Different opponent, different weather in Seattle

After enduring the sizzling temperatures in Anaheim, the A’s are now adjusting to Seattle, where people are wearing jackets in the press box and it truly feels like fall. It’s actually not that chilly by Pacific Northwest standards, but there’s a bite in the air here that you don’t get in many ballparks (OK, so the Coliseum isn’t exactly balmy during most night games).

Maybe the climate change will help reverse the A’s fortunes on this season-ending road trip. They’ve lost six straight overall, and they’re 0-3 on this seven-game trek. You have to wonder what the motivation level is for both Oakland and Seattle at this point, although A’s manager Bob Geren said his team is still focused on the attainable goals. “We all have the same goal,” Geren said. “We still (want) to finish in second place, and we have to win a lot of games to do that.” The Angels hold a one-game lead on them for second place entering tonight.

The A’s need a four-game sweep to finish at .500 even. They face a tough test tonight in Seattle right-hander Doug Fister, who is 3-1 against them this season. But Oakland catches a break Sunday, as the Mariners announced that ace Felix Hernandez won’t start the last game. He’s already at 249 2/3 innings, and Seattle has decided not to risk an injury with its franchise pitcher. Can’t fault the M’s too much on that one …

One news update from the A’s: Geren said reliever Michael Wuertz could be shut down for the final four games with a lingering right thumb injury. As if the A’s can stand to lose more relievers …

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Cust DH, Suzuki C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Hermida RF, Carter LF, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Mariners — Ichiro RF, Figgins 2B, Gutierrez F, Smoak 1B, Moore C, Mangini 3B, Halman LF, Saunders DH, Wilson SS; Fister RHP.


Down on the Farm: End-of-the-season report

With the A’s minor league teams finished for the season, let’s look at how some of Oakland’s top prospects fared in 2010. I caught up with director of player development Keith Lieppman as he was watching an instructional league game in Phoenix. As usual, he dished some good insight on several players. The following are listed in no particular order, but those with an (*) by their name will be playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Phoenix Desert Dogs …

*OF Michael Taylor: Taylor steadied himself after a wobbly start with Triple-A Sacramento, but it’s telling that the A’s didn’t think he was ready for a September call-up. The question remains when, or if, he’ll hit for more pop. Taylor finished with a respectable .272 average but homered just six times in 464 at-bats. The A’s have worked on his swing mechanics, hoping to unlock more power and help him drive inside pitches when opponents try jamming him. Will he be ready to push for a major league roster spot in spring training? “I think he’s reached the level where he’ll play in the Arizona Fall League, and there should be an opportunity to where he can be in position to contend for a job,” Lieppman said.

*SS Grant Green: The 2009 first-round pick made quite an impression with Single-A Stockton in his first full professional season. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs and finished second in the California League with 174 hits. But Green committed a whopping 37 errors, showing that he has work to do defensively. Lieppman said lots of those came early in the season and that Green, 23, made strides. “He still made some errors (later in the season), but he made them aggressively. I think the biggest thing he learned was how to mentally prepare himself to play defense on every pitch.” He’ll be ticketed for Double-A Midland next season.

*3B Stephen Parker: Many observers feel Green will ultimately wind up at third base, but the A’s may already have their future starter at that position in Parker, 23. A 2009 fifth-round pick out of BYU, Parker hit .296 with 21 homers and 98 RBI with Stockton, and he should join Green to form the left side of Midland’s infield in 2011. Lieppman said Parker reminds him of Wally Joyner at the plate – “a classic left-handed swing and not a lot of excess movement.” Like Green, Parker is a work in progress defensively. But considering the A’s have no sure-fire prospect at third base behind Kevin Kouzmanoff, Parker’s bat may blaze a path to the bigs.

*RHP Travis Banwart: The Wichita State product hasn’t produced a ton of hype, but he’s steadily advanced through the farm system and impressed. After posting a 2.92 ERA in 14 starts with Midland this season, Banwart, 24, went 4-2 with a 4.81 in 15 appearances (11 starts) with Sacramento. Those aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but Banwart was the River Cats’ most consistent starter by season’s end. He brings a fastball in the 92-94 mph range with an effective slider, and his invitation to the AFL shows the A’s think highly of him.

