the left side in batting practice.
–Mark Ellis, who played second base in Oakland for about a decade before moving on following the 2011 season, it retired now. The A’s would like to lure him back into the game as a scout, coach or instructor, but for now, they will have to settle for him coming into camp for a week as a guest infield coach. “It’s good to be back,’’ Ellis said. “They are talking about some kind of role in the future, but for now I’m just going to enjoy this week. I started working out last week again because I knew I had to put a uniform on.’’
–Mark Canha took two rounds of batting practice after a session in the batting cage, and the impression is that his back problem is improving. He could get into a game by the weekend. Further down the line this spring, Melvin says they may give Canha a look in center field. It would be one more way to get his bat into the lineup.
–Henderson Alvarez (shoulder surgery) gets his first chance to throw a full session of batting practice Tuesday. He’s still being looked at as a possibility to join the club in May.