The A’s try to change recent history against the Yankees

There’s a little extra buzz in the air tonight, which means the Yankees must be in town. It’s been a one-sided affair between these teams in recent seasons, with the A’s going 7-27 against New York since the start of 2008. They were swept in the Yanks’ only visit to the Coliseum last season, but the teams will play two series here this season.

I saw Reggie Jackson playing catch on the field in Yankee colors earlier. He’s been a special assistant with the team for years. It’s an odd sight to see one of the A’s biggest legends come back on occasion but always be in opposing colors. Reggie has such a heavy identity with both teams. He really needs to wear a split A’s/Yankees cap, sort of like those split A’s/Giants ones I used to see people wearing. Anybody out there have one of those?

On to the news … There’s some encouragement on the injury front for the A’s. Yoenis Cespedes took 28 swings in the batting cage today with Ariel Prieto throwing, and he will take batting practice on the field tomorrow for the first time since going on the DL. A’s manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes is likely to go on a minor league rehab assignment before being activated. When that begins depends on how he feels over the next couple of days. Does Melvin expect to get his cleanup hitter back during the next road trip? “There’s a chance, yeah,” Melvin said. I take that to mean we’re much more likely to see Cespedes during the Kansas City series next weekend as opposed to the Minnesota series, which begins Monday. There’s a day off Thursday, and I could see Cespedes playing a few minor league games to see how his strained left hand is doing, then joining the A’s next Friday in KC.

Cespedes is also awaiting a shipment of new bats, ones that are thicker at the bottom of the handle and at the knob. The hope is that the bats will keep him from wrapping the palm of his hand around the bottom of the bat. The A’s believe that grip is putting extra pressure on his hand and making him susceptible to injury. Using his regular bats, Cespedes has a tendency to wrap his hand around the bottom by habit. The question will be how he adjusts to the new grip on his new bats. That’s one reason a rehab assignment will probably come in handy (no pun intended).

–Manny Ramirez isn’t the only big name playing for Triple-A Sacramento tonight. Third baseman Brandon Inge was scheduled to play six innings to test his injured groin, and he’ll play nine innings Saturday. If all goes well, Melvin expects him to be activated from the D.L. on Monday.

Brandon McCarthy played catch today. He politely declined to give an update, saying he would address reporters in a couple of days after he does more throwing and gets a better read on his injured shoulder …

Here’s the lineups, with a player you might recognize handling DH duties for the visitors …

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Reddick RF, Smith LF, Ka’aihue DH, Donaldson 3B, Barton 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

Yankees – Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Rodriguez 3B, Cano 2B, Teixeira 1B, Ibanez LF, Swisher RF, Chavez DH, Martin C; Nova RHP


A’s bats go quietly into the night — again

Games like Tuesday’s show why it doesn’t pay for A’s fans to get overly excited about this team at this point. The A’s were held to one hit for the second time in four games, losing 5-0 to the Los Angeles Angels. Forget for a moment that the A’s lineup was missing Josh Reddick, Jemile Weeks and Kurt Suzuki, who all had the night off. We’ve seen that this is a very flawed team offensively, even with all the regulars in there.

On Monday, Tommy Milone’s sterling effort on the mound made it easy to overlook that the A’s mustered just six hits in a 2-1 victory. They’re a team that is capable of being shut down on any given night, and that puts a lot of pressure on a pitching staff. It’s also why I believe Manny Ramirez will indeed join the team May 30 and see time at DH, even if he doesn’t hit the cover off the ball for Triple-A Sacramento. The A’s need an injection of life at the plate. Yoenis Cespedes can provide that when he comes back from his hand injury. Brandon Inge should also help out when he returns from his groin injury. But the A’s also have to see what Ramirez can bring to the table.

–Will Graham Godfrey get another start in the rotation? Part of that depends on how his finger injury heals. Godfrey hurt the middle finger on his throwing hand while warming up in the bullpen Tuesday, and he said that greatly affected his ability to throw his secondary pitches. He was definitely off, that much was clear. Brandon McCarthy will be on the DL for at least one more start, perhaps more if his shoulder doesn’t recover as fast as he hopes. What other option do the A’s have besides Godfrey? Young right-hander Brad Peacock pitched Tuesday, so he’s on the same turn as Godfrey. But Peacock was roughed up for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings for Triple-A Sacramento. How about long reliever Travis Blackley? He was very sharp in relief of Godfrey. I wouldn’t say the Australian is out of the question for a potential start at some point.

