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Join A’s beat writer Joe Stiglich here Thursday at noon for an A’s live chat from spring training.

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A’s lineup will have opening day feel in Friday’s exhibition opener

A’s manager Bob Melvin said spring camp is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day, so the Cactus League schedule is probably arriving just in time. The A’s play their exhibition opener Friday against the Seattle Mariners in Phoenix, and Melvin said he expects to play what’s close to an Opening Day lineup. Put an asterisk next to that, as the A’s still don’t know who their first baseman or DH will be, or how their outfield will shake out. Point is, Melvin wants to see his regulars in a game environment. That means most starters probably won’t be playing in Thursday’s intrasquad game, which begins around noon (AZ time) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Catchers Landon Powell and Anthony Recker, and infielders Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales are among those who will see action in the intrasquad game, according to Melvin. I’m interested to see a few guys pitch Thursday, including 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray, first baseman-turned-pitcher Sean Doolittle and bullpen candidate Ryan Cook.

–Dallas Braden is doing well in his comeback from shoulder surgery, but Melvin said he still needs to be cautious with the lefty. The timetable remains “anywhere from late April to May 1,” in Melvin’s words.


Brandon McCarthy confirmed as A’s opening day starter

Brandon McCarthy was announced as the A’s opening day starter Tuesday, a move that had been expected since spring training began. McCarthy was coming off a solid season – he went just 9-9 for the A’s last year but posted a 3.32 ERA with five complete games. The right-hander set a franchise record for strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.92 – 123 strikeouts and just 25 walks in 170 2/3 innings. The selection was a no-brainer considering the A’s dealt away starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in the offseason and given that Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden are both recovering from long-term injuries. McCarthy will take the mound in the March 28 opener against the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, and manager Bob Melvin confirmed that Bartolo Colon would start the second game of that two-game series.

Now the question is which other three starters will fill out the A’s rotation. Some of that depends on Dallas Braden’s availability. With Melvin estimating Braden’s return anywhere from mid-April to early May, the A’s can’t pencil him into the rotation just yet. Graham Godfrey, Tom Milone, Tyson Ross, Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock remain the primary candidates (in no particular order) fighting for the open spots. Milone has certainly made a good impression early, so it’ll be interesting to see him in exhibitions. He’ll pitch in Friday’s Cactus League opener against the Mariners at Phoenix Muni.

In other news, A’s assistant general manager David Forst said the team will explore the free agent and trade market for third base options in light of Scott Sizemore’s season-ending knee injury. That doesn’t mean that Josh Donaldson or someone else currently on the team can’t win the job. “This is definitely an opportunity for (Donaldson),” Forst said. “At the same time, we have to do our due diligence and see what else is out there on the market to make sure we give Bob the best team we possibly can.”

Forst added that teams aren’t usually looking to deal so early in camp, “but they know we have a need.” Miguel Tejada, Wes Helms and Felipe Lopez are available free agents, and Los Angeles Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo has been mentioned as a potential trade candidate. One thing to keep in mind there: The Angels would need to feel confident they have a replacement to step in at third should Callaspo be dealt, and they don’t have terrific depth at that position either. Expect the A’s to take their time sorting out the third base situation. In the meantime, we’ll see what Donaldson’s got …


Opportunity could knock for Josh Donaldson at third base

The latest from Papago …

Josh Donaldson is a player who might factor largely in the A’s third base picture if Scott Sizemore misses significant time with a knee injury. Sizemore was scheduled for an MRI on his left knee at 9:30 a.m. (MT) Monday, and manager Bob Melvin said he wasn’t expecting results until later in the afternoon. But the A’s are preparing alternative options at third, and Donaldson, a catcher who has been getting increased time at third early in camp, has caught Melvin’s eye.

Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard – the other logical third base options – will continue working all over the infield as utility men. Donaldson will focus solely on third. “Everybody likes his actions,” Melvin said. “He worked double-time yesterday and was already doing some early work today. You can tell he’s got a little different pep in his step right now. Guys sense an opportunity and I like to see that. Yesterday just looked like a day where he sensed a hole.”

The A’s acquired Donaldson, 26, during the 2008 season from the Chicago Cubs as part of a four-player package for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. At that time, a few scouts told me they thought Donaldson might be a hidden gem in that deal. But his only big league time so far came in 2010, when he got in 14 games at catcher and hit .156 with a homer and four RBIs.

One player who won’t be playing any third right now is Grant Green, the 2009 first-round pick who the A’s converted from shortstop to center field last season. Some scouts projected Green as an eventual third baseman when he was drafted out of USC, but the A’s want him focusing solely on learning center. That makes sense to me. There’s no use throwing another major switch at the guy, although I do wonder what the addition of Yoenis Cespedes (another center field option) means for Green long-term. I think the A’s would like Green and Michael Choice to be as ready as possible to play center and then switch them to a corner spot if roster needs call for it.

More to come on Sizemore later in the day …


A’s live chat from spring training coming Thursday at noon

We’ll be hosting our first A’s live chat of the season Thursday at noon (PT), so start brainstorming your questions and fire anything at me you would like regarding this year’s team. Starting rotation thoughts? Curious about some of the team’s top minor leaguers? Your predictions for the starting outfield? It’s all fair game.


