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Postgame thoughts as A’s avoid the broom vs. Yankees

Second baseman Cliff Pennington has played in several meaningless Septembers for the A’s since breaking into the big leagues in 2008. Pennington is the team’s longest tenured position player — Daric Barton technically has more service time, but he’s also spent much of the past two seasons in the minors — and thus Pennington has a deep appreciation for being part of this late-season push for the postseason that Oakland is part of.

“It’s awesome,” Pennington said after Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Yankees that helped the A’s avoid a three-game sweep.

They are four games behind Texas as they begin a four-game series Monday against the Rangers in Arlington, and they hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels for the A.L.’s second wild card spot. As the A’s play these final 10 games of the regular season, you can’t overlook the inexperience of so many important players on their roster. Not just inexperience in terms of time in the majors, though that is significant. But inexperience as far as playing in big, pressure-packed games. We tend to focus on the inexperience of the A’s young pitching staff, but it goes for much of their roster. Even the starting position player who’s been in green and gold the longest, Pennington, is playing in his first pennant race. He credits some of the veterans the A’s imported this season for helping others be ready for it.

“Fortunately, we’ve had some guys come in — Jonny Gomes in particular and (Brandon) Inge when he was here — they’ve been there before and helped us (prepare) for what it was gonna be like,” Pennington said. “For everybody else going through it for the first time, we’re just trying to slow the game down, take it one game at a time, and put a good run out there.”

–Given how overworked the A’s bullpen was after Saturday’s 14-inning defeat, I thought the A’s only chance to avoid a sweep Sunday was for starter A.J. Griffin to pitch deep in the game. … Didn’t happen. The rookie lasted just 4 1/3 innings and left another huge task for the relief corps. That group responded, as Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour blanked New York over the final 4 2/3 innings. But the problem doesn’t go away, because the A’s have no more days off. So now it’s up to rookie Dan Straily on Monday to eat up innings and try to take some pressure off the bullpen. That’s no easy task given how tough Rangers Ballpark can be on pitchers. Straily, making just his sixth big league start, will be facing the Rangers for the first time …

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Postgame thoughts after the A’s lose a wild one at Yankee Stadium

If you watched all, or most, or even the final two innings of the A’s 10-9 loss to the Yankees in 14 innings Saturday, there isn’t much that needs to be said in the aftermath. But in a season in which the A’s have proven so resilient, it seems they’re now being presented the ultimate challenge — bouncing back from consecutive extra-inning losses at Yankee Stadium and losing four of the first five on this 10-game road trip. The A’s have some seasoned veterans on this team — Jonny Gomes, Coco Crisp (though he’s injured), Seth Smith and Grant Balfour among them — but they also have 14 rookies on the roster, and several of them play instrumental roles. How will these young guys respond over these final 11 games?

–Regarding Bob Melvin’s use of his bullpen in the 13th inning, you could question whether the A’s would have been better going with the veteran Pat Neshek to start the inning instead of unproven Pedro Figueroa. Figueroa allowed three consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs before Neshek was called upon, and a four-run lead would soon evaporate. I didn’t have a problem with that call. By that point, so many of the primary relievers had been used up. With a four-run lead, Melvin had reason to think Figueroa would be able to close it out, thus allowing him to keep Neshek fresh for Sunday, when his bullpen figures to be short-handed.

At any rate, it’s absolutely essential for the A’s that rookie A.J. Griffin pitches deep into Sunday’s game considering how taxed the bullpen is. And he’s coming off his first defeat as a major leaguer after six straight victories. Stay tuned …

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Josh Reddick dropped to sixth in A’s batting order again; Coco Crisp remains out

Josh Reddick is once again struggling at the plate, so A’s manager Bob Melvin is trying to see if a familiar formula can work again. He dropped Reddick to sixth in today’s lineup against the Yankees, with Yoenis Cespedes hitting third and Brandon Moss batting cleanup. Melvin had been hesitant to drop Reddick again because he didn’t see a suitable replacement in the third spot. But Reddick is 0 for his past 13 and struck out four times last night. After a day like that, a guy probably needs a mental break.