2B Adrian Cardenas: He was the marquee name of the three players the A’s received from Philadelphia in the 2008 Joe Blanton trade (lefty Josh Outman and outfielder Matt Spencer were the others). By now, Cardenas was expected to be knocking on the big league door. But he shuttled between Midland and Sacramento this season, hitting .345 in 51 games at Double-A but just .267 in 58 games at Triple-A. He did enjoy a strong finish with Sacramento. “It’s (taken) a little longer than we hoped because he’s been up and down a couple times,” Lieppman said. Cardenas was pegged as a prime candidate to eventually replace Mark Ellis. But the A’s now have players such as Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard and Steve Tolleson who are capable of playing second as well. Cardenas is still young – he turns 23 on Oct. 10 – but he’ll need to turn heads in spring training to distinguish himself.

2B Jemile Weeks: Weeks was expected to battle with Cardenas to be the A’s second baseman of the future. But the injury frustration continues for the 2008 first-round pick. He was unable to finish the playoffs with Midland due to problems with his left hip and hamstring. Weeks tore his left hip flexor while with low Single-A Kane County in 2008, and he’s struggled to stay on the field since. The A’s hoped to send him to winter ball, but instead he’ll head home to Florida and rehab, with the hope of being full strength by spring training.

SS Josh Horton: Lieppman raves about this 2007 second-round pick. Horton hit .286 with three homers and 51 RBIs at Double-A this season, but he made his biggest improvement with the glove. He’ll turn 25 around the time spring training begins – hardly young for someone who has yet to reach Triple-A. But Lieppman said he had lots of opposing scouts commenting on Horton’s development in 2010. “His first year at Double-A (in 2009), he was tentative defensively,” Lieppman said. “But his maturity kicked in. You looked at him and said he could be a big league player at that position.”

C Max Stassi: Stassi, who didn’t turn 19 until March, impressed the A’s with his maturity in big league spring camp. But his first full pro season – spent with Kane County — was a rough one because of back, shoulder and hamstring injuries. The shoulder injury affected his throwing, but Lieppman said it’s not thought to be a long-term problem. Stassi hit just .229 and struck out 141 times. On the bright side, he hit 13 homers and impressed with his handling of pitchers. If he logs less time in the trainer’s room in 2011, his offensive numbers should improve.

LHP Ian Krol: Another high school pick from the 2009 draft, Krol, 19, enjoyed one of the best seasons of any A’s pitching prospect. He went 10-4 with a 2.80 ERA, spending most of the season at Kane County but making four starts with Stockton. Most impressive, he racked up 111 strikeouts with just 28 walks in 138 1/3 innings. He combines a low-90s fastball with a good curve and changeup. Lieppman said Krol reminds him a bit of Mark Buehrle – a lefty who works at a brisk pace and seeks contact by challenging hitters.

OF Jeremy Barfield: The Texas native racked up the assists with his powerful arm in right field. Sound familiar? His father, Jesse, struck fear into base runners with his right-field arm over a 12-year major league career. Jeremy, 22, hit .272 with 17 homers and 92 RBIs for Single-A Stockton. A 2008 eighth-round pick, Barfield was scheduled to participate in the fall instructional league but wound up having minor knee surgery earlier this month, scrapping those plans.

1B Sean Doolittle: Doolittle, 24, has missed most of the past two seasons with knee problems and recently underwent another surgery, but the A’s are hopeful he could be ready by spring training.


