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Andy LaRoche, Bobby Cramer make A’s roster; Tyson Ross, Eric Sogard sent down

A quick rundown on the A’s final roster cuts (so much for my predictions from this morning!)

–Andy LaRoche was kept as the utility infielder over Eric Sogard. Score that a mild upset as Sogard is the stronger defensive player and was already on the 40-man roster. Obviously, the A’s feel LaRoche is adequate enough with the glove to get by whenever he’s called upon. But this move was all about LaRoche’s potential impact with the bat. He hit .333 this spring and led the team in homers (4) and RBIs (13). Adam Rosales, the projected backup infielder before he suffered a foot injury, was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for LaRoche.

–Bobby Cramer was kept as the final reliever over Tyson Ross. That’s despite a rough bottom of the ninth today in a 2-1 loss to the Giants, when Cramer had a throwing error that contributed to the Giants’ winning two-run rally. That gives the A’s four lefties in their seven-man bullpen. Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Cramer and Brian Fuentes join right-handers Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz and Brad Ziegler (Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day DL as expected). This was a surprising call to me. I like the idea of Ross getting Triple-A seasoning as a starter, and I think that’s best for his future. But I still thought his relief experience from last year would trump any potential benefit of keeping Cramer. It’s a great story for Cramer, who was playing in the Mexican League at this point last year and has never been on an Opening Day roster. He said that he was told to be ready for any relief role — one innings, two innings or long relief. A’s manager Bob Geren classified Cramer as predominantly a long man.

–Landon Powell was kept as the backup catcher over Josh Donaldson, which was no surprise …

More in tomorrow morning’s A’s notebook …

1

Lots of A’s regulars in Wednesday’s lineup; no final cuts announcement yet

Not a whole lot to report leading into the Bay Bridge Series finale, since the A’s aren’t announcing their final cuts until after the game. The only regulars not in the lineup are first baseman Daric Barton and right fielder David DeJesus.

I don’t see much drama with the roster decisions. I’ll be very surprised if Eric Sogard doesn’t win the backup infielder spot, although neither he nor Andy LaRoche looked great defensively Tuesday night. I have Tyson Ross as the favorite over left-hander Bobby Cramer for the final bullpen spot. Ross has big league relief experience from last season, and I don’t see the A’s carrying four lefty relievers (that’s assuming Jerry Blevins is kept, in which case he’d join southpaws Brian Fuentes and Craig Breslow).

The lineups:

A’s: Crisp CF, Ellis 2B, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Sweeney RF, Pennington SS; Braden LHP.

Giants: Fontenot SS, Whiteside C, DeRosa 3B, Rowand CF, Schierholtz RF, Rohlinger 2B, Ishikawa 1B, Graham LF, Bumgarner LHP.

7

A’s announce Bay Bridge Series games to air on KFRC 1550 AM — drama with KTRB 860 continues

The A’s announced that the Bay Bridge Series games against the Giants (Mon-Wed) will air on radio station KFRC 1550-AM, and not on flagship station KTRB 860. The team said a plan for regular-season broadcasts will be unveiled later in the week, and none of this affects games that air on A’s affiliates in Sacramento, Modesto and other areas around Northern California. Ken Korach, Vince Cotroneo and Ray Fosse will call the games on KFRC, and Chris Townsend’s pregame and postgame call-in show will also air on the station.

But for Bay Area fans, it confirms that the A’s season-long radio plans are in limbo as Friday’s opener looms. As I’ve written the past couple of days, the A’s have been negotiating to buy KTRB, but talks have taken a sour turn to the point that the A’s could completely sever ties to KTRB, their flagship station for the past two years.

This drama all started very recently. KTRB is in receivership, and an informed source indicated to me that the station’s receiver is looking to sell the station for a higher purchase price than the A’s are willing to offer. As a result, the agreement to air games as negotiations continue has broken down. I was told that the A’s weren’t willing to budge because they knew they had a fallback plan in KFRC, which is equipped to start airing games on very short notice. KFRC was the A’s flagship station before KTRB. I’d say there’s a definite chance that Bay area fans will be tuning to KFRC all season for A’s games.

This is shaping up as a damaging blow for the A’s and their fans, particularly if the team’s chance to buy KTRB falls through completely. KTRB is a 50,000-watt station with a far stronger signal than KFRC. Buying KTRB would allow the A’s the freedom to tailor programming to more A’s-specific content. It would create a higher-profile identity for the team and give fans a permanent spot to look to for everything A’s-related on the radio. In short, it would give the A’s similar autonomy that the Giants enjoy by owning a stake in KNBR 680.

It’s important to note that the A’s say a plan for regular-season broadcasts will be announced later this week. Does this mean a season-long deal with KTRB could still happen even as the Bay Bridge games air on KFRC? I don’t know … But things have taken a dramatic turn on this topic, and time is short to hammer out a solution.

2

Andrew Bailey confirms he’s DL-bound; Joey Devine optioned to Triple-A

We have a little bullpen news this morning, as the A’s get ready to play the Colorado Rockies in their final Cactus League game before flying north for the Bay Bridge Series.

