Weird finish to April for A’s, offense still needs to pick it up

In for Joe Stiglich today, who picked the right day to be off …

This game wasn’t exactly over from the start, but it sure seemed like it the way Brett Anderson was pitching. You could sense he didn’t have it early on, as he walked three batters in the first two innings after surrendering just four in his first 34 2/3 innings over five starts. Anderson couldn’t find his breaking ball and consequently had to try to locate his fastball, which didn’t work so well. Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli all smacked impressive home runs, impressive all the more considering Anderson hadn’t given a long ball all year before Saturday.

It was a thud of an April ending for the A’s starting staff, which came into the final day of the month leading the majors in ERA at 2.47 with just eight home runs allowed. In short, these guys have been great, particularly the new Big Three of Trevor Cahill, Anderson and Gio Gonzalez. But good pitchers have bad days from time to time, and hopefully, this was just a blip on Anderson’s season radar screen.

If the A’s starters falter, this team is in trouble, because the club is offering precious little else to get excited about. The offense came into the game hitting .237 with just 11 home runs. The defense had committed an AL leading 27 errors. Those two areas have to get better.

That said, the A’s got through April just one game under .500 despite the defense, offense, the absence of Bailey and the fact that they played 16 of their 27 games on the road. It could be a lot worse. In May, they’ll play 17 of their 30 games at home and 7 of those 13 road games are close — three in SF, four in Anaheim.

Coco Crisp looked decent running the bases before the game, and I asked him afterward if he was ready to play. Albeit sullenly, he said yes. “Whatever they say, I’ll go along with the program,” Crisp said.

Mark Ellis scratched with a minor bug Saturday — maybe it’s .191-itis — but expected to be back in the lineup Sunday.

Gio Gonzalez on the hill today to try and restore order for the rotation.


Willingham back in lineup, Crisp still out for A’s

Opportunity presents itself this weekend for the A’s, as they get their first crack at the first-place Texas Rangers. Texas has three lefties going in this four-game series, and I’ll be interested to see how the A’s lineup looks in those games – who plays, who sits. I suppose much of that will depend on the availability of outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham.

Willingham (back tightness) is back in left field tonight, but Crisp will miss his second game with a left quadriceps injury. Manager Bob Geren penciled Mark Ellis into the leadoff spot tonight, with David DeJesus dropping to the sixth spot. Geren has dropped DeJesus down in the lineup vs. lefties before, and if the offense clicks tonight and Crisp misses another game or two, perhaps we’ll see more of Ellis atop the lineup. But from talking to Crisp before batting practice, he doesn’t expect to be out much longer. “My leg is feeling better,” he said. “We’re going to give it one more day, I think, is their thought process.” Geren said Crisp would do some running before the game to test his leg.

–Proud papa Kurt Suzuki is back with the team and serving as DH tonight. Suzuki looks pretty beat, and Geren said he thought it might be a good idea to give him a half-day off by not catching.

–Andrew Bailey threw a bullpen session with a hitter standing in. When you read about a hitter standing in but not taking swings, I’m guessing a lot of people must think, “What’s so special about that?” Ask pitchers, however, and they’ll say that just having a hitter standing in the box gets the adrenaline pumping. That puts a little extra strain on the arm and gives a pitcher a good read on his progress if he’s coming off an arm injury, as Bailey is. Geren said that they’ll see how Bailey feels tomorrow before deciding his next step. If he feels good, a minor league rehab assignment can’t be far off. …

The lineups:
A’s – Ellis 2B, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Suzuki DH, DeJesus CF, Kouzmanoff 3B, Powell C, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Rangers – Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Young DH, Beltre 3B, Cruz RF, Murphy LF, Torrealba C, Moreland 1B, Borbon CF; Wilson LHP.


