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A’s pitching comes through when they need it

Some odds and ends from the A’s 3-1 victory Monday night over the Angels …

–They say it all begins with starting pitching, right? The A’s definitely got it in a 3-1 victory to open this four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. Jarrod Parker was terrific in his first start at Angel Stadium: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K. I made note of this in my game story, but the soft-spoken Parker even sounded more assertive in his postgame media address. Not that he usually comes across passive, just very low-key. He sounded like a young pitcher who knew he just came up with a big performance.

“These are the kinds of starts we need, and everyone is going to feed off this kind of energy,” Parker said. “Game one is always good to set the tone.”

A’s starters have issued three or fewer walks in 39 straight games, the second-longest streak in Oakland history. It’s up to Dan Straily, another of the A’s four rookie starters, to continue what Parker started Tuesday.

Speaking of Straily, I chatted with him before the game. He says he’s “champing at the bit” to get back on the mound. Straily will be going on eight days’ rest — and it marks his first start since being recalled for his second big league stint — but he thinks the rest will do him good at this point in the season. Straily faced the Angels in one of his previous three starts for Oakland — he gave up four homers at the Coliseum. After that start, pitching coach Curt Young instructed him to only watch film of his first inning that day, when he pitched well. To gear up for this start, Straily said he watched film of the rest of that outing to try to learn something.

“Pretty much all of their hits they got were when I fell behind,” Straily said. “I was pitching myself into fastball counts and missed with my fastball location.”

It’s gotta be tough for a young guy to get a call-up and then have to sit for four days before he gets on the field. Straily will get his chance on a big stage Tuesday. …

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Bob Melvin: Josh Reddick playing “Gold Glove-caliber” right field for A’s

Josh Reddick has hit another rough patch at the plate, but he found a way to make an impact in the A’s 4-2 victory Sunday that closed out a sweep of the Seattle Mariners. Reddick made a diving catch in right field to rob Franklin Gutierrez in the bottom of the first. Then in the ninth, with a man on second and the tying run at the plate, Reddick charged and made a sliding catch of Eric Thames’ shallow fly for the second out to help Grant Balfour close out the save. Those plays are typical of the standout defense Reddick has played all season. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he was looking to use Reddick at DH on Sunday to give his legs a break, but with lefty Tommy Milone — a high-contact pitcher — on the mound, Melvin wanted Reddick out there defensively.

“He’s as prepared and as good a right fielder as I’ve seen,” Melvin said, “whether it’s on the throwing end, going in on balls, back on balls … He reads balls well. He’s played really a Gold Glove-caliber right field for us this year.”

And when Reddick is making plays like that, it helps make up for his struggles at the plate. He won A.L. Player of the Week honors just last week as part of a 14 for 28 streak that helped him snap out of an earlier funk. But over his past eight games, Reddick is just 3 for 31. On the bright side for the A’s, they’ve been getting game-to-game contributions up and down the rest of the batting order, which helps pick up the slack.

But the A’s need the production of their No. 3 hitter, especially with Yoenis Cespedes’ power numbers having dipped a bit recently in the cleanup spot. Cespedes is finding other ways to make an impact. He’s looked very good lately in left field and he’s been stealing bases to help spark rallies. But he’s knocked in just four runs over his past 16 games and is on a season-long 20-game homerless streak. Not that home runs have been a problem for the A’s. They lead the majors with 79 home runs since the All-Star break, and they received key homers in all three victories over Seattle. As they try to nail down a postseason spot over these final 23 games, however, they would surely benefit from their 3-4 batters heating up …

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A’s pitcher Brett Anderson strikes a bond with Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden

A’s left-hander Brett Anderson says he’s not the biggest NFL nut, but he takes a rooting interest in Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden played quarterback at Oklahoma State, which is where Anderson’s father, Frank, is the head baseball coach. As you may know, Weeden was drafted in the second round out of high school as a pitcher and played in the New York Yankees system before quitting baseball and enrolling at Oklahoma State to play football. He and Anderson became friends during his time at OSU. “He’d come out in the summer and help my Dad with camps,” Anderson said. The two keep in contact on Twitter. “He said congratulations after my first start back (from elbow surgery),” Anderson said. “To be drafted in the first round in football and second round in baseball, it’s crazy. He’s an easy guy to root for.” Weeden also has a younger brother, Ty, who is Anderson’s age and played catcher for four seasons in the Red Sox’s and Nationals’ organizations.

Today’s lineups:
A’s — Crisp CF, Gomes DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Carter 1B, Donaldson 3B, Norris C, Drew SS, Rosales 2B; Milone LHP.

M’s — Gutierrez CF, Saunders LF, Montero DH, Seager 2B, Olivo C, Wells RF, Carp 1B, Liddi 3B, Ryan SS; Vargas LHP.

–Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan had a couple interesting quotes about the A’s in Sunday’s Seattle Times. “I mean no disrespect when I say it, but on paper it’s not the most intimidating team,” he said. “They’ve got some things working, and it’s an even bigger tip of the hat that they’re getting it done without — no disrespect again — without marquee names and all that stuff. That’s just good baseball, and they’re finding ways to get it done.”

Sort of a compliment, and sort of a shot. But it didn’t ruffle too many feathers inside the A’s clubhouse. “I’m sure it could be construed either way,” Anderson said. “But I kind of see where he’s coming from in that aspect. You ask the random fan across the country to name some Athletics, and they’re gonna have to think about it or they won’t be able to. But it doesn’t really matter to us because we’ve been winning ball games. As long as we keep winning, we can kind of brush off anything, even if it’s meant to be nice but can be construed as negative.”

Third baseman Josh Donaldson didn’t take much offense.

“I think we have a lot of young guys on our team that people don’t know about,” he said. “The most important thing is we’re all going out there collectively as team and getting our ‘W’s. I think that says the most about our team.”

–The A’s had nothing new to report on Brandon McCarthy’s condition, which is probably a good thing at this point as he is four days removed from his brain surgery.

That’s all for now …

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McCarthy is “progressing nicely”; George Kottaras draws another start at catcher for A’s

It’s another beautiful night in Seattle. I have never felt it as warm in this city during baseball season as it is this weekend. …

The news continues to be encouraging regarding Brandon McCarthy. A’s trainer Nick Paparesta says the pitcher is “progressing nicely” in his recovery from brain surgery. Paparesta talked to Brandon’s wife, Amanda, this morning, and she said McCarthy sat up in bed most of the morning and that he was asking the doctor lots of questions during his daily examination. He was also eating well. All good signs … Doctors are thinking of transferring him to a transitional care unit, which is the stage between intensive care and being in a regular hospital room. McCarthy is now three days removed from his surgery to clear out the bleeding around his brain, and Paparesta was asked if McCarthy is past the critical stage doctors talked about regarding any possible complications.

“I’d give it one more day,” Paparesta said. “With any head injury you need to be cautious. But the progress has been great and we’re all very excited about it.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin said he was aware of the tweets McCarthy had posted himself Saturday morning, when he was flashing his usual humor. “It does put a smile on your face,” Melvin said.

Paparesta also said he was encouraged by McCarthy’s activity on Twitter.

“As you can tell, they’re his thoughts, and I think that’s important,” Paparesta said. “It’s good that people are able to see that he’s still got it all together right now. It’s great.”

Unfortunately, you can only shake your head at how some people use Twitter in these situations. Amanda McCarthy received a couple of hurtful and horribly inappropriate tweets from someone who reportedly had an MLB.com-affiliated blog at one time but no longer does. There’s no explaining some people’s behavior …

–As for the baseball news, here’s tonight’s lineups:

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

M’s: Ackley 2B, Gutierrez CF, SEager 3B, Montero C, Smoak 1B, Saunders RF, Olivo DH, Robinson LF, Ryan SS; Iwakuma RHP.

Melvin said he wanted to give the left-handed hitting George Kottaras another start against a right-handed pitcher. The catcher has three homers and 11 RBIs in his past four games. Melvin also likes the way Kottaras is handling pitchers and getting familiar with the entire staff. He said Derek Norris would be back in Sunday against lefty Jason Vargas.

There were some long faces in the clubhouse before the game regarding some college football scores. Josh Donaldson (Auburn alum) was not happy about the Tigers losing to Mississippi State. And Cliff Pennington (Texas A&M) was fuming about the Aggies falling to Florida.

Football season has arrived …

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A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy takes to Twitter to communicate

In an encouraging sign regarding his progress, A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy took to Twitter on Saturday morning for his first public communication since undergoing brain surgery.

“Crazy about this children’s Tylenol, I can’t believe they give it to kids,” McCarthy tweeted at around 2 a.m. Saturday, judging by his Twitter timeline. That’s a line from the T.V. show “Arrested Development,” and a sign that McCarthy’s sharp sense of humor – which he displays often on Twitter – is intact following his surgery Wednesday night to extract an epidural hematoma.

McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive while pitching Wednesday afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels. On Friday, A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta cautioned that McCarthy’s condition was still life-threatening because of the potential for complications following such surgery.

The first two to three days following the procedure are the most critical, doctors told Paparesta, and Saturday is the third day. But the fact McCarthy is tweeting from the Bay Area hospital at which he is recovering appears encouraging regarding his health.

“The good news in all of this, is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there shall be no excuses at this point,” he tweeted around 10 a.m.

