MESA, Ariz. — The oft-repeated idea is that the final score of spring training games is irrelevant. The late Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said what happens in Florida in March — where the Orioles played their exhibition games — didn’t mean anything at Fenway Park in July.
Well, yes and no. A Cactus League result doesn’t go into any record books, but when it’s embarrassing, as was the A’s 17-5 loss Tuesday to the Angels, it is unforgettable.
“No one wants to get beat like that,” said Bob Melvin, the A’s manager. “But you see a couple of those during the course of spring training, typically when most of your regulars are out of there anyway.
“But does it affect us? No.”
If there is anything meaningful from an exhibition, it is the way a pitcher throws to a batter, and the way a batter studies those pitches. With most road games, the stars stay home, which for the Angels is Tempe, maybe 20 miles from the A’s HoHoKam Stadium.
However, Mike Trout was batting leadoff for the Angels, intent on learning anything more he could learn about Mike Fiers, which might prove beneficial when the teams meet in league play.
Yes, Trout and Fiers have battled numerous times, but Trout, arguably the best all-around player in the game, is forever looking for an edge. And Fiers, whom the A’s re-signed this winter after failing to continue his $8 million contract, is forever looking to keep Trout from getting that edge. It’s similar to an NFL summer preseason game. You don’t show the offense or defense you’ll employ when it’s September.
Whatever Fiers showed on his very first pitch of a game that drew poorly (attendance 3,641) and lasted too long (3 hours 41 minutes), Trout lashed to right for a hit. Which was OK for Fiers, who then was able to work out of a stretch immediately.
“I’d rather (Trout) doesn’t see as much in spring training,” said Fiers. “But that’s why he’s over here.”
Meaning, Mesa, a road game.
“That’s why all those guys (Albert Pujols, Peter Bourjos), they’re here, to get at bats, because we’re going to face them during the regular season. But it’s not a huge deal. Yeah, I’d rather see them in the regular season when they haven’t seen me that much, but that’s the way it is.”
You’ve heard that baseball, batter against pitcher, is all about adjustments. The more familiar a batter is with the man on the mound, the quicker he may adjust. Then again, the pitcher may always be ahead.
Fiers, who came to the A’s in trade from Detroit in August, went three innings in his first Cactus League start of 2019, allowed three hits and one run, and struck out five. Very efficient. Unlike Fernando Rodney (“He had trouble locating his pitches,” said Melvin) and some other ineffective relievers.
“Yeah, in the first inning,” said Fiers, “I was a little erratic. Maybe it didn’t look as bad as I thought. Right now I’m trying to get my bearings. Get all my pitches up and down a few times. I’m glad I got my three innings. I threw a lot of strikes.”
What any player doesn’t want during spring training is to get hurt. When it was mentioned to Melvin that an injury is the one thing to worry about in camp — left fielder Nick Martini crashed into the barrier when he stepped on a shoelace chasing a fly in the sixth — the manager disagreed.
“There are a lot of things to worry about,” said Melvin. “That’s definitely one of them.”
Martini, after X-rays, was diagnosed with a hyperextended back. “He’s not feeling real good right now, but we don’t believe there’s anything structural,” said Melvin.
A year ago the A’s were a figurative surprise, playing excellently in the last two months of the season and reaching the playoffs. Now they are a factor. Melvin was asked whether he was more comfortable now than last spring.
“We knew what we had last year, especially the second half of the season,” he said. “We have a little more of a set roster.”
If one when the big boys come out can get beat by 12 runs. Not that it means much.