A’s send down Vin Mazzaro, Chris Carter, Michael Taylor; Joey Devine to stay at extended spring training

Lots of news this morning at A’s camp. Here’s what ya need to know before the A’s take on the Royals in Surprise. Yes, this makes two drives to Surprise in two days for me. Craziness …

–Right-hander Vin Mazzaro, first baseman Chris Carter and outfielder Michael Taylor all were sent to the minors. With Mazzaro’s demotion, the fifth-starter race boils down to Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, as it had been shaping up anyhow. It’ll be interesting to see which pitcher draws the start Monday, when both are scheduled to pitch. Gonzalez started Wednesday night with Cahill entering in relief.

Mazzaro addressed reporters as he was packing his things. He said he was a bit surprised to get the news just one day after he thought he pitched well against Texas. “I thought I did a pretty good job,” Mazzaro said. “Somebody’s gotta go, right?” He plans to work on his fastball command in Triple-A Sacramento’s rotation. Mazzaro did have a decent outing yesterday, allowing two runs over four innings. But he walked three guys in each of his last two appearances, and given that Cahill and Gonzalez have looked pretty strong, the odds weren’t in Mazzaro’s favor.

A’s manager Bob Geren addressed reporters before news of Mazzaro’s demotion surfaced. But Geren had strong praise for Carter and Taylor, ranked first and second, respectively, by Baseball America on the A’s list of top prospects. Each had moments where they showed their considerable upside, but it’s clear both also could use more seasoning. Geren said he could see both getting called up sometime this season. “They’re both off-the-chart ceiling-type players, guys that can create their opportunities by dominating (in the minors),” Geren said. ” … I think they can be dominating players at this level.”

Geren also spoke highly of Daric Barton’s work at first base, and I’m sure that made it an easier call to send Carter down.

–Reliever Joey Devine, still sidelined with forearm tendinitis, told me he’ll stay in Arizona for extended spring training when the A’s break camp. Then he would go on a minor league rehab assignment when he’s ready, after which he presumably would be called up.

The writing was on the wall that the A’s would be starting the season without him. It’s still a blow for the bullpen, but if Andrew Bailey, Michael Wuertz and Craig Breslow all return to health by Opening Day, the ‘pen still looks in pretty good shape to me.

Devine’s absence means there’s an extra opportunity for a reliever to make this team. Bailey, Wuertz, Breslow and Brad Ziegler will take four of the seven spots. I see Jerry Blevins, Brad Kilby, Henry Rodriguez and Jason Jennings fighting for the final three slots, and perhaps Gio Gonzalez if he’s not the fifth starter. Right now, I’d put my money on Blevins and Jennings (as a long man) taking two of those three spots. Kilby hasn’t allowed a run in his past two outings, and Rodriguez’s dynamite arm obviously is tempting. Watch those two carefully over their remaining spring outings.

And finally, today’s lineup:

Crisp CF
Barton 1B
Sweeney RF
Kouzmanoff 3B
Suzuki C
Cust DH
Ellis 2B
Buck LF
Pennington SS

Duchscherer P

Joe Stiglich