Sheets doesn't record out in third start
Oakland right-hander allows 10 runs in outing against Reds
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ben Sheets' worst career spring outing turned out to be one of his best.
At least that's what his body told him.
The right-hander, acquired by Oakland for $10 million as a free agent this offseason, faced 10 Reds batters without recording an out while making his third spring start Monday at Goodyear Ballpark in a 13-5 loss.
He walked off the mound with nine earned runs, 10 total and eight hits, including a two-run homer, etched to his name to inflate his spring ERA to 31.15 before right-handed reliever Fernando Hernandez recorded three quick outs to end the frame.
It marked the second consecutive outing in which Sheets has allowed at least five runs, but when the 31-year-old pitcher faced media following the rocky first inning, he appeared calm.
"I felt great," said Sheets, who missed all of last season following surgery to repair a partial tear in the pitcher's flexor tendon. "Today was a good day, and I felt like I was going to get in some good work."
Effective or not, there's no doubt Sheets got in his allotted work. In fact, he had to throw a bullpen session after being pulled just to reach a 60-pitch mark -- which was the day's initial goal.
"I heard I threw 35 pitches," he said. "It seems like that would have been enough, because it felt like I threw 1,000."
There's no denying Sheets was hit hard more than once -- including the home run by Cincinnati's Chris Dickerson -- but he also watched potential outs transform into lucky hits to begin the first-inning escapade. In his first of two at-bats in the frame, Dickerson hit a fly ball to center field that was lost in the sun by a stumbling Jake Fox and deemed a ground-rule double. Orlando Cabrera then followed with a hard-hit bouncing ball to the mound that Sheets couldn't quite grasp.
"I could have at least got an out if I had caught a ball back to me," Sheets said. "That ball was hit right to me. Maybe I can get into a rhythm if I get that out, I don't know."
Instead, Sheets allowed the next five runners on base before watching another could-be out turn into yet another baserunner when Mark Ellis committed a rare error to set up a two-run double off the bat of Wilkin Castillo. Dickerson followed with his first home run of the spring, cueing the inevitable.
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"I knew I was coming out," Sheets said. "I needed to come out. That was a bad one.
"When you can't even get out of the first inning, that's ridiculous. I don't mind giving up 10 in spring if I can get in four innings. But when you can't get an out, that's embarrassing."
Still, both Sheets and batterymate Kurt Suzuki insisted Monday's outing served as no indication of questionable health.
"He felt good, that's what matters," Suzuki said. "He was throwing at least six miles per hour faster than his last start. That's exciting. A couple balls were hit hard and a couple weren't, but obviously the results weren't very good."
Sheets was clocked as high as 91 on the gun while throwing almost all fastballs with a couple breaking balls in between. Velocity is not an issue, he said, as much as his breaking ball and command.
"I think there's a couple miles per hour left when the lights come on and the adrenaline kicks in," he said. "But my breaking ball is not where I want it to be right now. We've still got three weeks left, and this is only my third outing.
"My command is also off right now. That's why we come to Spring Training -- to sharpen it up. You always fight to make changes in Spring Training, so hopefully today is the day I start getting over it all."
Sheets is expected to lead a rather young A's rotation as the team's Opening Day starter and, along with his manager, believes he is capable of the All-Star presence he lent Milwaukee for the first eight years of his career.
"His velocity looked really good," A's skipper Bob Geren said. "When he made mistakes, they hit them. But he said he felt good, so we have to go with that. He definitely threw the ball better, the results just weren't there. He said that was the best he's felt, period."
Although Sheets is the first to admit he's never fared well in Spring Training, he couldn't recall a poorer outing than the one at Goodyear Park. A nine-hit excursion against the Angels in 2002 came close to matching Monday's results, but Sheets noted he was able to at least get out of that inning by striking out three.
"You like to get outs when you feel that good," he said. "You need your pitches to be put in play. That's how you get outs.
"Eventually the lights are going to turn on, so I have to start getting better. I want to be successful, there's no doubt. We're starting to get closer to the season. I believe I'm going to be OK."
Sheets pulled plenty of positives from his third start and noted the different feeling he experienced compared to his previous start, which resulted in five runs through 2 2/3 innings against the White Sox.
"I'd take the first two innings today over the first two innings of the last game," he said. "I got outs, but there was no rhyme or reason why I got through those two innings. That last start was horrible. I felt terrible.
"As a pitcher, you judge yourself and you're honest with yourself, and it ain't always indicative of how you pitch. I'm not saying I pitched good today -- because I didn't -- but sometimes you have a lot of success when you pitch [poorly]."
Despite not bringing out his best stuff Monday, Sheets busted out his usual wit and good humor -- which stood as another sign that the new A's pitcher is still feeling just fine.
"I felt great, I don't know what else to say," he said. "People have had bad springs before, but this is just taking it to a whole new level."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.