10

A’s drop series opener to Los Angeles Angels in decisive fashion

The A’s fell into third place in the A.L. West, a half-game behind the Los Angeles Angels. They dropped out of a wild card spot for the first time in 16 days. Neither is a huge deal at this point. But what should be troubling to A’s fans is that the Angels appeared to clearly be a superior team in Monday’s 4-0 win over the A’s. Before the season, that was an obvious statement. But then the A’s went and surprised us with their torrid run through July. The expectations were raised and so were the stakes, to the point where this early August three-game series unexpectedly means something. The Angels arrived in Oakland having lost four of their previous five, but they have a roster that’s capable of really turning it on and getting hot. The A’s faced a serious Cy Young candidate in Jered Weaver on Monday. They tried containing an M.V.P. candidate in leadoff hitter Mike Trout. Oh yeah, No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols ain’t bad either.

It’s hardly gloom and doom for the A’s because they lost the opener of this series. We’ve seen how resilient this team is, how it picks itself up off the canvas when it looks finished. Having lost six of their past nine, the A’s need to do that now. Sending Bartolo Colon to the mound Tuesday offers good potential for a rebound, though Angels lefty C.J. Wilson counters with a 2.29 ERA. On Wednesday, the A’s face former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Their work is cut out for them, no doubt.

Will the A’s get Yoenis Cespedes back Tuesday? That’s a pretty big question. His absence was glaring in a game like Monday’s. His presence alone gives the lineup so much more credibility, it gives opposing pitchers more to worry about, and it has to send a shot of confidence through everyone in the A’s dugout. Cespedes’ wrist has sidelined him for two of the past three days, but manager Bob Melvin seemed hopeful of perhaps getting Cespedes back Tuesday night.

That’s all for now …

1

Yoenis Cespedes sits as Oakland A’s open three-game series against Los Angeles Angels

The A’s are without one of their biggest weapons as they start this important three-game series against the Angels. Yoenis Cespedes is out of the lineup for the second time in three games, as his sprained right wrist is still giving him problems. After sitting out Saturday, Cespedes went 0 for 4 on Sunday, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said the wrist bothered Cespedes in his final two at-bats. The A’s held him out of batting practice today, and Melvin said he’s hopeful that a full day off will help things. “Day to day,” the manager said. I don’t have to tell you how important Cespedes is to this lineup — their win-loss record is drastically better with him than without him. And while we’re justifiably talking a lot about Oakland’s pitching right now — Can the young starters hold up? Can Ryan Cook do the job as closer? — Cespedes is as critical to this team’s success as any one player in my opinion. He’s the most dangerous hitter in a lineup that has struggled to score runs consistently this season. Cespedes declined comment to reporters before batting practice.

Brandon Moss is playing left field tonight, and it’s worth watching how he does in his first start there this season.

–Brett Anderson continues to come along well. He went 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday, giving up three runs and five hits against Nashville. All three of those runs came in the first, and Anderson said he felt his stuff got much sharper as the game went on. His velocity is getting better and his slider was particularly sharp. But his entire repertoire still needs to improve. “It’s one thing to throw strikes, but another thing to have command that’s going to translate to the big leagues,” Anderson said. “My command is the last thing to come. It’s getting there. It’s not quite there yet but it’s getting close.”

–Shortstop Cliff Pennington is set to play three more games with Sacramento tonight through Wednesday, Melvin said. It’s possible he gets activated sometime early in the upcoming road trip that begins Friday.

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

Angels — Trout CF, Hunter RF, Pujols 1B, Trumbo LF, Morales DH, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 2B, Aybar SS, Iannetta C; Weaver RHP.

9

A’s place A.J. Griffin on disabled list; Brandon McCarthy appears on target to return

The roster shuffle continues for the A’s, and it’s not surprising considering how heavily their bullpen has been used. Relievers Evan Scribner and Pedro Figueroa were called up, outfielder Michael Taylor was sent down and starter A.J. Griffin was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder. Both A’s manager Bob Melvin and Griffin seem to believe it’s not a major injury, but the A’s want to be cautious with the rookie. Plus, Brandon McCarthy was lights out in Saturday’s rehab start with Triple-A Sacramento, going six scoreless innings and allowing just two hits with nine strikeouts. He says he feels ready to return and Melvin said the plan is for McCarthy to slide into Griffin’s spot for Friday’s road trip opener against the White Sox. “Mac has to get through a bullpen session,” Melvin said. “We want to make sure that goes well, but that’s what we’re targeting at this point.”

