MESA, Ariz. — The view was rare — and fantastic. There beyond the centerfield fence, the wonderfully named Superstition Mountains, glistening white from a snowstorm, stood like sentinels.
For the Oakland Athletics, the view inside the ballpark wasn’t bad either.
Finally the rain had stopped, and if the temperature, 51 degrees, didn’t make the players feel like the boys of summer, or even of spring, baseball was being played, and considering it wasn’t even March, played quite well.
Exhibition baseball is, for another term, individual baseball. The focus is on performance, not results. Once the season starts, what matters most is the final score. But for now, the score is secondary.
Players, especially pitchers, are attempting to get ready, not get wins — although wins are quite acceptable.
The Athletics got a win Saturday, a very exhibition-like 6-5 victory over the Chicago White before a so-so crowd of 3,906 at Hohokam Stadium, but more significantly they got effective pitching from Chris Bassitt.
He only went an inning, which is the game plan for Oakland early on, and since this is February it doesn’t get much earlier. But the A’s have to start fast, since they’ll be playing four games in Tokyo before the calendar hits April, two exhibitions against Nippon and two American League games against the Seattle Mariners.
You might say the A’s haven’t treated Bassitt kindly since they acquired him in a trade along with Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley from the White Fox for Jeff Samardzija — now where have we heard that name before? — at the end of the 2014 season. Bassitt’s right arm, meanwhile, hasn’t treated him well.
A month into the 2016 season, Bassitt’s elbow went, the infamous ulnar collateral ligament. He joined the many forced to have what popularly is known as Tommy John surgery — a lefty, John was the man in 1974 on whom the surgery first was done, not the man who did it; that was Dr. Frank Jobe.
As we have learned, enough recovery for someone to pitch again takes a year. Enough recovery to pitch well, including the mental side, may take forever,
Bassitt, however, returned in 2017, going from Stockton to Nashville, and to frustration. He was with Oakland in spring training last year and then spent the season up (majors) and down (minors) in the bigs, going 2-3 with a 3.02 earned run average.
So brief as his appearance was on Saturday, it was significant. He gave up two doubles and a run.
“Last year,” said Bassitt after his inning, “I never felt right. This game I felt amazing.”
And, he was asked, when was the last time for that? “Before surgery.”
Bassitt was 30 two days ago. But pitchers’ ages are calculated in how many balls they’ve thrown off the mound. Men can last until 40 — if their arm is resilient, perhaps they feel amazing.
A’s manager Bob Melvin seemed quite satisfied the way Bassitt pitched. “One inning is tough to evaluate, but that what’s were doing,” conceded Melvin, the 2018 American League Manager of the Year, and of course a onetime catcher.
“Overall he threw the ball pretty good.”
Bassitt’s enthusiasm was huge, which is understandable. A pitcher with arm problems is a pitcher unable to smile.
“This is easily the best that I’ve felt in years, so I’m really, really excited about this year and expect a lot of myself just because of how good I really feel,” Bassitt said. “I know this organization was excited for me before injuries, so hopefully we get back to that pretty quickly.”
Better to be more optimistic than less. Spring training is the time to look to the future — after admiring the view of the snowcapped mountains.