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A’s need to loosen up at the plate and work pitchers over

Jon Lester's arrival has seen him pitch well while the A's have struggled.

Jon Lester’s arrival has seen him pitch well while the A’s have struggled.

There are no simple answers for the Oakland A’s.

There are some simple truths, however.

One is that they need to loosen up at the plate.

Oakland hitters spent four months working the count, forcing pitchers into untenable situations, then waiting for the pitcher to wilt under pressure.

Now, it’s not like that.

“What’s going on with their hitters?’’ one Major League scout asked me Thursday. “I saw them a couple of months ago and they knew what they needed to do. Now they’re up there hacking at everything.’’

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Athletics limitless foibles at the plate ruining their season

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn't good enough for a win.

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn’t good enough for a win.

If there isn’t a theoretical limit to the number of times the A’s can tell themselves they’re in good shape just because the American League Wild Card standings say they are, there should be.

By imploding in the ninth inning Wednesday, Oakland fell into a tie with the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card derby, both teams at 83-68, two games up in the race over the 81-70 Seattle Mariners.

It’s technically true that the A’s can make their way in to the playoff by following the old Al Davis dictum, “Just Win, Baby.’’

The trouble is, they seem to have no remembrance of how to win, or even how to hit. Time and again in the last couple of weeks they’ve gotten brilliant starting pitching and have lost because the offense hasn’t made an appearance or because the defense had regressed to high school levels.

Already this month:

–Jon Lester gives up two runs (seven hits, no walks) in eight innings and loses 2-1 (Sept. 3)

–Jeff Samardzija throws scoreless ball for seven innings, turns a 1-0 lead over to the bullpen and Luke Gregerson gives up two runs in the eighth (Sept. 10).

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Pomeranz being asked to bring best after excess idle time

It will be more than three weeks between starts for Drew Pomeranz Saturday.

It will be more than three weeks between starts for Drew Pomeranz Saturday.

It will be 24 days between starts for Drew Pomeranz when he pitches for the A’s Saturday against the Phillies and 18 days since he’s pitched in any game at all.

That’s far from optimum in a profession that prizes regular work. But Pomeranz, who serves as the A’s extra starter when he’s not pitching in long relief, has taken steps to make sure he will take his A Game out against Philadelphia.

He threw 40 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, facing a number of the A’s hitters in a workout he said “I’ll think of as a start.’’

“it was good to get a bunch of the guys out there and pitch to them,’’ he said. “you face hitters, you treat it as a real game and get back into the habit of starting

That being the case, his next start will be five days later, and “I’ll be ready,’’ he said.

Manager Bob Melvin seems to have little doubt about that.

“It’s an acquired taste to pitch out of the bullpen then go into the rotation knowing you’re expected to throw a certain amount of pitches,’’ Melvin said. “He’s done it numerous times for us this year and has had success doing it.

“So if there’s anybody that you feel confident in in that type of role, it’s him.’’

Pomeranz came out of the bullpen in May to make back-to-back starts of five innings against the Red Sox and the White Sox, not allowing a run in either start. On Aug. 26 he came up from Triple-A Sacramento and contributed 5.1 innings allowing one run, not earned.

He’s faced the Phillies twice while pitching for the Colorado Rockies, both starts and both in 2012. He pitched well in Philadelphia (four innings, one run), but he got knocked around some in Colorado, five innings, five runs.

But as he points out, it’s a little easier to pitch in Oakland than in the light air of Denver.

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Just when the A’s look like they’d snapped out of their funk, they deliver another disturbing dud

Derek Norris and Scott Kazmir clearly had issues with each other that carried on in the clubhouse after the game.

I’m with Bob Melvin. I don’t get it. The A’s looked like they’d turned the corner and gained some momentum with two huge weekend wins over the Mariners in Seattle. Then they even got a day off Monday to savor it and reload mentally and physically.

Maybe they thought the Texas Rangers would come into town and just roll over for them, or that they could play without a sense of urgency and still have no problem with the lowly visitors, who came to Oakland with baseball’s worst record at 57-92. Instead, it was Texas that showed the zest and grit, and the A’s simply didn’t look ready to play. They lost 6-3, never led, got outhit 12-6, 4-10 Nick Tepesch outpitched Scott Kazmir, the A’s had two physical errors, one big mental one, three wild pitches and managed just one hit over the the final 11 batters.

Charles Woodson, you want to chime in here? What Woodson said about the Raiders on Sunday pretty much could have been applied to the A’s Tuesday night. They, er, stunk.

You get a strong sense that the A’s are really such lovey bunch right now, either. Kazmir and catcher Derek Norris were still having discussions in the clubhouse after the game about some sort of pitch selection disagreement. Kazmir wouldn’t reveal the details, that it was something between him and his battery mate. Nobody seemed too happy with shortstop Jed Lowrie after a horrible fifth-inning overthrow and a lapse in heads-up when, after getting an out at second on a perfect throw from Josh Reddick, he allowed Texas baserunner Rougned Odor to steam around third base and score. Lowrie was claiming afterward that nobody communicated with him that Odor was heading home and wound up making a desperate throw way too late. So who’s that on? Lowrie or other infielders to yell something? Probably both.

In any case, it was an ugly loss at a very bad time of the season, one of Oakland’s worst during this most disillusioning second half. Kazmir was gone after 4 1/3, clearly unnerved by the plays not being made behind him and whatever issues he was having with Norris, who also had a bad throwing error trying to cut down a bases stealer.

The sad thing is that the A’s could have gained a game against Kansas City in the wild-card race with a win. And they could have kept Seattle three games back of them. Instead, the Royals are a game behind and the Mariners two with 12 games left to play. The schedule still favors Oakland, but not if they play like this against a challenged team like Texas.

