A’s playing musical chairs in the infield vs. Tigers

It’s the thinnest of benches for the A’s tonight. Jemile Weeks is sitting out after fouling a ball off his right instep last night. Scott Sizemore, as expected, won’t play after taking a pitch in the jaw area last night.  With the A’s carrying just three bench players (and eight pitchers), that leaves Ryan Sweeney as the only healthy position player available off the bench for manager Bob Melvin.

Conor Jackson draws the start at third, Eric Sogard is playing second and backup catcher Landon Powell is playing first. Sogard has played lots of second base in his career, so it would seem the bigger concerns are Jackson and Powell on the corners. Both took extra work before the game, but keep an eye on whether the Tigers try laying down some bunts early on. Powell appeared in six games at first base in 2009 (four starts) and entered one game at first as a substitute last season.  He’s taken grounders  this season as a way to stay ready. Jackson has made a couple of appearances at third this season, but he’s much more comfortable at first and in the outfield.

Melvin said he’s hopeful that Weeks and Sizemore both will return for Friday’s series opener against the Yankees (Sizemore shares that hope). Melvin considered Weeks available in a pinch tonight. Sizemore, who took a fastball off the jaw and neck, said his neck is the bigger issue right now. When he simulates standing at the plate, he can’t turn his head all the way toward the pitcher. But Melvin noted that Sizemore’s face was less swollen than last night.

More updates …

–Right-hander Tyson Ross will test his sore shoulder with a bullpen session Friday in Sacramento.

–It was 95 degrees at first pitch, which makes the Christmas theme going on tonight at Comerica Park all the more odd. I saw a big Christmas float outside the stadium that said “Season’s Greetings”, and then heard “White Christmas” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” playing during batting practice. Not sure what that’s all about, but “roasting” at least is appropriate for today …

The lineups:

A’s — Crisp CF, Pennington SS, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Jackson 3B, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Powell 1B, Sogard 2B; McCarthy RHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Boesch LF, Ordonez RF, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Guillen 2B, Avila C, Kelly 3B, Santiago SS; Below LHP.


Guillermo Moscoso makes his return for A’s; Josh Willingham not in lineup

Think back to the A’s starting rotation candidates during spring training … It figured Rich Harden might eventually get healthy and contribute for the big league club. Josh Outman, too.  But who would have thought Guillermo Moscoso would play such an important role for the A’s in 2011? The right-hander makes his return tonight against Detroit, after being sent to Triple-A for a spot start as the A’s re-worked their rotation over the All-Star break. Moscoso takes a 2.16 ERA into the game in 10 appearances (eight starts), and he’s provided stability as injuries ravaged the starting staff. His outing will be key in setting the tone for the A’s on this five-game road trip through Detroit and New York …

–Josh Willingham is out of the lineup tonight, with Ryan Sweeney playing left field and Hideki Matsui serving as DH. A’s manager Bob Melvin is trying to be cautious with Willingham in the aftermath of his strained left Achilles. Melvin wanted to get Willingham back-to-back days off (including Monday’s off-day) and said that Willingham is likely to play all four remaining games of the trip.

–Tyson Ross came out of his throwing session well over the weekend and is likely to throw off the mound sometime this week before starting in a minor league game. Ross said during the last homestand that his oblique injury is healed, and now he’s trying to work through the soreness in his right shoulder.

–Coco Crisp will get a rest at some point this week, according to Melvin. Crisp was just 3 for 16 on the last homestand. Another player who I’m guessing will get a break soon — Jemile Weeks. He has started 35 straight games at second base since being called up. Unlike Crisp, Weeks is rolling at the plate, so it’s tough to take him out right now. He went 9 for 16 on the last homestand.

–Reliever Jerry Blevins was optioned to Triple-A to clear a spot for Moscoso. No big surprise there …

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Sweeney LF, Crisp CF,  Matsui DH, Sizemore 3B, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; Moscoso RHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Boesch LF, Ordonez RF, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Peralta SS, Guillen 2B, Avila C, Inge 3B; Porcello RHP.


