A’s players find ways to fill time during long offseason

As calendar apps around the world settle on March, baseball has finally returned.

With an 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Thursday, the Oakland Athletics have initiated their 2016 spring schedule. More important than the exhibition games, however, is that the 151-day baseball hiatus has come to an end for A’s fans.

Since their team’s last game, a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Oct. 4, Oakland fanatics have undoubtedly been left with a chasm, surely difficult to fill. The players, though, have been left with that same gorge left by the absence of a simple nine-inch cowhide orb and the game that it represents.

Whether stars established within the confines of O.co Coliseum, fresh faces newly acquired by the organization or youngsters working to form their own status, A’s players found ways to occupy themselves, biding time until baseball’s long awaited return.

Oakland ace and third-place finisher in the 2015 AL CY Young race, Sonny Gray returned home to Nashville, Tennessee to spend time with family. The staff ace joked that his one-year-old son had gotten so heavy that carrying him with his throwing arm alone has become difficult, even detrimental, though he was excited that his child was able to join him during his workouts:

“Everything was normal, except with Gunnar, because this is his first offseason with him doing a bunch of stuff. … I took him up there (to Vanderbilt University) a couple times and just let him walk around.”

Gray, who missed his final start of 2015 with a strained hip, spent time at his alma mater working on his conditioning. Deploying workouts involving stabilization instead of weight lifting, the 26-year-old hurler said he will continue his regimen in hopes of increasing his durability.

While Gray had to travel more than 2,000 miles to spend time in his home town, surrounded by friends and family, California products like Stephen Vogt, Marcus Semien and Mark Canha were just short drives from doing the same.

Canha, the utility man who spent the majority of his time a season ago at first base, told SFBay he is excited that baseball has finally returned, and is ready to get back to business. He did add, however, that his first offseason as a major leaguer gave him a chance to just relax:

“This has been my first offseason where I have gotten to be at home, in my hometown, and my wife and I have really just enjoyed the Bay and had a great offseason.”

Much like the young San Jose native, newly acquired lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski used the offseason to take a little break, and soak up his family time, as he told SFBay:

“I’m realizing that, the older I’m getting the less and less time I’ll have to enjoy times like these. … I went on vacation, which I don’t usually do, and got to just get away.”

Though he made his MLB debut in 2014, pitcher Kendall Graveman is coming off a rookie season that saw him make 21 starts, posting a 4.05 ERA and nearly assuring his spot in the 2016 rotation.

The Alabama native spent much of the offseason reviewing his own game film and trying, to no avail, to come up with explanations for his not using the changeup more than he did in 2015. The 25 year-old told SFBay that the changeup has been a very dependable pitch for him throughout his career, and he expects it to be a feature pitch in his future success.

Like Graveman, Vogt took time during the long offseason to review game film. The All-Star catcher, though, had more than just one pitcher’s film to study as the organization made moves adding four new arms to the staff:

“Obviously it takes a little extra work, as far as watching some video and getting a good idea of what these guys like to do, going into Spring Training.”

The Visalia native added that, more important than seeing them work on video, a catcher has to get to know a pitcher personally, which is one of his biggest goals for this Spring Training.

As for his personal improvement, the 31-year-old backstop told SFBay that this past offseason has been about getting back to the basics, especially as it pertains to his throwing which he said he has not been happy with:

“I’ve been working on my throwing from behind the plate. I felt like that area was lacking last year, for me. … I’ve been really focused on my release point, my arm slot, and trying to get that back to where it was a couple years ago.”

For All-Star closer Sean Doolittle, the offseason was very much about putting in hard work on a full-time basis.

The 29-year-old lefty suffered what was essentially a lost season in 2015, as he made only 12 appearances. In hopes of returning even stronger from throwing shoulder issues a year ago, Doolittle was back in the gym before Halloween.

Fully committed to his recovery program, the 2014 All-Star told SFBay that he had taken to the mound by mid-November while continuing his vigorous shoulder conditioning:

“I feel great. I completely changed my offseason. I took two weeks off after the season ended, and then I started my shoulder program again. I’m doing the shoulder workout three times a week.”

Much like the fans that root so whole-heatedly in their support, the Athletics players themselves were forced to endure a long offseason. And finishing with the AL’s worst record just one year removed from the postseason only made it longer.

Whether it was taking some time away, or immediately applying their nose to the grindstone, to a man the A’s are ready and excited to get back to work in hopes of winning the year’s final game.