A’s begin important AL West stretch vs. Mariners

Here’s the lineups for the opener of the A’s three-game series against the Mariners:

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

Sea – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Cust DH, Halman CF, Peguero LF, Bard C; Pineda RHP.

–Lost in the hoopla of Gio Gonzalez’s All-Star selection Sunday: The A’s are beginning a block of 11 straight games against the rest of the AL West – three against Seattle, four at Texas, and four against the Angels coming out of the All-Star break. If they’re going to jump back in the division race, the opportunity presents itself over this stretch. And it’s safe to say these 11 games will largely dictate how the A’s operate regarding the trade deadline. If they’re in second or third place and 4-5 games out of first, maybe they keep their team intact. If they lose ground from where they’re at right now (6 games out), I’d expect to see some veterans shipped out.

Typically, we would say the Mariners offer the softest test of the three division opponents. But Seattle has played better than people expected, and the A’s don’t catch a break, facing a 1-2 pitching combo of Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in the first two games. Can the A’s, who swung the bats so well Sunday, find a way to break through against these guys?

–Left fielder Josh Willingham (strained Achilles) had a “good day” yesterday, according to manager Bob Melvin. Still no word on when Willingham might come off the DL, but when he does come back, Melvin said he plans to alternate Willingham and Hideki Matsui at the left field/DH spots. It makes sense to limit Willingham’s activity early on, and Matsui has proven a very capable outfielder.

–Reliever Grant Balfour (strained right oblique) is confident he’ll be ready to return from the DL on Thursday when he’s eligible. He threw 38 pitches off the mound Sunday and he’s slated to throw one inning for Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday at Fresno. “I’m ready to go,” Balfour said. “I hate being out and I tried to get ready as quick as I could.”
Melvin said he’s eager to get Balfour back in his eighth-inning role. He likes Joey Devine and Brian Fuentes for the seventh, and Balfour in the eighth setting up for Andrew Bailey.

–I saw Gio Gonzalez trying on his All-Star hat – basically the A’s hat (gold bill) with the All-Star emblem on it. He’ll start Friday against Texas and then would be available on three days’ rest for the July 12 All-Star Game. “I think an inning would be all right on three days’ rest,” Melvin said.


Outman’s demotion and how the A’s starting rotation shakes out

A quick, non-All Star Game related update …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin said Josh Outman’s demotion was merely a numbers’ game, and that he told Outman as much. It’s not too surprising that Outman is the odd man out of the six starters that were in the A’s mix. He’s battled a bit of arm fatigue, still feeling the effects of a long layoff from Tommy John surgery. I’d expect to see him back at some point this season. He was a very solid fill-in with all the rotation injuries.

So the rotation going into the All-Star break: Gio Gonzalez today, followed by Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill and Guillermo Moscoso against Seattle; Rich Harden, Gonzalez, McCarthy and Cahill against the Rangers. It will be interesting once Tyson Ross is ready to return from the DL. Does he bump someone in the rotation? Join the bullpen? Stay in the minors?

Melvin said he didn’t want to speculate about whether Ross would rejoin the rotation after the break. “I’m not going to go there as far as whether he’ll start or relieve.  He can do both.” That was interesting to hear because Melvin wasn’t directly asked about Ross as a bullpen option …

Today’s lineups, w/Cliff Pennington back down in the No. 9 spot for the first time in a while.

A’s –Weeks 2B, Sizemore 3B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Carter DH, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Powell C, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Diamondbacks: Bloomquist LF, Johnson 2B, Upton RF, Young CF, Drew SS, Pena DH, Nady 1B, Roberts 3B, Blanco C; Kennedy RHP.


Gio Gonzalez named as Oakland A’s lone All-Star

A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez was named to his first All-Star team Sunday, a testament to the transformation he’s made from an erratic young talent to a polished major leaguer.

Gonzalez, 25, was expected to be the lone Athletic chosen for the July 12 showcase, and indeed he was when American and National League rosters were revealed. Gonzalez was one of five pitchers that Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, the AL manager, hand-picked for the squad.

Fan voting determined the starters, and player votes and managers’ picks filled out the reserve players and pitchers.

“It’s awesome,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He works so hard. Everybody knew he had the talent, but to see him put it together is awesome. He deserved it, well deserved for sure.”

Gonzalez wasn’t expected to be available for comment until after the game because he’s pitching Sunday. He’s also slated to pitch Friday against Texas, which would make him available to pitch in the All-Star Game on three days’ rest.

“He’s having an outstanding year,” Washington said. “He’s a tough competitor. We face him enough. And he gives me a nasty left-hander out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez was a can’t-miss prospect when he made his big league debut in 2008, but he struggled with his command – and maturity. Once he found trouble on the mound, he had trouble not letting things snowball.

Beginning in 2010, Gonzalez showed major strides. This season, he’s been the anchor of an A’s rotation that’s been gutted by injuries. He is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA, a mark that ranks fourth among American League starters. His .216 opponents’ batting average ranks eighth in the league and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings is tied for third.

“We’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the league and he’s been our best starter so far,” A’s reliever Brad Ziegler said. “He’s just been able to bounce back from adversity better. Also, just learning to trust his fastball more. Sometimes he would fall in love with his curve ball, and when you’ve got a 94 mph fastball, that’s not always necessary.”


