Two new faces from recent trades on the A’s roster: slugger Allen, pitcher Billings

In for Joe Stiglich today …

The A’s have called up first baseman/outfielder Brandon Allen and right-handed pitcher Bruce Billings from Triple-A Sacramento and optioned infielder Adam Rosales and left-handed pitcher Jordan Norberto, and Allen gets the start today at first for Conor Jackson.

Allen, acquired in the Brad Ziegler trade with Arizona, might be best described as a left-handed version of Chris Carter, and in more ways than one. Like Carter, he’s very soft-spoken and carries a very prodigious stick … when he makes contact. They’re still buzzing about the 455-foot homer he hit for the Diamondbacks against Milwaukee in July during a brief call-up, which was one of the longest homers ever hit in the history of Chase Field. Take a look: http://tinyurl.com/3gnk5zo

In his combined Triple-A stops in the rarified air of Reno as well as Sacto, Allen hit 21 homers with 73 RBIs. A big contrast with Carter, even though he has 101 strikeouts in 344 at-bats, is that he also walks a bit. He has 66 walks this year and an on-base percentage of .413. He was effectively displaced in the Diamondbacks organization when power prospect Paul Goldschmidt made the jump from Double-A and became the regular Arizona first baseman earlier this month.

Hard to say how the A’s view Allen for the future — he could also play some left field while he’s here — but if nothing else, he provides a little depth at the first base position as Carter tries to sort out his issues at Triple-A.

Billings, acquired in the Mark Ellis deal with Colorado, also had his first taste of major-league experience earlier this year when he recorded a two-inning save against St. Louis earlier this year. In his MLB debut, he got Albert Pujols to hit into an inning-ending double play. For the year with Colorado Springs and Sacramento, he is 6-2 with a 4.67 ERA and has 34 walks and 66 K in 71 1/3 innings. He’s primarily a fastball pitcher with a circle change. He said the A’s have him slotted as a long man.

Both Allen and Billings are 25 years old.

Coco Crisp was out of the lineup for the sixth straight day with a calf strain. He did some pre-game baserunning with manager Bob Melvin and the training staff looking on, so he should be close. Jackson, shortstop Cliff Pennington and catcher Kurt Suzuki are all getting the day off.

Here are today’s lineups:

OAK: 2B Weeks, 3B Sizemore, DH Matsui, LF Willingham, RF DeJesus, 1B Allen, CF Sweeney, C Powell, SS Sogard. P Cahill.

TEX: 2B Kinsler, SS Andrus, LF Hamilton, 3B Young, RF Cruz, DH Napoli, 1B Moreland, C Torrealba, CF Chavez. P Lewis





Garner arrives as a special advisor

In for Joe Stiglich Friday and Saturday …

The A’s always do something special when I’m subbing for Joe, and sure enough, today they added Phil Garner to their staff as a special advisor. While manager Bob Melvin said it was a mutual idea between he and Billy Beane, you can bet Melvin set the tone on getting Garner here all the way. Garner gave him his start as a coach and took time to counsel him on becoming a future manager.

The A’s couldn’t add Garner as a coach, so he’ll be on the field before games working with players and coaches, and he’ll sit in the stands or a box during the game, doing evaluations and then offering his two cents to his one-time protege.

One thing you can say about Garner. He’s a terrific guy with a buoyant personality and the players should love him. He’s got hundreds of great stories. Just ask him any question and he’s bound to tell a good one. I asked him if he got a World Series ring with the 1974 Oakland A’s, even though he wasn’t on the postseason roster and only played sparingly down the stretch (he became a full-time starter in 1975). His response:

“I did. I didn’t really earn it, though. I got on the playoff roster and then they took me off at the last minute and replaced me with Manny Trillo. But I did get a ring. As Rollie Fingers would have said, it was a Cracker Jack box ring. Mine didn’t have a diamond on it.”