This week’s A’s coverage

Just an FYI that I’m not in Anaheim for the A’s-Angels series, but you’ll still have game coverage in the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News. I will be in Seattle to cover the Mariners series that starts Thursday. And I’ll try to update the blog, so check back over the next couple of days. Hard to believe the season is wrapping up already! …


Chris Carter’s left thumb acting up, he’s day-to-day; other A’s pregame tidbits

It was moving day inside the A’s clubhouse this morning, with players packing up boxes and getting ready to ship bats and other supplies to their offseason homes. The team hits the road for the final seven games starting tomorrow, and players aren’t going to want to stick around and pack after the team charter lands in Oakland next Sunday night. Some might even fly home from Seattle.

–The only real news to report: Chris Carter’s left thumb is bothering him again and he’s out of the lineup. Bob Geren listed Carter as day-to-day and was hopeful he’d return tomorrow in Anaheim against the Angels. But this is the same thumb that caused Carter some DL time with Triple-A Sacramento in August, so we’ll see whether it lingers.

Not surprisingly, lots of Texas regulars are getting the day off after the Rangers clinched the AL West on Saturday. Julio Borbon and David Murphy are the only true starters in the lineup. … Sort of like a split-squad game in spring training …

A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Cust DH, Suzuki C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Hermida RF, Gross LF, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Rangers — Borbon CF, German 2B, Murphy LF, Francoeur DH, Davis 1B, Cantu 3B, Moreland RF, Blanco SS, Teagarden C, Lewis RHP.


Rajai Davis back in center field for A’s

We’ll go short and sweet with this update, as the A’s try to delay the Rangers’ plans to celebrate …

–Rajai Davis is back in center field today after missing two games with a “non-baseball related issue.” Bob Geren stressed that Davis’ absence was “100 percent” not for disciplinary reasons.

–Michael Wuertz says the swelling has gone down in his right thumb and he’s available out of the bullpen.

–Daric Barton is the only left-handed hitter in the lineup against Texas’ Derek Holland, who is holding lefties to a .154 average.

Your lineups:

A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Suzuki DH, Kouzmanoff 3B, Carter LF, Carson RF, Powell C, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Rangers — Andrus SS, Young 3B, Cruz LF, Guerrero DH, Kinsler 2B, Francoeur RF, Cantu 1B, Treanor C, Borbon CF, Holland LHP.


Andrew Bailey to have “clean-up” elbow surgery, miss rest of season; will Wednesday’s loss linger for A’s?

We know the A’s have their work cut out to keep the Texas Rangers from cracking open the champagne this weekend. Texas’ magic number is four, and two victories in this four-game series will give them their first AL West title since 1999. So we know the task that lies ahead for Oakland. But regardless of what happens on the scoreboard, I’m interested to see how much fire this team shows after Wednesday’s deflating loss to the White Sox. I think there’s big-time potential for the “hang-over” effect after such a defeat. And I would have said that even if the Rangers had lost last night and the A’s deficit remained at seven games. Yesterday was just a huge shift in momentum, and it’s going to be tough to snatch that back …

–News of the day: Closer Andrew Bailey will have “clean-up” surgery on his right elbow Friday in Pensacola, Fla. with Dr. James Andrews. That rules him out for the final 11 games. Most importantly for Bailey, he said his exam Thursday showed no ligament damage. Andrews will smooth out cartilage and other calcified build-up in his elbow that caused him pain over his recent outings. All indications are he should be fully recovered by spring training. “I guess you would call it the best-case scenario for surgery if they had to go in there,” Bailey said over the phone.

As for the rest of the bullpen, the A’s are likely to be short-handed again tonight. Manager Bob Geren said lefty Jerry Blevins (left shoulder soreness) is unavailable. Michael Wuertz (right thumb) was a question mark before batting practice, and Geren said he was unsure about Craig Breslow. But Breslow told me after Wednesday’s game he expected to be ready.

But there is a new injury revelation: Cliff Pennington’s left shoulder has been bothering him, Geren said, so Steve Tolleson starts at shortstop tonight. Pennington’s shoulder hurts him most when he’s swinging the bat, but Geren said he’s available for defensive purposes. “If he was available (in a full capacity), he’d be in there,” Geren said.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Suzuki C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Cust DH, Carter LF, Carson RF, Tolleson SS; Braden LHP.

