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Another wet day at Oakland A’s camp; Duchscherer’s procedure postponed

Sorry for the late post … technical difficulties with our blog today. Not that there was a ton to report anyway. The A’s workout was interrupted by rain for a second straight day, and it poured much harder today than yesterday. The team had to shift operations to Papago Park because there’s more covered batting cages over there, although the pitchers were able to throw outside. Weather.com predicts tomorrow will be in the mid-60′s with no rain … We can only hope.

A few tidbits and observations:

–Justin Duchscherer’s procedure to relieve pain in his SI joint was rescheduled for tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. No reason given for the postponement.

–Jake Fox has taken the early lead for chattiest player in the clubhouse. The guy is just friendly as can be. Some players see reporters and head the other direction. Fox invites you to sit down, talks your ear off, and then encourages you to drop by again soon. Gotta love it …

–Manager Bob Geren and pitching coach Curt Young both were impressed with RHP Tyson Ross today. “His delivery looks cleaner and cleaner,” Geren said. Ross split last year between Single-A and Double-A, and the A’s are very high on him.

–Coco Crisp and stud first base prospect Chris Carter were among the position players to report today. All position players are due in Thursday, with the first full-squad workout Friday.

–Never knew Ben Sheets had such a dry wit about him. He’s a really funny dude, and seems to relish it when reporters are around. It’s early, but that bodes well for us covering the team, because he’s going to be a big story for as long as he’s with the A’s. Poking fun at his (lack of) hitting ability, Sheets said he wants the chance to dig in against CC Sabathia. “Just let him know that if I ever face him in Yankee Stadium, the porch is short.”

Check in w/you tomorrow …

3

Justin Duchscherer scratched from throwing today; rain interrupts start of A’s first workout

Spring training = sunshine, correct? Not the case so far at A’s camp. No sooner had pitchers and catchers taken the field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium this morning that it started raining. The team headed back indoors for about 15 minutes, and now they’re back stretching again. … The sun has made just a brief cameo in the two full days I’ve been here. It wants to come out …. I can feel it.

Lots of pitchers will get on the mound today, but Justin Duchscherer won’t be one of them. He was scheduled to go, but the lower back pain he’s experiencing likely will push him back a few days. No clear read yet on how much concern this should cause …

3

News/notes from A’s reporting day

A quick note to catch you up on reporting day for A’s pitchers and catchers. It was overcast and cold in Phoenix today, with rain pouring for part of the morning as players trickled in for their physicals. In short, this was not the weather you see advertised in spring training brochures. There’s a 30 percent chance of showers tomorrow, but the A’s should hit the fields at Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the first workout of 2010.

Here’s the newsy tidbits from today:

–Justin Duchscherer has stiffness in his lower back and will be re-evaluated today. He’s been feeling this for the past couple of weeks, but felt good enough yesterday to throw a 20-pitch bullpen session. He could be day-to-day, according to Bob Geren. Although it’s too early to sound the alarms, any issues with Duchscherer’s back have to be worrisome because it’s been a problem area for him in the past.

–Ben Sheets, the A’s marquee new addition, is cleared for pitching activity with no restrictions on his elbow. Sheets held an informal media session after his physical and flashed a pretty sharp wit. First impression from this guy is pretty solid.

–Lefty Dallas Braden still feels lingering effects from the nerve irritation in his left foot that ended his 2009 season prematurely. Braden said he’ll be on the same schedule as the other starting pitchers, but added: “I have no feeling in my third and fifth toes.”

I’m no doctor, but numb toes don’t sound ideal for a pitcher. His progression during camp will be important to watch, because Sheets and Duchscherer already are question marks being that they missed all of last season. The A’s don’t want a third starter to be in doubt. Braden also described in colorful detail the nasal endoscopy he underwent this winter to help him breathe easier. Before getting the procedure done, he often had to cut workouts short because he had trouble breathing.

–Left-hander Brett Anderson wants to improve his changeup this season so he’ll have another weapon against right-handed hitters.