McCarthy also responded to a get-well wish from 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis:

“@PatrickWillis52 thanks buddy, I feel like I just got hit by you,” McCarthy wrote.

–Hopefully the encouraging news continues …

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Postgame thoughts after A’s 6-1 victory over Seattle Mariners

Just some scattered thoughts after the A’s snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Mariners 6-1 on Friday night …

–On paper, the loss of Brandon McCArthy seems to be a blow that the A’s young starting rotation shouldn’t be able to compensate for as they enter a brutal stretch of schedule. But should we be surprised if this team turns a worrisome situation such as McCarthy’s health into a rallying cry? The bonds that exist on this roster are strong, and it’s clear they want to play well in honor of McCarthy. I’m not sure how many victories that will translate to over the final three-plus weeks of the regular season. But in this crazy and unpredictable year for the A’s, they tend to latch on to an emotional spark and ride it for all its worth. We’ll see what effect this one has.

–A.J. Griffin has racked up plenty of sparkling stats. This one sums up his performance pretty well. In four road starts, the rookie has allowed just four earned runs and struck out 25 in 23 1/3 innings. He impressed Friday despite throwing just 5 1/3 innings. Griffin said after the game he struggled with command of his curve early, but he harnessed his control enough for seven strikeouts. You gotta like the way he gets hitters to wave at his big curve, and then has them chasing a high fastball.

–Second baseman Cliff Pennington had a 4 for 4 night. OK, so two of the hits were infield singles. But he doubled in the eighth, and in his career against Felix Hernandez, he is 13 for 39.

–This had the looks of a tough weekend for the A’s considering they faced Hernandez on Friday and have tough lefty Jason Vargas on Sunday. But now they’ve beaten Hernandez and send Brett Anderson (3-0) to the mound Saturday night. Suddenly the complexion of this series has changed, don’t you think?

That’s all for now …

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Dan Straily to start Tuesday for Oakland A’s

Just a quick post here as I’m working on the follow-up from Brandon McCarthy’s brain surgery. …

The lineups for the A’s-Mariners series opener:

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

Sea — Ackley 2B, Gutierrez Cf, Seager 3B, Jaso C, Saunders LF, Smoak 1B, Thames RF, Jimenez DH, Ryan SS; Hernandez RHP.

–Dan Straily, called up earlier today from Triple-A Sacramento, will start Tuesday in McCarthy’s rotation spot.

More later at www.mercurynews.com, www.insidebayarea.com and www.contracostatimes.com …

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Don’t overlook importance of this road trip for A’s

Checking in with you on a travel day for the A’s, who woke up today still tied for the wild card lead with Baltimore despite being swept by the Angels …

Everyone is pointing to an upcoming 10-game road trip that seems as if it will define whether the A’s are destined for the postseason. Indeed, it looks intimidating as it waits there on the schedule — three games at Detroit beginning Sept. 18, followed by three at Yankee Stadium and four at A.L. West-leading Texas. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. As things stand, this six-game swing through Seattle and Anaheim that begins Friday suddenly becomes just as crucial.

The A’s need to steady themselves as they come off that three-game shellacking from the Angels. So although the Mariners are the only team Oakland plays over the next 20 games that has a losing record, this weekend’s series holds some importance. Playing at Safeco Field is never a picnic for the A’s. The weather is usually chilly (especially at night), the ball doesn’t carry well, and offense just seems tough to come by. Plus, the Mariners are a much improved team over the first half.

The A’s have scored a total of 12 runs in six games at Safeco so far this season. That they’ve gone 3-3 in that stretch is impressive considering those numbers. Runs might be at a premium again this weekend. They face Felix Hernandez in Friday’s opener. He’s 13-5 with a 2.63 ERA lifetime against the A’s, yet they beat him in Seattle in April behind a fine effort from Bartolo Colon. On Saturday, Hisashi Iwakuma goes for Seattle. He’s got solid overall numbers (6-3, 3.14) but has faced Oakland just once this season in a 3 2/3-inning relief stint. Tough to tell what to expect that night. Lefty Jason Vargas awaits Sunday, and he is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts against the A’s this season. It won’t be easy, but the flip side is that the A’s pitch well at Safeco too. They gave up just four runs total in their last series there, when they took two out of three despite scoring just five runs of their own.

You could make the case that the Angels are the scariest of all the teams chasing the A’s right now, considering how well they’re playing. You get the sense that Los Angeles woke up and realized it wasn’t acting like the playoff contender everyone expected it to be. Next week’s four-game series in Anaheim looms large, so the A’s need to play well in Seattle to set themselves up for those games. The A’s are 4-2 at Angel Stadium this season, so they can take some encouragement from that.