–Judging from Melvin’s comments, the A’s are re-assessing the closer situation in light of Ryan Cook’s recent struggles. Cook is unavailable today simply because he’s pitched three straight days, but it’s obvious the A’s must examine whether it’s time to try someone else in the ninth inning. “We’ll continue to monitor that,” Melvin said. “We’ll take all the variables into consideration like we do with anybody. You have to support younger guys going through difficult times. At times that, hypothetically, you need to give somebody a break from a role, we’ve shown we can do that too. We’ll figure that out here in the coming days.”

The lineups, with Yoenis Cespedes back in the lineup as DH after he missed one start with a sprained right wrist.

A’s — Crisp CF, Gomes LF, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Carter 1B, Inge 3B, Norris C, Rosales SS, Weeks 2B; Milone LHP.

Jays — Davis LF, Gose CF, Encarnacion DH, Escobar SS, Johnson 2B, Mathis C, Gomes 1B, Sierra RF, Hechavarria 3B; Laffey LHP.

3

Josh Reddick’s SpiderMan plan had been in works for a while

There was lots to catch up on and a lot of loose ends to tie up after last night’s 15-inning marathon. At least when the A’s played 15 innings against Tampa Bay earlier this week, they had a night game the next day. Playing Toronto in an afternoon game today is a pretty brutal turnaround …

–Cutting to the chase on the SpiderMan topic: Josh Reddick was not wearing the costume underneath his uniform last night, which you might have thought judging by how quickly he emerged in the SpiderMan get-up after the game to pie Coco Crisp in the face. Reddick managed to get out of his game uniform and into the costume in about two minutes. Jonny Gomes said the idea had been brewing in Reddick’s head since the last road trip, when Reddick first donned the costume as a gag in Baltimore. Gomes said Reddick seriously sought his advice on whether he should pull it out for a walk-off celebration. “I thought about it and told him, if you want to, go ahead,” Gomes said. “He was like a kid in a candy store the way he lit up. He really wanted to do it. I’m not going to be a dream-crusher.”

–It’s no surprise that Yoenis Cespedes is not in the lineup after he sprained his right wrist last night and left the game. But A’s manager Bob Melvin said he doesn’t think the injury is bad, and he was even hopeful that Cespedes might be available to pinch-hit today. That would depend on how Cespedes felt taking swings in the cage. We didn’t get word on how it went. But Cespedes seemed in pretty good spirits in the clubhouse. It doesn’t seem the injury is too serious.

Coco Crisp is also out of the lineup, but Melvin said he’d been planning to give Crisp the day off for a while. It appeared like Crisp’s hamstring was bothering him running the bases last night, but as soon as I thought that, he wound up stealing third base. Melvin said a hamstring injury can make a player a bit hesitant to push it sometimes, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about Crisp.

–Melvin sounds as if he remains confident in Ryan Cook as his closer despite Cook’s recent shakiness. He said he would go to Cook for the third day in a row today if the situation called for it. And really, I’m not sure I see a better ninth-inning option on this roster. Grant Balfour pitched well last night, but he seems better suited to the setup role. Melvin said he doesn’t consider newcomer Pat Neshek a closer candidate right now. For all the feel-good vibes of another A’s walk-off win, the inconsistency in the closer’s spot should be a concern right now.

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Taylor RF, Reddick CF, Carter 1B, Gomes LF, Inge 3B, Norris DH, Kottaras C, Rosales SS; Griffin RHP.

Jays — Escobar SS, Johnson 2B, Encarnacion 1B, Cooper DH, Davis LF, Y. Gomes C, Sierra RF, Gose CF, Hechavarria 3B; Romero LHP.

2

Suzuki dealt to Nationals, Norris now the No. 1 catcher plus many other notes

In for Joe Stiglich …

Man, these A’s are tough on the backup guy. First, a five-hour, 15-inning game on Monday and now today, where they trade the closest thing to a fixture on this team, beloved catcher Kurt Suzuki. I think the best way to get you all the info is to post the story I wrote for the website, and I’ll add a few notes and lineups at the bottom. Anyway, here we go …

by Carl Steward

csteward@bayareanewsgroup.com

 

OAKLAND– In the heat of the playoff race, the A’s nonetheless traded the senior player on their roster, catcher Kurt Suzuki, to the Washington Nationals Friday in exchange for minor league catcher David Freitas.

