2

A’s relievers still being handled carefully; the batting order takes shape

Hideki Matsui makes his A’s debut today, but don’t read too much into the rest of the lineup against the Angels with so many regulars getting the day off. David DeJesus is still trying to shake off a stomach bug, but it’s possible he’ll play tomorrow against the Reds. Here’s your starting nine:

Ellis 2B
Suzuki C
Matsui DH
Jackson 1B
Kouzmanoff 3B
Carson CF
Carter LF
Taylor RF
Tolleson SS

Braden P

**Joel Pineiro is on the hill for the Angels.

–Michael Wuertz is scheduled to throw off the mound Thursday for the first time since his shoulder soreness started. Fellow reliever Craig Breslow has had some tenderness in his throwing arm, according to manager Bob Geren, so there’s no indication yet when he’ll appear in a game. Closer Andrew Bailey is probably 5-7 days away from his first game. Those are three key guys in the bullpen, but I’d attribute their inactivity to the A’s precaution as opposed to anything seriously bothering any of these guys. The plan has been to limit their throwing early to preserve them for the regular season.

–A little insight into the batting order: Geren said he wants a right-handed hitter to bat behind Hideki Matsui (the likely No. 5 hitter). He mentioned Kurt Suzuki, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mark Ellis as possibilities for the sixth spot. So bit by bit, we can piece together how the order will look. If I had to project right now, I’d say: Crisp, Barton, DeJesus, Willingham, Matsui, Kouzmanoff/Suzuki, Ellis, Pennington.

How would that lineup strike you, A’s fans?

1

David DeJesus misses exhibition opener with illness; Eric Sogard gets look at shortstop

It poured rain in the Phoenix area on Saturday night, but there’s no showers in the forecast this afternoon and the A’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs is on. Just a couple items of note this morning:

–Right fielder David DeJesus is not feeling well so he’s not playing. Matt Carson is in right field.

The A’s lineup:
Crisp CF
Barton 1B,
Willingham LF
Suzuki DH
LaRoche 3B
Carson RF
Powell C
Sogard SS
Tolleson 2B
Cahill P

–Steve Tolleson is a more experienced shortstop than Eric Sogard, and we might expect to see those two flip-flopped in the middle infield spots. But Bob Geren said he wants to get a good look at how Sogard handles shortstop in the exhibitions as he decides on a backup infielder. “I just haven’t seen Sogard play there,” Geren said. “I think whoever is going to play shortstop the best is probably going to win that job.”

As for the starting shortstop, Geren said Cliff Pennington probably won’t hit in a game for about a week, but he could play a couple innings defensively and be removed for a pinch hitter.

–Trevor Cahill, Josh Outman, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer are all scheduled to throw two innings each today if all goes according to plan. They’d be on a 35-40 pitch limit.

Check out today’s story on Chris Carter and Michael Taylor if you haven’t yet. I usually try to post a link to it on twitter the night before it gets published, but I didn’t get a chance to last night.

If there’s any big news in today’s game, I’ll post it here so check back!!

0

A few vets, lots of prospects on display in Friday intrasquad game; some thoughts on the outfield

There wasn’t a whole lot of news coming out of A’s camp this morning, but here’s a brief rundown:

–Kurt Suzuki is behind the plate for one side in today’s intrasquad game after he got yesterday off. Center fielder Coco Crisp, right fielder David DeJesus and shortstop Cliff Pennington are also in the lineup, though Pennington won’t hit as his left shoulder is still recovering from surgery. Lots of top prospects are playing: Chris Carter (playing first, though the A’s still consider him mainly an outfielder right now), second baseman Jemile Weeks, catcher Max Stassi, left fielder Michael Taylor and shortstop Grant Green.

–Ryan Sweeney is at DH today but he’s still not playing in the field. Manager Bob Geren offered March 7 as the date Sweeney might make his exhibition debut as he comes back from right knee surgery, and Geren believes that is plenty of time to have Sweeney ready for the regular season.

–Geren talked about his outfield rotation and who might play where. Notably, he likes DeJesus as his main choice to play center when Crisp needs a day off. I envision Crisp getting a substantial amount of rest this season as the A’s try to keep him healthy. A writer who has covered DeJesus extensively told me that he’s an underrated defensive player, but that he’s lost a bit of range and therefore isn’t ideal in center anymore. I’ll be interested to see what kind of ground he still covers. I could also see Sweeney drawing the occasional start in center to spell Crisp, especially against right-handers. Conor Jackson will see time in left and right field this spring, Geren said, but Jackson is playing first base in today’s intrasquad game. He’s a backup option at first when Barton isn’t playing.

–Reliever Michael Wuertz will resume throwing Saturday or Sunday, according to Geren.

