Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Brian Fuentes to split A’s closer job

A’s manager Bob Melvin said Saturday he is switching to a closer-by-committee approach after Brian Fuentes’ second ninth-inning meltdown the night before.  Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook will all split closer duties depending on their availability and individual matchups, according to Melvin. “I feel like we have three closers now,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can to match up.”

Balfour won the closer’s job in spring training but was demoted in mid-May after struggling. Fuentes took over and had success initially, but he has allowed walkoff three-run homers in two of his past four outings, and his three blown saves are tied for second-most in the American League.

Cook, a rookie right-hander who has been unscored upon in 23 of his 24 appearances, provides the most intriguing option because of his dominance in the setup role.

“He could end up pitching the ninth,” Melvin said, “but if the bases are loaded with two outs in the eighth, he might be (the best option).”   Melvin prefers having one clear-cut option in the ninth but said of his current closer situation: “At this point in time we’re having a bit of an issue.”

***Yoenis Cespedes said he was hopeful of being available to pinch-hit tonight. Melvin held out the same hope, but it was contingent on how Cespedes fared during batting practice. No matter how he feels hitting, running is probably an even bigger issue considering Cespedes is returning from a strained hamstring.

–It’s an identical starting lineup from Friday night for the A’s, and why not considering how they hit the ball? One player to keep an eye on — Coco Crisp. He’s 3 for 3 with a home run against Arizona starter Trevor Cahill. Only three other current A’s have faced Cahill — Brandon Inge is 2 for 6, Seth Smith is 1 for 3 with a homer and Josh Reddick is 1 for 3 with a double.

The lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Reddick RF, Smith LF, Inge 3B, Moss 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS, Parker RHP.

D’backs — Parra CF, Bloomquist SS, Upton RF, Kubel LF, Goldschmidt 1B, Montero C, Hill 2B, Bell 3B, Cahill RHP.






Postgame notes from the A’s 9-8 heartbreaker

Examining some of the wreckage from the A’s good-night-gone-horrible on Friday …

–Certainly the A’s brass will think long and hard about making a move in the closer’s spot after Brian Fuentes served up a walkoff three-run homer to Arizona’s Ryan Roberts, sinking the A’s 9-8 in the opener of a three-game series. The Diamondbacks showed no sign of rolling over after falling behind 6-0 in the second, but these types of games absolutely have to be nailed down by the A’s. It was the second three-run walkoff blast that Fuentes has allowed in the past 11 days. Minnesota’s Josh Willingham got to him May 29. Fuentes has allowed seven runs over his past four outings.

A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked about the closer issue after the game but answered: “I don’t make decisions like that two minutes after a game.”

Don’t be surprised at all if we see rookie setup man Ryan Cook get his shot in the ninth inning. It’s going to be tough to avoid going with him at this point. Cook pitched yet another scoreless eight inning, giving up one hit and striking out three. The right-hander has given up two runs in 24 games (26 innings).  Grant Balfour is more experienced, but he’s hardly a lock-down guy these days. Can you go back to him after just removing him as closer in mid-May?

–A’s starting pitcher Tommy Milone delivered a two-run single in the second, and then scored all the way from first on Coco Crisp’s double. After that, he took the mound and gave up three runs in the bottom of the second. Coincidence? Milone was hardly his sharpest, going five innings and allowing nine hits and four runs. He said afterward that all of the activity made it challenging to re-direct his focus back to the mound. “I felt like every time I went up to the plate afterward, my adrenaline was running a little harder,” Milone said. “I felt like I had to work hard to get my composure back.”

That’s sort of how it looked to me, but Milone was still in line for a victory that the A’s fell one out short of securing …



Yoenis Cespedes’ injury status is more iffy a day later

Checking in from Phoenix, where the temperature might just drop from 105 degrees to 103 later tonight if we’re lucky …

–It’s looking doubtful we’ll see A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes playing in this three-game series against the Diamondbacks. He didn’t do any on-field activity today, but A’s manager Bob Melvin said the tentative plan is for Cespedes to run on the field Saturday and take batting practice if his hamstring is feeling good enough. Asked again about whether the disabled list is a possibility for his slugging outfielder, Melvin responded: “I think we’ll know tomorrow when we get him on the field.” Seth Smith draws the start in left field against right-hander Daniel Hudson, and he’s also filling Cespedes’ shoes as the cleanup hitter.