Suzuki, 28, was hitting .218 with one home run and 18 RBIs, and in recent weeks, had lost most of his playing time to 23-year-old rookie Derek Norris, who was acquired from the Nationals during the off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade.

“Derek’s our guy,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s going to get the brunt of the time behind the plate. Certainly, performance going forward will dictate how much, but we have a lot of confidence in him or we wouldn’t have made this move with Zuke.”

In a flurry of moves, Norris was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento along with outfielder Michael Taylor. Pitcher Dan Straily, who was scheduled to make his major-league debut Friday night againstToronto, was selected from ther RiverCats.

In a separate deal, the A’s acquired minor league right-handed pitcher Pat Neshek fromBaltimorefor cash considerations, and Neshek was also elevated to theOaklandroster.

To make room for those three players, outfielder Seth Smith was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring and pitchers Jim Miller and Evan Scribner were optioned to the Triple-A RiverCats.

General manager Billy Beane said while it was tough to trade Suzuki, who was drafted by the club in 2004 and has been in the majors with Oakland in June of 2007, the A’s had been moving toward Norris and the opportunity was there to give Suzuki a good home elsewhere.

“I think this will be good for Kurt,” Beane said. “He gets a chance to play every day. And we get to show some commitment to Derek. It’s probably best for both guys.”

Suzuki said he was shocked when Beane called him Friday morning to tell him of the deal, which was consummated after Suzuki cleared waivers. The veteran catcher thought he was safe after the trading deadline passed on Tuesday, but was excited to moving on to the first-place Nationals, where he said he had been assured he’d be Washington’s No. 1 catcher.

“Obviously, I’m looking forward to the opportunity working with that pitching staff in Washington and doing whatever I can to help that team win and go to the World Series,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki, one of the most popular players with the A’s both with teammates and fans, was oft credited with helping bring along several of the youngOaklandplayers who’ve come up through the system over the years.

“I don’t like to take that credit,” he said. “With the talent in that room, it makes my job easier. I was just the guys who put down the fingers.”

Several players said otherwise.

“It’s definitely a tough day,” said rookie pitcher Jarrod Parker. “Kurt took me under his wing when I was traded over and during spring training, he made a real conscious effort to get to know me. He’s done a lot for me and taught me a lot this season.”

Norris himself said he owes his current promotion to the advice and guidance he received from Suzuki.

“We had a great relationship,” Norris said. “I called him on my way down here (fromSacramento) to wish him luck. He gave me a little advice on here and I gave him a little advice on the team I came from. He was a great influence on me.

The A’s will realize significant financial savings from the deal. Suzuki was signed through 2013, and was scheduled to make close to $6.5 million next season.Oaklandwill pick up most of Suzuki’s remaining contract this year but will shave considerable dollars off their payroll next year, although there will be some obligation in 2013.

Whatever the money figures, Beane said the deal was not made for financial reasons.

“It was done for baseball reasons,” he said. “If there are any financial benefits, then that would be obvious. It was pretty obvious the last month that Derek was getting the majority of the catching time.”

“You look at Norris’ record and I think we’re 12 games over .500 when he’s caught,” added Melvin. “A lot of this streak started about the time he got here. So he’s proven himself very quickly here. I certainly don’t think it’s a salary dump.”

Beane said Suzuki’s production slippage was definitely an influential factor in making the trade and elevating Norris..

“It would be disingenuous to say it did not have an impact,” he said. “Kurt worked hard this offseason, but at least offensively, it has been a struggle for him. And it was going to be hard to get back to that level not playing every day.”

From a personal standpoint, however, both Beane and Melvin said Suzuki’s presence in the clubhouse and dugout would be tough to replace.

“I’ve been close to players, I’ve been close to catchers, and this guy is an all-timer for me,” Melvin said.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s: Crisp CF, Gomes DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Carter 1B, Ingew 3B, Norris C, Rosales SS, Weeks 2B. P Straily.

Blue Jays: Lawrie 3B, Rasmus CF, Encarnacion DH, Johnson 2B, Escobar SS, Cooper 1B, Davis LF, Mathis C, Gose RF. P Cecil.

 

Shortstop Cliff Pennington is starting his rehab tonight in Sacramento.

David Freitas, the catcher acquired for Suzuki, has been assigned to Double-A Midland.

Melvin said with Smith out, Taylor will get some starts, particularly against left-handers to give Coco Crisp’s touchy hamstring additional rest.