–Fellow lefty Josh Outman, seven-plus months removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, hopes to be throwing in simulated games by the end of camp, with an eye toward a midseason return. Back in January, he was forced to shut down for a six-week period because of shoulder irritation — a common side effect from the surgery. He’s back on a throwing program, and said he’d ultimately like to regain a rotation spot rather than go to the bullpen.

That’s all for now …

12

Comparing stats of the ‘Big Three’

In light of reports that former A’s pitcher Mark Mulder is retiring, I thought it’d be fun to compare the stats of the Big Three (Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito) from their Oakland careers. These are solely the numbers they compiled with the A’s, not counting their time w/other teams.

Tell us which guy you would have chosen if you needed to win one game …

Career games started
Zito 222 (4th on Oakland list)
Hudson 183 (7th)
Mulder 150

Career wins
Zito 102 (4th on Oakland list)
Hudson 92 (6th)
Mulder 81 (7th)

Career strikeouts
Zito 1,096 (4th on Oakland list)
Hudson 899 (5th)
Mulder 668 (9th)

Career ERA
Hudson 3.30 (10th on Oakland list, min. 400 innings pitched)
Zito 3.55
Mulder 3.92

Career shutouts
Hudson 8
Mulder 8 (both tied for 8th on Oakland list)
Zito 4

Career won-loss pct.
Hudson 92-39, .702 (1st on Oakland list)
Mulder 81-42, .659 (2nd)
Zito 102-63, .618 (6th)

Career Cy Young Awards
Zito 1 (2002)
Hudson 0 (finished 2nd in 2000)
Mulder 0 (finished 2nd in 2001)

0

Randy Johnson, A’s special assistant to GM, leaves for Padres

Some A’s front office news to report: Randy Johnson, a special assistant to GM Billy Beane for the past seven seasons, was hired by the San Diego Padres to be their minor league field coordinator.

Johnson has been a jack-of-all-trades for the A’s, helping out with major and minor league scouting. In recent seasons, he’d logged a lot of miles scouting in Asia and Australia.

He’ll bounce around to all of the Padres’ minor league affiliates throughout the season, evaluating and doing some on-field instruction, working closely with Padres farm director Randy Smith.

On a personal note, my favorite memory w/Randy took place in the Tokyo Dome as the A’s were taking batting practice before playing Boston in the 2008 season opener. I was in the first base dugout interviewing Randy about his playing career in Japan, when a ball ricocheted off the pitcher’s L-screen and nailed him right in the chest … hard.

Randy rubbed his chest for a few seconds, and we continued right on talking like nothing happened. I had a great interview in the bag, and he had a sizable bruise, I’m sure. I owe him one …

I can’t say right now if the A’s plan to replace Johnson, but given their renewed emphasis on international scouting, I’m sure they’ll fill his void somehow. …

Nine days until A’s pitchers and catchers report …

8

Carney Lansford joins A’s broadcast team; all Comcast games in high-def

Comcast SportsNet California just released the A’s 2010 television schedule. They’re showing 145 regular-season games (plus two exhibitions), with all the regular-season games in high-definition for the first time.

Also, former A’s third baseman (and Giants hitting coach) Carney Lansford joins the broadcast team as a pregame and postgame analyst. He’ll join Mindi Bach, Matt Morrison and Shooty Babitt on camera.

5

A’s trade Dana Eveland to Toronto for player to be named or cash

The A’s just announced they’ve traded left-hander Dana Eveland to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Eveland was designated for assignment Monday along with infielder Gregorio Petit, and the A’s had 10 days from that point to trade, release or send each player to the minors if they cleared waivers. Petit’s status is still pending.

Eveland was part of the six-player package the A’s received from Arizona in the Dan Haren trade prior to the 2008 season. He opened each of the last two years in Oakland’s rotation. After going 9-9 with a 4.34 ERA in 29 starts in 2008, he struggled to find any kind of consistency in 2009, spending most of the season w/Triple-A Sacramento.