Want some evidence of the impact Cespedes has made since being reinstated from the disabled list a week ago? The A’s have scored 33 runs in their last six games. They scored 32 over their previous 16 games before that.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Reddick RF, Smith LF, Inge 3B, Moss 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; Milone LHP.

D’backs: Bloomquist SS, Kubel LF, Upton RF, Goldschmidt 1B, Montero C, Young CF, Hill 2B, Roberts 3B, Hudson RHP.

–It’s one big reunion this weekend. Jarrod Parker and Trevor Cahill will square off Saturday night in a matchup of the key players from the A’s/Diamondbacks trade in December. Bob Melvin is managing his first game at Chase Field since he last served as the D’backs’ skipper in 2009. Melvin’s bench coach, Chip Hale, also coached under him with Arizona from 2007-09. And don’t forget that A’s reliever Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill are facing their former team, as are Arizona relievers Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler.

–This is my first time covering a game at Chase Field, which explains all the wrong turns I’ve already taken in the press box. I hope they pass out a map that shows me the quickest way to the elevators when I’m on deadline after the game. And I have to say, it’s weird covering baseball in Phoenix when it’s not spring training. I’m used to a leisurely morning drive through Scottsdale to get to the A’s spring home at Papago Park. But today, I actually hit commute traffic at about 2:45 p.m. trying to get to Chase Field, located here in downtown Phoenix. Adjustments, I tell you …


A’s need Yoenis Cespedes back quickly

A few random thoughts at the end of the A’s four-game homestand, which felt more like a laundry stop as we head right back out on the road for Arizona …

–The word on Yoenis Cespedes’ hamstring strain is that it’s minor. A’s manager Bob Melvin doesn’t expect Cespedes to play Friday against the Diamondbacks, but he’s hopeful Cespedes can pinch-hit by Saturday or Sunday. That’s encouraging news, as we all know hamstring injuries can sometimes sideline players for several weeks. And the way Cespedes pulled up rounding second today, I thought for sure he was D.L.-bound. Knowing the A’s history for injuries, I’m guessing many fans are holding their breath a bit. I don’t blame you. In the seven games Cespedes was back from a hand injury, his impact from the cleanup spot was obvious. He’s a run-producer unlike anyone else on the roster, and when other hitters around him start chipping in as they did in the Texas series, the A’s look like a pretty functional offensive squad.

Speaking of other hitters, you had to like the way Seth Smith swung the bat against the Rangers (6 for 12). Heading into a six-game swing in National League ballparks, I’d expect the A’s to go with an outfield of Collin Cowgill, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick when Cespedes isn’t in there. But Melvin mentioned Thursday morning that Smith and Jonny Gomes will play important roles too as pinch-hitters and double-switch options. “I told them from the fifth inning on, you have to be ready,” Melvin said of his bench players in general.

–Melvin said Wednesday that the clause in Brandon Moss’ contract –allowing him to become a free agent if he wasn’t in the majors by June 15 — played a role in the A’s promoting him and designating Kila Ka’aihue for assignment. I asked A’s GM Billy Beane why the A’s didn’t wait a few more days before making the call on Moss, thereby giving Ka’aihue a longer look as the everyday first baseman to see how he fared. Beane said he and his staff called up Moss on Wednesday partly because the A’s are in a stretch of facing four right-handed starters, and they wanted to give the left-handed hitting Moss a crack in the majors in a favorable situation. “The bar at that position for us all year hasn’t been high, regardless of who we’ve had over there,” Beane said. “We had four righties (facing the A’s), so we thought this was good a chance to get some at-bats and take advantage of a guy who was swinging it well (in the minors).” Moss had 15 homers in Triple-A and he added a solo shot Thursday against Texas.

How much impact should we expect him to make? Time will tell. He is 28 and is a .235 hitter in 250 major league games. Perhaps the A’s think back to Jack Cust and the boost they got from him part way through the 2007 season.  They certainly would welcome even a portion of that production.