Straily and Norris have never worked together in a game in the minors, so this will be an interesting debut.

Melvin said Neshek will be used as a situational right-hander out of the bullpen. He added that the A’s have had their eye on Neshek for awhile now.

A’s top pick Addison Russell went 3-for-4 in his debut for Class A Vermont Thursday night with a home run and a double. Beane noted that the staff listened to the game on the radio, and Russell hit the first pitch he saw off the wall for the two-bagger.

3

Bartolo Colon was right man on the mound for A’s

Sometimes I wonder what’s going through Bartolo Colon’s head as he’s addressing reporters after a start. He gets this goofy grin on his face when he’s relaying his answers to interpreter Ariel Prieto. It doesn’t matter if it’s after a blowout win or heartbreaking loss, it’s always the same amused look. That expression could be absolutely meaningless. Or, more likely, he finds humor in a lot of the questions he’s being asked. On a ‘seriousness’ scale of 1 to 10, Colon rates about a minus-3. He is, by the looks of things, the most tension-free player in the A’s clubhouse. It’s reflected in the way he pitches. Colon never gets rattled on the mound, and that cool approach translated into an important performance for the A’s in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over Toronto. The A’s put the breaks on their first mini-skid in a while, having lost three out of four coming into the night. And Colon was the ideal starter to deliver the performance they needed.

I think back to my first encounter with Colon in spring training, and I never would have guessed he has the personality he does. A pack of writers converged on him to do a group interview on the day pitchers and catchers reported. Colon went along with the exercise, but he couldn’t have seemed less enthusiastic. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t really like talking to the media. Not many pitchers have a policy of not granting interviews the day BEFORE a start. Colon does. But I’ll give him this: He’s an entertaining character to observe in the clubhouse, and that’s worth something in my book.

–Quick news update: Seth Smith is getting an MRI on his strained left hamstring Friday, and that should determine whether he hits the D.L. Smith said after the game he has no way to gauge how serious the injury is. If he goes on the shelf, the A’s could possibly turn to Collin Cowgill or Michael Taylor at Triple-A. Both are already on the 40-man roster. Of the two, I could see the A’s calling on Cowgill, a fiery player who can help the team in several different ways.

That’s all for now …

1

Right-hander Dan Straily arrives with A’s; he’s traveled a windy path to the majors

Here’s a quick rundown on a newsworthy pregame scene at the Coliseum.

Highly touted right-hander Dan Straily has joined the A’s from Triple-A Sacramento, and he’ll start Friday night against the Blue Jays. There’s no word yet on who the A’s will send out, but it surely will be a reliever as Travis Blackley is shifting from a starting to relief role.

Straily held a lengthy media session in the clubhouse. He’s a chatty and friendly dude, and he’s understandably excited to be here. I’ll have more on the path that brought him here in my full story that will be posted later tonight. But what a path he’s traveled … he started out at Division II Western Oregon University but transferred to Marshall, where he walked on and made the team. The A’s drafted him in the 24th round, and though he’s posted big strikeout numbers through his entire professional career, he’s burst on the scene this year. … 175 strikeouts, 2.60 ERA this season, split between Double-A and Triple-A. People inside and outside the organization rave about this guy, and on a pitching staff that’s been dominated by breakout rookie performances, it’s amazing that Straily’s debut will create that much more buzz.

Remember, Straily was nowhere on the A’s top prospects lists in spring training. At this time last season, he was pitching for Single-A Stockton. “I never really got into the (hype of) the whole prospect thing because I never was one,” Straily said. “I never bought into seeing where I was ranked. That’s fine with me. I found out you don’t have to be a prospect to make it all the way up.”

–In other news, Coco Crisp is back in the leadoff spot and playing center. … Cliff Pennington still looks on track for a rehab assignment starting Friday. … ADam Rosales was recalled from Sacramento and is starting at shortstop tonight. Brandon Hicks was optioned out.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s — Crisp CF, Smith DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Moss 1B, Inge 3B, Kottaras C, Rosales SS, Sogard 2B; Colon RHP.

Jays — Lawrie 3B, Rasmus CF, Encarnacion DH, Johnson 2B, Escobar SS, Cooper 1B, DAvis LF, Gomes C, Gose RF; Alvarez RHP.

2

Postgame thoughts folllowing A’s 4-1 loss to the Rays

A few tidbits from the A’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, their third defeat in the past four games.