Just two of the six players received in that Arizona trade are still w/the A’s — Brett Anderson and Chris Carter. Shortly after that deal, a scout told me that if just two of the six players turned into impact major leaguers, the deal would be a success for the A’s. They have to be happy w/Anderson’s development at this point, and they’re obviously high on Carter’s potential. They’ve taken others received from that trade — Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith and Aaron Cunningham — and flipped them in deals that eventually netted a starting third baseman (Kevin Kouzmanoff) and highly rated outfield prospect (Michael Taylor).

How do you critique that Dan Haren trade to this point. Is the jury still out?

6

Marty Lurie’s show heads across the Bay

You might have seen reports today that Marty Lurie’s radio show, “Right Off The Bat,” won’t be a part of A’s pre-game programming anymore. Apparently the A’s flagship station, KTRB-860, wanted to go in a different direction. Marty has since landed a gig w/KNBR-680 to host a Giants pre-game and post-game show.

I’ll miss seeing him in the Coliseum press box and dining room, and hearing his voice being piped through the press box speakers during batting practice. Marty has more pure love for baseball than anybody I’ve come across in my three seasons covering the A’s. When you’re standing next to Marty, he wants to engage you in a conversation about the game. Not just to pass the time or be polite, but because he genuinely wants to know your opinion about whatever topic he brings up. I had the same experience whenever he asked me to come on his show. It wasn’t so much an interview as it was an effortless conversation that happened to take place on the air. … He’s just a pleasant guy and a great conversationalist.

Best of luck, Marty. See you over at AT&T …

4

Updates on some top Oakland A’s prospects

With two weeks left until spring training begins, it’s a good time for an update on some of the A’s top prospects. As I did last year, I stuck to those who were active over the offseason – either playing winter ball somewhere or participating in the Arizona Fall League or the A’s instructional league program. I sought out the team’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens, who spends much of his winter evaluating the A’s top young players. Owens offered a few of his thoughts (only after he got done scouting super prospect Bryce Harper in a junior college game. Owens has no offseason, I tell you).

Baseball America recently ranked the A’s top 10 prospects, which you can read about. The players below are listed in no particular order. I put an (*) next to those who will be in major league spring camp. You’ll notice a common thread: Most of these guys are crossing their fingers for better health in 2010 …

–*Jemile Weeks, 2B: The A’s believe Weeks can be a speedy table-setter batting from the first or second spots in the lineup. But his development with the glove probably will determine how quickly he makes the big leagues. Weeks, 23, has logged lots of hours with A’s roving infield instructor Juan Navarrete. A hip-flexor injury delayed the start of his 2009 campaign. “Defensively he made strides (during the Arizona Fall League),” Owens said. “He worked on his pivots at second base and being more aggressive. He’s going to be a catalyst down the road at the top of the order, in the same mold as Ray Durham.”

–*Corey Brown, OF: Knee and shoulder injuries sidetracked his 2009 season at Double-A, but the A’s saw the player Brown can be during the Arizona Fall League. He hit .333 with six homers and 28 RBI in 105 at-bats. A sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in 2007, Brown is a center fielder but can play all three outfield spots well. The A’s love his power and defense, but as Owens says, “His kryptonite can be strikeouts.” Brown, 24, combined for 168 strikeouts in 2008 at two levels of Single-A ball, but he also hit 30 homers that season, so A’s fans may have to take the good with the bad. Brown was extended a non-roster invitation to spring training after fellow outfielder Grant Desme retired.

Michael Ynoa, RHP: Ynoa, now 18, was supposed to make his professional debut last season, but the A’s shut him down due to elbow soreness. His fastball topped out at 94 mph during the Dominican Republic instructional League this winter. Ynoa’s English is improving rapidly, Owens said, and he’ll report for the start of minor league spring training March 7. After participating in extended spring training in April, Ynoa will join either the A’s rookie league team in Phoenix or the short-season Single-A Vancouver squad, assuming all goes well. The A’s are taking it slow with Ynoa, given a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2008.