As Kazmir said afterward, “That was a game that just doesn’t happen in September when you’re in a race to make the playoffs,” said Kazmir. “You just don’t play like that, that’s just the way it is, all the way, top to bottom. To be honest, I’ve never seen anything like that at the major-league level.”

Pretty strong stuff following a very weak performance.

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Norris gives up four steals; says he’s not in pain throwing

Dan Otero said A's pitchers need to give catcher Derek Norris more help with defending stolen base game.

Dan Otero said A’s pitchers need to give catcher Derek Norris more help with defending stolen base game.

The A’s had many good things going their way Sunday, but defensing the running game wasn’t one of them.

The Mariners stole four bases, the most against the A’s this year. All of them came with starter Jon Lester and catcher Derek Norris the Oakland battery.

Norris’s throws were all over the place, prompting speculation that the back problems he had earlier in the year might have returned.

Norris said that wasn’t the case, that he was fine.

“Am I in pain? No,’’ he said.

Would he say so if he were?

“No,’’ he said.

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A’s win in game started by Felix could have repercussions

Felix Hernandez wasn't enough for Mariners as A's win in 10 innings, 3-2

Felix Hernandez wasn’t enough for Mariners as A’s win in 10 innings, 3-2

The A’s aren’t going to see Felix Hernandez again this season.

But this post-season? Well there’s an excellent chance they’ll see King Felix in the Wild Card game Sept. 30. The A’s and the Mariners and whichever American League Central second-place team (the Tigers or the Royals) stand as the likeliest candidates to earn Wild Card berths.

If it’s the A’s and the Mariners, there’s a good chance that Hernandez will take the mound for Seattle if he doesn’t have to pitch Seattle into the playoffs on the final day of the season Sept. 28.

For the A’s, the recent memory of having won a game that Hernandez started will be a counterbalance to the 4-0 record Hernandez has against Oakland this season and his 19-7 overall record against the A’s.

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Lester ready to throw as if it will be last game he’ll pitch

Jon Lester says he wants to pitch every game as if it's his last.

Jon Lester says he wants to pitch every game as if it’s his last.

Jon Lester, who pitches Sunday in the series finale against the Mariners, has been through the final weeks of a pennant race with the Red Sox more than many of his A’s teammates have.

And he says his start in a must-win game for the A’s against the Mariners in Safeco Field will reflect that level of experience.

Simply put, he approaches the game “as if will be the last game I’ll ever pitch.’’

It’s not that Lester wants to be buried in pennant race pressure. It’s that the 31-year-old lefty wants to eliminate the pressure by making himself as prepared as possible for the start.

That includes his physical work the last few days on the sidelines and the mental work of studying the charts and the video of the Mariners so that he can go into the start assured that he’s done everything he can to be ready.

“I don’t like to add more pressure than is already there,’’ he said Saturday afternoon. “And it’s a little different for me. I only get out there once every five days. I would have loved to be a player and be out there every day, but I didn’t have to the talent for that. So I go out and do what I can.

“It helps that I’m pitching for a team like this that is doing what it can to win every day. The results aren’t always what you like; they haven’t been for the last few weeks. But I go out there knowing that the (team’s) effort is always going to be there.’’

Lester said as bad as things have been with the A’s having lost 22 of the last 31 games, one way to measure the team’s effort is that “we’re in almost every game we’ve played.’’

“I can’t remember the last time we played a game where we didn’t have a chance to win at the end,’’ he said. “Like last night, we had the tying run on first base with no one out against one of the best closers in the game (Fernando Rodney). He got us, but not before we worked him hard, really made him struggle.

“It was another case of being one at-bat or one inning pitched away. There have been a lot of those, but as long as we’re right there, we’re doing what we can and now we just need to get that one hit or make that one pitch.’’

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A’s could give Anderson his first start behind plate vs. Felix

Derek Norris is the only healthy experienced catcher the A's have left for the moment.

Derek Norris is the only healthy experienced catcher the A’s have left for the moment.

Bob Melvin faced a decision Friday that hadn’t cropped up all year.

Catcher Geovany Soto felt his back go when he dug a strike thrown by starter Jason Hammel out of the dirt and fired to first base.

Soto had to come out of the game. In better days, Melvin could have thrown one of his multitudes of other catchers out there. But John Jaso and Stephen Vogt are both injured and not even with the team.

So his choice was between moving Derek Norris from DH to catcher and giving up the designated hitter for the rest of the night or inserting catcher Bryan Anderson in.

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A’s powering down as their season is winding down

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A's hitters.

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A’s hitters.

There are only so many ways to ask the A’s about their frustration level and if their supply of moxie evaporated at the end of July.

Oakland is simply not the same team it was six weeks ago.

For four months, Oakland had the best record in the game, the best run differential, the most runs scored and ranked in the top five in the fewest runs allowed.

The pitch has remained relatively constant, but all the other numbers have fallen off a cliff, mostly because the offense has gone from awesome to awful.

“We were one team for the better part of four months,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “Then for the last month and a half it’s been different.’’

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A’s have nothing but respect for new-look Mariners

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners' team that is the best it's been in a decade.

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners’ team that is the best it’s been in a decade.

Once the A’s prime competition in the American League West came from Southern California.

Now with the Angels having steamrolled the West while Oakland slumped, the A’s must look to the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Mariners would like nothing better than to knock the A’s out of the Wild Card race.

The A’s and Mariners play three games this weekend in Safeco Field.

And while the Mariners haven’t seen the post-season since the world was young, the A’s are facing a team that could either join them in the Wild Card game or knock Oakland out of it.

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