–It doesn’t take long for all of those good vibes from July to vanish, does it? The A’s have lost that air of invincibility they had, and it’s been a combination of poor hitting and not-so-stellar starting pitching that’s worked against them. A strength of this team has been its ability to brush off adversity, and that’s a quality that would prove very valuable right now. The Toronto Blue Jays arrive Thursday for a four-game series. They’ve struggled recently but still provide a challenge. And then the Los Angeles Angels arrive for a three-game series, and those games against a division rival right above the A’s in the standings carry heavy weight.

Third baseman Brandon Inge had this take on the A’s recent offensive struggles:

“We’ve still been making contact,” he said. “But it’s amazing the difference that five feet makes (on a hit ball) one way or another. You’re talking about three up and three down, as opposed to the first three guys getting on base and then a bloop scores two runs. We’ve actually been very fortunate (during that hot streak) that balls we hit found holes. We’re still doing the same thing we had been doing (but with less luck).”

The point he’s making: It’s part of baseball to have good fortune and bad fortune hitting. And it’s those good-luck times that help a team run off the kind of hot streak the A’s had in July. But eventually,the luck evens out over the course of a long season. I don’t think Inge was trying to say his team’s success has been built on luck. But it brings up an interesting point: The A’s did have an awful lot of borderline bloopers fall their way over the past month. Now that they find the going tougher, you just know a lot of those balls are going to start falling against them. We’ll see how they respond to that, and what impact it has on their August record.

–You’ll notice the right-handed hitting Chris Carter has gotten starts at DH against right-handed pitchers in the past two games. Bob Melvin has opted for Carter over Jonny Gomes. I like that call, considering Carter’s enormous power and the fact that you still want to see what this guy can do over an extended period. But with Seth Smith in an 0 for 17 slump, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gomes maybe get the nod over him in upcoming games. The Blue Jays are starting a right-hander in Henderson Alvarez on Thursday, and we’ll see if Melvin goes against the grain and gives the rigth-handed hitting Gomes a start over Smith.

That’s all for now …

1

Brett Anderson’s return gets closer and closer for A’s

It’s a beautiful afternoon at the Coliseum as the A’s and Rays finish off a three-game series. Does this feel like a big game to you for the A’s? It does to me. They haven’t played their best baseball over the past three days, even in Monday’s walkoff victory. A win today gives them another series victory and keeps some momentum rolling as the Blue Jays arrive Thursday for a four-game series.

–Brett Anderson gave an update on his status today. He was happy with his four-inning stint in Reno yesterday for Triple-A Sacramento, and was especially encouraged that his breaking ball command was better. After he didn’t record a strikeout in his first rehab outing against Salt Lake, Anderson’s Sacramento teammates presented him with a baseball as a gag Tuesday, commemorating the first strikeout he notched against Reno. “Brett’s first K since June 5 (2011), 422 days,” it read. Anderson got a kick out of it, but he was genuinely happy with how his stuff felt, and that tells him he’s close to being ready for the bigs. The lefty estimated one or two more minor league starts will have him ready. And then what happens?

“I keep joking around that I don’t know what’s gonna happen, there’s so many guys here that are pitching well in front of me,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens there, especially with (Brandon) McCarthy coming back too. It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches. We’re gonna piggy-back and go three innings apiece or something.” Anderson added that he thinks a six-man rotation could make sense, given the A’s starting depth and the injury histories in the rotation.

One last bit on Anderson: You might have seen him tweet a picture of him and comedian Bill Murray. That was taken in Salt Lake. Murray used to be part-owner of the Salt Lake Trappers minor league team back in the late 1980s, and he was back in town for a game. Murray took batting practice, and Anderson was one of several players to snap pictures with him. “He’s an awesome guy, he knows baseball,” Anderson said. “He didn’t take a very good B.P. He hit a couple out of the infield, but he didn’t barrel many up.”

–In other rotation news, McCarthy is scheduled for a bullpen session Thursday and his second rehab start with Sacramento will come Saturday. Dallas Braden, who hurt his groin last week right before he was set to face hitters, was scheduled to play catch before Wednesday’s game.

Shortstop Cliff Pennington might start a rehab assignment Friday if he continues progressing from an elbow injury. Coco Crisp also is coming along well but is out of the lineup for the fourth straight game.

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

Rays — Jennings LF, Upton CF, Zobrist 2B, Joyce RF, Keppinger DH, Pena 1B, Roberts 3B, Molina C, Johnson SS; Cobb RHP.