Baseball / Sports

Athletics' Griffin bugged by home runs allowed

PHOENIX -- A.J. Griffin hasn't changed much about the way he throws from last year to this.

The mental part of the game, though -- that's changing.

Griffin led the American League by giving up 36 homers last year. Toward the end of the season it was all anybody, particularly the media, wanted to talk about.

They didn't want to talk about his excellent .226 batting average against, 30 points under the league average. They wanted to talk about all those bombs. Griffin says now he bought into it.

And that was a mistake.

"I put too much thought into those questions," Griffin said Saturday as the team went through its annual photo day. "I should have tuned it out, but I didn't.

"All that talk made me think about it, and that was a mistake."

Griffin was the toughest of the A's regular starting pitchers to get a hit off. He led the team with a career-best 200 innings. His ERA of 3.83, while up from his rookie mark of 3.06, was under the median of AL pitchers.

And his total of 14 wins is the most any member of the 2014 staff had last year.

So pardon Griffin if he doesn't feel like changing the way he pitches and focuses instead on the mental part of the game.

"I learned from my struggles last year," he said. "I've been pretty good at executing pitches. What got me in trouble was that one time or two times a game a ball would go out. I've always been focused when I'm pitching. But I've got to be ultra-focused.

"It's not like I was giving away pitches before. But I have to make sure that I don't give anything away. Then the home runs will take care of themselves."

Manager Bob Melvin said while Griffin, 26, did have issues with homers, it's the other statistics, particularly the win total and the innings pitched total, that need to looked at.

"At the end of the day, he's a good starting pitcher," Melvin said. "The one blip was the home runs. But he realizes why they happened.

"His mindset has to be that he's not a guy who gives up homers. If he gets there, he won't. They can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's like a hitter who goes 0-for-15. Getting back on track just becomes harder as you go along."

Having the stats sheets zeroed out at the beginning of the season gives a chance for a fresh start. And Griffin will take full advantage to get back to full enjoyment of the game he loves.

"I do love baseball," he said. "But it takes focus to play the game and patience to see it through. You have to have dedication to love it."


-- The day ended with left-handed hitters and right-handers squaring off in a hit-or-out batting practice competition. The day was designed to allow hitters to work against the shift, and first baseman Brandon Moss dropped down a bunt for a hit, something Melvin and the A's would like to see more of. Yoenis Cespedes' way of beating the shift was a game-ended homer with the score at 11-11. "That's one way to beat the shift," said bench coach Chip Hale, who organized the competition.

-- Outfielder Craig Gentry has been diagnosed with a lower back strain and will be held out of workouts into next week. "We're going to try and get ahead of this thing and keep him off the field for a few days," Melvin said. "He's a pretty eager beaver. He wants to be out there. Regardless, he's a key part, and we want him to be fully healthy."

-- Sean Doolittle is back on his regular schedule after throwing to a few hitters Saturday. The lefty's calf problem is a problem no more.

-- Right-hander Ryan Cook threw from 90 feet away, apparently the hardest he's thrown since coming down with right shoulder stiffness.

-- Billy Burns, who picked up switch-hitting just last year, continues to work on it this spring. The natural right-hander has exceptional foot speed. "Hitting from the left side," Melvin said, "he wouldn't even have to square the ball up he's so fast getting to first base."

-- Melvin will be taking part in a workshop Monday afternoon/evening with officials from MLB explaining and clarifying the new replay rules in effect once the season starts. There will likely be some use of the rules once the Cactus League starts next week.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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