While that 10-game trek that awaits could be huge, the A’s need to position themselves for it by playing well now. It starts with this seven-game trip that begins Friday …

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A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy leaves game after being struck in head by liner

A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy left Wednesday’s game in the fourth inning after being struck in the head by a liner off the bat of the Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar. Aybar hit a 3-1 pitch that struck McCarthy on the right side of the head. He went down immediately, banging the back of his head hard on the ground as he fell.

McCarthy sat up after a few moments and had a dazed look on his face as A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta knelt at his side and tended to him. After about two minutes, McCarthy got to his feet and walked off the field under his own power and was relieved by Travis Blackley, with the A’s trailing 3-1.

The A’s announced afterward that McCarthy never lost consciousness but was taken to Summit Medical Center in Oakland for precautionary reasons.

The crack of the bat and then the sound of the ball striking McCarthy could be heard throughout the stadium. The ball actually ricocheted over toward third base, and Josh Donaldson fielded it and threw to first to narrowly get Aybar. The crowd of 15,404 fell silent as McCarthy was tended to. Players from both benches watched with concern, and Aybar was seen sitting on the bench with his head in his hands.

McCarthy, in his seventh big league season, is 8-5 with a 3.24 ERA, and the most experienced member of an A’s rotation that currently features three rookies.

For more updates on his condition, follow Joe Stiglich at twitter.com/joestiglich.

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A’s pregame news, and my own top 5 list of major league ballparks

It’s an overcast afternoon at the Coliseum, and there were even some rain drops before first pitch. Is the gray sky representative of the A’s current situation? Certainly, two straight losses is no reason to push the panic button. But Oakland does not want to hit the road having been swept by the Angels, who are playing well and gaining confidence late in the season.

–Wednesday’s lineups:
A’s: Crisp CF, Smith LF, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Carter 1B, Donaldson 3B, Drew SS, Norris C, Pennington 2B; McCarthy RHP.

Angels: Trout CF, Hunter RF, Pujols DH, Morales 1B, Kendrick 2B, Trumbo LF, Aybar SS, Callaspo 3B, Wilson C; Haren RHP.

–The pregame news was a little light … A’s manager Bob Melvin said reliever Sean Doolittle was hobbling around the clubhouse last night after taking a liner off the left shin Tuesday night. Doolittle’s availability for this afternoon was up in the air.

Another lefty reliever, Jordan Norberto, still hasn’t started throwing but Melvin still thinks Norberto might return this season. “I think we’ve cleared a hurdle with how his shoulder is feeling,” Melvin said. “You never know until he goes out and plays catch, and he’s still not there yet. We feel like if we can get him playing catch reasonably soon, we might have him for a stretch during the course of the season. We certainly hold out hope for that because he’s had a really nice year for us.”

–Good discussion point: ESPN’s Pedro Gomez tweeted his list of favorite big league ballparks 1 through 30 (I’ll let you guess where the Coliseum ranked on the list). In the spirit of those rankings, I give you my top five. The criteria I’m going by is my own personal experience each time I visit the ballpark. Granted, it’s influenced partly by me covering the games from a press box as opposed to watching them in the stands. …

Here we go …

1. Camden Yards — Everything about the place oozes class. It’s a modern ballpark that is “throwback” enough to give you a sense of what it was like watching baseball back in the 1920′s. The sight of the all-brick B & O Warehouse out beyond right field wall adds to the old-school feel, and the field opens up to the Baltimore skyline in center field, a characteristic I like in a lot of ballparks.

2. Fenway Park — No explanation needed really. The history and tradition make it a special experience any time you go there. Watching a game there is like stepping back in a time machine. If I was covering a National League team, maybe I’d probably have Wrigley Field on this list for the same reasons. But I’m more familiar with Fenway …

3. AT&T Park — It’s easy to take for granted because it’s right across the Bay Bridge. I kind of get numb to the beauty of it all because I’ve been there so many times. But what a unique location and design for a baseball stadium. Top-notch …

4. Safeco Field — There’s always a large group of A’s fans that make the trip north whenever Oakland visits, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. It’s just a beautiful, unique venue that fits well in one of the best cities in the American League to visit.

5. Angel Stadium — Outside-the-box pick, no doubt. And if you’re an A’s fan, you probably wanna throw a tomato at me for including it. It certainly has nothing to do with ballpark beauty, because the exterior of this place is really unattractive. But I get swept up in the atmosphere, once the game starts, more than at any other ballpark. The open-air press box is located perfectly, right above the first deck, so there’s a great view. The weather is usually perfect for a night game, the crowds are usually big, and A’s-Angels games always seem to carry extra weight. Games in Anaheim always have a great feel …

–Any thoughts, agreements, complaints? Let’s read ‘em …