–*Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: He’s the forgotten man in the Nick Swisher trade. The A’s obtained De Los Santos from the White Sox along with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney in January 2008. But he missed most of 2009 following elbow ligament replacement surgery. De Los Santos, who turns 24 this month, made seven appearances in rookie ball toward the end of the season, but Owens said he was closer to full strength in November and December. “He didn’t truly dial it up until the Dominican instructional league. The results were very positive. He had a dynamite arm. It came back in full force.”

James Simmons, RHP: Simmons’ rise through the system has been slow considering he began his pro career at Double-A in 2007. A minor shoulder problem set him back last season, when he went 7-7 with a 5.72 ERA at Triple-A. He posted a 1-4 mark and 4.50 ERA in six starts during the Arizona Fall League. “He’s a kid that’s got exquisite fastball command,” Owens said. “His change-up is solid, major league average or above. He’s just been working on that third offering — a breaking pitch, whether it’s a breaking ball, slider or cutter.” Simmons was a non-roster invitee to big league camp each of the last two years, but not this spring.

–*Grant Green, SS: The A’s will get a close-up look at their 2009 first-round pick during spring training. He appeared in five games with Single-A Stockton after signing last summer, then took part in the A’s instructional league after the season. Owens compares Green to the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young, a hitter who can “go gap-to-gap with authority.” The question marks may come on defense, where some think Green might project more as a third baseman.

–*Max Stassi, C: Just eight months after graduating from Yuba City High School, Stassi will report to major league spring camp. It’s likely the A’s just want to give him a taste of big league life. But there’s serious hype around Stassi, whose $1.5 million signing bonus was a record for a fourth-round pick. His father, Jim, was his high school coach, and Owens said it’s obvious Stassi comes from a baseball family. “He’s a student of the game. He has an amazing maturity level for a teenager, from what he showed in instructional league. He was born to catch.”

NOTE: Chris Carter played winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, but his stint was very short due to illness, so I didn’t include him. Besides, you’ll be reading plenty about Carter come spring training!

6

Gabe Gross quotes, other leftovers from busy A’s Monday

***I heard back from Gabe Gross tonight (after turning my story in) and just thought I’d share with you some highlights of the conversation. Safe to say he’s pretty psyched about his situation w/the A’s:

–He compared the A’s potential to that of his 2008 Rays team, a 94-win squad that made the World Series that season and went worst-to-first in the AL East. “I’ve been a part of one of the biggest upset stories in (baseball) history, it seems, with the 2008 Rays. There seems no reason that a team with as much talent on it (as the A’s), especially from a starting pitching standpoint, can’t do the same thing.”

–A’s GM Billy Beane said the team has pursued Gross in the past. Maybe that’s why Gross felt he eventually would be wearing green and gold someday: “I felt for one reason or another I’d wind up in Oakland one day. I’m glad to be there now. I feel like, the way I play the game, and the things I do well, are things they appreciate and look for in players. It seems my game fits well with their idea of the way the game is played.”

–Gross says he’s comfortable in all three outfield spots but that he’s probably most at home in center field, where he’s played the least. “It’s probably the easiest spot to play as far as angles and routes. When the ball is hit to one side, it stays to that side.”

***I was talking to Beane today about his outfield situation, which could be set with Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney starting, Gabe Gross as a backup, and Jack Cust as a possible fifth outfielder when he’s not DH. Beane also threw Eric Patterson’s name into the mix as someone with a great shot of making the Opening Day roster. “He played well last year, he’s got versatility, he can back up at second. Given his performance, he certainly deserves that opportunity.” Noticeably absent from the discussion was Travis Buck, who is stewing over his status w/the team. Not that Buck’s low spot on the totem pole is a revelation. That’s been obvious for some time now.

****In a bit of housekeeping news, the A’s have re-signed right-hander Dan Giese to a minor league deal. Giese is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, which was performed in June. He was expected then to be out 12-18 months. …

That’s all for now … 19 days until pitchers and catchers report.