That’s all for now … check in w/you tomorrow



Yoenis Cespedes leaves game with leg injury

Here’s an update that A’s fans are not going to like …

Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes left Thursday’s game in the bottom of the first with a leg injury suffered while he was running the bases.

Cespedes had just singled off Rangers starter Yu Darvish — his sixth hit in his past six at-bats. He was going first to third on Seth Smith’s RBI single and pulled up lame right after he passed second base. Cespedes hobbled into third but was in obvious pain. My first thought is that it’s a hamstring injury, but the A’s haven’t given any word yet. Let’s not even talk about the rotten timing of this for the A’s — and the potential magnitude. Cespedes looked like he tweaked something pretty hard, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him headed back to the disabled list. He came in riding a 7 for 12 streak and played perhaps his best all-around game in Wednesday’s victory.


Collin Cowgill pinch-ran for Cespedes and went to right field, with Smith moving over to left field.

The A’s lead 1-0 in the top of the second. I should have a Cespedes update later …


Brandon Moss gets his crack as A’s starting first baseman

There was some pretty surprising news today from the A’s clubhouse, as Kila Ka’aihue was designated for assignment and Brandon Moss was called up from Triple-A Sacramento to start at first base. True, Ka’aihue was only hitting .234 with four homers and 14 RBIs. But when Daric Barton was sent down Saturday, it seemed to clear the path for Ka’aihue to grow some roots at the position.  Now the A’s have 10 days to trade him, release him or send him to the minors. But because Ka’aihue is out of options, he must first clear waivers before he can go the minors. So it’s the same as the Brandon Allen situation — the A’s wanted to retain Allen after he was designated, but Allen was claimed by Tampa Bay (and Allen, in a weird coincidence, was DFA’d by the Rays on Wednesday).

So the A’s began spring camp with Daric Barton, Ka’aihue and Allen battling to be the starting first baseman, and now none of them are on the major league roster anymore. Moss, 28, had a sensational spring for the A’s but didn’t make the club. He’s hit 15 homers with 33 RBIs in 51 games for SAcramento, and he had four homers in his past five games with the River Cats.  But it was a tough break for Ka’aihue, who fought just to make the team out of camp and seemed to have finally secured the first base job. Moss had a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn’t on the big league club by June 15, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said that played a role in the decision-making. “It was difficult to let Kila go, but sometimes you have to make tough moves, and this was one of them,” said Melvin, who called the move “an organizational decision.” He said Ka’aihue took the news well.

Moss — who has logged time in the majors with Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — was thrilled when he got word from Sacramento manager Darren Bush that he was being called up to the bigs. The River Cats spent Tuesday night in Tacoma, Wash., and  Bush knocked on Moss’ hotel room door to deliver the news. “I thought he was the pizza guy,” Moss said. It turns out that Moss’ pizza came about five minutes after Bush knocked.  So in a very short span, dinner was served and Moss found out he was going to the majors. “It was the greatest 10 minutes of my life,” Moss said with a laugh.

–Coco Crisp, hitting .164, returned to center field after sitting for three games. That means Collin Cowgill, who is hitting .419  over an eight-game hitting streak, returned to the bench. This will be a decision the A’s wrestle with until (or if) Crisp breaks out of his slump: Do they stick with Crisp, who is making $14 million on a two-year contract? Or do they give the fiery Cowgill more playing time and see if he has some staying power in the majors? Melvin acknowledged that it’s tough to sit Crisp when he’s making the money he is. “Coco is a guy we need,” Melvin said.

–It sounds like bad news on the injury front for reliever Andrew Carignan. He was placed on the 15-day DL with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, and Melvin said Tommy John surgery might be considered. Right-handed reliever Evan Scribner was called up to take his bullpen spot.


A’s look for two in a row vs. Rangers

Ben Enos filling in for Joseph Stiglich

Cool night at the Oakland Coliseum tonight, where the A’s and Rangers are set to tee it up in front of a, shall we say, sparse gathering of fans.

There wasn’t a ton to report in pregame today. A’s manager Bob Melvin said that had Jarrod Parker gotten through the eighth inning in his no-hit bid Monday night, he wasn’t going back out for the ninth.