So how will he be helping out? Here are some of the things he said before the game:

*-“I”ll be out here pre-game, mixing among players and staff, and helping out Bob any way I can with whatever contribution I can make. Sometimes it’s nice to have another set of eyes to bounce some ideas and opinions off of. I’ll do whatever I can to help him with those things. I’ll tell him what I see and give him some of my opinions, then it’s up to Bob how it sits with him.”

*-“I hope I can do for Bo what Chuck Tanner did for me. Bo’s a much more accomplished manager at this point than I was when Chuck Tanner came around to help me out my first couple of years. Chuck was a great confidante and was great with the players and staff.

*-“Everybody in this sport gets something passed to them along the way and you feel a responsibility to pass something else to the next guy down the road.”

*On Melvin when he served as Garner’s bench coach in 1999 and 2000: “He was the assistant manager and he was a better manager than I was.”

Melvin said he and Garner have been talking for 3-4 weeks. How did the initial conversation go?

Said Garner, “Bob said, `Look, I want to run something by you. You’re a former Oakland A and we’d like to start to think about the A’s as a tradition and start talking about it. We have young players we feel like can get us back there again. Even though I came in at the tail end of the great Oakland A’s era, I still like I was a little bit of a part of it.”

Garner said he didn’t require much arm-twisting to get back to Oakland for the first time in 35 years.

“I don’t have a whole lot I’m doing these days. I’m kind of enjoying life and I’m really good at doing nothing. I was able to clear my schedule pretty easily and enjoy taking up the opportunity.”

So what has the 62-year-old Garner been doing since he was fired as the Houston Astros’ manager in 2007?

“I’m a real good grandpa. We have five grandkids and they’re all close to us in Houston. I work on my golf game and a tennis game. I do have an office, but my wife busted me at it. She looked at the credit card after I’d been going to the office. I’d go to the office at about 10:30, then at 11:30 she’d see a charge for lunch, then I’d be home at about 1:30.”

His thoughts on Melvin: “Early on Bob had a sixth sense about how players’ psyches worked. He used to provide great analysis on players. That piqued your interest, then you start talking about other players. Bo’s an excellent evaluator of talent and personalities. I think catchers and middle infielders have a little leg up, because that’s what you’re analyzing the whole time you’re playing the game anyway.”

On getting back into baseball after a long layoff:  “I’m excited about it. It’s a different gig for me. I kid with my wife because she understands the game better from the stands than I do. I rarely ever watch the game from the stands. All my life I’ve been involved with it on the field. The only time that I’ve not been involved with it on the field is when I was suspended and they wouldn’t me sit in the stands. I’d have to go watch it in the TV booth outside. I’ve never really analyzed the game from the stands, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be a different way to look at things for me, so I’m kind of anxious to get on with that.”

On the possibility of managing again someday: “I’m kind of funny. I don’t miss it when I’m not doing it. I’m involved in a lot of things. I’m totally immersed when I do baseball and when I’ve been fired in the past, I’ve just sort of walked away and not looked back. Once you’re in the game, it’s in your blood, you hear that old line all the time. But I didn’t pine for it, if you want to put it that way. And I’m not sure I’m old enough to come back and manage. Jack McKeon kind of set the bar a little high right now. You never say never, but right now, I’d like to do what I can to help out Bob and the Oakland A’s.


Said Melvin: “To have a guy who’s played in the World Series and managed in the World Series, he’s another resource here in this organization — for the players, for me, for the coaches and for the front office. He’s just a great guy to have in the organization.

“I never even thought about managing before I was with him. But he took time to explain things to me whether it was during a game or after a game … why I double-switch here, why I went to the bullpen here, and walked me through it. A lot of philosophies of what I do are because of what he taught me.”


C.J. Wilson’s comments catch A’s attention

We’re 3 for 3 on open-roof days here at the Rogers Center. Blue sky and sunshine, so it should be good baseball weather. …

The comments from Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, in which he bashed the Coliseum and A’s fans, should make for an interesting game Friday night. Wilson will pitch the opener of a three-game series against Brandon McCarthy, his former Rangers teammate. Check out Wilson’s comments if you haven’t seen them yet. “He said kind of what he wanted to say,” McCarthy said. “The people that should be angry should be the fans. They can choose to respond how they want.” Here’s Kurt Suzuki’s take on Wilson, a free agent after the season who says he would never play for the A’s: “He’s a good pitcher and he’s probably going to make a lot of money soon. We don’t have a stadium like the Rangers or Yankees, but we’re fortunate to play for the Oakland A’s and we’re proud of it.”