Remembering the early Hammer, a pitch for Charlie O. and oh yeah, an A’s game

In for Joe Stiglich on 80s Day at the O.co Coliseum. Joe was probably playing with Hot Wheels back in those days …

As for me, I’m probably one of the few people around anymore who remembers Hammer in his Oakland A’s heyday, when he was owner Charles O. Finley’s “eyes and ears” around the ballpark for the much of the 1970s. Fresh out of college and working for the Hayward Daily Review, I did some backup work on the A’s in 1977 and 1978 (as I’m still doing now, quite amazingly) when Hammer was regularly in the press box during games. He would participate and sometimes organize betting pools with the sportswriters of the day — the great Ron Bergman of  the Tribune, Glenn Schwarz of Examiner, Herb Michelson of the Sacramento Bee and others. Amazingly, Hammer hustled his way to victories in most of those pools, particularly attendance pools where so many of us believed young Stanley Burrell was privy to inside information on the crowd counts. Hey, it didn’t really matter. Hammer kept us entertained during a lean time for the A’s.

I asked Hammer about those pools Sunday and he remembered them well.

“We had the first-hit pool and the attendance pool and I used to tear you journalists up,” he said. “It was fun times. You could look and tell, you watch enough ballgames, you could estimate the crowds pretty good.”

But what about the details on the inside info?

“When you have no story, create one,” he said. “Such is the life of a writer.”

Funny thing, the 80s really weren’t Hammer’s decade. He was a young celebrity with the A’s in the 1970s, but left the scene following the 1980 ownership change. When he emerged as a music star, he didn’t really hit it big until 1990, when his monster hit “U Can’t Touch This” became the first rap single to hit the top 10 Billboard charts.

Hey, whatever works if you’re the A’s. The Hammer Bobblehead Day was well attended, as it should be for a true local hero. Whether you’re  a Hammer fan or not, you have to respect his legacy. The hardest part is knowing that next year, he’ll turn 50 years old. Remembering the days when he was 15-16 years old, that makes me feel like a true dinosaur.

There is little question Hammer’s early exposure to Finley helped him in his later career in the music biz, because he learned some valuable lessons in self-promotion. He didn’t deny it.

“I think some of the biggest things was being around Mr. Finley himself, the architect,” he said. “There’s one game that’s played on the field, but there’s another game that is worked out upstairs that allows for the product and the game to happen the way it does. The game was quote-unquote not as entertaining as the marketing genius Mr. Finley would like, so he would say, `Hey, let’s have a mechanical rabbit to pop out of the ground to give the umpire the balls. That’ll make the kids laugh, that’ll make everybody happy. If the game is too masculine, let’s get ball girls instead of ball boys, put a beautiful young girls out there.”

Hammer ticked off several other Finley innovations, then summed them up by saying, “The genius of Charles O. Finley, and being exposed to that year-in, year-out, from the time I’m basically 9 or 10 years old until I’m 18, played a tremendous part, which is why I took him on Oprah Winfrey and thanked him on Oprah, thank God before he passed away.”

Hammer thinks unequivocally Finley should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Absolutely, but not as somebody’s favorite, just on facts,” he said. “You won’t be doing Mr. Finley a favor, you’ll just be doing what he earned. You’re talking about a man who would acquire talent, curate talent, market and promote the team and then actually win division and world championships and let you know it wasn’t an accident by doing it consecutively, year in and year out.”

Tough to disagree. What’s remarkable is that Finley has no real memorial at the Coliseum, and he’s not in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, either. He was directly responsible for three of the five A’s retired numbers. He hired the late Dick Williams, also in the Hall. He drafted Rickey Henderson for the next generation of A’s fans.

As I finish this, the A’s are up 8-0 in the top of the third. Now that’s a throwback to the ’80s, particularly the latter part of the decade!