Rangers — Andrus SS, Young 3B, Cruz LF, Guerrero DH, Kinsler 2B, Francoeur RF, Murphy CF, Cantu 1B, Teagarden C; Lee LHP.


Random thoughts and updates as A’s go for sweep

It’s one of the more unusual A’s lineups of the season today, with Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mark Ellis all getting a day off. Barton left last night’s game after bruising his left thigh while sliding into home. “Not playing today is best for his body,” manager Bob Geren said. “Hopefully he can come back and play out the string.” Kouzmanoff, who played last night for the first time in two weeks, still has some soreness in his back. Geren said he plans to play his third baseman every other day for now, an idea that Kouzmanoff said was probably for the best. He told me his back bothers him a bit as he gets up and down in his defensive position. Ellis is generally banged up and getting a regular day off, meaning Eric Sogard draws a start at second base.

It’s that time of year when guys are feeling the wear and tear of a long season, and you figure Geren wants his front-line guys ready for this weekend’s series with Texas, so I’m not surprised to see some players getting the day off.

The lineups:
A’s — Davis CF, Pennington SS, Suzuki C, Cust DH, Gross RF, Iwamura 3B, Carter LF, Larish 1B, Sogard 2B; Anderson LHP.

White Sox – Pierre LF, Ramirez SS, Rios CF, Konerko 1B, Ramirez DH, Quentin RF, Flowers C, Morel 3B, Lillibridge 2B; Jackson RHP.

–Looking for some inside keys to how the A’s might fare against the Rangers? Keep an eye on the bullpen, folks. Not only is closer Andrew Bailey out indefinitely, but Geren revealed that left-hander Jerry Blevins is battling a sore shoulder and hasn’t thrown the past couple days. He’s unavailable, and Craig Breslow — who’s thrown four of the past five days — won’t be used today, Geren said. That means the A’s are without a lefty in the bullpen.

Breslow should be available for tomorrow’s series opener against Texas, but Bailey’s absence could definitely be felt over that crucial four-game series. You have to like the way Breslow’s handled ninth-inning duties with Bailey out. But it’s too bad Geren had to call on him last night (or at least felt like he had to) when Henry Rodriguez found mild trouble in the ninth. Breslow has been carrying quite a load.

–What’s it like to be Gabe Gross right now? He goes 24 games without a start, and today he finds himself batting fifth and playing right field. As a beat writer, I’m always eager to walk in the clubhouse to start the day and see who’s in the lineup. I get the feeling the players themselves are just as curious as me.

Speaking of Gross, check out the unique facial hair he’s sporting right now. He’s got a full beard going, but he’s shaved a bare patch around his chin. It’s, uh, interesting … Gross, who replaced Chris Carter in left field last night in the seventh inning, said he planned to shave his beard. But … “I hit one off the wall last night, so what are you gonna do?” He said Steve Tolleson gave his new look the thumbs-up. Gross’ wife, Kelly, has yet to see it.

That’s all for now …


Kouzmanoff returns to A’s lineup

There was so much injury news last night, what with Coco Crisp being declared out for the season (most likely) and the revelation of Andrew Bailey’s elbow problem. Today, the A’s actually welcome somebody back to the fold. Kevin Kouzmanoff returns to third base and is batting fifth after missing the past 13 games with lower back spasms. The A’s will welcome all the right-handed bats they can find against White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, who starts tonight.

Here’s the lineups, with a little shakeup in Chicago’s batting order:

A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Suzuki C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Cust DH, Carson RF, Carter LF, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

White Sox — Pierre LF, Vizquel 2B, Manny Ramirez DH, Pierzynski C, Kotsay 1B, Alexei Ramirez SS, Teahen RF, Morel 3B, De Aza CF; Buehrle LHP.

–Bailey will have his elbow examined Thursday at the Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla. Last night, he said he wasn’t willing to rule himself out for the season. But the A’s surely will be cautious with their second-year closer. As for who handles the ninth inning, A’s manager Bob Geren said he’ll handle each game individually and match up relievers when it gets to the late innings. Craig Breslow picked up last night’s save, and Boof Bonser — typically a long man — made a rare appearance in the seventh to help protect a lead.