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As pressure heats up, Jarrod Parker remains a cool customer

Here’s some postgame thoughts on the A’s 12-1 rout of Texas. And if you want to catch up on the A’s first day of the draft, you can do that too. The early draft story that I wrote differs a bit from what’s included in the main game story. …

–First the cameras caught Jarrod Parker sitting all by himself in the A’s dugout Monday night. A bit later, second baseman Jemile Weeks was sitting right beside Parker as the right-hander was going for the seventh no-hitter in Oakland history. Parker lost his no-hit bid in the eighth inning, but if you want to blame Weeks for jinxing it, think again. Teammates may have been trying to give Parker his space, but Parker was seeking out conversation to keep things casual. “He was actually talking to everybody,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He keeps it loose in there and does his thing.”

If demeanor counts for anything, I think we might see Parker get that no-hitter before his career is over. He’s got the stuff for it, and if the way he handled himself Monday is any indication, he has the mentality for it too. Even after the game, Parker was pretty low-key talking about his near brush with history. And he didn’t want to be isolated in the dugout. “Usually that’s how I am,” Parker said. “I didn’t want to change. (I want to) have a conversation like normal.”

–The A’s pulled back to within eight games of Texas. That’s nothing to get excited about, but with three games left in this series, they can make up more ground. Taking two of the final three, and they’re seven games out. Complete a four-game sweep, and they’re five out. Maybe that’s asking a lot. But if the A’s can take three of four, they will have shaven two games off their deficit in the AL West since the start of the series. And with two-thirds of the season left, the A’s can afford to think in small chunks for what they need to accomplish.

–Coco Crisp sat for the second straight game. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he wanted to keep Collin Cowgill’s hot bat in the lineup at left field, and it’s going to be interesting to see how much playing time Crisp gets if Cowgill continues hitting. I say that because Crisp would appear to be a prime trade candidate in July if the A’s fall from contention. And a guy needs to play if he’s going to be showcased.

Yoenis Cespedes made his second straight start in center field and had two RBIs. He left the game in the ninth with what was described as a minor injury to his left patella (kneecap). Cespedes wasn’t concerned about it, nor was Melvin. He’s expected to be available Tuesday night.

And that’s a wrap on a busy news day in A’s land …


A glance at the A’s options with the No. 11 draft pick

Since the current state of the A’s can’t have fans too fired up right now, we’ll look toward the future with this blog post, as the major league draft is just a few hours away …

–The A’s first pick comes at No. 11 overall, and the mock drafts don’t provide much clarity on which direction they will go. Baseball America’s latest prediction has the A’s taking Oklahoma State left-hander Andrew Heaney, considered the best college lefty available. Baseball America has also linked them to prep right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. out of Tampa. ESPN’s mock draft says they’ll go with prep third baseman Joey Gallo from Las Vegas, who is said to have the best raw power in this year’s class. Other intriguing names who could be available at No. 11 — prep left-hander Max Fried, prep outfielder Courtney Hawkins, Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer and prep shortstop Addison Russell. Baseball America provides scouting reports on all of these guys.

If the A’s go the pitching route, my money’s on them taking Heaney. But how long have we been saying the A’s need impact prospects on the left side of the infield? I’d say Shaffer and Gallo (who could both project at first base too) and Russell are all in play.

–Check out this interesting note on the history of the No. 11 pick. Can the A’s avoid the “curse”?

Here’s an update on the A’s top picks from recent drafts:

**OF Grant Green (2009, No. 13 overall) — Green isn’t raking Pacific Coast League pitching in his first season at Triple-A. He’s hitting .266 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 48 games with the River Cats. He’s also struck out 39 times, and surely the A’s would like to see that number drop. Of course, Green’s development in the outfield will also dictate how quickly we see him in Oakland. The converted shortstop was switched to center field midway through last season, but he’s also played some left field for Sacramento. If Green, 24, turns it on at the plate, he’ll be a candidate for a September call-up.

**OF Michael Choice (2010, No. 10 overall) — Considered the A’s best power-hitting prospect, Choice is also off to a slow start. He’s hitting .263 with four homers and 27 RBIs in his first season for Double-A Midland. The strikeouts are high (54 in 53 games), but that will probably come with the territory with the 22-year-old Choice his entire career. The A’s are encouraged by his .352 on-base percentage, but watch his progression this season. After leading the hitter-friendly California League with 30 homers last season, Choice’s season-long body of work at Double-A will be revealing. The A’s consider Double-A competition a good measuring stick for how close players are to being major league-ready.

