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A’s 4, Astros 3

Josh Reddick’s season-long slump officially ended Saturday when he backed up a three-hit game with another three-hit performance, including a game-winning single with one out in the ninth inning in a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

In collecting three of the A’s 14 hits, Reddick upped his average to .200, or more than double where he sat at the start of the three-game series against the Astros.

Sure, right fielder Reddick has put in plenty of hard work in trying to bust out of a 4 for 41 funk to start the season. But, the answer to regaining his stroke might have been as simple as stumbling across a box of his bats stashed above teammate Alberto Callaspo’s locker.

Reddick used one of those bats Friday and banged out three hits in four at-bats. So, naturally, he snagged another one of his bats from that once-hidden box Saturday and hammered three more Saturday.

“We were blaming it on that,” Reddick said of his slump before finding the stash.

Reddick started Saturday’s game 0 for 2. He finished with three straight singles, with the third one scoring Yoenis Cespedes with the decisive run.

Cespedes’ run was the only time the A’s held an advantage on the scoreboard. As he touched home, it set off a wild celebration in the middle of the infield, with Reddick somewhere in the middle.

“We often talk about guys who are in deep slumps, sometimes it only takes one game where you get a couple of hits or a couple of balls up, you start to feel a lot better about yourself,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Reddick.

It wasn’t just Reddick who made a winner out of Dan Otero and prevented starter Scott Kazmir from being saddled with his first loss of the season.

Shortstop Jed Lowrie ignited the three-run rally in the ninth with a leadoff home run. Callaspo tied the game with a run-scoring single that also enabled Cespedes to get to third.

Perhaps most impressive, Reddick’s hits Saturday were to the left side, the right side and up the middle, respectively. He now is dictating at-bats.

“It’s showing me it’s where I want to be in the box with every pitch,” Reddick said. “ … Being able to not be so pull-happy or go-the-other-way-happy shows me that I’m where I need to be and I have enough confidence in myself to do everything.”

Kazmir’s confidence hasn’t wavered from the time he signed with the A’s. He turned in his fourth straight impressive outing and kept the A’s within striking distance through eight innings of six-hit, no-walk ball.

Melvin said, “He pitched great again. He threw over 100 pitches today, basically in the same fashion we’ve seen him every time. He certainly didn’t deserve to get a loss.”

The Astros scratched out runs in the third, fourth and fifth. Meanwhile, the A’s weren’t having much success against Brett Oberholtzer and two relievers.

Yet, Kazmir said, he felt as if it was just a matter of time, as long as he kept the game close.

“Just go as deep as I can,” Kazmir said, “and as long we got it close, I feel like we got a good chance.”

 

– Center fielder Coco Crisp made it through Friday night’s game without any flare-up with his sore wrist. Yet, Melvin isn’t taking any chances with his leadoff hitter, so he gave Crisp another day off Saturday.

Melvin is worried most about Crisp’s wrist holding up well when batting right-handed – Crisp’s four at-bats Friday came from the left side.

“We’ll get into it slowly,” Melvin said. “He felt a lot better swinging right-handed (Friday) in the cage.”

Crisp entered Saturday’s game in the sixth as a pinch-hitter for Craig Gentry because the Astros went to a left-handed pitcher. He got two at-bats.

 

– A’s reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw a bullpen session at the Coliseum for the first time Saturday as he continues his rehab from an elbow injury that required surgery.

O’Flaherty isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery, anytime soon. He isn’t eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until May 29.

However, it’s possible that he will face batters when the A’s return from their next road trip, Melvin said.

Melvin watched O’Flaherty’s bullpen session. He said O’Flaherty threw some sliders and looked good.

“What he’s got to offer is pretty exciting,” Melvin said.

 

– Kazmir made it 15 times in 17 games that A’s starting pitchers allowed three runs or fewer this season. Four of those games were Kazmir outings.

 

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Crisp back in lineup atop batting order

– Lead-off hitter Coco Crisp returned to the starting lineup Friday after he was limited to pinch-hit appearances the past two games because of wrist and hamstring injuries.

 

– The recently completed nine-game road trip did nothing to change manager Bob Melvin’s opinion about his team, he said.

He watched his troops win seven of nine games, surge into first place and show that they are every bit as focused as last year’s team.

“A team that’s not afraid to play on the road, is not afraid to play in close games and, as far as our offense goes, it seems like our at-bats get better and better as the game goes along and they are fierce, competitive at-bats,” Melvin said. “And we’ve got a deep pitching staff. So, really, nothing has surprised me to this point.”