Check me out on twitter, @joestiglich, for in-game updates tonight!! …


Andrew Bailey shut down with sore elbow, he’ll visit Dr. James Andrews

A postgame update following the A’s 3-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox …

Closer Andrew Bailey has been temporarily shut down with soreness in his right elbow. Bailey isn’t ruling his season over yet, but he did say he’ll visit Alabama-based specialist Dr. James Andrews later this week …

Yes, Andrews’ name is synonymous with Tommy John elbow surgery, and you’ve had your fill of reading about A’s pitchers recovering from that procedure over the past two years. But this shouldn’t sound major alarms just yet. Bailey said his elbow has been bothering him off and on for a while, and that it “sparked up” a little more intensely following his last outing Friday at Minnesota. But he added that his elbow feels similar to how it did in spring training. He was diagnosed with tendinitis back then and was sidelined about two weeks. It seems a similar diagnosis now would be very good news for Bailey and the A’s.

You can read more about Bailey’s status, Chris Carter’s first major league hit and Coco Crisp’s season likely being finished when these stories are posted soon at contracostatimes.com. They’ll also be in tomorrow’s Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News.

That’s all for now …


Coco Crisp likely done for season with fractured pinkie, other A’s updates

Ah yes … It’s good to be back in action after being away from the team on the just-completed road trip. We’ll cut to the chase and get right to the A’s pregame news as they open a three-game series with the White Sox …

–It appears Coco Crisp is definitely out for the season. A visit to a hand specialist today verified the fracture in his left pinkie. It’s the same type of fracture — on the same finger — as the one Crisp suffered in early April that sidelined him for the first 42 games. The last fracture was on the outside of his knuckle, while this one is on the inside. He did it while sliding into third base on Saturday against Minnesota.

What is it about sliding into bases that puts this man at such risk? Crisp doesn’t think there’s any preventive measures he can take, but offered tongue-in-cheek: “I could try to steal bases standing up.” Crisp said there’s an outside chance he could try to play if the A’s jumped back into contention, but Oakland is nine games out with just 14 left, so you can do the math there. And manager Bob Geren confirmed it was recommended Crisp doesn’t play again this season.

What do we make of Crisp’s first year with the A’s? He definitely had trouble staying on the field, not too surprising given his injury woes of past years. But when he played consistently in the second half, he was a definite force atop the lineup. Factor in his terrific defense (his range and athleticism in center field help offset a below-average arm) and his career-high 32 stolen bases, and I think it’s a given the A’s have to pick up his $5.75 million option for 2011. “I had a lot of fun out here. I like these guys,” Crisp said. “The fans treat me very well. They have that option on me. I agreed for them to have that option on me just for the fact I wanted to come here. So it’s up to them to make any decision they feel is helpful to the team.”

–Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff (back spasms) was scheduled to take full batting practice today, and all indications are he continues to make incremental improvement. Still no word on when he’ll return, but Geren sounded encouraged Kouzmanoff’s return could be close.

–It’s hard to believe tonight will be Chris Carter’s first game at the Coliseum. His entire first stint in the majors took place during a six-game road trip in August, and he was recalled at the start of the A’s most recent trip. Carter is 0-for-32 to start his career, the longest hitless streak to start a major league career (for a non-pitcher) since Vic Harris went 0-for-36 for Texas in 1972.

–On a final note, my apologies for not providing many blog/twitter updates while the team was on the last trip. A nasty stomach bug landed me on the DL for part of that time. I’m back to game speed now …

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Davis CF, Barton 1B, Ellis 2B, Cust DH, Suzuki C, Iwamura 3B, Hermida RF, Carter LF, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

White Sox — Lillibridge 2B, Ramirez SS, Rios CF, Konerko 1B, RAmirez DH, Jones LF, Quentin RF, Castro C, Morel 3B; Floyd RHP.