It’s baseball in the shadows today at Angel Stadium

We’ve got a wacky 4:05 start time as the A’s try to avoid the sweep in Anaheim. As if A’s hitters needed anything else going against them. Now they get to face Dan Haren as the shadows are moving over Angel Stadium. The twilight hours are always tough on hitters. “It’s not going to be good out here today,” A’s second baseman Mark Ellis said. Not that he was looking to use the shadows as an excuse. Ellis has been struggling as much as any Athletic – he’s hitless in his last 16 at-bats – and he acknowledged that he and his teammates have to turn things around quickly.

Coco Crisp (left quad) and Josh Willingham (back) are both out of the lineup, though Willingham took some swings today and said he could have played if absolutely necessary. With a day off Thursday, the A’s want to maximize his rest so he comes back ready to go against Texas on Friday. “I still felt it but it’s a lot better,” Willingham said. “Hopefully I’ll play Friday.”

Crisp made himself scarce around the clubhouse before batting practice. Chatting with reporters about his injuries is not among Crisp’s favorite activities. So we’ll go with what manager Bob Geren told us: Crisp remains day-to-day and is unavailable in any capacity Wednesday. But Geren said the disabled list is not being considered.

Catcher Josh Donaldson was called up to take Kurt Suzuki’s roster spot. Donaldson was happy to get the promotion from Triple-A Sacramento but knows it will be short-lived. Suzuki’s wife had induced labor this morning so Suzuki is on paternity leave. But it seems possible that he could return Friday (no word yet on the birth of his baby). I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but Donaldson is a dead-on Bill Clinton sound-alike. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were talking to the former President. Donaldson just needs to get that hand gesture down that Clinton used to do during his speeches. If Donaldson dyes his hair gray, he could have a second career, like Kevin Kline in “Dave.”

The lineups:

A’s – DeJesus RF, Barton 1B, Jackson LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Sweeney CF, Powell C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

Angels – Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 1B, Conger C, Bourjos CF, Amarista 2B; Haren RHP.


Struggling Barton gets a day off

Daric Barton is out of the lineup tonight, which manager Bob Geren is calling a mental and physical day off. I talked to Barton this afternoon, and he wishes he was in there. He likes hitting in Anaheim. He’s a Southern California guy and would prefer to play when the A’s are here. But he also said he understands why Geren sat him considering his hitting struggles. Barton is 2 for 30 (.067) over his past nine games. If you watched the game last night, you saw him blow his top when he was called out on that close 6-3 putout, a play that landed Angels shortstop Erick Aybar on the ESPN highlights. That wasn’t the only play that had Barton steamed. He thought a ball he hit down the left-field line in his second at-bat landed fair, but it was called foul. “If I go 2 for 4, I’m probably in the lineup tonight,” he said.

It’s a long season, and the bad calls probably even out with the favorable calls over 162 games, so there’s only so much stock to be put in that. The A’s had Barton out taking extra swings before batting practice today. Conor Jackson draws the start at first in his place.

–Josh Willingham is not playing. He’s still got some stiffness after tweaking a back muscle last night and leaving the game. Sounds like he won’t be available in any capacity, but the injury is considered minor.

–Without coming out and directly saying it, Geren gave indication the A’s would call up a catcher to fill Kurt Suzuki’s roster spot when Suzuki leaves Wednesday on paternity leave. Willingham’s injury would seem to assure a catcher is called up since Willingham would normally be the A’s emergency catcher. Consider Josh Donaldson the likely choice to be promoted, as I wrote a couple days ago. …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Angels – Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 1B, Conger C, Bourjos CF, Amarista 2B; Chatwood RHP.


Michael Wuertz rejoins A’s bullpen, Bobby Cramer sent down

I always bring this up when the A’s arrive at Angel Stadium, but the games feel like they take on a bigger meaning here. Maybe it’s the NorCal-SoCal rivalry, or the divisional matchup, or the fact this stadium is packed for every game. But it’s a pretty electric atmosphere (I feel cheesy when I use “electric” in that way, but it’s accurate in this case).

On to the news ….