That’s all for now …


It’s hardly an ‘A’ lineup for the A’s tonight

Today’s lineup looks like Bob Melvin threw nine names in a hat, shook it up and started picking his batting order randomly. That’s because Jemile Weeks, Josh Reddick and Kurt Suzuki all have the day off. Melvin said Weeks is still feeling minor effects of his recent ankle injury. Reddick has had just one prior day off and needed a rest, and Melvin liked the idea of resting Suzuki tonight because tomorrow is a day game. So here’s your lineups:

A’s – Crisp CF, Cowgill RF, Smith DH, Gomes LF, Donaldson 3B, Pennington SS, Rosales 2B, Barton 1B, Recker C; Godfrey RHP.

Angels – Trout LF, Izturis 3B, Pujols 1B, Morales DH, Trumbo RF, Kendrick 2B, Aybar SS, Bourjos CF, Hester C; Wilson LHP.

I know what you’re thinking: Did all of those A’s regulars really need the same day off? Sometimes I think Melvin likes issuing a test to his bench players. He’s big on getting the entire roster involved and making all 25 guys feel like they’re a part of things. “That goes hand in hand with the injuries we’ve had as well,” Melvin said. “It’s Collin Cowgill’s time, and Adam Rosales. A lot of these guys are getting an opportunity now based on injuries.”

I’m still surprised to see Weeks, Reddick and Suzuki all out of the lineup at the same time. Melvin did mention that he likes pairing up Graham Godfrey with Anthony Recker because of their history together going back to the minor leagues. …

–Pedro Figueroa was sent down to clear a roster spot for Godfrey, who was recalled to start tonight in Brandon McCarthy’s place. Melvin talked highly of Figueroa, and, interestingly, said he thinks the lefty could have a future as a starter. That’s an idea I’ve heard others close to the organization suggest. The plan for now is for Figueroa to keep pitching in relief. If the A’s were to try him as a starter, Melvin said it would likely be later in the season or perhaps next year. This is Figueroa’s first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and the A’s are likely to keep him on an innings count …

–I’ll have lots of injury updates in tomorrow’s paper. But the main thing you need to know is Yoenis Cespedes swung a bat for the first time – a lighter fungo bat – and came out of it well. So at least he’s moving in the right direction now. I still expect him to take at least a week to return …


A’s, Angels — look elsewhere for your offensive fireworks

If you like low-scoring games, the Coliseum is your place to be through Wednesday. The Angels and A’s rank 13th and 14th, respectively, in the 14-team American League in runs scored. True to form, the A’s pulled out a 2-1 victory in Monday’s series opener, with the teams combining for just 11 hits.

Some postgame tidbits that didn’t make my game story:

–The Angels stacked their lineup with nine right-handed hitters against lefty Tommy Milone, and that suited Milone just fine. “I actually feel more comfortable with right-handers,” Milone said. He feels really good spotting his fastball to the outside corner for strikes against righties. “I’m usually throwing (the fastball) away, and getting ahead is important.”

–I wouldn’t call Milone cocky, but he certainly doesn’t lack confidence either, which is probably important for a guy who doesn’t possess dominant high-velocity stuff. He notched his sixth win Monday to move into a tie for the A.L. wins lead with some pretty good company: Yu Darvish, David Price, Jered Weaver, James Shields and Derek Lowe. How does that grab him? “It’s pretty cool,” Milone said. “It’s not something I’d say I wouldn’t expect. I always go out there trying to win every game. But the goal is just to keep the team in the game, and I feel for the most part I’ve been able to do that.”

–The A’s went five consecutive games without a stolen base before swiping two Monday. They lead the A.L. with 40 steals, and Jemile Weeks is the individual league leader with 10. That last part is a bit surprising to me just because Weeks is having a rough offensive season overall (.290 on-base percentage). But you can’t be disappointed with the work he’s doing once he gets on the bases.

–Interesting reading here on former A’s second baseman Mark Ellis, who has been a huge boost to the Dodgers but will now miss six weeks after having emergency leg surgery.


Coco Crisp reinstated from D.L. — when will other reinforcements arrive for A’s?

