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Braden suffers setback, Manny will miss the Bay Bridge with hamstring

Carl Steward, filling in for Joe Stiglich here in Sacramento as the A’s play an exhibition against the Triple-A RiverCats. The A’s are still looking a bit haggard and bleary-eyed following their Japan trip, but better than expected. One guy who looked particularly sharp was left-hander Tommy Milone, who threw six perfect innings against the RiverCats and probably nailed down the No. 3 spot in the rotation. Milone has looked pretty sensational all spring. Here’s the report I filed for online Saturday night …

       Pitcher Dallas Braden, who was already scheduled to start the season on the disabled list, suffered a setback with his left shoulder before the A’s left forJapanlast week and the timetable for his return to the club is now uncertain.

    Manager Bob Melvin said Saturday night beforeOakland’s exhibition game with the Sacramento RiverCats at Raley Field that Braden strained his shoulder playing catch following his last bullpen session inArizona. He has not thrown since, and it’s not known when he might be cleared to do so.

    When asked if Braden’s return might be pushed back projections of early May, Melvin was frank.

    “It could very much,” he said. “Actually, we’re on hold with that right now. I don’t have a timetable for him right now.”

    A’s assistant general manager David Forst confirmed the injury and added, “When the doctors get together (with Braden), we’ll know more about the extent of it.”

    Braden was at the ballpark Saturday night during batting practice but made a hasty departure before game time and did not speak with reporters.

    The left-hander had surgery last May 17 to repair a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder and missed the rest of the 2011 season. He had been on a throwing program during spring training but had not thrown in a game.

    Manny Ramirez might have played Saturday night and during the Bay Bridge Series next week againstSan Franciscobut suffered a left hamstring strain duringArizonaworkouts after the club left forJapan.

     Melvin did not know how Ramirez’s injury occurred, but wasn’t concerned, even if Ramirez isn’t ready to participate in extended spring training starting April 9.

    “For me, he gets 10 days either inSacramentoor wherever it is, and if he were to get 5-6 games in extended before that, I don’t know why he would need more time than that the way he swings the bat.”

    Ramirez is serving a 50-game drug suspension and won’t be eligible to play for Oaklanduntil May 30, the date of his 40th birthday.

 –

    Melvin wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Daric Barton could be his starting first baseman for the home opener.

    “A lot of it’s going to be health with him,” the manager said. “I don’t think he’s quite comfortable yet throwing. He’s playing in games, but I’m not sure we’re quite there yet. He could be soon, I’m not sure. But he’s definitely still in the mix.”

    Brandon Allen started Saturday and took a ball off his face during infield warmups heading into the bottom of the fourth inning and was replaced by Kila Ka’aihue.

    The A’s had a bit scare in the top of the first when RiverCats starter Jarrod Parker hit catcher Kurt Suzuki with a pitch on the left shoulder blade. Suzuki immediately left the game headed for the clubhouse for treatment, but the club announced he was simply removed for precautionary reasons.

    Prior to the game, Melvin said that Parker was still in the mix for the fifth spot in the major-league rotation, but the right-hander did not help his cause. He walked the first two hitters of the game, and then after getting two outs, hit Suzuki. Josh Reddick followed a fly to center field that appeared to be the third out, but Grant Green dropped it for an error and all three runs scored.

    Parker then surrendered a three-run homer to Coco Crisp in the second inning after a walk to Seth Smith and a single by Jemile Weeks. He walked four and struck out two in just two innings of work.

    Yoenis Cespedes had just one at-bat Saturday, grounding out, before exiting the game. Melvin said it’s possible Cespedes could move up in the order at some point, but for the time being, doesn’t want to put any added pressure on the Cuban import. He did say Cespedes is adjusting well after his solid performance inJapan.

   “You see him getting more and more comfortable every day,’’ Melvin said. :A home run like he hit the other day can go a long way toward really making you feel like you belong and you’re one of the team.”

    The A’s, who got back to the Bay Area in the late afternoon Thursday, seemed to be dealing with post-Japan jetlag fairly well.