–Michael Wuertz was activated from the disabled list and Bobby Cramer was sent down. That puts the A’s bullpen a little more in balance with three right-handers and four left-handers. Expect Wuertz to go back to his righty setup role along with Grant Balfour and Brad Ziegler. Remember how dominant Wuertz was in 2009, and then remember that he wasn’t the same pitcher in 2010 after suffering an early-season shoulder injury. I don’t think there’s the same cause for concern given that he’s now coming off a hamstring injury. The A’s just need Wuertz to at least resemble his 2009 form, when he could enter a tough situation with men on base and get a strikeout when needed.

–Center fielder Coco Crisp is back in the lineup after crashing his left shoulder into the wall while making a catch yesterday in Seattle. “He was here early, smiling with the thumbs-up,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “That’s all it took. Hand signal, no words needed.”

–The A’s are trying to maintain the momentum they built in Seattle, when they combined for 14 runs Saturday and Sunday. The Angels? They’re trying to turn the page, having lost four straight and been shut each of their last two games. …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Angels – Bourjos CF, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 2B, Aybar SS, Trumbo 1B, Mathis C; Weaver RHP.


Baseball under the roof (sort of)

It’s raining in Seattle today but the roof is closed at Safeco Field, which provides a weird dynamic. The roof does not enclose the entire stadium. There are huge gaps of open air, so the cold weather sweeps through the stadium even when there’s “indoor” baseball being played. If you’re ever looking to plan a road trip to watch the A’s, I highly recommend Seattle as your destination. It’s a great city to navigate on foot, and Safeco Field is considered among the major leagues’ best stadiums, for good reason. Just remember to bundle up when you get here …

–Pretty standard lineup for the A’s today, with the exception of Landon Powell catching instead of Kurt Suzuki. It was a planned day off for Suzuki, who hasn’t left the team yet for the birth of his baby.

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Powell C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Anderson LHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Figgins 3B, Bradley LF, Olivo C, Kennedy 1B, Ryan SS, Saunders CF, Wilson 2B, Langerhans RF; Fister RHP.

–Michael Wuertz could rejoin the A’s bullpen for the upcoming three-game series with the Angels. He threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts Saturday night for Triple-A Sacramento, his best rehab outing yet. Manager Bob Geren said Wuertz would get checked by the training staff in Oakland today, and that would help determine when he gets activated. The A’s need this guy in the ‘pen. They’ve got just two right-handers right now, and though Grant Balfour and Brad Ziegler are both throwing well, a little more righty-lefty balance would be nice.

–Did you like the A’s aggressiveness on the bases last night? They stole three bases as part of their 12-hit attack, and I’d expect them to continue pressing the action with the running game. Geren says he’s looking to pull all strings to get the offense rolling consistently. He still looks for favorable pitcher/catcher matchups that allow for stealing, but I think the A’s need to error on the side of aggression right now. Of course, if they hit as they did Saturday night, the running game isn’t nearly as vital …


Conor Jackson in right field as A’s try to break through vs. Mariners

The weather is absolutely perfect in Seattle right now as the A’s take batting practice, but the temperature is sure to drop big-time as the night wears on. Still, it was nice to sit in the dugout while the A’s were hitting and not freeze. …

A’s manager Bob Geren said last night that he planned to start both Conor Jackson and Andy LaRoche tonight against Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas. But only Jackson is in there, playing right field in place of David DeJesus (who is actually hitting .346 over his past seven games). Geren said he thought about giving Cliff Pennington a day off and playing LaRoche at shortstop, but he likes the way Pennington’s swing has looked lately.

The lineups:

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Kennedy 1B, Cust DH, Saunders CF, Rodriguez SS, Gimenez C, Peguero LF, Wilson 2B; Vargas LHP.

–Andrew Bailey threw a 35-pitch bullpen session. All indications are he continues to progress well, but pitching coach Ron Romanick said Bailey will throw at least once more on the side before facing hitters.