–Center fielder Coco Crisp is not playing today, and manager Bob Melvin is unsure of Crisp’s availability for the Rangers series. But he said the team will hold off until after the weekend to decide if Crisp will go on the DL for his strained right calf. “I think we’re prepared to go through the Texas series,” Melvin said. “We’re reluctant to DL him because he’s such an important cog.” But Melvin also said a calf injury is a big deal for a player such as Crisp, whose speed is so important to his game.

–Scott Sizemore makes a surprise appearance in the leadoff spot with Jemile Weeks getting a day off. Melvin likes Sizemore’s on-base percentage and he thinks Sizemore is swinging the bat a little better lately. Adam Rosales is playing second base. “We want to keep (Weeks) healthy,” Melvin said. “It looks to me like he’s wearing down some.”

–Michael Wuertz, on the DL with right thumb tendinitis, won’t throw until Monday, and Melvin says it’s likely that Wuertz wouldn’t return until September.

Today’s lineups:
A’s – Sizemore 3B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sweeney CF, Rosales 2B; Moscoso RHP.

Jays – Escobar SS, Thames LF, Bautista RF, Lind DH, Encarnacion 1B, Rasmus CF, Hill 2B, Arencibia C, Lawrie 3B; Mills LHP.


Coco Crisp sits again, status unknown for Thursday

Checking in from Toronto, where the hot topic of the day is whether the Blue Jays are stealing signs from the center field seats during home games. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke at a news conference vehemently denying any of the allegations that came out of an ESPN The Magazine story on the subject. His opening statement: “This whole thing is stupid. It’s unbelievabvle that we’re sitting here to even talk about this. … All I’ll say is there’s zero truth to this.”

It was pretty entertaining to listen to him go on …

–As for A’s news, Coco Crisp (strained right calf) is out of the lineup again, with Ryan Sweeney playing center field and Cliff Pennington hitting second in the order. Manager Bob Melvin said Crisp was scheduled for baseball activity before the game to test his calf. He’s not sure about whether Crisp will be ready to play in Thursday’s road trip finale. “I’m always hopeful, but I’m not even gonna handicap it,” Melvin said. “If he does feel it some, I would be reluctant to play him.”

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney CF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Jays — Davis LF, Escobar SS, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Hill 2B, Arencibia C, Lawrie 3B; Alvarez RHP.


Coco a no-go again with strained calf

The A’s finish off their nine-game road trip with three against the Blue Jays here at the Rogers Center. This is the first time in Oakland history that the A’s have played in all domes on a three-city trip, according to the team’s media relations department. I put an asterisk next to that, because Safeco Field in Seattle – even when the roof is closed — has lots of open space and you can see out of it. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching baseball inside a Costco, which is the vibe I get in Tampa Bay and Toronto. But I don’t mind Tropicana Field and Rogers Center — it’s a change of pace for a series or two. I just wouldn’t want to cover a full season in either venue.

–Coco Crisp’s strained right calf is still bothering him, so he’s sitting for a second straight game. A’s manager Bob Melvin had said Sunday he thought Crisp would be able to return today (Conor Jackson’s sore back is feeling good enough that he’s starting at first base after sitting Sunday).

It doesn’t seem that the DL is being considered yet for Crisp, because Melvin holds out hope that he can either pinch-hit in this series or perhaps even start Thursday. But past experience shows us that none of Crisp’s injuries should be taken too lightly. It’s worth noting that Melvin was pleasantly surprised to see Crisp emerge from the clubhouse and stretch with his teammates today. So maybe he is doing better.

(Breaking news!!! After writing about indoor baseball here at Rogers Center, the retractable roof just began to open and a blinding sun is hitting me right in the face. That’s what I get for comparing this place to a Costco).

