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If it ain’t broke, A’s don’t want to fix it

There’s a funny anecdote to share from Tuesday’s pregame scene at the Rogers Center. A’s manager Bob Melvin is an incredible creature of habit, and you better believe that gets intensified with his team rolling like it is and Melvin not wanting to change up his routine. He sat down in the dugout to chat with writers and then realized something: He hadn’t done his pregame radio interview with Ken Korach BEFORE talking to the writers, and he’d talked to Korach first every day since the A’s began this incredible run they’re on. Melvin actually excused himself, walked to the other side of the dugout and did his interview with Korach before returning to hold court with the print media. … Pretty classic, but not surprising. Whatever the A’s have working right now, they just want it to continue.

But Tuesday’s 7-2 victory at Toronto broke the mold from some of their past victories. You can read about that in my game story that should be posted very shortly.

A few things that jumped out from Tuesday if you weren’t watching:

–Chris Carter made a diving stop at first base and flip to Travis Blackley covering the bag that was the best defensive play I’ve seen him make since he was recalled to Oakland. Carter definitely seems more comfortable at first base. A’s manager Bob Melvin has said that he thinks the early success Carter had at the plate after being recalled from the minors has transferred over to his defensive play.

–The Blue Jays employed a “lefty shift” on Josh Reddick, with third baseman Brett Lawrie jogging over to shallow right field in the alignment. Reddick made them pay in the sixth, when he dropped a bunt single to the third-base side where no one was playing. It didn’t result in a run, but I’m surprised we don’t see more hitters do that on occasion to beat a shift.

–It was a great night in Toronto, so the roof was open at the Rogers Center. It’s a completely different feel in this ballpark when the sun is shining in. You feel like you’re in a different stadium. To be honest, I like the roof closed here. I wouldn’t want to cover indoor baseball for a full season in a dome, but for a short series, I like the change of pace. I feel the same way about Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay.

That’s all for now …

6

A’s talking trade for Hanley Ramirez

I didn’t get a chance to blog before the game, but here’s the story I wrote earlier about the A’s interest in Hanley Ramirez …

–A quick note on tonight’s game: Jemile Weeks was dropped to ninth in the batting order for the first time this season, and he delivered an RBI triple in the seventh. Yoenis Cespedes followed with a three-run single — yes, a three-run single. The A’s lead 7-1, and Travis Blackley has pitched very well …

Here’s the Ramirez story, and I’m interested to hear what you think of this possibility:

 

The A’s are indeed discussing a possible trade with the Miami Marlins for infielder Hanley Ramirez, but the sides are not close on a deal, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed. Ramirez, a three-time All-Star who was the National League MVP runner-up in 2009, moved to third base this season after playing shortstop for his first six big league seasons. The A’s appear more serious about upgrading at shortstop — they’ve gotten a combined .184 batting average, four homers and 20 RBIs from the position — than they are at third, so presumably they like Ramirez at short. Cliff Pennington, who has started most of the season there, is on the disabled list as he recovers from left elbow tendinitis.

Ramirez is a career .300 hitter but he’s batting just .246 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs entering Monday.

The A’s, who entered Tuesday’s game at Toronto in the lead for the A.L.’s second wild card spot, look to be buyers as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches next Tuesday. But fitting Ramirez, 28, in green and gold won’t be easy.

He’s making $15 million this season and is due $15.5 million in 2013 and $16 million in 2014. That would be a huge financial commitment for the A’s to take on, even though they don’t have heavy payroll obligations right now. Figure that the Marlins would have to kick in a significant portion of cash to cover some of Ramirez’s contract for the A’s to pull the trigger. And that’s assuming the A’s have the prospects the Marlins are looking for. Several other teams are also interested in Ramirez.

Another potential shortstop for the A’s was in the opposing dugout Tuesday night. The Blue Jays’ Yunel Escobar is potentially available at a much more reasonable salary. Escobar, 29, is making $5 million and will make the same amount next year. The Blue Jays also hold $5 million options on him for 2014 and 2015. The A’s have been linked to Escobar, whose strength is his excellent defense.

In other news, Double-A outfielder Michael Choice, one of the A’s top prospects, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken hand after he was struck by a pitch.

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A’s try to pull into tie for A.L. wild card spot

A win tonight would pull the A’s into a tie for the second wild card spot in the American League with the Chicago White Sox, who fell out of first place in the AL Central with today’s loss to Detroit. The A’s would also pull to within a half-game of the Los Angeles Angels for second place in the A.L. West, and that’s significant in terms of the division race. The A’s are seven games out of first as they take the field tonight, but before they can entertain thoughts of catching Texas, they need to leapfrog the Angels.