–Joey Devine was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento and closer Andrew Bailey acknowledged he’ll be starting the season on the disabled list. I’m sure you’ll find neither surprising. The good news for Devine is his elbow is feeling good, but he hasn’t been sharp enough to claim one of the seven bullpen spots. Bailey played catch this morning for the first time since being diagnosed with a forearm strain, and he’s hopeful he won’t miss much time. “It’s better to miss a little time now than a month or two or three down the road.”

Significantly, Geren mentioned Grant Balfour as a closer option along with Brian Fuentes until Bailey returns. Fuentes has looked shaky recently and Balfour seems to have put things together after struggling with some mechanical issues earlier in camp. It’s worth mentioning that Geren never had singled out Fuentes as the fill-in closer, but based on Fuentes’ experience, it was assumed he’d be the guy. I can’t blame Geren for leaving his options open. “Breslow has been good in that role too,” Geren said. “I was encouraged with Michael Wuertz (Saturday night).”

Something tells me we’ll see the closer-by-committee approach until Bailey gets back …

Here’s the lineup vs the Rockies:

Sweeney CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Kouzmanoff 3B
Ellis 2B
Jackson LF
Powell C
Pennington SS
Cramer P

2

Brandon McCarthy named A’s fifth starter; first game under the lights at Phoenix Muni

Brandon McCarthy has won the A’s fifth starter battle, manager Bob Geren said in his pregame media briefing. I’m not surprised by the decision, even after Friday’s poor outing against the Angels. McCarthy has been very sharp the entire spring. His ERA inflated to 4.50 because of Friday’s performance, but the guy struck out 20 and walked one in 26 innings. I don’t think you make a snap judgement based on one bad late-spring start.

Geren said the other two fifth starter candidates — right-hander Tyson Ross and lefty Bobby Cramer — are candidates for a bullpen spot. I’d say it’s pretty certain one will make the team. Right now, I’m penciling in Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Craig Breslow, Michael Wuertz, Brad Ziegler and Jerry Blevins for six of the seven spots. Unless Andrew Bailey proves he’s ready (he hasn’t even started throwing) or Joey Devine convinces the front office he’s sharp enough (also unlikely, though he’s slated to pitch tonight), you figure Ross or Cramer will be kept. The issue is whether the A’s want to use Ross — a highly regarded prospect as a starter — as a big league reliever or let him start at Triple-A.

“That’s a decision we’ll have to make at some point,” Geren said. “I’m just happy with the way he’s throwing.”

Ross has been terrific this spring (0.59 ERA in five appearances, two starts), but something tells me he just needs more polishing in the minors. Having said that, I’m expecting the A’s to keep him for the big league bullpen. He got relief experience last season, and he’s more of a known quantity in the bullpen than Cramer. …

–The first (and only) night game of the season at Phoenix Muni awaits us tonight. I think there’s a little extra life for these, just because it feels like a regular-season game. Fittingly, Geren said his lineup tonight will likely be the opening day lineup Friday against the Seattle Mariners (except Kevin Kouzmanoff has tonight off, w/Andy LaRoche playing third base) …

Crisp CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Willingham LF
Matsui DH
Suzuki C
Ellis 2B
LaRoche 3B
Pennington SS

Cahill RHP

–Let’s hear some thoughts on this lineup (and the fifth starter decision) …

5

The finish line is in sight

There are packed boxes sitting around everywhere in the A’s clubhouse – no doubt that “getaway day” is approaching. The A’s play their final Cactus League game Sunday afternoon against the Rockies, then fly back to the Bay Area that night. I’ll be doing the same, and the chilly (at least by Phoenix standards) Bay Area weather will take some getting used to.

–As for the baseball news, we may get word later in the afternoon on the A’s rotation – who the fifth starter is, and the order of guys. Manager Bob Geren did say the first four, in order, are likely to be Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden, assuming those pitchers come out of their upcoming throwing sessions feeling well. That would be three lefties in a row, but it’s not like opponents would see three identical pitchers back to back to back. Braden’s off-speed stuff sets him apart from Anderson and Gonzalez, and even Anderson and Gonzalez are slightly different. Both throw mid-90’s fastballs, but Anderson uses a sharp slider, while Gonzalez has more of a traditional curve ball.

The lineups:

A’s: Crisp CF, Sweeney RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Kouzmanoff 3B, Jackson 1B, LaRoche 2B, Powell C, Sogard SS; McCarthy RHP

Angels: Izturis DH, Kendrick 2B, Abreu RF, Callaspo 3B, Aybar SS, Mathis C, Bourjos CF, Trumbo 1B, Pettit LF; Palmer RHP

–A couple of Hideki Matsui’s former teammates with the Yomiuri Giants – Koji Goto and Yukinaga Maeda – dropped by camp to visit. Matsui had dinner with both of them last night along with Angels pitcher Hisanori Takahashi. Goto talked admirably of Matsui’s generosity and efforts to mobilize support for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami victims. Goto also cautioned that Matsui gets off to a slow start every season. He’s hitting .125 so far this spring. “In Japan, he was the same way,” Goto said. “The monster only appears after summer comes.” Great line …