–There’s quite a buzz in Toronto about the home debut of hotshot rookie third baseman Brett Lawrie, who was just called up Friday. He’s from British Columbia, and he’s just the 17th Canadian to play for the Blue Jays. Tonight’s A’s starter, Rich Harden, also is from British Columbia, so that adds some intrigue to their individual matchup.

–Reliever Craig Breslow is available today after being shut down Sunday with upper back pain.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sweeney CF, Sizemore 3B; Harden RHP.

Jays – Escobar SS, Thames LF, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Hill 2B, Arencibia C, Lawrie 3B; Cecil LHP.


Crisp, Jackson, Pennington all sit for series finale vs. Rays

Here’s the lowdown from the A’s pregame scene …

–Center fielder Coco Crisp (right calf strain) and first baseman Conor Jackson (sore back) are both sitting, though manager Bob Melvin thinks both should be ready for Tuesday’s series opener with Toronto. Jackson is confident he’ll play by then, saying he and the team are “erring on the side of caution.” Crisp, when asked about his calf, simply said “Perfect. Everything’s always perfect.” That’s Coco Talk for “I don’t want to discuss it.”

Shortstop Cliff Pennington is getting a day off too, and Melvin said he will probably give Pennington another day to rest in Toronto. It makes sense that the A’s are being cautious with him. Melvin cited the medication that Pennington is on for Bell’s palsy, and wanting him to get a chance to adjust to it.

That leaves the A’s with one fully healthy bench player — catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is being spelled by Landon Powell. The A’s have operated with a similarly thin corps on more than one occasion recently.

Ah yes, one more injury update: Reliever Craig Breslow has soreness just below his left shoulder, stemming from a recent weight lifting session. He was unavailable last night and likely today as well.

–As bad as this road trip began for the A’s, things would suddenly seem sunnier with a win today. Taking two out of three from Tampa would be a good way to go into Toronto for the final leg of this three-city trek.

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Sogard SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Sizemore 3B, Sweeney CF, Powell C, Rosales 1B; Cahill RHP.

Rays — Jennings LF, Damon DH, Longoria 3B, Zobrist 2B, Kotchman 1B, Upton CF, Joyce RF, Shoppach C, Rodriguez SS; Price LHP.


Conor Jackson sits with bad back, Adam Rosales starts at first base

We had a bit of pregame A’s news at Tropicana Field. Conor Jackson is out with a “tweak” in the right side of his back, according to manager Bob Melvin. Adam Rosales is playing first base tonight. Jackson hurt his back while taking a swing in his final at-bat Friday, but it doesn’t appear serious. He’s listed as day-to-day. Initially, Melvin said he assumed Jackson wouldn’t be available until the Toronto series, which starts Tuesday. But there’s an outside chance Jackson could play Sunday.

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

Rays – Jennings LF, Damon DH, Longoria 3B, Zobrist 2B, Kotchman 1B, Upton CF, Joyce RF, Chirinos C, Rodriguez SS; Cobb RHP.


Turning back time at Tropicana Field

Well, it’s 80’s night at Tropicana Field, and since I was off the day the A’s held their 80’s night, I’m glad I’m here for this one. I graduated from high school in 1993, but my music taste is hopelessly stuck in the prior decade. The Go-Go’s are playing a postgame concert, and I’m actually excited to see them. I’m feeling absolutely no shame in that last sentence. I make no apology for being a fan of the 80’s hair bands, so admitting I get into the Go-Go’s ain’t nothin’. And the Goo-Goo Dolls are playing a postgame show Saturday night, so we’ll get our 90’s fix too.

–As I’ve written before, it’s always a quirky scene at the Trop. It’s baseball under a tent, and there’s always the chance of a homer hitting one of the catwalks. A’s manager Bob Melvin referred to it as “pinball machine-type stuff.” Well put … On a serious note, Melvin said it’s crucial that outfielders take enough fly balls during batting practice so they get used to tracking the ball.