The A’s are obviously rolling right now, having won seven of their past eight, and they just need to split these final two games with the Yankees to claim this four-game series. Jarrod Parker takes the mound tonight for his first career start against New York.

The lineups:
A’s — Crisp CF, Weeks 2B, Reddick DH, Cespedes LF, Moss RF, Carter 1B, Inge 3B, Sogard SS, Norris C; Parker RHP.

Yankees — Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Rodriguez 3B, Cano 2B, Teixeira 1B, Ibanez LF, Chavez DH, Martin C, Wise RF; Hughes RHP.

Josh Reddick gets a bit of rest as DH, and that allows Bob Melvin to get Brandon Moss and Chris Carter in the lineup together. I can see why he wanted to start Carter. He’s been out of the lineup three straight games, and starting Sunday, the A’s face four straight lefties. I’d expect Carter to get plenty of time over that stretch, so may as well try to get him back in rhythm heading into those games. That also leaves Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes available as left/right pinch-hit options off the bench.

–Brandon McCarthy and Dallas Braden both threw off the mound and came out of it well. It’s still tough to gauge when either might return. Melvin said he would wait to see how McCarthy’s shoulder responds Sunday before announcing what the next step might be for him. I’d expect him to be back before Braden.

–You may have noticed Yoenis Cespedes is playing deeper in left field these days. That’s definitely by design. “I think he’s a little more comfortable right now coming in than going back, so that’s how we’re trying to combat it,” Melvin said. There aren’t many adjustments for Cespedes to make at the plate right now. He’s 18 for 31 with nine RBIs over his last eight games.

–Derek Norris is back at catcher, trying to snap an 0 for 28 slump. Melvin said Norris isn’t letting his bat affect him defensively. And considering that Kurt Suzuki is hitting .184 over his past 33 games, it’s not like it makes sense to start going with him behind the plate more regularly …

That’s all for now …

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Cliff Pennington placed on disabled list; Eric Sogard recalled from Triple-A

Checking in with the pregame A’s news, including a DL transaction …

The A’s placed shortstop Cliff Pennington on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left elbow Friday, recalling infielder Eric Sogard from Triple-A Sacramento to take his spot.

Pennington said he hurt his elbow while taking extra swings in the batting cage during a four-game series at Texas at the end of June. He received a cortisone shot as the team went into the All-Star break and said the elbow felt better immediately after the break, but then it regressed again. It’s his non-throwing elbow, and the pain bothers the switch hitter most when he’s batting from the left side. He’s not sure when he’ll be ready to return.

“I have no idea because we were hoping the days during the break would be enough,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be 4 or 5 or 10 (days). I just got the MRI.” He’s eligible to be activated Aug. 4. A’s manager Bob Melvin said Sogard will start against right-handed pitchers, with Brandon Hicks likely playing against lefties as he had been with Pennington healthy.

But Pennington’s injury underscores the idea that shortstop could be an area the A’s look to upgrade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They have been linked to Arizona’s Stephen Drew and Toronto’s Yunel Escobar in speculation. Pennington, a .259 career hitter coming into this season, has been mired in a season-long slump. His .197 batting average and .259 on-base percentage were second-lowest in the entire majors among qualifying players entering Friday, and his .282 slugging percentage was rock bottom.

Tonight’s lineups:

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

Yankees — Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Teixeira 1B, Rodriguez 3B, Cano DH, Swisher RF, Jones LF, Nix 2B, Martin C; Nova RHP.

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A’s, Yankees provide quite the storyline, so where were the fans?

The A’s are the major leagues’ hottest team and find themselves unexpected contenders in the wild card race. They’re facing a Yankees team that has the majors’ best record. Indeed, this four-game weekend series has gained attention nationally. So was anyone else surprised that the A’s 4-3 victory Thursday drew a crowd of just 23,382 to the Coliseum? That’s about 12,000 short of a sellout. Granted, it was a Thursday night. And it’s not like an A’s-Yankees game in Oakland always packs the house. Just last season, one of their games at the Coliseum drew even fewer fans — 22,581. That was on a Tuesday night, and it came on the heels of the Memorial Day holiday, so it’s somewhat understandable. But holy cow, Thursday’s turnout has to be considered a disappointment given that the series carries more magnitude than anyone could have dreamed of back in spring training. I think there’s an assumption that the A’s will start attracting bigger crowds the deeper into the season they stay in contention, but a turnout like Thursday’s makes me skeptical …