Bullpen depth key for A’s in doubleheader

A’s manager Bob Melvin could sure use a long outing from Trevor Cahill in today’s doubleheader opener. Six relievers pitched last night, and while most could probably come back and pitch in one game, how many can pitch in both today? Keep an eye on the A’s bullpen situation as the game(s) unfold. Brian Fuentes and Fautino De Los Santos were the only two relievers not to throw Friday night.

Joey Devine said he feels better after leaving Friday’s game with back spasms. He was set to throw before the game to gauge whether he can pitch, and he was hopeful of being available for the second game. Devine said he’s had back spasms before (most recently in early April), and that it’s typically a 24-to-48 hour thing. That would seem to leave him doubtful for today, but Melvin is hopeful of having Devine for one of the games.

Triple-A Sacramento is playing at home tonight and Josh Outman is slated to start. In a real pinch, the A’s could promote Outman and get him here in time for the nightcap.

–Melvin said Josh Willingham will serve as DH in both games, figuring that’s the only way Willingham could play in both. The A’s are still being conservative with how they use Willingham considering his recent Achilles injury. Hideki Matsui is playing left field in the first game and is likely to sit the second.

Lineups for first game:

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

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


Chris Carter sent down, Eric Sogard called up; Grant Green debuts in center field for Double-A Midland

The second half of the season appears a great time for the A’s to get their top young prospects some major league exposure. But on the first day after the All-Star break, the A’s sent Chris Carter  the other direction, optioning the first baseman to Triple-A Sacramento and recalling middle infielder Eric Sogard. It’s a clear sign that the A’s brass doesn’t regard Carter as part of the solution for the team’s current offensive woes. At this point, you have to wonder where Carter fits into the A’s thoughts at all. He hit .133 with no RBIs in 10 games during his call-up and hardly distinguished himself with the glove.

I’ve been of the opinion that the A’s need to draw a conclusion on Carter by season’s end – is he a part of this team’s future or is it time to look for another young 1B/DH type? Perhaps the A’s have already made that decision. Manager Bob Melvin was careful to point out Carter’s biggest strength. “One of the attributes he has that we don’t have a whole lot of here is power.” But Melvin’s other comments were more telling. “I think confidence plays in it for him, and he’s gonna have to find a way to believe in himself,” Melvin said.

–Sogard has played strictly shortstop all season for Sacramento, but Melvin said he’ll get work at second, short and third. If he doesn’t debut in Saturday’s doubleheader, he will surely play Sunday. Melvin said Cliff Pennington may play shortstop in both games tomorrow and get Sunday off.

–A noteworthy development at Double-A Midland: Shortstop Grant Green, the A’s top prospect according to Baseball America, played center field for the first time Friday night. He’ll get more time there in the future. “We’re going to explore it,” general manager Billy Beane said. “We think it’s something he could take to very well. It’s a big void in the organization right now. We’ve thought his bat would get him to the big leagues quicker than his glove. It’s a way to merge the two and address an organizational need.” Green’s defense has been rough at shortstop since being drafted in the first round out of USC in 2009. He’s made 58 errors since the start of the 2010 season.

Tonight’s lineups:

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

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


Starting rotation plans and other pregame A’s notes

This weekend certainly hasn’t gone according to plan for the A’s, and it’s doubtful how much salvaging a win today will mean in the big picture. But certainly, the A’s need something positive to draw on as they disperse for the All-Star break. Here’s the pregame news coming out of the clubhouse:

–The starting rotation coming out of the break will go Brandon McCarthy against the Angels on Friday, Rich Harden and Trevor Cahill in Saturday’s doubleheader and Gio Gonzalez on Sunday. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, but the A’s won’t need that fifth starter until July 19 at Detroit, thanks to off-days. Guillermo Moscoso remains the favorite to return to the big league rotation and make that start. Tyson Ross (strained oblique) is still an option, but he’s struggled in two rehab starts with Triple-A Sacramento, giving up 13 hits and eight runs in just 5 1/3 innings. Ross is pitching for Single-A Stockton today (Sacramento is off). “You want a guy to have some success (in a rehab start), and I know he does as well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.

