Barton, Ka’aihue both in the lineup as A’s try to even series against Rays

My first inclination is often to give you a weather update to start the blog. Not exactly applicable here at Tropicana Field, where it’s always living-room temperature. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had an A’s-Rays game held on a Saturday at the Trop with no postgame concert. Last season we got the Go-Go’s and Goo Goo Dolls on one weekend. A couple years before that it was Smashmouth. It’s all about the baseball tonight …

The lineups:

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

TB – Jennings LF, Upton CF, Pena 1B, Joyce RF, Scott DH, Zobrist 2B, Rhymes 3B, Molina C, Johnson SS; Hellickson RHP.

It’s rare that Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue are in the lineup together, but Ka’aihue is playing well enough that he deserves to play everyday. At the same time, A’s manager Bob Melvin wants to continue playing Barton when he can, with the hope he gets it going at the plate. With the Rays throwing lefty Matt Moore tomorrow, Ka’aihue is likely to play first again because he hits lefties better. “We do need to get everybody involved, and Daric hasn’t played in a little bit,” Melvin said. “He’s a guy we expect to pick it up and do well, so we have to get him in there at some point.”

Melvin didn’t offer specifics, but he said the rotation will be tweaked with a day off coming Monday. I could see the A’s skipping Tyson Ross’ next turn Thursday against Detroit and instead bringing Bartolo Colon back on his normal rest that day. That would give Ross time to iron out his mechanical issues in side sessions if the A’s indeed stick with him. Melvin was asked if he foresees Ross staying in the rotation. “Sitting here at this point I don’t have any planned changes,” Melvin said. “I mean, anything can change in this game, but sitting here right now, no.”

I asked Melvin about his unusual bullpen breakdown right now – it’s not often you see a seven-man bullpen that features four left-handers. But that’s what the A’s have with Jerry Blevins, Brian Fuentes, Pedro Figueroa and Jordan Norberto. From the right side, it’s Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and long man Jim Miller. “It’s tough to only have 3 right-handers, and one being a long guy,” Melvin said. “ And Cook and Balfour are the guys you expect to pitch the eighth and ninth, so you have to have some left-handers who can get some right-handers out. Figueroa at this point has shown he’s been able to, Norberto as well. But we do feel at some point we’re gonna add another right hander.”

Melvin has mentioned he’s ready to start testing Figueroa in some higher-pressure situations, so keep an eye on whether he gets used for a key lefty-on-lefty matchup in upcoming games. As for right-handed relievers in the minors, Melvin said he expects Fautino De Los Santos, Andrew Carignan and Neil Wagner all to make their way back to the majors this season at some point.


Michael Taylor should get a good look with A’s; Kurt Suzuki back in lineup

The lineups for the A’s-Rays series opener at Tropicana Field:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Gomes DH, Inge 3B, Suzuki C, Ka’aihue 1B, Taylor LF; Ross RHP.

TB – Jennings LF, Upton CF, Pena 1B, Joyce RF, Scott DH, Zobrist 2B, Rhymes 3B, Molina C, Rodriguez SS; Price LHP.

After that plunking Kurt Suzuki took on his left hand, I’m surprised to see him in the lineup tonight. But manager Bob Melvin said Suzuki wanted in there. “When I first saw it, I thought potentially it was something bad,” Melvin said. “His hand is swollen but not too bad. And he wanted to play. He’s a very tough kid. He plays with any number of injuries over the course of the season.”

It looks like Michael Taylor will get his first real shot at extended big league playing time. “At the big league level, you earn playing time,” Melvin said. “But with those lefties coming up (that the A’s face), we’re going to get a good look at him. It looks like this is his best opportunity. I don’t know if there’s going to be a better one at this point.”

It was just last week that Taylor flew to Baltimore to join the A’s just in case Coco Crisp couldn’t play with his inner ear infection. Taylor stayed just one day and was never activated. Crisp’s condition hasn’t gotten better, so he’s back in the Bay Area and will be examined by Dr. Allan Pont, the A’s physician. Taylor was in a Sacramento movie theatre when he got the call he was being promoted. He was watching “Think Like A Man,” but immediately left to go home and pack. “I saw about seven minutes of it,” Taylor said. “We got our money back.”

Playing the outfield at Tropicana Field can be tricky with the roof, the low lights and the rings of catwalks all making it tough to track the ball, but Taylor played some minor league games here while in the Phillies’ system. He attended high school in Apopka, Fla., — near Orlando – so he’s got about 10 people in attendance tonight, including his parents.

The Rays are rolling right now with a major league-best 18-8 record, and David Price has won his past three starts. Needless to say, it’s a pretty stiff test for the A’s this weekend, but they have to be feeling pretty good too after taking two of three from the Red Sox.

That’s all for now …


Coco Crisp joins disabled list, Michael Taylor back with A’s

We have some morning A’s news, though it’s not so unexpected …

Coco Crisp was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a lingering inner ear infection, and outfielder Michael Taylor was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento. I’ll be interested to see how much playing time Taylor gets, and what he does with it. His numbers for Sacramento so far have been impressive, and a scout told me Taylor has looked like an improved player from recent seasons. Might Taylor get a start in left field tonight? The Rays are throwing lefty David Price, so if Bob Melvin wants to get as many right-handed bats in the lineup as possible, he could throw Taylor in left and put Jonny Gomes at DH. Or maybe Gomes plays left because the ex-Ray is used to handling the outfield at Tropicana Field.

