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Bye, bye Barry

Well, I was technically correct. Said Barry Zito wouldn’t make it past the fifth. And he didn’t. The Giants pulled him after a five-inning, four-run effort. Score is still 4-0.

Zito did the one thing the Giants can’t afford; he put them in a hole early. The Giants will not be overcoming many big deficits this season, especially against bulldogs like Dodgers ace Brad Penny.

By the way, this was Zito’s fourth straight Opening Day start. He’s about to be 0-4, and his ERA is 9.49 (12.1 IP/13 ER). Wanna explain again Mr. Bochy why Matt Cain wasn’t pitching this one? 

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Oh, Barry

Barry Zito and the Giants are off to a wonderful start. I stated earlier that I thought Zito wouldn’t get past five and one of the readers said that was generous. Maybe it was.

Anyway, he was down 3-0 by the time he recorded his second out. A leadoff double by Rafael Furcal that was barely fair (a bad break), a single by Matt Kemp that scored Furcal. An awful throw by new center fielder Aaron Rowand that allowed Kemp to go to second. And then a long home run by Giants fan favorite Jeff Kent.

This team is not good.

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Opening Day

Well, re-Opening Day, I guess. Regardless what you call it, the season is upon us. Chance to revisit some last-second decisions by the A’s and Giants.

— Sending Carlos Gonzalez to the minors was a no-brainer move for the A’s. I don’t care how many tools a guy has, minor-league seasoning is almost always necessary. If Gonzalez is everything the A’s think he is, he’ll be back in the big leagues (to stay) before we know it.

— Gotta imagine Dan Johnson’s future with the A’s has a short leash. Wrote about that today, and unless there’s a significant injury to Daric Barton or Mike Sweeney or Jack Cust, his playing time will be limited. The A’s will consider it a gift to get him through waivers if and when the time comes, because he’s decent insurance in case either of the above three bombs. That said, a 9-for-52 spring doesn’t inspire much confidence that he’ll become a more consistent hitter.

— Let’s temper the “Rich Harden is back” enthusiasm. I agree, the guy generates an incredible amount of buzz, but it’s only one start. He’s whetted our appetite in the past.

Love stories like Steve Holm’s. Every spring, somewhere, it seems a guy whose page in the media guide you never even stop to browse ends up on the big-league roster. Unfortunately, it also says a whole lot about the Giants’ depth behind the plate.

— Not thrilled that the Giants are going with so many veterans on Opening Day, but listened to Mike Krukow on KNBR this morning, and he rationalized that veterans are more equipped to handle the hype of Opening Day. Maybe so, but if the Giants truly are in a transition and development year, then why wait?

— Barry Zito won’t last past five innings today. 

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More Bay’s-Ball Answers

Slightly more than 48 hours to domestic Opening Day, and a weekend until the Giants get going for real. A chance to answer some more questions abou the locals.

1) Does acquiring Coco Crisp make any sense for the A’s?

Sure it does. But not immediately. Take some time and see if Chris Denorfia can play. The A’s got him when he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, after all, and if you like a guy that much, give him time to show what he can do. If it doesn’t work out, then Crisp would be a decent short-term solution (but I wouldn’t give up a ton for him) until Carlos Gonzalez proves he’s ready.

2) What’s going to happen with Dan Johnson? Is it possible he winds up with the Giants?

First of all, he’ll end up with some rare physical malady. Sorry, twisted humor there. Bottom line is that Johnson will be the forgotten man for the A’s if Jack Cust, Mike Sweeney and Daric Barton stay healthy and productive. General manager Billy Beane is very good about moving guys to situations that are more suitable for them, so I’d be extremely surprised if the A’s kept Johnson around to rot. He’d be a decent solution for the Giants if Dan Ortmeier flames out at first base, but at this point, what do the Giants have that the A’s need?

3) Are the Giants going too far in removing everything Bonds-related from their park?

Absolutely. I mean, first they sell their soul for the guy and cripple the franchise in the chase for the almighty home run record. Now, they want to pretend he didn’t even exist? I’m all for the Giants moving on (two years too late), but don’t pretend Bonds was never here. It’s hypocritical, and the fans will see right through it.

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You got questions …?

I’ve got some answers for you. We get rolling for real — let’s face it, baseball at 3 a.m. in another country is only so “real,” — with the locals on Monday, so with that in mind, here are some thoughts on some pressing questions.

1) What’s the story with Eugenio Velez and his fielding ability. It would seem the Giants would be trying very hard to find a spot for him, and with so many questions about third base, why doesn’t he fit there?

Talked to Giants beat writer Andy Baggerly about this one, as well as a couple of scouts, and the consensus is that Velez’s glove is a major question, but that he probably is a bit better defensively at second base than at third. Therefore, when the inevitable physical maladies hit Ray Durham, that’s where I’d expect to see him.

 2) If Carlos Gonzalez gets sent down to Triple-A, how long will it be before he’s called up? 

I would imagine the A’s will exercise patient with their prized acquisition from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Their philosophy always has dictated that they’d rather a guy get four at-bats a night in the minors than two or three a week in the majors, especially at this stage. Plus, Gonzalez has never really proven himself above Double-A. So my guess is we might not see him until late in the season. Unless, of course, he proves to be overwhelming the competition in the minors.