With this setup, Harden will get eight days’ rest before his next start, as Melvin wants to make sure the right-hander is fresh and healthy (there’s no indication that Harden isn’t healthy). Trevor Cahill will get one extra day of rest for each of his next two starts (thanks to off-days), an idea Melvin also prefers.

–It’s no surprise that Conor Jackson isn’t in today’s lineup after the shot he took at first base last night from Elvis Andrus. Jackson said he’s “pretty sore in a bunch of places,” including his ribs. “I’ve never had a rib issue so I don’t know what to expect here,” Jackson said. “They’re not broken, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms. It’s just like I took a Mike Tyson jab.”

I’ve never been punched by Tyson, but I imagine it can’t feel too good.

–Hideki Matsui is also out of the lineup, with Chris Carter as DH and Adam Rosales getting a rare start at first base. Melvin said he simply wanted to get Matsui a little extra rest with the All-Star break beginning Monday, and that Matsui will return to the No. 3 spot on Friday against the Angels. “He’ll never say it, but I really do feel like I extended him too much by playing him in the outfield a lot,” Melvin said. “He really wasn’t conditioned for it, but I needed him so badly.”

After the break, Melvin envisions Matsui drawing maybe two starts a week in left to allow Willingham to DH and get a bit of  rest.

Today’s lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, DeJesus RF, Crisp CF, Willingham LF, Sizemore 3B, Carter DH, Suzuki C, Rosales 1B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Rangers –Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton CF, Beltre 3B, Young DH, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Napoli C, Murphy LF; Harrison LHP.


A’s look to turn tide against Rangers

Tonight’s lineups, as the A’s try to find the win column in Arlington:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Willingham DH, Sizemore 3B, DeJesus RF, Carter 1B, Powell C, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Rangers — Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS , Hamilton LF, Beltre DH, Young 3B, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Torrealba C, Chavez CF, Lewis RHP.

–This marks the second straight game that Josh Willingham serves as DH. He told me before batting practice that he’s feeling fine physically, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said Willingham would be back in left field Sunday.

–Notable stats involving tonight’s starting pitchers: Adrian Beltre is 6 for 17 (.353) with one homer lifetime against the A’s Brandon McCarthy. Hideki Matsui, who has been stuck on 499 career professional homers for 18 games now, is 6 for 16 (.375) with two homers against the Rangers’ Colby Lewis.


Josh Willingham, Grant Balfour return from DL; Guillermo Moscoso optioned to minors; Coco Crisp batting second vs. Rangers

There was lots of pregame activity for the A’s today. Let’s get to it …

–Josh Willingham and Grant Balfour were both activated from the DL, with pitchers Guillermo Moscoso and Graham Godfrey being optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. Yes, it’s awkward timing for Moscoso to go down given the gem he threw Wednesday. But there’s a plan behind this: The A’s want all the bullpen reinforcements they can have for this four-game series in homer-happy Rangers Ballpark. Moscoso would have been unavailable all weekend. “They need fresh arms,” Moscoso said. He also said he’s been told that he’ll pitch July 14 for Triple-A Sacramento, and that – tentatively – the plan is for him to return to the major league rotation July 19 and start at Detroit. Moscoso knows nothing is set in stone. A’s manager Bob Melvin confirmed the A’s are eyeing July 19 for Moscoso’s return to the rotation. That’s no guarantee, but Melvin acknowledged Moscoso is the front runner. “You guys have seen him pitch, he deserves to be a front runner,” Melvin said. That seems to indicate the A’s might be eyeing Tyson Ross as a reliever when he gets healthy, assuming Ross rejoins the major league roster when he comes off the DL.

The A’s want Godfrey to stretch back out again and be ready if he’s needed as a starter or long reliever.

–The lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Sizemore 3B, Jackson RF, Carter 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; Harden RHP.

Rangers: Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton LF, Beltre 3B, Young DH, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Napoli C, Chavez CF; Holland LHP.