–Shortstop Cliff Pennington returns to the lineup. He’s still feeling the effects of Bell’s palsy (the blink reflex in his left eye still isn’t normal), but he said he’s good enough to play. He does have to wear protective glasses while on defense. The lenses are clear and non-prescription. The A’s ordered them from Nike, and Pennington had black and white frames to choose from. “We’ll see what the guys think,” he said. I saw him taking the black ones out to batting practice.

–Right fielder David DeJesus is back from a sore right thumb too.

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

Rays — Jennings LF, Damon DH, Longoria 3B, Zobrist 2B, Kotchman 1B, Upton CF, Joyce RF, Chirinos C, Rodriguez SS; Niemann RHP.

**POP QUIZ: Who can name more than two Go-Go’s songs without turning to Google? There’s no prize if you’re able to, just a boatload of respect from yours truly …


Winless in Seattle — so far

The roof is open at Safeco Field and it’s another picturesque afternoon. Indeed, the weather has been terrific up here the past three days. The baseball? That’s been a bit uglier, at least from the A’s perspective. Getting swept by last-place Seattle is no way to begin a nine-game road trip, so the A’s badly need a victory today with left-hander Gio Gonzalez on the mound.

Here’s the lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, Sizemore 3B, Rosales SS, Sweeney RF, Powell C; Gonzalez LHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp 1B, Wells RF, Gutierrez CF, Bard C, Wilson 3B, Halman LF; Furbush LHP.

–David DeJesus remains out, as manager Bob Melvin said the outfielder’s right thumb is more a mental issue right now than a physical one. DeJesus has been reluctant to cut it loose while swinging the bat. It appears his return will come Friday at Tampa Bay, when the A’s might also welcome back shortstop Cliff Pennington. Pennington continues to do better following his Bell’s palsy diagnosis. He got through full baseball activity Tuesday and said he could play right now if needed. He’s being brought along slowly as a precaution.

–Tuesday night’s game landed on the highlight reels for a couple different reasons. The A’s ridiculously handled Brendan Ryan’s infield single – letting him advance two extra bases while infielders wandered around confused. And then there was the Ichiro look-a-like who tried picking up the fair ball that Dustin Ackley hit down the right-field line. This guy heard a round of boos and then had to answer to stadium security for interfering with the game. I saw the same guy standing in front of the stadium this morning, wearing his No. 51 uniform and posing for pictures with fans. It’s a regular gig for him.

One can only wonder how Ackley might wind up with a triple today. On Monday, Ryan Sweeney misplayed his low liner with the bases loaded, and Ackley wound up on third with three RBIs. Then a nutty fan interferes on a play Tuesday, and the umpires award Ackley another triple. We’ll see what today has in store …


Cliff Pennington doing much better, targeting possible Friday return

The news looks much better regarding A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington, who was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy last night. Pennington woke up feeling much better today, and said he can close his left eye and blink. He likely won’t play until Friday’s series opener at Tampa Bay, at the earliest. But both he and manager Bob Melvin were breathing a sigh of relief. Bell’s palsy is a nerve condition that causes partial facial paralysis, and Pennington left last night’s game with numbness on the left side of his face.

“I can blink, I can close,” Pennington said. “I’m still numb, but it’s night and day from yesterday. I’m going to do everything normal (as far as baseball activity). I’m going to keep going like normal, except I’m not playing.”

Because he was having trouble keeping his left eye closed last night, he put trainer’s tape over his eye so he could sleep. “I was so tired from stress that I slept great,” he said.

–To provide depth on the bench, the A’s recalled infielder Adam Rosales from Triple-A and designated reliever Jerry Blevins for assignment. Again, this DFA is procedural for Blevins because he has more than three years’ service time in the majors. He has to pass through optional waivers before being sent down. He is still on the 40-man roster and won’t be going anywhere.

Your lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Willingham DH, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Suzuki C, Sogard SS, Sizemore 3B; Harden RHP.

Mariners — Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 3B, Olivo C, Smoak 1B, Wells LF, Gutierrez CF; Hernandez RHP.