0

A’s roundup: The heart of the order; Devine and Outman’s roster chances; Conor Jackson to see action at first base

We’ve got an A’s intrasquad game this afternoon, which really isn’t all that exciting or revealing in the big picture. But after watching nine days worth of workouts, it’s nice to get some variety. And it’s the first chance to see the team in a somewhat realistic game environment.

A few items of note:

–David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui are batting 3-4-5 for one team, and that’s a heart of the order I’d expect to see lots in the regular season. “That’s a potential 3-4-5 for the season. We’ll see how the spring goes,” manager Bob Geren said.

–I’ll be interested to see Josh Outman and Joey Devine pitch today. Both have endured a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, and they could factor heavily into the pitching plans for the season – Outman as a fifth starter, Devine as a setup man.

Asked about the prospects of both making the 25-man roster out of camp, Geren said: “If they look like they’re ready, they’re gonna be here, without a doubt.” Seems telling to me: There’s open competition for the No. 5 starter spot, but if Outman looks decent and is healthy, he’ll be the guy, especially with Rich Harden delayed by injury. And Devine’s stuff is too good for him not to break camp w/the team if he’s healthy.

–Conor Jackson will start working at first base a little, giving Geren a right-handed option for the position to complement the left-handed hitting Daric Barton. “Daric played (159) games last year,” Geren said. “Quite frankly, there were a couple times we would have liked to give him a day off but we didn’t have the right option over there. The fact that (Jackson) is a righty over a lefty, it makes that option more enticing to me.” Jackson also will be an extra outfielder. He’ll occupy a roster spot that could have gone to Chris Carter – a right-handed hitting outfielder/first baseman. But the A’s obviously feel Jackson is a better bet to hit early in the season, and another factor that can’t be ignored – Jackson is a better defensive player than Carter, in the outfield and probably at first base.

That’s all for now …

0

Trevor Cahill to start Sunday vs. Cubs in exhibition opener

It’s day 2 of a three-day stretch of workouts for the A’s at Papago Park, which is just a five-minute drive from Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The logistics are a little wacky for players these three days. They show up at Muni, dress and gather up their belongings, carpool over to Papago and then return to Muni after the workout to finish whatever treatment they might need. But at least the sunshine is back after a couple days of cold weather and rain.

Bob Geren confirmed that Trevor Cahill will start Sunday’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. Going by the current schedule, others who could throw that day are Josh Outman, Bobby Cramer, Tyson Ross and Joey Devine. But there’s nothing confirmed after Cahill. It’s still tough to decipher who might get the Opening Night start because all pitchers are throwing once every three days right now. A natural every-fifth-day routine has yet to be established. Geren told reporters earlier he had a good idea of who he’d give that first start too. And I’ve got to think Cahill is at the forefront in his thoughts. Why not? He had the best season last year and his demeanor is perfect to take the ball in big games – he’s low-key and not easily excitable.

Michael Wuertz is not too concerned about the shoulder soreness that cut short his workout Monday. He said his arm speed was a little slow in Sunday’s throwing session, and he’s working through a normal kind of soreness he gets during most springs. Now, Wuertz said similar things last spring, and he wound up having tendinitis that sent him to the DL. But he told me this morning that this feeling is nothing like last year’s. The A’s are taking extra precaution with their front-line guys early in camp if there’s even a hint of physical problems. Geren said Wuertz could throw as soon as Thursday. Wuertz said he could take “three, four or five days.”

Remember, you can get updates on anything noteworthy that happens during daily workouts at twitter.com/joestiglich. I try to throw pictures up there when I can and I’m hoping to start posting some live video clips soon. Stay tuned …

6

Hideki Matsui reports to camp — where might he hit in A’s lineup?

We had a little more intrigue than normal in the A’s clubhouse this morning with Hideki Matsui reporting. He’ll work out and then finish shooting the commercial he began filming Saturday at Papago Park.

Dallas Braden had a gift waiting for Matsui at his locker: A large inflatable Godzilla doll dressed in an A’s uniform. Very quality effort, though the reaction once Matsui arrived was a bit awkward. Matsui saw the doll but wasn’t quite sure how to react to a room full of people staring at him. And the rest of the A’s weren’t quite sure whether to clap. Somewhere, a pin dropped and I clearly heard it. It was a good gesture, however, to welcome Matsui. It will be interesting to see how he assimilates into the clubhouse with the language barrier, but he’s got a reputation for being a great guy, and he’s plenty used to the situation after eight seasons in the United States.