–Melvin dropped the hot-hitting Scott Sizemore from second to fifth, keeps Weeks as his leadoff man and slots Crisp right behind Weeks, giving the A’s a speedy combo atop the lineup. “Coco can hit anywhere in lineup, and a I appreciate what he did in the ‘3’ hole when he was there,” Melvin said. “I want him to be able to swing. I don’t want him to go up there and have to take all the time, and in the first spot you gotta be a little more selective. He’s a smart hitter, and when a hole is open between first and second he’s able to pull the ball and get his hands over. He’s got a pretty good awareness of what he needs to do every at-bat and I want him to be able to go up there  and swing.”

–Melvin said he plans to give Matsui a day off Friday, and thinks some of Matsui’s struggles might be because he’s a little worn down. (Willingham will DH on Friday). You’ll also notice Chris Carter remains in the lineup at first base against the lefty Derek Holland. “With our lack of production here recently, he’s a guy we look to produce for us. You gotta stick with some guys,” Melvin said.


Getaway day for the A’s

Ben Enos filling in for Joe Stiglich today

Another warm one on tap here in Oakland, and the bags were already being lined up outside in preparation for the trip to Texas tonight.

First off, here are today’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Sizemore 3B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Carter 1B, Jackson LF, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Pennington SS. Moscoso P.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Kennedy DH, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Peguero LF, Gutierrez CF, Bard C, Figgins 3B. Vargas P.

Not a ton to report in terms of pregame news today. Manager Bob Melvin said Grant Balfour is on track to come off the disabled list tomorrow in Texas as scheduled. The right-hander threw for Sacramento last night in his final rehab appearance and allowed a run on two hits and a walk in one inning.

Tyson Ross made the start for the Rivercats last night and didn’t have the cleanest outing. He threw just 3 1/3 innings, allowed seven hits and four earned runs. He struck out four and walked two. Melvin said the biggest thing was Ross got his pitch count up, and the right-hander had to come out in the fourth inning after 71 pitches. Melvin also said that Ross will throw another rehab appearance, likely in five days. With the way the minor-league calendars look, I’m guessing that’ll be in Stockton.

Final piece of injury news is Melvin said OF Josh Willingham had another positive day yesterday and that the team hopes to have an answer on his status in Texas. Nothing definitive on that yet.


Jemile Weeks, Gio Gonzalez earn honors; Willingham might play vs. Texas Rangers

Here’s the latest on another very warm day at the Coliseum …

A couple of individual awards came the A’s way Tuesday, as second baseman Jemile Weeks was named the American League’s co-Rookie of the Month along with Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned AL co-Player of the Week honors with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. It’s the sixth time an A’s player has earned Rookie of the Month, but Weeks is just the second  position player to do it. Shortstop Bobby Crosby was honored in June 2004.

It’s impressive in that this truly was Weeks’ first month in the major leagues. He’s hitting .299 with 13 runs and six stolen bases in 25 games since being called up June 7, providing a jolt of excitement immediately upon his arrival. But I’ll be interested to see what happens with him once cleanup man Josh Willingham returns from the DL. I would think Hideki Matsui goes back to the No. 3 spot, Coco Crisp returns to leadoff and Weeks might drop back down to the No. 9 spot. I think that makes for an overall stronger batting order. Where would you like to see Weeks hit once Willingham comes back? …

–Speaking of Willingham, he’s been running for the past couple days and is doing well enough that both he and manager Bob Melvin think he could return sometime during the four-game series at Texas that begins Thursday. “Cautiously optimistic” is how Melvin characterized things. Willingham said the key is how his strained Achilles responds AFTER he’s done running. That’s when he still experiences problems. “If it continues to get better, I’ll play in Texas,” he said.

–Check out this all-encompassing review of the Oakland Coliseum, courtesy of www.stadiumjourney.com. Do you agree with the points made? Disagree? Feel free to share …

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Sizemore 3B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Guiterrez CF, Halman RF; Hernandez RHP.