We’ll see if Cliff Pennington or Brandon Inge fills in as the No. 2 hitter with Crisp out. Pennington has gotten off to a slow start, so the A’s need him to start hitting more if he sees time near the top of the lineup.

I’ll post a bit later from the ballpark …


Jemile Weeks sits with groin injury; Melvin gives A’s freedom on the bases

That loss Sunday in Baltimore seemed a pretty devastating blow, but if the A’s win tonight, they’ll have taken two of three from Boston, be back at .500, and things don’t seem quite as bleak as they head to Tampa Bay for a weekend series. …

The A’s will take the field tonight without Jemile Weeks, who felt some groin tightness after stealing third base last night. Manager Bob Melvin wanted to hold him out as a precaution, and Weeks said he expects to be back in the lineup Friday. It’s pretty unfortunate timing for Weeks, considering he had a good game last night at the plate. But Melvin said it was an easy call. “You don’t want to mess around with a guy who uses his legs in the fashion that he does.” It seems like it’s been tough for the A’s to get Weeks and Coco Crisp in the lineup together on a regular basis, and I think those two remain the biggest key to getting Oakland’s offense rolling on a consistent basis.

Speaking of the offense, it’s interesting that Melvin is giving his team a lot of freedom on the base paths. Were you surprised to see Kila Ka’aihue steal third base last night? I was, everyone in the press box was, and Melvin was too. “I was watching him and I was like, ‘Man, he looks a little different, like he’s got something on his mind,’” Melvin said today. “And as soon as I was thinking that, there he goes.” But Melvin says most players on the team – that includes the not-so-fleet-footed Ka’aihue – have the green light to steal when they think the chance is there.

I have to think it’s unusual around the majors. But for the A’s – who don’t exactly light up the scoreboard with their hitting – it probably makes sense to give guys leeway to get the running game going. And so far it hasn’t burned them very often. The A’s enter play tonight leading the majors with 25 stolen bases, and they’ve been caught just seven times. That 78.1 % success rate ranks third in the A.L. Last night, the A’s became just the second team since 1969 to steal third base four times in a game (the Montreal Expos did it in 1988 against St. Louis). Melvin thinks giving players the green light makes them study pitchers more and learn their tendencies better.

“It’s more, we’re going to work backward,” Melvin said. “It’s gonna be, ‘You’ve got a green light until the red light is put on.’ I think it lends a little more to guys being aware of what’s going on, knowing you have the opportunity to do it.”

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp LF, Pennington SS, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Smith DH, Ka’aihue 1B, Suzuki C, Inge 3B, Sogard 2B; McCarthy RHP.

Red Sox – Aviles SS, Sweeney RF, Pedroia 2B, Gonzalez 1B, Ortiz DH, Ross LF, Saltalamacchia C, Middlebrooks 3B, Byrd CF; Bard RHP.

–Watch how Brandon McCarthy fares tonight. He’s 1-3 with a 6.29 ERA in seven games (four starts) against the Red Sox. A key for him is throwing strikes. He’s walked 13 in 24 1/3 innings against Boston, and McCarthy has issued three walks in each of his past two outings.


Illness hits Coco Crisp again; Anthony Recker gets rare chance as A’s DH

It’s cold and gloomy at Fenway Park tonight. Sort of fits in with the A’s current state right now, wouldn’t you say? They’ll try to snap a three-game losing streak tonight with rookie Jarrod Parker taking the hill against Boston lefty Felix Doubront …

–Coco Crisp’s health adventures have taken another twist. He’s come down with a sinus infection that prompted manager Bob Melvin to keep him out of tonight’s lineup. Before, Crisp had a virus that turned into an inner ear infection. Now he’s got a sinus infection. (Melvin also referred to it as a head cold, and Crisp described his previous ailment as a head cold. It’s all very confusing, so let’s move on). But Melvin said it was his call to keep Crisp out tonight. The training staff is convinced it’s not serious, and Melvin expects Crisp to play tomorrow night.

–The A’s are looking for a spark from any source. Backup catcher Anthony Recker draws a start at DH tonight. Recker normally isn’t a guy you think of as an impact bat, but he had two hits last night, and with the rate this offense is producing on a daily basis, Melvin is searching for any winning formula he can find. “(Recker) is working very hard to keep himself ready,” Melvin said, “and part of it is a reward and how he’s swung the bat the last couple games.”

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

Red Sox – Aviles SS, Sweeney RF, Pedroia 2B, Gonzalez 1B, Ortiz DH, Ross LF, Saltalamacchia C, Byrd CF, Punto 3B; Doubront LHP.

–With Crisp out and the Sox throwing a lefty, Melvin put the right-handed hitting Brandon Inge in the No. 2 spot after he hit eighth last night. Inge did put good wood on a couple balls Monday.

–Melvin had a chat with Jemile Weeks about his two-error game last night, more of a pick-me-up talk than a crack-the-whip type thing. “(You see) how confident he was defensively in spring training, and he just had a tough game,” Melvin said. “The offensive struggles can be frustrating and play into the defense some. … It’s just human nature. It’s not OK, but it’s human nature.”