With 30-35 members of the Japanese media on hand (that’s what’s expected as a daily turnout this season), manager Bob Geren had a big crowd for his morning media session. He said he hadn’t decided where Matsui would bat in the order, but he’s considering him in the fourth or fifth spot. A logical batting order would go Crisp, Barton, DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui in the 1-5 spots. But Geren said he doesn’t want more than two lefties hitting together in a row near the top of the lineup. And against right-handed pitchers, Willingham would be the only right-handed bat with the switch-hitting Crisp batting from the left side. So perhaps we could see an order that goes Crisp, DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui in the top four spots, with Barton dropping down a bit. It’s not clear how this will shake out right now. Geren said he probably won’t start playing an opening day-type lineup until the second half of the Cactus League schedule.

It’s freezing today, by the way. Not that I expect a lot of sympathy from readers in the Bay Area, as I hear it’s been nasty there too. We got heavy rain last night, and the temperature is in the low 50’s right now. OK, so it’s not that cold, but it’s all relative. When it’s normally in the 70’s here, you want to crank up the heater on days like this.

That’s all for now …

0

Competition is on for A’s backup infielder spot

Position players continue to trickle into A’s camp. I saw Conor Jackson and second base prospect Adrian Cardenas this morning. Word is that Hideki Matsui will be here Saturday, but I’m not sure if he’ll be addressing the media then or wait until Sunday, which is the reporting deadline.

Adam Rosales will wear a walking boot on his right foot for two more weeks, so he won’t be hitting the field any time soon. That means there’s open competition for the backup infielder spot, and the ability to play shortstop is key for whoever claims it. Among the candidates manager Bob Geren touched on this morning:

Steve Tolleson: I’d put this guy as the front runner. He got his feet wet with 25 games in the majors last season and did a capable job. Tolleson spent more time at shortstop than any other position last season at Triple-A Sacramento, but he can also play third base, second base and left field.

Eric Sogard: The A’s like this Arizona State alum, especially for his bat. He’s also the only one of the backup infield candidates who’s already on the 40-man roster, but Geren said that wouldn’t be a factor. “The best guys will be on the team.” Sogard is more of a second baseman, though the A’s have exposed him to shortstop.

Andy LaRoche: The most intriguing name, just because he was such a highly touted prospect for the Dodgers. LaRoche didn’t pan out with the Pirates over the past two-plus seasons, and he’s never played shortstop in his professional career (third base is his main position). But Geren said LaRoche, Sogard and Tolleson will get most of the innings at short until starter Cliff Pennington is ready. Pennington is being brought along slowly after offseason surgery on his left shoulder.

Josh Horton: A’s farm director Keith Lieppman has raved to me in the past about Horton, a 2007 second-round pick. Geren identified Horton as the strongest defensive shortstop of all the candidates based on reports he’s gotten. He said he hasn’t seen Horton much in person.

Grant Green: Finally, the name you were waiting for, right? The 2009 first-round pick enjoyed a fine offensive year with Single-A Stockton in 2010 but still has a long way to go defensively. Since Green was drafted, there’s been speculation about him moving to third base or second base. For now, he’s a shortstop. “He’s still a ways away,” Geren said. Green is expected to begin the season at Double-A Midland, and the A’s consider Double-A a good measuring stick for how close a prospect is to being big-league ready.

3

Rich Harden to miss two weeks with strain in right side

The first A’s injury news for 2011 came down today, as right-hander Rich Harden will be shut down for two weeks with a strain in his right side, just underneath his arm. You can read the nuts and bolts of the story by clicking on the above link. But here’s the rundown:

Harden, a fifth starter candidate and potential reliever, felt pain about 10-15 pitches into a bullpen session on Tuesday. Pitching coach Ron Romanick decided to shut him down, and manager Bob Geren announced Harden won’t throw for approximately two weeks. “The exact words from (the training staff) was we’ll wait until he’s pain free,” Geren said. “It’s estimated it would be two weeks. Obviously we want to make sure when he cranks it back up that he’s ready to go.”

The glass-is-half-full outlook:The A’s now have the depth on their pitching staff to withstand such injuries. Spring camp is just three days old and Harden has plenty of time to come back. In talking to him this morning, he didn’t seem concerned that this would be a long-term problem.

The glass-is-half-empty outlook: This is an all-too-familiar theme developing for the A’s, and we haven’t even reached March yet. The A’s know Harden’s injury history from his first stint with the team, and should have taken that into consideration before re-signing him this winter. Plus, the other pitchers who now move into contention to be the fifth starter also are injury risks. Josh Outman is trying to come back from major elbow surgery and Brandon McCarthy has long had shoulder problems (though he’s healthy now). Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer also are possibilities for the spot. And keep an eye on right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, an under-the-radar acquisition from Texas this winter. Geren said he looked good yesterday and considers Moscoso in the mix to be the No. 5 starter.