    “I was more messed up inJapan,” said Weeks. “Once I got back here, I think I got back to my regular schedule somewhat, and these four games give us an opportunity to get that sleep pattern back. But up to now, it’s been pretty much sleeping, eating, then going back to sleep again.:

    Melvin said he got some winks in on the bus ride fromOaklandtoSacramento.

    “It was the best sleep I’ve had since I’ve been back,” he said. “I slept every minute of it.”

 

 

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A’s first base decision remains TBA

For those of you who stayed up to follow last night’s game, did the A’s motivate you to do the same tonight? It certainly wasn’t an inspiring offensive performance, and it looked quite familiar to the team we’ve seen flounder hitting-wise the past few seasons. But that’s just one game – against one of baseball’s best in Felix Hernandez – so we’ll see what the A’s bring tonight. Getting swept in the first two games of the season certainly is nothing to panic over, but I would think salvaging a split would be a lift psychologically. After traveling so far to play, you want more to show for your efforts than just the memories and a suitcase full of souvenirs .

The lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp LF, Gomes DH, Suzuki C, Cespedes CF, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Ka’aihue 1B; Colon RHP

Mariners – Figgins LF, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Montero DH, Seager 3B, Olivo C, Saunders CF, Ryan SS; Vargas LHP.

With a lefty on the mound, Jonny Gomes gets the start at DH and Kila Ka’aihue plays first base. Manager Bob Melvin liked Ka’aihue’s at-bats this spring against left-handers better than Brandon Allen’s. But it’s looking like the decision on a starting first baseman will go perhaps through the final four exhibitions in the Bay Area. Melvin said he still considers it a three-man race, with Daric Barton joining Allen and Ka’aihue. Are you surprised to still be hearing Barton’s name in the mix? I’m wondering myself if he can be ready to roll April 6 considering how little he’s faced big league competition this spring.

There are lots of factors at play here. Allen and Ka’aihue are out of options, meaning the A’s run the risk of losing those players to a waiver claim if they try sending one of them (or both) to the minors. It could be that the A’s are gauging trade interest right now in Allen and/or Ka’aihue. Certainly they would like to get something in return for one of the players rather than losing them to waivers and not get any compensation. “There are some variables involved,” Melvin said about first base. “We have to make some decisions here, especially if we feel like (Barton) is ready to play in regular season games.”

Yoenis Cespedes moves up a spot in the order to hit sixth. We’ll see how he looks after getting his first big league game out of the way.

–It’s been a great overall experience in Tokyo, although I’ll leave with the same thoughts I had in 2008: I wish I had more free time to spend wandering around this city and exploring everything it has to offer. It’s definitely a place I would plan a vacation to.

Enjoy the game (and stay awake!)

P.S: My prediction about Dustin Ackley being the Mariners’ impact player in last night’s game turned out pretty well, huh? The Josh Reddick prediction? Not so much. As for tonight, I’m getting a strong Coco Crisp feeling. And let’s take Justin Smoak for Seattle.

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A’s third base intrigue continues

Eric Sogard gets the nod over Josh Donaldson at third base tonight. “I wanted to get, really not so much a left-handed bat, but more of a contact bat tonight with Sogard,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think Sogard has played well enough to deserve the start tonight.” Interestingly, Melvin said he still considers Donaldson his starting third baseman. “I told Josh yesterday, ‘You know what? You’re our starting third baseman, you’re just not starting tonight.’ No matter what happens tonight, Donaldson will be in there tomorrow.”

Remember that the A’s go home and play four exhibitions before settling on a true 25-man roster and starting lineup, so they’re still evaluating. Donaldson has not grabbed the reins on the third base job to this point, but I’m not sure I expected him to despite the opportunity he was given. Switching from catcher to third base is quite the adjustment. I know Donaldson got time at third last season and in winter ball, but he’s still got a lot of learning to do over there. As for Sogard, he gets his first opening night start, so I’d expect lots of his family and friends back home in Phoenix to be staying up late tonight to watch this one.