Willingham to remain on DL, possibly through the break

In for Joe Stiglich tonight …
Josh Willingham is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, but that’s not going to happen because the outfielder’s left Achilles tendinitis is still troubling him after he made two rehab starts with Triple-A Sacramento Thursday and Friday.

“It’s not progressing the way I thought it would,” he said Saturday night. “It was sore after I played in the two games and a bit tight during the games. I’m pretty bummed out about it.”

Willingham, who was placed on the 15-day DL June 23 retroactive to June 18, isn’t sure when he’ll be able to return because he thought he’d be ready by now.

“Hopefully before the All-Star break sometime, but if I need more time, I guess I’ll take it,” he said, adding that he believed if he rests through the break, he’ll almost certainly be ready coming out of it.

Willingham didn’t even play in the outfield in his two rehab starts, getting all of his at-bats as a designated hitter. He was 1-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs.

Once his injury is healed, he believes he can get back in the swing of it quickly because he can continue to take batting practice.

“It only affects me when I’m running, not when I’m hitting,” he said. “I’ll just try to stay sharp in that area and try to get better running.”


One of the players adversely affected by the A’s managerial change has been outfielder David DeJesus. In the first 16 games under Bob Melvin, DeJesus did not play at all and in four other games was limited to pinch-hitting or pinch-running duties.

Not coincidentally, DeJesus languished through one of the worst offensive months of his career during June. He hit just .148 (8-for-54) and not only didn’t hit a home run, he didn’t drive in a single run. He had just one extra-base hit, a double on the first day of the month.

But Melvin has recommitted to DeJesus by starting him , banking that his offensive track record can provide additional punch to Oakland’s anemic lineup.

“In a situation like we are offensively, you need a guy like that to be productive,” Melvin said. “So it’s my job to give him some time and consistent at-bats to work through it.”

DeJesus made his fifth straight start after collecting two hits in consecutive games. Heading into tonight’s game, he has reached base in seven consecutive plate appearances (four hits, three walks).

“I would certainly like him to continue this type of thing where I didn’t have to worry about right field, that’s his spot,” the manager said.

Tonight’s lineups:

OAK: 2B Weeks, 3B Sizemore, CF Crisp, DH Matsui, 1B Carter, LF Jackson, C Suzuki, RF DeJesus, SS Rosales. P Outman

AZ: SS Bloomquist, 2B Johnson, RF Upton, CF Young, DH Pena, C Montero, 1B Nady, 3B Roberts, LF Parra. P Saunders








Harden, Matsui and more from A’s 5-4 win over Arizona Diamondbacks

Since I didn’t blog pre-game, here’s a look at the A’s notebook for tomorrow’s paper. And a few postgame notes following the A’s 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin thought Rich Harden’s effectiveness came from him changing speeds on his fastball, which complemented his changeup and split-fingered fastball. Indeed, Harden wasn’t blowing up the radar gun (he topped out at 94 mph), but he was in control during six innings of two-run ball. Hideki Matsui said he remembered Harden dominating with his fastball when facing him in the past. “His command really stood out (Friday),” Matsui said.

–Speaking of Matsui, Melvin credited the veteran with knowing when he had an opportunity to swipe a bag. Arizona first baseman Juan Miranda was playing behind Matsui in the fourth, and Matsui easily stole second base, putting him in position to score on Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single. That was Matsui’s first steal since Sept. 12, 2007. “That was big for us,” Melvin said. “It got us on the board and got momentum back in our dugout.”

–Melvin said Chris Carter would draw another start at first base Saturday.

Here’s tomorrow’s notebook …

Kirk Gibson may have been managing his first game in Oakland on Friday, but the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper obviously has fond memories of the Coliseum.

That’s where his Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the 1988 World Series title, a run that Gibson ignited with his legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.

Gibson reminisced about the abuse he took from fans in the outfield bleachers at the Coliseum during that series.

“(A’s) fans have always been very honest with opponents,” Gibson said. “In the end, I kinda got them back.”

But he added that as his playing career drew to a close with the Detroit Tigers in 1995, he actually chatted pleasantly with a few of those fans who had heckled him through the years at the Coliseum.

He recalled his favorite chant he heard from A’s fans.

“’What’s the matter with Gibson? He’s a bum!’” he said. “I’ve known that for years.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, who was playing for the Giants in 1988, was asked his memories of Gibson’s homer off Eckersley.

“I think everybody remembers where they were when it happened,” Melvin said.

And where was he?

“A bachelor party … but everybody stopped to watch it.”

–Melvin said Brandon McCarthy will come off the disabled list and start Monday against Seattle. Guillermo Moscoso, on turn to pitch then, will slide to Wednesday, and the A’s will go with a six-man rotation until a starter absolutely has to be sent down, Melvin said.

Their current rotation would unfold as follows beginning Saturday — Josh Outman-Gio Gonzalez-McCarthy-Trevor Cahill -Guillermo Moscoso-Rich Harden.

“We’ll make the decisions when we need to make them,” Melvin said. “Certainly, with the way guys have pitched, it makes for difficult decisions.”

–Catcher Kurt Suzuki, now the longest tenured Athletic after Mark Ellis was traded Thursday, moved into Ellis’ locker, which is sectioned off by a wall on one side and provides some privacy.

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich approached Suzuki to ask if he wanted to switch.

“I consider that the best locker,” Vucinich said, then added with a smile: “You can avoid the press if you want.”

–Right fielder David DeJesus’ throwing error Thursday snapped his 301-game errorless streak, which was the longest among active major league outfielders.