–It’s easy to jump on the A’s bullpen when it’s surrendering game-ending homers. But when the bullpen is dialed in as it is right now, the numbers sneak up on you. Oakland’s bullpen has allowed just five runs in 40 2/3 innings this month. They had another good night Thursday despite Ryan Cook finally allowing his first homer of the season. Cook had thrown 40 2/3 innings this season without surrendering a long ball, the longest streak in the majors among pitchers not to allow a homer. But his ninth inning was preceded by Sean Doolittle’s scoreless seventh and Grant Balfour’s scoreless eighth. The A’s have to continue to be thrilled with Doolittle’s ability to enter more crucial situations and get outs. It bodes very well for the future of Oakland’s bullpen …

–Rickey Henderson had some interesting thoughts before the game on Yoenis Cespedes making the conversion from center field to left field. A bit of it got into my final game story, but some did not, so thought I’d share. Henderson worked with Cespedes out in left field before the game.

“Baseball is a faster game in left field than center,” Henderson said. “The ball gets on you quicker, the ball moves in different directions. Really, you’ve just got to have quick feet and get to the ball as quick as you can. … He’s still taking wide angles because he’s a center fielder, and he doesn’t know how to cut the ball off or take a short angle to get to the ball.”

But Henderson, who switched from center to left as a young player in the majors, said he’s confident Cespedes can make the adjustment. He also believes the A’s are wise to try shifting Cespedes to left because he won’t have to chase down as many balls and will therefore accumulate less wear and tear on his body. “His offense (will improve) because he’s not tired running after each ball,” Henderson said.

That’s all for now …

1

Lineups and pregame news as A’s open big series against Yankees

There are more dogs in the Coliseum right now than people. That’s no joke … It’s A’s Dog Day At The Park, and there are dog owners circling the field right now in parade fashion. I can’t say it does much to stoke the intensity of this A’s-Yankees series, but you all know what an important weekend this is for the A’s. And while I blogged last night about how Oakland’s rookie starters need to deliver over the first three games of this series, consider that tonight’s Yankees starter, Freddy Garcia, has a 5.22 career ERA against the A’s. That’s the fourth-highest ERA among pitchers who have ever faced Oakland (minimum 100 IP). So Garcia needs to take care of business too.

–The pregame news was a little sparse with the A’s. Brandon McCarthy appears to have come out of Wednesday’s bullpen session well, so he’ll throw another one Saturday. Dallas Braden is also throwing off the mound Saturday.

–Pretty cool scene during batting practice tonight: Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson holding a conversation behind the batting cage. Henderson is in uniform with the A’s right now — he’s a minor league roving instructor — and he’s with the big club right now dispensing outfield knowledge to Yoenis Cespedes, among other duties. Jackson is a Yankees special assistant — he was in New York’s road grays, which must irk an A’s fan! …

Tonight’s lineups, with former Athletic Eric Chavez starting at third base for the Yankees:

A’s: Crisp CF, Weeks 2B, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Smith DH, Moss 1B, Inge 3B, Norris C, Pennington SS; Griffin RHP.

Yankees: Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Rodriguez DH, Cano 2B, Teixeira 1B, Swisher RF, Ibanez LF, Chavez 3B, Stewart C; Garcia RHP.

2

A’s young starters must step up against the Yankees

Wednesday’s walk-off win over the Texas Rangers — courtesy of Brandon Hicks’ ninth-inning home run — was a good way for the A’s to enter a four-game series with the Yankees that starts Thursday. As much news as the A’s hitters have made lately, there’s no doubt their starting pitchers are the real focus of the next four days. The Yankees have absolutely had the A’s number over the years. They have won 30 of the past 37 games between the teams dating back to 2008, including a three-game sweep at the Coliseum earlier this season. A theme over the years has been the A’s impressive core of young starters wilting under the pressure when going up against the Yankees’ vaunted lineup. The A’s will start rookies in the first three of this four-game series (A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker), and those three need to set the tone early and keep the A’s in the game.

Milone has made one previous start against New York and it was impressive — he held them to two runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 2-0 loss on May 27. Griffin and Parker will be making their first career appearances against the Yankees. Griffin, who starts Thursday’s opener, said he’ll try to treat it just like another game. “They always have that prestige about them,” Griffin said. “I just try to detach from the outside stuff and go out there and play ball.” His ability keep his poise has been a strength so far, and he’s got experience pitching before a packed crowd at the Coliseum. Griffin’s big league debut came against the Giants at the Coliseum and he went six innings and allowed just two runs. He repeated that same performance two outings later against Boston. In both games, it was a big crowd and just about evenly split — half rooting for the A’s, half rooting for the opponent. Figure it will be the same situation Thursday night, and the the A’s and Griffin are used to that.