“He’s been so good for us all year offensively and defensively,” Melvin said. “Now you get to the point where you’re semi-close to the season’s end, and I think he’s just trying to do a little too much. It certainly isn’t for a lack of confidence. He’s trying too hard and sometimes you gotta step back and try a little easier.”

The lineups:

A’s — Drew SS, Smith LF, Cespedes CF, Moss 1B, Carter DH, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Kottaras C, Pennington 2B; Blackley LHP.

NY — Jeter SS, Ichiro CF, A-Rod DH,Cano 2B, Swisher RF, McGehee 1B, Nix 3B, Jones LF, Stewart C; Nova RHP.

It’s also worth noting that Reddick sits at 29 homers, and Melvin acknowledged that being close to a 30-homer season can affect a player to a degree.

“Nine’s a big number in this game, whether it’s 299, whether it’s 29, whether it’s nine wins or 19 wins,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot to those big round numbers. I think you can’t help but know where you are as far as that goes. Sometimes that’s in there a little bit. (But) certainly it’s not his focal point. He just wants to help his team win.”

Combine Reddick’s slump with leadoff man Coco Crisp being out of the lineup for the fifth time in six games because of his pink eye infection, and that’s two very key players that the A’s aren’t getting production from. When will Crisp be back? Well, he’s not even taking batting practice right now. So it stands to reason we may not see him until the A’s get to Texas on Monday.

“I’m always holding out hope,” Melvin said. “Literally he’s day to day. If not tomorrow, then we’re hoping for the first day in Texas.”

A play that got overlooked last night was Yoenis Cespedes’ strong throw from left field, while he was off-balance and on the run, that caught Ichiro Suzuki in a rundown between first and second on his fifth-inning single. Cespedes whipped the ball like a shortstop from the hole — or a quarterback on a roll-out — and it was clear that he caught Suzuki by surprise. Suzuki rounded first and thought he had a double, then stopped dead in his tracks halfway to second.

Plays like that make me shake my head at Cespedes’ raw ability.

“If you’ve seen him take balls at short, you know he can throw it off-balance,” Melvin said. “He’s just a good athlete with great throwing skills, so that didn’t surprise me at all.”

Melvin compared Cespedes’ arm to that of Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, a former infielder who is tied for third in the majors with 13 outfield assists …

5

Collin Cowgill gets “his turn to shine” for A’s

It’s a beautiful night for baseball at Yankee Stadium, and lots of East Coast reporters continue to take interest and share their amazement in the A’s season to this point.

Tonight’s lineups, with a surprise name in the A’s leadoff spot

Oak — Cowgill CF, Gomes DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Carter 1B, Donaldson 3B, Norris C, Drew SS, Rosales 2B; Parker RHP.

NY — Jeter DH, Swisher RF, Cano 2B, Rodriguez 3B, Granderson CF, Martin C, Chavez 1B, Ichiro LF, Nunez SS; Sabathia LHP.

With Coco Crisp out again with pink eye — Bob Melvin says he continues to improve, but not enough to play — Collin Cowgill gets just his second start since being recalled Sept. 1. It’s a pretty big stage to throw him in the lineup, but Stephen Drew hasn’t exactly tore it up in the top spot with Crisp out. Cowgill is an excitable guy and he can provide some energy, and surely that goes into Melvin’s thinking. It’s also worth noting that Cowgill is 3 for 3 for his career against Sabathia.

“He does have a little bit of history with him,” Melvin said. “We’ll start him out there and see where it goes. We certainly have options off the bench if the pitching goes in a different direction. He’s probably the only other true leadoff hitter we’ve got against a left-hander. It’s his turn to shine today.”

That quote doesn’t provide a ringing endorsement of Jemile Weeks at this point, does it?

–The A’s get the kind of exposure in the Big Apple they just can’t find elsewhere. Jerry Blevins and A.J. Griffin visited the MLB Fan Cave today and then spent some time in Washington Square asking random people if they wanted to learn how to do the ‘Bernie Lean.’

“I was teaching people how to Bernie, even though I suck at it,” Griffin said.

But apparently he doesn’t suck as a musician. Griffin grabbed an acoustic guitar while at the Fan Cave and played a solo rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come.” The man continues to surprise …

“I didn’t know he could do that,” Blevins said. “He’s got a good voice too.”

