OAKLAND — When Dustin Garneau walked into the Oakland Athletics locker room on Sunday morning, a team staffer greeted him with a reminder: “If we miss this by a game, it’s your fault.”
Oakland’s newly-re-acquired catcher — by way of the Los Angeles Angels — hit a walk-off double against Oakland in June at the expense of set-up man Lou Trivino.
Garneau was designated for assignment last week by an Angels team well out of the playoff race. On Sunday, he begins his second stint with an A’s on a team that began Sunday half a game out of the second American League wild card, giving them a right-handed catcher with experience handling a staff.
“It’s pretty nice,” Garneau said. “When I went down, [Josh] Phegley actually texted me, about he went down, and how Murph (prospect Sean Murphy) went down, and they had a chance to claim me. I was pretty excited. I love the team here.”
Phegley and Garneau had played with each other in 2017, when Garneau spent 19 games with then-last-place Oakland, and last year in Nashville.
Phegley — who platoons with Chris Herrmann — went down last week with a left thumb contusion, making catching extremely difficult, though swinging a bat was not. With Phegley on the injured list, the A’s were stuck with a pair of left-handed-swinging backstops in Herrmann and Beau Taylor. Top catching prospect Sean Murphy was unavailable, having re-injured the same knee that underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus this May. While he won’t knee surgery, he’s down for the next couple weeks.
Enter: Garneau, a 19th-round pick in 2009 who’s played parts of five seasons with the Colorado Rockies, A’s, White Sox and Angels. Garneau, 32, has never been on a team as deep into a playoff race as Oakland. The team that designated him for assignment was eight games out of the playoff race and 16 games back of the Houston Astros in the division.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Especially the group of guys that are here. They’re just baseball players who want to win every game, and make that playoff push. If we go, we go. It’s going to be a fun ride … It’s like a college locker room here. It’s all young, and fun. Guys are here playing hard.”
Garneau’s transition is made easier by a few familiar faces, including Phegley and Khris Davis, Garneau’s classmate at Cal State Fullerton.
Davis’s most enduring memory of Garneau: The offseason conditioning work at Fullerton. “Those workouts where you run until you throw up … I threw up a lot,” Davis said, smiling. “He held it together … Good leadership. Strong presence. He’s a hard worker. He can handle a pitching staff. Glad to have him back … tough as nails.”
Of Davis, Garneau said: “He’s the man. I love playing with him. He’s calm and cool every day, and just goes out there and barrels baseballs. That’s what makes him great.”
Matt Chapman — another, younger Titan — was just getting his first big league look when Garneau was last with the A’s. Garneau still lives in Orange, Calif., and goes down to Fullerton to work out, which is how he first met Chapman when the now-Platinum Glove third baseman was still a collegian.
“I was watching this kid, and right from the get-go, I knew he was a first-rounder,” Garneau said. “I tried to talk to him at every practice we went to, seeing what kind of guy he was. I loved it. Gamer. Getting to play with him, and seeing him playing the last time, he’s just fun to watch him play, man.”
Manager Bob Melvin likened Garneau to Justin Lucroy — Oakland’s catcher in 2018 who was also recently released by the Angels.
“If ever there’s a guy that’s similar to Lucroy, that we’ve had here before, who knows these guys, you don’t have to go through all the firsts and learning the guys,” Melvin said. “We were lucky to be able to get a guy like him.”
When he was told the A’s re-acquired him, Garneau took an hourlong Southwest flight from Long Beach to the Bay on Saturday, landed at 3:30 and headed to the field.
Garneau spent a good chunk of the game talking to the man who makes his A’s debut today against the Cardinals: Right-hander Tanner Roark. On his first full day back in Oakland, Garneau will start behind the plate.
“You want to get your feet wet,” he said. “Playing the first day always helps.”
As Garneau got re-integrated into the old — and new — clubhouse, his teammates — new and old — happily welcomed him back, including Trivino.
The reliever, who’s had a rough sophomore campaign, said, simply: “I’m glad I don’t have to throw to you.”
Sean Manaea shut down: The A’s ace lefty had to be shut down for a few days following his last rehab start. He experienced discomfort in his right side during the outing, much as he felt in his right side when he had to be shut down in late June.
“Hopefully, it’s not too long,” Melvin said. “Hopefully, it’s just a few days.”
Jesus Luzardo making progress: The A’s top pitching prospect threw two innings in a simulated game on Aug. 1. His next time out, he will throw incrementally more, Melvin said, as he recovers from a Grade 2 lat strain that followed a shoulder strain that delayed the start of his season.
“Once he gets to the four- or five-inning range and gets his pitch count up to about 75 or so, then we’ll take a harder look at when, potentially, he’d get here,” Melvin said.