Scott Sizemore’s MRI gets pushed back to Monday

There’s still no further word on third baseman Scott Sizemore’s knee injury. The MRI that was originally thought to take place Saturday won’t happen until Monday, according to manager Bob Melvin. “It’s just tough to find a place where you know you’re going to find a good image,” Melvin said. The A’s want Sizemore to see a specialist rather than get an MRI at a hospital, which sometimes doesn’t provide as good of a read on an injury. Melvin talked with Sizemore on Saturday night. “He’s a little down, but we’re holding out hope for good news. If ever there was a time to have that happen, it’s early in camp so there’s time to recover.”

Not a whole lot else to report this morning. Outfield prospect Jermaine Mitchell, a player the A’s are high on but who is coming off knee surgery, told me earlier in camp that he’s full strength with no restrictions. But Melvin says he expects Mitchell to miss the first week of exhibitions.

Melvin added that he might name his opening day starter “in a couple days,” and it’s assumed that Brandon McCarthy will take that honor. If McCarthy were to pitch one of the A’s first two Cactus League games — Friday or Saturday against the Mariners — he would be on a nice pattern to start the March 28 opener in Tokyo, also against Seattle. That’s assuming he starts every fifth day in Cactus League play.


Scott Sizemore listed with sprained knee; MRI results unknown

The A’s are listing Scott Sizemore’s injury as a left knee sprain as they await the MRI results. Sizemore was on crutches in the A’s clubhouse and declined to discuss his injury with reporters through a team spokesman. “You don’t want something like that to happen on the first day,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “On top of that, he’s an integral player. You feel bad for him.”

As for third base alternatives if Sizemore is sidelined, Melvin mentioned Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard and catcher Josh Donaldson as the leading candidates. He considers non-roster invitee Wes Timmons in the mix too but added that “Donaldson is probably more of a bat.”

–Melvin had good things to say about Tyson Ross, who threw live batting practice to Manny Ramirez among other hitters. “His ball can disappear with a lot of velocity,” Melvin said. Ross admitted he was a bit nervous when Ramirez dug in — he bounced his first pitch — but Ramirez only made solid contact on one pitch. “I’ve pitched against him in video games, but this was the first time live,” Ross said.


Lew Wolff, Bob Melvin both address team before A’s first full-squad workout

We’re getting very lucky with the Phoenix weather early in spring training. It’s been sunny and very warm. Typically, the first couple of weeks of camp can be cool, before it gets warmer in March. I hope it sticks around. As for the morning news …

A’s managing partner Lew Wolff addressed the team along with manager Bob Melvin before the first full-squad workout. Melvin did not share specifics of Wolff’s message, but Melvin said he himself was eager to see his full team on the field for the first time.

“There are a lot of firsts over the course of a season and none bigger than this one, once everybody gets together and hears your message and gets out on the field,” he said. “Especially with as many new guys and younger guys as we have, first impressions I think go a long way.” Pitchers threw live batting practice – from the mound full-bore, as opposed to coaches throwing behind a screen – on Friday and were set to do so again Saturday.

On a different topic, Melvin said he would be rooting hard for “Moneyball” during Sunday’s Academy Awards. The movie, adapted from the 2003 book that was written largely about general manager Billy Beane, is nominated for six Oscars. “It was a good movie and I think it relates not only to baseball, but life in general,” Melvin said.


Manny Ramirez reports to A’s camp, says he’s a changed person

It was a somewhat surprising scene at Phoenix Municipal Stadium when Manny Ramirez reported to A’s camp Friday morning. He slipped into the clubhouse quietly, sitting down at his locker and beginning to change his clothes before many of his teammates likely knew he was there.

Then Ramirez hit the field with the A’s other position players, drilled seven homers deep to left and center and talked about being a changed man during an 11-minute media address. “Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until you’re about to lose it, and that’s what happened to me,” said Ramirez, who signed a minor league deal with Oakland on Monday with hopes of being their designated hitter. While Ramirez could have been talking about his baseball career, he spent most of his media session talking about having changed his personal life.

His Hall of Fame-worthy career has been tarnished by two positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs, a domestic violence charge and other off-field issues. He won’t be allowed to play a regular season game until serving a 50-game suspension that ends May 30. Ramirez repeatedly referenced a new-found relationship with God in his 11-minute address and said he feared he would lose his family along with his career because of his mistakes. His wife Juliana stood close by as he spoke and occasionally wrapped her arms around him.

Ramirez will wear jersey No. 1 with the A’s, not the No. 99 he wore with the Dodgers and White Sox that more reflected his eccentric personality. “He didn’t want 99,” A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich said. “He wanted to start fresh and ‘1’ starts everything.” Ramirez can work out with the A’s and play in extended spring training games during his suspension. Why did he wind up signing with Oakland?

“I think I’m here because God brought me here,” Ramirez said.

There was definitely a bigger media turnout than the usual A’s spring practice would attract, but it wasn’t overwhelming by any means. Part of the reason: Many of the national media set course for the Milwaukee Brewers’ camp to interview Ryan Braun about getting his suspension overturned.