Athletics shortstop Nick Allen returns to the lineup this afternoon

The Oakland Athletics are set to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks this afternoon
Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Guardians
Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Guardians / Norm Hall/GettyImages

The Oakland Athletics will take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 pm PST.

Athletics' shortstop Nick Allen returns to the lineup today, hitting in the leadoff spot. The defensive wizard has been dealing with a back strain that has kept him out of the lineup for the last two weeks. Darell Hernaiz has gotten the bulk of the playing time at short in Allen's absence.

Allen will look to pick up where he left off. He had been hitting .333 with a 1.233 OPS, a significant offensive improvement from the guy we've watched over the past two years. He's apparently re-tooled his swing and it seems to have been working.

He's been an excellent defender in the majors but his offensive performance has left much to be desired. He's hit a combined .214/.260/.289 in over 650 plate appearances. He was at risk of losing his job entirely heading into 2024 but his change in approach and improved results this spring have given him new life.

The hope is that he can continue putting up strong numbers for the rest of spring training and go into the regular season in a healthy competition for playing time with Hernaiz. If the two can give manager Mark Kotsay multiple viable options at short, it'll go a long way toward improving on last year's dismal effort.

Righty Ross Stripling is set to take the mound this afternoon. He's been challenged this spring, pitching to an 11.32 ERA in his first three appearances. The peripherals look a bit better than the results but Stripling did lose his job in San Francisco's starting rotation last year due to poor performance.

He was much better late in the season coming out of the bullpen but the Athletics really need him to provide bulk innings out of the rotation, at least early on. Today should be a good opportunity for him to get back in the groove.

The recently acquired JD Davis gets the start at DH this afternoon, leaving third base open for Abraham Toro. Catching prospect Kyle McCann gets the start behind the plate in the first game after Tyler Soderstrom's demotion.

McCann is hitting just .188/.350/.438 with a 40% strikeout rate this spring, but he did have success at Triple-A in 2023. He's a strong defender, though he doesn't have the level of experience that veteran Carlos Perez can offer.

We'll keep an eye on the battle between McCann and Perez over the next couple weeks. Neither are currently on the 40-man roster, so the Athletics will have a tough decision to make in order to get one of them up in the majors.

The D-Backs will send out right hander Merrill Kelly this afternoon. He's been a consistently strong rotation piece for Arizona the last three years, posting 536 innings with a 3.66 ERA since the start of 2021. Kelly has also looked sharp to start the spring. We'll see if the Athletics can get the best of him early on.