–A note on yesterday’s game: Right fielder David DeJesus made the best defensive play I’ve seen by an A’s player this spring, extending flat-out for a diving catch in right-center. Just pretty … I had heard lukewarm reviews on his range in the outfield, but he covered a lot of ground to get that ball …

–Brian Fuentes is scheduled to throw today, his second of back-to-back outings. He’s been knocked around pretty good in his last two games (5 ER in 1 1/3 IP) after he started his spring with six straight scoreless outings. Geren said he wasn’t too concerned with that since Fuentes faced Arizona in each of the last two appearances, an unfamiliar opponent. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares against the Angels, a team he’ll be seeing plenty. … Craig Breslow will also make his second appearance.

1

Trevor Cahill to start opening night for A’s

The suspense is over: Trevor Cahill will start opening night for the A’s against the Seattle Mariners, manager Bob Geren just told reporters. He didn’t reveal the rest of the rotation, but as things currently set up, Cahill would be followed by Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and the fifth starter, still expected to be Brandon McCarthy. Braden and McCarthy are both throwing tomorrow (Braden in a minor league game), so I suppose Geren could go McCarthy in the fourth slot and Braden fifth if he wanted to split up McCarthy and Cahill (his right-handed starters).

I have to agree with picking Cahill, given he was the A’s best starter last season, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA.

“He’s deserving,” Geren said. “He made the All-Star team last year. He led the team in wins. He had a great spring. The great thing for me is a lot of guys were deserving.”

It appeared Cahill was the guy Wednesday, when his next start was pushed back from Thursday to Saturday, putting him in line to pitch the April 1 opener. With the A’s off March 31, all of the starters will be pitching on at least one extra day of rest the first time through the rotation.

–First baseman Daric Barton is sitting out his second straight game while nursing an abductor muscle injury in one of his legs. Geren said it’s minor and that Barton is day to day.

Here’s the lineup vs. the Diamondbacks. This is the A’s first game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the new spring home for both Arizona and the Colorado Rockies. People are raving about this place, so I can’t wait to see it …

Ellis 2B
Suzuki C
DeJesus RF
Jackson 1B
Matsui LF
Kouzmanoff 3B
Carson CF
Pennington SS
Ross RHP

1

A’s opening-day starter issue takes another twist

Here’s the lowdown on the the morning’s news before the A’s take on the Cubs in Mesa …

The opening night starter mystery continues, and it’s reaching the comical stage at this point. Trevor Cahill has been pushed back two days to make his next start Saturday, which makes him the Candidate of the Day to take the ball in the April 1 opener. This gives Cahill six days of rest between spring starts, which is a little unusual at this point in camp. Cahill told me this morning there’s no physical issue that makes him require extra rest, so logic says that the A’s are lining him up for the regular season opener against the Mariners. He would be making that start on an extra day’s rest, as the A’s are off March 31, the day before the opener.

A’s manager Bob Geren refuses to announce anything to the media, and he was bent out of shape that Cahill’s next start was posted on a bulletin board this morning for the media to see. But it’s routine for lineups and pitching schedules to be posted in that area — not for the media to see but for the players themselves to know what they’re doing — so it doesn’t seem like a huge deal.

If it ultimately comes down to Cahill getting the start, it makes a lot of sense based on the terrific season he posted last year. He won 18 games and emerged as the staff ace, at least last season. It’s tough to really label anyone as the No. 1 guy on this staff right now. They’re all so young, and their credentials are pretty similar. Cahill is the guy I would have picked as opening day starter heading into camp.

–The A’s lineup:
Crisp CF
Sweeney RF
Willingham LF
Matsui DH
Suzuki C
Ellis 2B
Jackson 1B
Pennington SS
Sogard 3B

Gonzalez LHP

0

Coco Crisp returns, Hideki Matsui sitting today with neck stiffness

We’ve got much better weather today, so the A’s-Reds game is definitely on, with Brett Anderson getting the start.

–Coco Crisp is back in the lineup and said his sore left hamstring is better. But designated hitter Hideki Matsui will not make the trip to Goodyear because of a stiff neck he got from sleeping wrong a couple of nights ago. He did not hit Monday and said he might return Wednesday, depending on how his hitting goes today. He didn’t expect his neck to factor into whether he plays in the outfield Thursday, when the A’s play the Arizona Diamondbacks and won’t have a DH. Manager Bob Geren said he’s anticipating Matsui being his DH on Wednesday and playing the outfield Thursday.

–Geren reiterated that he’ll probably announce his Opening Day starter by the end of the week, as well as the other starters for that first three-game series against Seattle. He also says he’s inclined to NOT skip his fifth starter early in the season because of off days. He likes the idea of all the starters getting an extra day of rest.

The lineup vs. the Reds
Crisp CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Willingham LF
Sweeney DH
Suzuki C
Ellis 2B
Kouzmanoff 3B
Pennington SS

Anderson LHP