3) Who gets traded first? Huston Street, Joe Blanton or Rich Harden?

Depends on whether the A’s are successful or not, because I could see all three spending the whole season here. 

 Huston Street didn’t help his value with his Opening Night blow-up, but he could still prove himself attractive to other teams. And if Keith Foulke impresses like he did in Japan, that might make the A’s even more open to moving him.

If Harden performs like he did against Boston, then the A’s will have all the big wigs trying to broker a deal for him. But again, if the A’s stick in the race all summer, don’t be surprised if all three spend the entire year here.

I’ll have more answers for you Friday morning.

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Coming Home with a Win

The A’s are homeward bound a .500 team. A clean 5-1 win closed out their season-opening series with the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo.

Highlights: They showed some timely hitting, and got contributions from many new faces. Emil Brown had a three-run homer in the victory, Jeff Fiorentino (who may not be on the roster come the domestic opener Monday), had an insurance-adding single, and Mike Sweeney had two hits. Jack Hannahan, not a new face but the first third baseman not named Eric Chavez to open the season at the position in the past decade, played great in both games, both offensively and defensively. And, as I blogged earlier, Rich Harden whet the imagination with a dominant effort.

Lowlights: Pretty much only Huston Street, who was awful in the opener. Only one game though.

As for all-night ball? It was fun, but let’s hope it’s only a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

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Harden fast

Rich Harden’s 2008 debut is in the books, and it was a doozy. Six innings, nine strikeouts and only a lone run — a homer by Boston’s Manny Ramirez, and obviously there’s no shame in that.

Take it with the proper caution, however. Harden has tantalized like this before. Two Aprils ago, I remember watching him mow down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field and thinking he was going to win at least 20. Last year, I called our beat writer Joe Stiglich at the Coliseum while watching Harden make the Yankees look like fools, and moments after hanging up the phone, he walked off with an injury that essentially ruined his season.

That said, it is easy to let the mind wander. Harden is so much fun to watch when he’s right, because he makes it look so effortless. This morning, he spotted all his pitches consistently and was clocking 95 mph at times, according to the ESPN radar.

Now, it’s reliever Santiago Casilla. The A’s couldn’t close out a one-run lead late yesterday. Let’s see if they can protect a 4-1 lead in this one.

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Redemption for Emil Brown

Great thing about baseball is the way it gives players a chance to erase the memory of a failure one day by doing something big the next.

Emil Brown is living that right now. He just uncorked a three-run homer off a hanging Jon Lester breaking ball for a 4-0 lead. Brown has been talked up by former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney this spring, and the A’s brass seems to think he can have a huge impact.

He did in the opener, with his ridiculous attempt to take third base after his double in the 10th inning. That mistake led to his being out in a rundown, and prevented the A’s from tying the game when the next two batters responded with hits. I still say that might be the biggest baserunning gaffe you see in baseball this season.

But more moments like the one Brown just had in the third will make that mistake easier to live with. Brown has hit 38 homers over the past two seasons, so he’s definitely got some offensive ability. He’s a former A’s draft pick (1994), and perhaps he’ll be another example of Billy Beane’s smarts. Didn’t look that way in the opener, but in baseball, things sure change quickly.

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A’s on the board

The A’s have struck first for the second straight night. Chris Denorfia’s RBI single off Boston starter Jon Lester in the second inning scored Bobby Crosby for a 1-0 lead.

Crosby got the inning started with a laser double down the left-field line, and his start has been encouraging. With runners in scoring position in the opener, he avoided striking out and got enough wood on a tough pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka to drive in a run. He also smoked a single against Jonathan Papelbon in a 1oth-inning rally that fell just short.  Now this.

Rich Harden’s initial start has been encouraging, too, at least through two innings. Fastball has zip. Breaking ball is sharp. Thing is, can’t get too excited about anything that Harden does, because he’s had periods the past two years when he appears to be cruising. In essence, you hold your breath on every pitch. That’s a hard reality when a guy is making his first start of the season, but only Harden can change that reality.

More later.

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In the middle of the night

Back for a return engagement of 3 a.m. baseball. The A’s and Red Sox are under way from Tokyo. And I’ll I can tell you is that we have to stop meeting this way. The 2:45 a.m. alarm seemed to come even quicker than it did last night.

Anyway, the big news is that Rich Harden is on the hill. It’s only the 14th time that’s happened since the start of 2006. Please, no over/under bets on how many innings he pitches before he breaks down. No room for pessimism in the middle of the night.

Besides, Harden got through the first inning unscathed. He struck out Dustin Pedroia on a nasty splitter to start it, and after a two-out walk to David Ortiz, fanned Manny Ramirez.

A’s lineup very similar to last night. Baserunning guru Emil Brown is back in there in left field, and his former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney gets his first start of the season. Travis Buck, leading off, swung at the first pitch in the first inning against Jon Lester, the second night in a row he’s swung at the first pitch as a leadoff hitter.

I’ll be blogging until it’s over. Hope I’m not the only night owl out here.