The A’s split their two-game series with Texas to begin this homestand. If they can gain at least a split of the four games against New York, it would be a good way for them to hit the road for a six-game trip next week as they try to remain in the A.L. wild card hunt …

1

A’s face plenty of decisions regarding starting rotation

Just wanted to give you a quick update on the A’s pitchers on the mend …

Brett Anderson is indeed going to Single-A Stockton on Saturday for his first rehab start. Manager Bob Melvin said Anderson will throw about 45 pitches, same as he threw in his last simulated game Monday. He didn’t share what the plan would be beyond that. But figure that Anderson — coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery he had almost one year ago exactly — will have to make 3-4 starts minimum in the minors before there’s a chance of him returning to the big club.

Brandon McCarthy threw off the mound for the first time Wednesday since he was shut down with recurring shoulder soreness. He threw 25 pitches and used all of his repertoire. If he comes out of it well, he’ll throw another bullpen session Saturday. Dallas Braden also continues to throw off the mound, and the A’s are hopeful of having him back before the season ends.

It all makes for an interesting scenario as to how the A’s handle their rotation over the season’s final two months. McCarthy,  Anderson and Braden (in that order?) will eventually be available for starting duty if they continue to recover. But who will get booted from the rotation? Melvin acknowledged that the A’s have target inning limits in mind for some young starters (think Jarrod Parker in particular, Tommy Milone also). He said the A’s haven’t decided when the exact time will be to start tapering down innings.

“We have some guys coming back,” Melvin said. “How it all plays out as far as limiting somebody’s innings or giving someone a break, I think that’s all up for debate. There’s no doubt we’re gonna have some difficult decisions to make, regardless of when Anderson and McCarthy come back. I think once we get down that road, we deal with it. But some of the younger guys we do have some targets for. It just depends on how we get there.”

It’s a luxury many teams probably wish they had — a lot of pitching and not enough slots for everybody. Melvin said the idea of a six-man rotation hasn’t been discussed yet. And keep in mind that McCarthy and even Bartolo Colon have to be considered health risks down the stretch — McCarthy because of his shoulder history and Colon simply because he’s 39. Also, you can’t assume that Anderson and/or Braden can just be plugged in at some point and be considered automatic to remain healthy. Surely the A’s are considering the overall health history of their pitching staff as they weigh whether to deal a pitcher such as Colon as the trade deadline draws closer.

–If you’re tuned in to the game, you already know this, but Coco Crisp is back in the A’s lineup playing center and hitting leadoff. Yoenis Cespedes is back in left field for the first time since his recent thumb injury, and Seth Smith is DH. Melvin said the A’s still want Cespedes to be a regular outfielder despite the defensive learning curve he faces in left field, and the fact that Smith’s hitting stats are better when he plays the outfield as opposed to DH.  “We’ll certainly take that into consideration,” Melvin said. “But (Cespedes) is quite the athlete, and you don’t want to limit him to DH.”

That’s all for now …

 

 

 

2

Defense takes lumps in A’s 6-1 loss to Rangers

Ben Enos still in the captain’s chair for Joe Stiglich

The postgame thoughts from tonight’s 6-1 loss to Texas were about as you would expect from the A’s clubhouse. After the way they’ve played of late, the party line that ‘it’s just one loss’ is an easy one to fall back on and probably justified.

What made tonight’s effort a tad different was a series of defensive lapses, a few of which won’t show up in the box score. The Rangers took control in the third and fourth innings, and got plenty of help along the way. A’s starter Bartolo Colon was a step or two late to cover first on a two-out grounder by Craig Gentry, and Gentry reached. Shortly thereafter, Colon threw away a pickoff attempt, sending Gentry all the way to third. Elvis Andrus got the big hit, singling in Gentry.

The Rangers scored three more in the fourth, one coming on a solo home run by Adrian Beltre that is still whistling through the night air here in Oakland. Nelson Cruz had a big blow with a line drive double to right that glanced off Brandon Moss’ glove. Manager Bob Melvin said after the game that if Moss had caught it, that’s probably a great catch we’re talking about and I tend to agree. What was a bit more troubling was the bunt single by Gentry later in the inning where the A’s were again late in covering first, allowing Gentry to reach. That didn’t yield any extra runs (one would’ve scored on the play anyway), but it was a bit surprising.

So, though the offense didn’t swing it particularly well tonight, I would guess equal share might be given to the defense. On a team with the best ERA in baseball, the defense has to stand out in the positive sense.