July 19, 2014

MLB Insider: Samardzija taps into why Oakland A’s win

A full notebook provides these nuggets for those not satisfied by last week’s festivities.

The Home Run Derby is billed as the marquee event of All-Star Monday.

Actually, it’s the only event of All-Star Monday that is open to the public, and the No. 1 highlight is when it finally ends.

The media covering All-Star festivities, though, have their own highlight.

Hundreds of folks with notepads, tape recorders, microphones and cameras jam into a ballroom packed with All-Stars, once for the American League and again for the National League.

Talk about fun.

Provided is 45 minutes, though the sessions always start late and end early, to work the room and talk to as many players as possible. Oftentimes reporters talk to too many, as was the case here, especially after 45 minutes apiece with Commissioner Bud Selig and Tony Clark, the executive director of the players association, on Tuesday.

So, here is heaping pile of All-Star Game leftovers, starting with the peculiar case of Jeff Samardzija.

Daily double

NL players voted Samardzija onto their team July 6.

A day earlier, though, the Chicago Cubs had traded the right-hander across the country to Oakland and into the AL.

Samardzija was a man without a team Tuesday at Target Field. He interviewed Monday as part of the NL herd, worked out with the NL players and was introduced with the NL team while wearing an All-Star Game hat, but he spent the game in the dugout of his new league wearing an A’s cap.

He also threw a bullpen session in preparation for his start Friday. Make no mistake that he’s an AL guy, at least for the rest of the season. But Samardzija sees a natural fit in the A’s clubhouse.

“They come to win ballgames,” Samardzija said. “That comes from the top. That’s what the skipper told me the first day, ‘That’s all we care about. That’s what we do.’ And every guy is a gamer.”

And there is one primary topic of conversation, maybe a key to the A’s success.

“I’ve never heard baseball talked so much in my entire life,” Samardzija said. “In the dugout, on the base, on the plane, constantly talking about how to get the Angels out or the Rangers out or the Mariners out. It’s a certain love for the game that I can level with.”

Setting them up

AL manager John Farrell went with a closer-heavy bullpen, and that ended up being the key to the 5-3 victory over an NL bullpen that included three traditional set-up relievers.

St. Louis right-hander Pat Neshek, who entered his first All-Star Game with an 0.70 ERA on only three runs allowed in 38 1/3 innings, allowed the two go-ahead runs and recorded only one out in the fifth inning.

Tyler Clippard from Washington replaced Neshek, and Pittsburgh left-hander Tony Watson retired the only batter he faced.

The influx of true set-up men is a trend that developed out of the desire to build bullpens capable of helping provide home-field advantage for the World Series. It’s also similar to the NFL finally awarding special-teams players with a spot in the Pro Bowl.

“The role that I’m in, not being a closer or a starting pitcher, traditionally that’s not for All-Star games,” Watson said. “We have a tough job. It’s a tough role, but you’ve just got to go out there and do your job.”

Omaha in Cincinnati?

Todd Frazier, the do-it-all third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, is from New Jersey, yet his speech patterns, the quantity with which he speaks and the shape of his face have left more than a few people reminded of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Frazier has heard all about it. Some mentions of the resemblance can be found on the Internet.

“I don’t know why,” said Frazier, the runner-up in the Home Run Derby. “They say I talk like him. Maybe the face is long.”

Frazier also would have no problem putting on a different kind of helmet.

“I’d switch jobs with him for a year,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the money. I just want to be on the field calling plays. That’d be cool.”

Something to chew on

Selig and Clark said that the use of smokeless tobacco could be something discussed for the next collective bargaining agreement in 2016, but for now they believe players have to make the decision to use or not use for themselves.

The issue was brought into the forefront last month with the passing of Tony Gwynn, who believed that smokeless tobacco led to cancer in his salivary glands. Clark said that the information gathered by the union shows that players are chewing less and less.

“It’s declined in the minor leagues and the major leagues,” Clark said. “Our hope is that we can continue to educate guys on the damage that dipping can do and they will continue to decide not to dip and chew.

“We give the players the opportunity to make the decision they’re going to make against the backdrop of it being legal. At the end of the day, we don’t condone it, and they know we don’t condone it.”

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