Griffin said he’s been playing guitar since he was 12 but was never in a band. He owns three guitars right now — one acoustic, two electric — and plays when he can during the season.

As for the ‘Bernie’ footage, it should be available in the near future …

1

Brett Anderson likely to miss next start for A’s; Bob Melvin tries to shake things up any way he can

Superstitious A’s manager Bob Melvin won’t change a thing about his pregame routine when the A’s are rolling. And when times are tough, as they are right now, he’ll shake things up. Rather than sit on the dugout bench to address reporters in his pregame media briefing, he preferred to stand, with writers gathered around him. He did his radio interview after talking to writers; usually he does it beforehand. Melvin didn’t give any reason for this, but I can guarantee he’s trying to change the A’s mojo after three straight losses.

–The A’s still haven’t gotten results of Brett Anderson’s MRI, but Melvin said Anderson’s oblique is still sore. “Brett is sore, so there’s a good chance he won’t make his next start.” Dan Straily is scheduled to pitch in Anderson’s place Monday against Texas unless the lefty makes a fast recovery.

As I wrote last night, the A’s had planned to pitch Travis Blackley on Saturday against the Yankees in Straily’s place, even before Anderson was hurt. Melvin said it had more to do with matchups and the ballpark than the fact Straily hasn’t pitched in New York before. He likes Blackley, a left-hander, facing New York, with Straily going against the Rangers.

“If (Straily) does pitch in Texas, that’s a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup,” Melvin said. “You do worry about some of the left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium and the short porch there.”

It sounds as if Straily was simply going to be skipped in the rotation if Anderson hadn’t been hurt. Melvin said the A’s would have started Blackley on Saturday regardless and then re-evaluated for the next time through the rotation.

–Getting a win and avoiding a sweep here in rainy Detroit would be a good way for the A’s to head into the Yankee series. They will try to do it without center fielder Coco Crisp, who continues to deal with pink eye. Melvin said Crisp has made progress today and he thinks he might be a possibility to play Friday, though he admitted that’s being optimistic.

A new revelation this morning was the fact that Yoenis Cespedes has been playing with a bone bruise on the bottom of his right foot. Melvin said he didn’t know how exactly it happened, but Cespedes has been dealing with it since the last homestand. He’s serving as DH today, and Melvin said Cespedes is day to day as far as returning to the outfield.

The upshot is that the A’s are playing these crucial games without their leadoff hitter and center fielder, and with another one of their outfielders unable to play defense. That results in today’s outside-the-box lineup:

A’s — Drew SS, Reddick CF, Cespedes DH, Moss RF, Carter 1B, Smith LF, Donaldson 3B, Kottaras C, Pennington 2B; Milone LHP

Tigers — Jackson CF, Infante 2B, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Peralta SS, Garcia RF, Dirks LF, Laird C; Sanchez RHP.

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Brett Anderson discusses his oblique injury; no results yet from MRI

After a two-hour wait to get an MRI at a local hospital, A’s left-hander Brett Anderson finally returned to Comerica Park (and was probably surprised to find reporters waiting for him).

The long and short of it: He doesn’t have the results yet and doesn’t know how much time he’ll miss, if any. But his oblique is “sore to the touch,” in his words. He didn’t hurt himself while slipping off the mound or while trying to field two bunts.

“In the second inning I felt it a little in the dugout, I thought it might be a cramp or something. I went out there for the third and it kinda got progressively worse and worse. I tried to pitch through it, but at that point it’s not gonna do anybody any good to try and pitch through it and suck at the same time.”

“It’s pretty disheartening (considering) the way I’ve been throwing. To come back after surgery and six starts into it, have some other kind of fluke injury that i don’t really know how it happened … It wasn’t like it was a one-pitch deal.”

Asked whether he can tell how serious it might be based on how it feels:

“It’s sore to the touch and sore when I do certain movements and stuff, and it kind of bothers me to sit. Obviously I haven’t tried to throw or play catch. I’ve been sitting in this (expletive) MRI tube for a couple of hours. The only injury I’ve had is Tommy John so I don’t have any experience with this one. We’ll see what happens when the results come back from the MRI.”