–In the ‘purely hunch’ department, I’m going with Josh Reddick as my pregame prediction to have a big night for the A’s. For the Mariners? Let’s go Dustin Ackley, which ain’t really going out on a limb …

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Yoenis Cespedes will make A’s debut as No. 7 hitter

My schedule and work routine have been turned upside down here in Japan with the 16-hour time difference. And with all the non-baseball stuff taking place on this trip, it’s easy to forget there’s two regular season games to be played at end of it. But opening night (how ‘bout opening morning, West Coast!!) is finally here, and I look forward to covering a game that counts.

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp LF, Smith DH, Suzuki C, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Allen 1B, Sogard 3B; McCarthy RHP

Mariners – Figgins 3B, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Montero DH, Carp LF, Olivo C, Saunders CF, Ryan SS; Hernandez RHP.

–Remember that news about Yoenis Cespedes batting fifth? Never mind. Cespedes will make his big league debut in the No. 7 spot, with Kurt Suzuki batting fifth. “(Suzuki) deserves to be there right now the way he’s swinging the bat, and with his numbers off (Felix) Hernandez,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It was more about Kurt than (Cespedes). I do expect Yoenis to be a middle-of-the-order bat at some point in time.”

Suzuki is 8 for 26 (.308) with a homer off Hernandez in his career – good numbers. He also homered in both exhibitions here in Tokyo. But I believe this is very much about Cespedes – trying not to heap big expectations on him so early, and also acknowledging that he’s struggled at the plate to this point. He was 5 for 29 (.172) with nine strikeouts in exhibitions and has had trouble with breaking balls like some predicted he would. I’m not surprised the A’s made this move. But let’s face it – Cespedes has more power potential than anybody else on this roster, so if he shows even a degree of production, he’ll move up the batting order quickly. I’m pretty curious to see him tonight, I’ll tell you that.

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Visit to tsunami-wrecked city of Ishinomaki makes an impact on A’s

I just got back from the town of Ishinomaki, where the A’s and Mariners gave a youth baseball clinic in one of the areas hit hardest by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. It was a pretty sobering and inspiring experience all at the same time. We took a 90-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo to Sendai, then embarked on an hour-long bus ride to Ishinomaki. Along the way, we saw the lasting effects of the destruction in the city – entire blocks that once contained rows of houses that are now leveled flat; an auto junkyard where stacks of totaled cars are piled on top of each other; the sight where a schoolhouse once stood before being completely destroyed.

And then to see the joy on these kids’ faces when the A’s and Mariners players showed up. They formed a long greeting line outside Ishinomaki Stadium and cheered when the players got off the bus and made their way through. Once inside the stadium, the kids hammed it up for reporters and photographers. The day left a lasting impact on A’s pitchers Tyson Ross, Tom Milone and Evan Scribner, not to mention numerous team officials who made the trip.

“We can’t be in their shoes,” Milone said. “We can’t feel what they felt a year ago when the tsunami hit. But you can kind of get a feeling for the kind of people that they are. They come out here and they’re still smiling even though something devastating like that happens.”

I’ll have a full online story up a bit later. I posted some photos on twitter (@joestiglich) and I’m hoping to get those shots on our websites before long, as well as some video footage.

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Photos from A’s trip to Japan

Joe Stiglich passed along a couple of photos he shot with his phone from last night’s exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers at the Tokyo Dome.

The first is a look at Hanshin’s batting practice, featuring two batting cages in use at the same time. Wonder why this hasn’t caught on in the States?

There are baseball fanatics …. and then there’s this guy.

The photographers are getting in their pre-game work as well. Either that or there was a Keiichi Yabu sighting.

And here’s Joe convincing his bosses that he’s not abusing his expense account while in Tokyo.

4

Still no clear picture on A’s corner infield spots

The A’s are trailing the Hanshin Tigers 3-0 in the third inning as I write this. Tyson Ross gave up a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. To update you on the day’s news so far:

–Perhaps Brandon Allen doesn’t have such a firm grasp on the first base job after all. Manager Bob Melvin said he’s leaning toward starting Allen in Wednesday’s opener but that Kila Ka’aihue could draw a start in the second game of the series against the Mariners. Melvin is getting good at hedging his bets. We won’t know for sure until we see Wednesday’s lineup card posted. It’s tough to say that either Allen or Ka’aihue has staked definitive claim to the position.

