Olson, Chappy go back to back, thanks to VR

March 8th, 2021

stood in the on-deck circle with a bat in his hand and watched crush a ball over the two bullpens situated behind the right-field wall at Hohokam Stadium. One pitch later, it was Chapman rounding the bases after crushing a ball 105 mph off the bat over the scoreboard in left.

The rest of the league is on notice.

Chapman and Olson both entered Spring Training with a chip on their shoulders. They are determined to prove their 2020 campaigns were anomalies. It appears their revenge tour is getting underway early as their back-to-back homers in the first inning of Sunday’s 9-4 win over the Indians continued their hot starts to the Cactus League schedule.

Olson’s homer was his team-leading third this spring, continuing to show off the benefits of a mechanical change to his swing he worked on this offseason. Chapman's solo shot was his first. Together, the two Matts are 8-for-19 with four home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs through four games played.

“I think after last year, Oly seeing results right away is a good thing,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “For Chappy, we’re looking for health. He’s driving the ball and getting off the ball defensively. Good for both.”

Seeking to get back to their 2019 form, when both hit 36 homers each, Chapman and Olson have also added a hitting tool that could make life even more unfair for opposing pitchers.

Following a trend that has been growing around baseball in recent years, the two sluggers were utilizing virtual reality headsets before the game to help simulate the experience of facing Cleveland starter Adam Plutko. About 30 minutes later, Chapman and Olson took Plutko deep on the first pitch they each saw from the right-hander.

The A’s have recently adopted the tool, which is manufactured by WIN Reality VR. In addition to simulating at-bats against opposing pitchers, it can also provide info on a specific pitcher’s velocity, pitch movement and release point.

“We’re trying it out,” Melvin said. “Some of the other teams are using it extensively. We’re just trying to keep up, technology-wise.

“Anything that benefits our hitters. If other teams are using it to their advantage, then we should as well.”

The implementation of the VR headsets seems to benefit hitters more than pitchers at this point. So while A’s pitchers might not enjoy opposing hitters getting a better look at them heading into matchups, they can live with it if it takes their own top hitters to another level at the plate.

“Them boys can hit 45 homers a year,” A’s left-hander Jake Diekman said. “They were in [the clubhouse] doing simulation stuff and 30 minutes later, ‘Whack!’ That’s not even fair.”

WIN Reality provided more info on the technology being used by the A's in an email to MLB.com:

“For MLB guys, they have access to MLB pitchers. So they can go in and face, for example, Justin Verlander in VR the night before, or even an hour before they actually face him. In our application, they can work on release point training, pitch recognition, decision making and timing. We're reconciling everything from their wind up, to pitch type and velocity from real data and footage.”

A’s on the mend
Melvin provided a detailed update on several A’s players currently working their way back from injuries in camp:

• Jed Lowrie, the former All-Star second baseman with the A's, who is back in camp on a Minor League deal as he looks to earn a third stint with the club, took part in baserunning drills on Saturday as the final step of his progression as he returns from offseason knee surgery. Coming away from the session free of issues, Melvin said he expects Lowrie to be cleared to play in games beginning Tuesday, when the A’s face the Cubs at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz.

• Catcher Sean Murphy has increased his activity from hitting off a tee to soft toss hitting. He’s also playing long toss and has been catching bullpen sessions from several A’s pitchers. Murphy is returning from emergency surgery to repair a collapsed lung, and the A’s maintain that he will take part in Cactus League action later this month and be ready for Opening Day.

• Right-hander Frankie Montas, who arrived late to camp due to a positive COVID-19 test, threw a bullpen session on Saturday. His next step will be to pitch in a simulated game later this week.

• Left-hander A.J. Puk threw to hitters on Friday and is scheduled to throw in a sim game on Tuesday. The A’s No.1-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Puk is expected to be stretched out as a starter this spring, though Melvin has also mentioned him as a possibility for the bullpen.

• Outfielder Ka’ai Tom, who the A’s selected in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter, is still dealing with an oblique injury that has kept him out of action to begin Cactus League play. There is still no target date for a spring debut, but Melvin is optimistic that Tom will be able to play in at least half of the club’s games by the time Cactus League action wraps up.

Up Next
The A’s travel to Surprise, Ariz. for a 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Royals on Monday. Right-hander Parker Dunshee will make his second start of the spring in a game that is scheduled to see the A’s debuts of new closer Trevor Rosenthal and right-hander Sergio Romo. Right-handers Yusmeiro Petit, Brian Howard, Matt Blackham and Montana DuRapau will also be available to pitch.