A familiar face returns to the A’s lineup with Coco Crisp being activated from the disabled list. He’s starting in center field tonight and batting second behind Jemile Weeks. What impact will he have? I’m not sure. He was hitting .194 with five RBIs in 18 games at the time he went on the DL. As he said when asked how his batting stroke is feeling: “It couldn’t be any worse than before, so it’ll be all right.” Backup infielder Eric Sogard was optioned to the minors to make room for Crisp.

So this makes the A’s 1 for 4 so far in welcoming back hitters they’re hoping can boost the offense – Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Inge, Manny Ramirez. Let’s handicap the percentage chance of those other three joining the A’s on the first day they’re eligible (percentages based on the Stiglich Not-So-Scientific Method)

**Cespedes: 0 % — He’s eligible to come off the D.L. on Tuesday, and that just isn’t going to happen. A’s manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes won’t play in the Angels series, and neither he nor Cespedes knows for sure when he’ll start swinging a bat to test his strained left hand. I’d say he’ll miss at least another week.

**Inge: 60 % — He was scheduled to field grounders and take batting practice before today’s game. I didn’t catch whether he was in the cage or not. But Melvin is encouraged Inge might be ready to come off the D.L. when he’s first eligible next Monday.

**Ramirez: 50 % — This one would have been higher a few days ago, but Ramirez struck out three times in his Triple-A debut and then missed Sunday’s game with a sore left wrist. But he’s playing tonight against Round Rock and singled in his first two at-bats. Ramirez will have to produce at least a little with the River Cats to give the A’s confidence to promote him and install him at DH. Unless he looks terrible against Pacific Coast League pitching – and unless the A’s rattle off a long winning streak without him – I still expect to see him with Oakland on May 30, when his 50-game suspension ends.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Reddick RF, Ka’aihue DH, Smith LF, Donaldson 3B, Barton 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; Milone LHP.

Angels – Trout LF, Callaspo 3B, Pujols 1B, Trumbo RF, Morales DH, Kendrick 2B, Aybar SS, Bourjos CF, Wilson C; Williams RHP.


A’s finally toughen up in win over Giants

The A’s avoided a three-game sweep Sunday with a 6-2 victory over the Giants. Something tells me they’re still happy to wave goodbye to AT&T Park, where they lost 11 in a row before coming out on top Sunday. It’s funny. I associate certain football stadiums or basketball arenas as being difficult for certain “road” teams to win at. In baseball, “home-field advantage” doesn’t strike me as having quite the same importance. But when the A’s play at AT&T Park, that theory goes out the window. During that 11-game losing streak, the A’s resembled a college basketball team that goes on the road and gets rattled by the opponent’s rowdy student section. The A’s just seemed out of sorts Friday and Saturday.

Credit a four-run fourth inning rally for changing the vibe Sunday, and in particular, Collin Cowgill’s hard collision into Tim Lincecum when Cowgill scored from second on a wild pitch. Cowgill said he wasn’t trying to hit Lincecum, and I believe him. But that play signified a shift in mentality during the series. The A’s became the aggressors and started taking it to the Giants, and they finally came out on top.

At any rate, the Bay Bridge Series is in the rear-view mirror. Now you have to wonder whether the A’s can stay on the good side of .500 despite the players that are falling to injuries. Brandon McCarthy was the latest to join the D.L. on Sunday, but the A’s are likely to get Coco Crisp back Monday.

I expect Crisp to play center field until Yoenis Cespedes comes off the D.L., and I wonder if things will stabilize defensively with Crisp in there. Though it didn’t hurt the A’s on Sunday, their defense is still a concern. Shallow pop-ups should not give a major league team as much trouble as they’re giving the A’s right now. A blooper that fell between center fielder Collin Cowgill, left fielder Seth Smith and shortstop Cliff Pennington in the first inning went for a double. In the seventh, Jemile Weeks caught a pop-up and then tripped over Pennington, who also converged on the ball. No one asked Bob Melvin about it after Sunday’s win, but I’m sure better communication has to be something he and his staff are hammering home to players …

That’s all for now …


The recap of a busy news morning for the A’s

There’s been considerable A’s news before Sunday’s game even gets started. Brandon McCarthy was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder, and Manny Ramirez was held out of his minor league game because of a wrist injury. Click on the above links for those stories.

Here’s the lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Reddick RF, Smith LF, Donaldson 3B, Barton 1B, Suzuki C, Cowgill CF, Colon RHP.