–Still no word on who will start at third base for the A’s — Josh Donaldson or Eric Sogard. Sogard is playing third against Hanshin.

–As was expected, Yoenis Cespedes is not in the lineup after getting pulled from last night’s game with leg cramps. Melvin said there’s no concern about Cespedes being ready for the opener.

–Yesterday I tweeted about how clean of a city Tokyo is. Today I’m hear to tell you about the high-tech bathrooms. The toilets in this city come with more buttons to press than an airplane cockpit. There’s your random observation for the day …

1

Pennington will hit second, Cespedes fifth in A’s likely opening day lineup; Allen gets nod at first base

A’s manager Bob Melvin unveiled his likely opening day lineup Sunday, and it contained a mild surprise near the top of the batting order. Cliff Pennington hit second in an exhibition against the Yomiuri Giants, with Coco Crisp batting third, Seth Smith cleanup and Yoenis Cespedes fifth.

The complete lineup:

Weeks 2B
Pennington SS
Crisp LF
Smith DH
Cespedes CF
Reddick RF
Suzuki C
Allen 1B
Donaldson 3B

Melvin had indicated during spring that he liked Crisp batting second behind leadoff man Jemile Weeks, with Pennington batting ninth. But Pennington’s .395 average in spring training convinced him to move the shortstop up. “I think the spring that ‘Penny’ had probably warrants him hitting ‘2’,” Melvin said before the exhibition. “… And it gives us speed with those three guys (at the top).” Though Cespedes batted third or fourth in most of his Cactus League starts, Melvin thinks hitting him fifth will take some pressure off Cespedes, who makes his major league debut in Wednesday’s opener against Seattle. “And it surrounds him with a couple lefties” in Smith and Reddick.

“There’s a decent chance this could be the opening day lineup,” Melvin said. So it looks like Brandon Allen has beat out Kila Ka’aihue for the first base job. The one change Melvin said he might make is at third base, where he might insert the left-handed hitting Eric Sogard for Josh Donaldson against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Right-handers have hit just .236 off Hernandez over his career, though it’s not like lefties are doing significantly better at .252. With the Mariners throwing lefty Jason Vargas in the second game, Melvin said he could switch things up after the opener. But he indicated that Sunday’s look could be his lineup for the “foreseeable future.”

There’s not a lot of power up and down that lineup, but we weren’t expecting the A’s to be a bunch of bashers. They will need their speedy trio atop the lineup to get on base and create scoring opportunities. They’ll need Cespedes to prove he’s a major league run producer, and they could sure use a little pop from Allen at the bottom of the order.

1

A’s hold their first Tokyo workout

Greetings from the Tokyo Dome, where the A’s are just taking the field for their first workout since arriving in Japan. It’s a little late at night (in the Bay Area) for a blog post, but it’s just after 2 p.m. in Tokyo. I’ll be providing lots of online updates during the A’s entire stay here, but the timing of them will be a little odd with the time difference. So fill up on caffeine and get ready to do some late-night reading over the next few days …

–After spending a little time in the clubhouse, it seems most of the players are feeling well-rested after yesterday’s 12-hour flight. The A’s were fortunate to draw a late workout time, so they were able to sleep in. Not much else to report as far as real baseball news yet. There’s a press conference coming up with GM Billy Beane, manager Bob Melvin and a few players, so we may get more there. We still don’t know who the starting first baseman or third baseman will be for Wednesday’s season opener.

–Some of the players are going karaoke singing tonight for a Comcast SportsNet Bay Area segment. Josh Reddick and Collin Cowgill will be there, but word is that the best singer on the team is Brandon Allen. That was surprising to hear at first because Allen comes across as such a quiet guy. But he sang “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” for an A’s commercial, so the guy has talent. “He’s got some pipes,” Kurt Suzuki said. Allen sang in the church choir from the time he was a young boy through high school. As for Reddick, he says he’s a country music fan, but if they don’t have that, “you can’t go wrong with Journey at karoake.”

–Yoenis Cespedes will play his first regular season game with the A’s on Wednesday, but this won’t be his first game in Japan. The Cuban outfielder was here in 2010 playing in the World University Games, and he said he remembers the fans being great …