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Coco Crisp remains out of A’s lineup; Daric Barton (remember him??) starts at first base

The A’s face one of the American League’s toughest starters tonight in Justin Verlander, and they’re doing it with a different looking lineup:

A’s — Drew SS, Smith DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Moss LF, Donaldson 3B, Barton 1B, Norris C, Pennington 2B; Anderson LHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Infante 2B, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Peralta SS, Garcia RF, Dirks LF, Laird C; Verlander RHP.

Coco Crisp remains out with pink eye, which is affecting both his eyes. That’s a tough break considering he’s a .364 hitter (8 for 22) lifetime against Verlander. Though A’s manager Bob Melvin said Crisp’s condition seems to have improved slightly, he summed it up this way: “I guess you would have to consider it severe.” Officially, Crisp remains day to day. The A’s consider the infection contagious, though Melvin said Crisp seems to be on the tail end of the “contagious” stage. “He’s got his own towels and everything over there. You try to semi-quarantine him in the dugout however you can.”

Daric Barton draws his first start at first base since he was recalled from the minors last week, and this has more than a few of you up in arms, based on the comments I’m seeing on Twitter. I’m not surprised. It’s a pretty critical time of the season to be throwing a little-used reserve into the lineup. Add in Barton’s career numbers off Verlander — 1 for 10, 5 strikeouts — and it’s a head-scratcher. But Melvin said Barton’s inclusion is a byproduct of Crisp’s absence. Yoenis Cespedes (feeling OK after twisting his right ankle) is in center and Brandon Moss is playing left. Rather than play Chris Carter at first — he’s 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Verlander — Melvin said he wanted to cram his lineup with more left-handed bats against the right-hander.

“(Carter) and Moss are still our platoon at first,” Melvin said. “It’s just a little different flavor for this game. I wanted to get another left-handed bat in there, a guy that’s faced Verlander a little bit. Defensively, (Barton) is very good at first. This is not playing into the Carter/Moss situation. It’s more about the Coco situation than anything else and having to play Moss in the outfield.”

It’s worth noting that Melvin didn’t necessarily have to play Moss in left field. He could have went with veteran Jonny Gomes in left, a right-handed hitter who is 0 for 5 career against Verlander, and kept Moss at first base. You could argue that a grizzled veteran such as Gomes is a good option for a big game such as tonight’s, and you’d have a strong argument.

But a definite strength of Melvin’s has been his knack for calling on the right guy at the right time this season, and putting them in position to succeed. We’ll see if this is one of those cases tonight …

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Postgame notes from the A’s 12-2 loss to the Tigers

The A’s lost 12-2 on Tuesday night to the Detroit Tigers, which in and of itself isn’t disastrous. A.J. Griffin had his first bad night as a major leaguer, but that too was expected at some point. The worst thing that came out of Tuesday’s lopsided loss for the A’s is that it gave the Tigers hope. Tuesday’s win moved Detroit to within five games of Baltimore for the A.L.’s second wild card spot, pending the Orioles’ game at Seattle late Tuesday night. That’s a ton of ground to still make up in a short amount of time. But the Tigers feel like they have a purpose. And giving a talented team like this motivation could make them very tough over the final two games of this series for Oakland. The fact that Detroit will throw Justin Verlander on Wednesday swings momentum even more in their favor.

Starting out 0-1 on this 10-game road trip isn’t terrible for the A’s. But where will they go from here? Running Brett Anderson to the mound Wednesday is a good place to start. That stat line from Thursday’s loss against the Angels looked worse than he actually pitched. And if you’re looking for a positive sign entering Wednesday and Thursday, consider that the Tigers as a team are hitting just .249 against left-handed pitchers, compared to .275 against right-handers. The A’s start Anderson and fellow lefty Tommy Milone in the final two games of this series.

Some other tidbits from Tuesday night:

–Stephen Drew went 0 for 4, left six men on base, and committed a throwing error. “All the way around, he just had a tough night,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He doesn’t usually throw balls away in the fashion that he did on that ball.” Drew did not sugarcoat things himself.

“My night was kind of frustrating,” he said. “Mossy (Brandon Moss) got some key hits and put me in good situations. I just didn’t get the job done.”

–Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera’s big night helped him establish new career highs with 40 homers and 129 RBIs. MVP-type numbers, no doubt, along with his .333 batting average. But a certain outfielder in Anaheim who will have a say in the matter too …

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Coco Crisp back in the A’s lineup; the rain has cleared for series opener vs. Tigers

Greetings from Comerica Park. … I liked this place the first time I came here, and I’m reminded why every time I return. Sharp-looking from the outside, same on the inside.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Crisp CF, Smith LF, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Moss 1B, Drew SS, Donaldson 3B, Kottaras C, Pennington 2B; Griffin RHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Berry LF, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Dirks RF, Peralta SS, Infante 2B, Laird C; Scherzer RHP.

UPDATE: It’s been a crazy weather day so far in Detroit. Batting practice was canceled and rain started falling hard when A’s manager Bob Melvin gave his pregame media chat a little after 5 p.m. local time. Since then, the sun has poked out, the rain has stopped and the grounds crew has removed the tarp from the infield. Some of the A’s hitters were bummed that batting practice was scratched. “This place needs a roof!” one of them said.

Coco Crisp is back in center field for the A’s, but he’s not 100 percent recovered from the allergic reaction in his eye that kept him from playing Sunday. The tip-off was him sitting in the clubhouse playing cards with his shades on. But A’s manager Bob Melvin said Crisp’s condition has improved a bit. “From what I understand, it’s an inconvenince and somewhat bothersome, but we certainly wouldn’t put him in position where he was at risk,” Melvin said. “Earlier today, he was good enough to make the lineup out.” The A’s were scheduled to hit in the indoor cage, and Melvin said that would give an indication of whether Crisp could play. I wouldn’t want to step in against Max Scherzer if my eyes weren’t feeling great, so we’ll see if Crisp remains in there.

Several members of the Detroit press corps were staking out the A’s clubhouse hoping to interview former Tiger Brandon Inge, but he hadn’t shown up to the park by the time clubhouse access ended. Inge makes his offseason home in Michigan, and he had his shoulder surgery in Detroit last week. He had said he wanted to rejoin the A’s and travel with them after the season-ending procedure was done. The A’s brought a lot of his equipment here — there appeared to be several bags full of bats — and Melvin said he’s hopeful of Inge popping in sometime during this series.

ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote this morning about the crazy dynamics of having two wild card teams in each league this season. The wild card teams will be allowed to set a 25-man roster for their one-game play-in, and the team that wins can then carry a different 25-man roster for the Divisional Series. That means if the A’s wind up playing the one-game wild card contest, there will be some interesting strategy in which players they choose for that game. A pitching staff with maybe two starters and 10 relievers? It’s possible. There figures to be a whole lot of substituting with so much riding on that one game.

But that’s not in the forefront of the A’s thoughts right now. They enter tonight just three games behind the Rangers in the A.L. West. With seven of their final 10 games against Texas, the division crown is still within grasp.

“I don’t think it’s ever not been the focus,” Melvin said. “The whole wild card thing is way too confusing for me to try to follow, to tell you the truth. I look at one number behind us (in the standings), then another. You gotta do math to add it up. We’re just looking, again, at winning on a particular day and knowing there is still a chance we could win our division.”

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Report claims Bud Selig could take action on A’s stadium issue by end of the year

Flying over the Midwest somewhere at 35,000 feet right now. It’s amazing how good a couple bags of peanuts start to look on a long Southwest flight …

–In this L.A. Times piece, Bill Shaikin writes that MLB commissioner Bud Selig might take action on the A’s stadium issue by the end of the year. But rather than give a “yes” or “no” on whether the A’s can build in San Jose, which is the Giants’ territory, Selig might list a set of criteria he wants each team to fulfill before making a decision, Shaikin writes. For instance, he suggests the A’s might be asked to “guarantee their financial projections” were they to actually build a stadium in San Jose. The A’s already have waited three-and-a-half years for an answer on whether they can move, and team co-owner Lew Wolff isn’t keen on the idea of waiting any longer.

Consider this snippet from the story:

If Selig puts conditions on his ruling that require a year or so to fulfill, the waiting game is over.
“That would be a no,” Wolff said. “They might as well just tell us no.”

–At this point, I have to think any kind of word from Selig on the topic — yes, no or otherwise — would be welcome for A’s fans. At the very least, the team’s play this year has pushed the stadium issue out of the spotlight to a degree …