Giants — Blanco RF, Crawford SS, Cabrera LF, Posey C, Pagan CF, Belt 1B, Arias 3B, Burriss 2B, Lincecum RHP.

–I chatted with Coco Crisp really briefly before he hit the field this morning. He says he probably could have been activated from the DL a couple days ago. “We’re just trying to make sure I get some reps and get out on the field.” Is he over his inner ear infection? “I think so, I hope so. But I do feel fine.” Could he benefit from a brief minor league rehab assignment? “I don’t want to mess with my minor league career statistics,” he said with a smile.

It’s looking very likely that Crisp will be activated for Monday’s series opener against the Angels. A’s manager Bob Melvin labeled it a “decent” chance.

Enjoy the game, as the A’s try to keep Tim Lincecum winless in May …


How quickly things have changed for the A’s

Just a few postgame thoughts after the A’s latest disaster at AT&T Park, where they haven’t won since June 15, 2008. How long ago was that? Dana Eveland got the victory that day, Chad Gaudin and Keith Foulke relieved him and Huston Street nailed down the save. Eric Chavez led the offense with two RBIs. That’s going back in time …

–Misfortune just seems to strike the A’s from every angle when they play the Giants here. Indeed, their hitters were completely shut down by Ryan Vogelsong. But they also had the obviously missed call by home plate umpire James Hoye during the Giants’ four-run seventh, when he ruled Vogelsong was hit by a pitch though it was clear that Tyson Ross’ pitch actually hit Vogelsong’s bat. Fast forward to Angel Pagan’s two-run single later in the inning, a blooper that managed to find a hole. The A’s can’t catch a break in this ballpark. And it’s quite a mood shift that has taken place in their clubhouse. Just two days ago, they were flying high after an uplifting 10-inning victory at Texas. It wasn’t quite so festive after Saturday’s game, their 11th straight loss at AT&T.

–Catcher Kurt Suzuki had as good a view as anyone for the controversial Vogelsong at-bat, where he squared to bunt only to have Ross’ pitch go directly at him. The sound of bat hitting ball was clear, so all indications were it should have been ruled a foul ball. Surprisingly, Suzuki took a very diplomatic approach to the play and did not blame Hoye. “It was loud,” Suzuki said of the sound. “At the same time, you don’t know if it was deflected or not. All I know is, that ball was right at him.”

Suzuki was thinking like a catcher with that response. He has every reason to want to stay on the good side of an umpiring crew, in hopes it will benefit the A’s on balls and strikes.

–It’s pretty amazing how much Grant Balfour’s role in the A’s bullpen has changed. Since being demoted from closer, his past four appearances have come in the sixth or seventh inning. Balfour couldn’t get the job done Saturday when he entered in the seventh with runners on first and second with no outs in a 0-0 game. His five-batter sequence: walk, strikeout, sac fly, RBI double, two-run single. Say this about Balfour, he always makes himself available to reporters after a bad outing. He accepted his portion of blame Saturday, but Melvin had his back.

“You know, I’m putting him in some tough spots,” Melvin said. “Now, that’s what relievers do — they come in with guys on base. But he’s had a tough draw. The results haven’t been great for him, but he’s throwing the ball better the last few times than earlier.”

–The A’s face no easy assignment tomorrow in trying to avoid a sweep. Tim Lincecum is 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA in seven career starts against Oakland.

That’s all for now …


A’s try to turn things around at AT&T Park

Greetings on a splendid afternoon at AT&T Park, where the A’s have a 10-game losing streak which they’ll try to snap today. That’s tied for the third-longest losing streak at a road ballpark in Oakland history. The A’s lost 12 straight at Milwaukee’s County Stadium from 1992-95. They turn to right-hander Tyson Ross to help turn things around, and after his six shutout innings against the Angels last time out, you figure Ross will have some confidence going ….

–It seems Coco Crisp (inner ear infection) will be back in the lineup soon, we just don’t know when. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he’ll talk with Crisp after the game as the team decides the next course of action for the outfielder. That could include activating him Sunday, it could include a minor league rehab assignment. “That’s going to be up to him,” Melvin said. “We can’t force him to do that. That’s up to him.”