That’s all for now …


Geren searching for right offensive formula

Here are the lineups for Game 2 of A’s-Mariners from Safeco Field:

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

M’s – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Bradley LF, Cust DH, Kennedy 1B, Olivo C, Langerhans CF, Ryan SS, Wilson 2B; Pineda RHP.

It’s the sixth time the A’s have gone with their opening day lineup, and it’s the only one that Bob Geren has used more than once. Overall, the A’s have used 14 different lineups over the first 19 games. Right now, Geren would go with any combo that offered the promise of scoring more runs. He says the A’s are trying anything to jumpstart things offensively, including giving the green light on 3-0 counts more often. “We’re trying to build on what we do well and exploit every different way to score runs,” Geren said.

–The stat that says all you need to know: David DeJesus has the highest batting average of any A’s regular. … and he’s hitting just .250.

–First baseman Daric Barton said he still has some flu-like symptoms but feels good enough to play.

That’s all for now …


Some postgame thoughts

A couple quick takes on the A’s 1-0 loss to the Mariners, which had that all-too-familiar theme — outstanding pitching and not enough hitting.

–I’m noticing a different tone in manager Bob Geren’s voice after some of these early-season losses. Normally he’s one to put a positive spin on any sort of defeat, but he was very quiet and reserved tonight, clearly disheartened by his team’s lack of run production. And he’s had the same tone after other losses too. To state the obvious, the A’s can’t keep wasting pitching gems like the one they got from Brandon McCarthy tonight (four hits over eight innings).

“It’s frustrating to get that kind of performance and not win a game,” Geren said.

–Considering how much the A’s struggled offensively tonight, I can’t help but think Hideki Matsui should have found his way into the game at some point as a pinch hitter. The A’s were one swing of the bat away from changing the game. I realize Matsui is a bit of a liability running the bases in a close game, but he’s still got to make an appearance.

–I’m very interested to see how Tyson Ross fares in his first start of the season Friday night. And I’m just as curious to see Seattle starting pitcher Michael Pineda, a young stud who I’ve heard and read lots about. The A’s will have their work cut out again …


All-AL West road trip provides an early test

It’s only April, but any road trip made up solely of AL West foes is important for the A’s. They begin a four-game series against the Mariners tonight, and then play three against the Los Angeles Angels, who found themselves alone in first place beginning play today. “It’s an early run through the division, but you want to fare well,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “It seems year to year that whoever does best in the division ends up winning.”

Not that you would care much about this, but Safeco Field might have the coldest press box in the American League. It’s just big and spacious and there’s not a lot of warmth, so you have to game-plan with what you wear in here. I brought a heavy jacket, but I try to hold off on wearing it until the later innings. Once you put your jacket on, it’s your last line of defense. When you start freezing in your jacket, forget about it. So I try to tough it out as long as I can. Grrrr ….

The A’s draw a hard assignment tonight against Felix Hernandez, who is 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA at home against the A’s in eight career starts (62 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings). He also threw a five-hitter to beat them opening night at the Coliseum. But the A’s counter with Brandon McCarthy, who has been a real pleasant surprise for Oakland at the back of the rotation. It’s a quality pitching matchup to start this road trip …

Hideki Matsui is out of the lineup, with Josh Willingham serving as DH and Conor Jackson getting a start in left field. Matsui is a .207 career hitter against Hernandez with one homer in 29 at-bats. Jackson is hitless in three at-bats against King Felix.

Michael Wuertz will pitch again for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday. Wuertz gave up three runs on three hits with two walks in one inning against Reno on Wednesday. “Hopefully he’ll pitch more efficiently,” Geren said. “He hasn’t been sharp yet.” So the five lefties remain in the A’s bullpen …

The lineups, with Daric Barton just announced as a late scratch (no reason given).

A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Willingham DH, Sweeney LF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Kennedy 1B, Cust DH, Saunders CF, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Ryan SS, Wilson 2B; Hernandez RHP.