 

– Even though the A’s signed Doolittle to a long-term contract extension Friday, that doesn’t change Melvin’s approach to how he uses his bullpen.

Melvin said things are “status quo” for now, which means that Doolittle or Luke Gregerson is going to be summoned for save situations, with erstwhile closer Jim Johnson the “wild card” in the equation.

“Right now, we’re fine with this, but there’s the potential for anything,” Melvin said.

 

– There isn’t much new to report about the recovery by top prospect Addison Russell from his most recent right hamstring injury.

“It was probably a little more significant this time, a little higher up,” Melvin said. “It may take him a little bit longer than when he came back during spring training.”

Russell first hurt his hamstring in early March. He damaged the same hamstring in early April while playing in a game for Double-A Midland. He is expected to be sidelined at least until May.

 

– The A’s get familiar with most of their American League West counterparts during spring training in Arizona. However, the Astros prepare for the season in Florida, which means the A’s got their first look at the 2014 Astros on Friday.

The teams will have had their fill of each other before long, though. Friday marked the first of a three-game series and the first of seven meetings within a 10-game span.

 

– Here’s the A’s batting order for Friday night’s game against the Astros, the first of a three-game set at the Coliseum:

CF Coco Crisp

SS Jed Lowrie

3B Josh Donaldson

1B Brandon Moss

LF Yoenis Cespedes

DH Alberto Callaspo

C John Jaso

RF Josh Reddick

2B Eric Sogard

P Sonny Gray

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Sooner or later, Johnson will move back into closer’s role

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A's closer again

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A’s closer again

Is Jim Johnson the closer of the A’s future?

Probably. Almost certainly.

And when would that future be?

Well, it could come as early as Friday when the A’s play host to Houston to start a two-team homestand in the Coliseum.

Johnson, deposed as closer about two weeks into the season because of his inconsistencies, has pitched five innings of scoreless baseball in his last three games and has won two of them.

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Crisp’s steal his way past Reggie, nowhere near Rickey

Coco Crisp is now the fifth most successful thief in A's history

Coco Crisp is now the fifth most successful thief in A’s history

Coco Crisp has been around long enough to be hanging with some exalted company.

Just take his 11th inning stolen base Wednesday. It was the 145th of his Oakland career. That moves him past Reggie Jackson and into fifth place in the A’s all-time stolen base rankings.

Is that a big deal?

“No, not for me,’’ Crisp said after the A’s 12-inning, 5-4 loss to the Angels. “Not because it’s Reggie, but I’m just not into (numbers) that much.’’

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A’s running game vs. Angels not as sharp as it should be

Eric Sogard says he will be more alert to Angels' deception in future

Eric Sogard says he will be more alert to Angels’ deception in future

One of the issues addressed by the A’s in their review Monday before the start of the three-game series with the Angels was the need to keep in mind how much the Angels like to throw behind runners.

On Tuesday, despite the preparations and the warnings, the A’s ran into outs on the bases with the Angels throwing behind them twice.

In the third inning, Josh Donaldson, batting with Jed Lowrie on second base, singled to right, thought Lowrie would try to score and was caught between first and second when Lowrie held at third

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Doolittle takes blame for ninth inning, but isn’t bummed

Sean Doolittle loves A's ability to win as a team

Sean Doolittle loves A’s ability to win as a team

Sean Doolittle has never had great success in closing games, although the sample size (11 games) is so small as to be irrelevant.

He had a chance to lock down his fifth career Tuesday night when he was handed a 9-7 lead, but he was taken down by a Kole Calhoun double and a Mike Trout homer.

Doolittle blamed no one but himself.

“That was a thigh-high fastball over the middle of the plate,’’ Doolittle said, indicating that Trout could not have asked for a better location. And when you put the leadoff guy on, you’re just asking for it.’’

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Barton convinced ninth inning call wouldn’t be altered

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call wouldn't be reversed.

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call Monday against Angels wouldn’t be reversed.

Daric Barton couldn’t see the play at first base in the ninth inning.

He could feel it, though, and that was good enough for him.

Moments after John Jaso’s homer put the A’s in position to score a 3-2 win over the Angels, Oakland reliever Luke Gregerson came out of the bullpen and got two quick ground balls.

The first one was routine. The second was bobbled at second base by Nick Punto, who quickly regrouped and fired a throw to Barton. Umpire Chris Segal called base runner Howie Kendrick out, and the Angels howled.

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