–Yoenis Cespedes checked out good during his doctor examination last night, but the center fielder still isn’t swinging a bat. Melvin didn’t predict when that would happen, but he said it was unlikely to be Sunday. So although Cespedes is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, that’s looking very unlikely. And since it appears Crisp will definitely be back before Cespedes, I’ll speculate that we’ll see Crisp play some center field until Cespedes returns from his left hand injury. Josh Reddick gets the call in center today, with Collin Cowgill out of the lineup and Seth Smith playing right field to get another lefty bat in there against Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong.

—-One last injury update: Left-hander Brett Anderson has been shut down for a few days with forearm tightness, although Melvin stressed he is not greatly concerned about him. “He’s so far ahead of schedule, we’re going to slow him down for a few days. It’s miraculous he got to this point so fast.”

It’s very common for pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery to hit snags on the comeback trail, and Anderson really hasn’t had any until now. I’ll keep you updated on his status …

Today’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Reddick CF, Gomes LF, Smith RF, Donaldson 3B, Barton 1B, Suzuki C, Ross RHP.

Giants – Blanco RF, Crawford SS, Cabrera LF, Posey C, Pagan CF, Belt 1B, Arias 3B, Burriss 2B, Vogelsong RHP.

–The first base merry-go-round continues, as Daric Barton draws his second straight start there. Melvin says he thinks Barton looks more comfortable at the plate and defensively than at any time he’s seen him. Barton got a key pinch-hit in Thursday’s win at Texas, and he went 2 for 4 last night. “We’re starting to make strides with him,” Melvin said. Part of the change he sees is Barton being more aggressive at the plate, swinging at more first-pitch strikes. And I know for many A’s fans, Barton’s penchant for taking a called third strike is the most frustrating thing about watching him. Hitting coach Chili Davis has worked with Barton to be more aggressive. “You don’t go up there looking for a walk,” Melvin said. “If the first pitch is there, and it’s a first-pitch fastball, have at it. We want him to be aggressive, (and) everybody.”

–After Jarrod Parker’s early exit last night, the A’s bullpen is pretty taxed. Melvin mentioned two, possibly three, relievers could be unavailable. He mentioned Jerry Blevins and Pedro Figueroa as two guys that have been worked pretty good. Might the A’s call up a reliever in the next day or two? “Maybe,” Melvin replied. He said Travis Blackley is available for long relief today. But it’s worth noting that Graham Godfrey was pulled early from his start for Triple-A Sacramento last night, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him brought up in the next couple days for bullpen depth.


Coco may be close, Cespedes to be examined, Melvin gets a call from the ump who tossed him.

In for Joe Stiglich tonight …

A few quick notes:

*-Coco Crisp was in the clubhouse before the game and he was smiling for the first time in weeks. It looks like he has the inner ear infection on the run that has kept him out for the better part of a month, save a few isolated games. Crisp took batting practice Friday night and will again Saturday, also shagged flies and did some light running. Manager Bob Melvin said Crisp will be evaluated after Saturday’s workout and could actually be activated for Sunday’s game if all goes well. He’s already eligible to come off the disabled list so he could be pressed into service at any time if he’s able.

*-Through his personal liaison, Ariel Prieto, Yoenis Cespedes said his left hand is feeling much better but isn’t sure when he’ll start swinging a bat. Melvin said Cespedes will be examined Friday night but also wasn’t sure when he would begin taking BP. Cespedes is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday but it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by then.

*-Laz Diaz, the umpire who tossed Bob Melvin for the first time Thursday, called the A’s manager Friday and admitted he blew the call on Brandon McCarthy’s “trap” of Elvis Andrus’ bunt attempt in Texas. Melvin said he gained even more respect for Diaz for making the phone call.

*-The A’s have the best record in the American League against left-handers at 8-4. Should be interesting against Barry Zito, who was shaky in his last start even though he got a victory.

*-Melvin was unaware that A’s pitchers went 0-for-18 last year in interleague play at the plate. He’s not expecting much, but something better than that.

*-Travis Blackley said he won’t be unnerved if he’s called upon to pitch against the Giants, the team that designated him for assignment last week. He said he’s faced a good number of the current Giants while pitching in the minor leagues.

Here’s the A’s and Giants lineups for tonight:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Reddick RF, Gomes LF, Suzuki C, Barton 1B, Donaldson 3B, Cowgill CF, Parker P.

Giants: Blanco RF, Crawford SS, Cabrera LF, Pagan CF, Belt 1B, Sanchez C, Arias 3B, Burriss 2B, Zito P.