**RHP Sonny Gray (2011, 18th overall): Gray, 22, made one start in rookie ball after signing last summer and then jumped straight to Double-A, posting an 0.45 ERA over five starts. That brief show of dominance set the bar high, and things aren’t coming so easy for Gray in his first full season with Midland. He is 1-4 with a 4.19 ERA over 10 starts. Gray has pitched less than five innings in three of his past four starts, but a few bumps in the road aren’t surprising considering it’s his first full season of pro ball.

That’s all for now … I’ll check back in tonight from the Coliseum.


Jemile Weeks held out of A’s lineup with hip strain

The A’s are throwing a scrambled lineup on the field today against Vin Mazzaro, the former Oakland pitcher who starts the series finale for the Royals …

A’s: Cowgill LF, Pennington SS, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Ka’aihue 1B, Inge 3B, Smith DH, Donaldson C, Rosales 2B; Milone LHP.

KC: Gordon LF, Giavotella 2B, Butler DH, Francoeur RF, Betancourt 3B, Hosmer 1B, Pena C, Escobar SS, Dyson CF; Mazzaro RHP.

It’s no surprise to see Jemile Weeks sitting after he strained his left hip yesterday. Manager Bob Melvin said Weeks is available off the bench, but I really doubt we’ll see him at all. We’re talking about one of the A’s cornerstone players for the future, and a guy who has a history of hip issues from his minor league days. That history factored into the decision to rest him, Melvin acknowledged. So Collin Cowgill gets a look in the leadoff spot.

–Josh Donaldson gets his first start at catcher this season in order to give Kurt Suzuki a day off. It’s hard to believe, but Melvin has never seen Donaldson behind the plate in a game. Donaldson spent all of last season at Triple-A, and the A’s hadn’t even started playing exhibitions this spring when Scott Sizemore got hurt and Donaldson was shifted to third base. Watch how he and Tommy Milone work together behind the plate today …

–Melvin confirmed that Manny Ramirez left Sacramento’s game after one at-bat last night with more tightness in his left leg. I think it’s pretty clear this guy won’t be joining Oakland for a while. As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I’m not sure it makes sense to call him up on the upcoming four-game homestand when the A’s will be playing six games in National League parks –without a D.H. available – right after that. Melvin said that issue wouldn’t factor heavily into whether Ramirez comes up, but he acknowledged the timing isn’t ideal right now. As it is, Ramirez’s stats aren’t prompting the A’s to rush him up.

–I saw outfield coach Tye Waller talking to Yoenis Cespedes in center field before batting practice, with Ariel Prieto translating. Cespedes is returning to center for a day as Coco Crisp gets a day off, but he’ll still be getting most of his time in left. We’ve seen in the past two days that it’s been a rough adjustment so far, based on the way he’s misjudged a couple balls. The A’s will be patient with Cespedes defensively. Melvin said he’ll get some extra outfield work on the homestand, reading balls off the bat, fielding balls coming at him from different angles. Let’s be realistic: The A’s didn’t sign Cespedes to be a Gold Glove outfielder. They signed him to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup, and they’ve seen some encouraging results with that. If he can develop into a serviceable outfielder, who affects a base runner’s decision-making with his strong arm, and he becomes a force offensively, the A’s will take that in a heartbeat.

I’d also expect Cespedes to improve greatly with the glove. One, he’s a gifted athlete who has the physical tools to be a good outfielder. Two, he’s shown a strong work ethic and the ability to be a quick learner since he’s been with the A’s. So watch his development. And keep in mind that, as long as he’s not costing the A’s games with defensive mistakes, it’s his offense that determines his value at this point …

–I didn’t get to Jack Stack Barbecue on this trip — that’s my favorite rib joint in Kansas City — but Seasons 52 is a great restaurant. Check it out if you’re ever in town. And if you live in the Phoenix area, they also have one in the Biltmore hotel. Good menu, good atmosphere, and they have a piano player/singer set up right in the middle of the circular bar.

Points for innovation …