Carl Steward in for John Hickey for the Bay Bridge Series …
The A’s thought they made a good trade in early February when they pried Jed Lowrie away from the Houston Astros for Chris Carter and Brad Peacock. Now it’s looking like a deal that could save Oakland from all kinds of early season hardship.
After beating the Giants at AT&T Park Thursday night, what appeared to be a good likelihood became a done deal. Hiroyuki Nakajima was officially diagnosed with a strained left hamstring that will keep him out of action for an unspecifiied length of time, and likely off the Opening Day roster. Bank it, Lowrie will start at shortstop on Opening Night against Seattle Monday, and might have done so anyway the way Nakajima, the high-priced Japanese offseason acquisition, has struggled throughout the spring.
Here’s the best-guess scenario: Nakajima will be placed on the disabled list to start the season to give him plenty of time to get healed up. Then he’ll likely head to Triple-A Sacramento under the guise of a rehab assignment to try and get himself sorted out playing baseball in America. It simply couldn’t have gone much worse for Nakajima or the A’s this spring. Before he was injured he was hitting just .167 with one extra-base hit (a double) and had gone 0-for-22 before finally a getting a hit on Tuesday. Then, running to second base after the hit, he tweaked the hammy.
While overanxious A’s fans may already be viewing Nakajima as a $6 million washout, it’s too early to tell whether he can pull it together with a little more time. For now, though, it’s Lowrie’s job, and if he holds his own in the field and continues to hit as he did in the spring, he could hold it for a good long while.
Without him, you’d likely be looking at Eric Sogard as the starting shortstop for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t sound so bad considering the way Sogard has performed this spring, but he is far more suited to second base than short and he’ll likely spell Lowrie there anyway.
The big question A’s fans have right now is why the club ever parted with Cliff Pennington for Chris Young, an outfielder who isn’t likely going to be a starter very often as long as Coco Crisp is healthy. A thin corps up the middle could serve to undo a very promising team, and with Adam Rosales out indefinitely as well, it’s that much thinner.
For now, there is no cause for panic. Lowrie yearns to prove he’s an every-day major league shortstop and Sogard and Scott Sizemore look perfectly adequate at second (don’t forget, Jemile Weeks is at the ready in Triple-A as well). Nakajima? The verdict is still out, but this injury could prove to be a blessing in disguise if it allows him to get his bearings in Sacramento without too much impact to his pride.
The A’s have one bullpen spot available and five guys competing for it. As poor a spring as he’s had, it would not be surprising to see Travis Blackley hold onto it for a couple of reasons. First, the other candidates for the job – Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa and Evan Scribner — all have minor league options, and fifth candidate Mike Ekstrom, a non-roster pitcher, is only signed to a minor-league deal to begin with. Second, Blackley is still the best suited long man, and the only guy who could step in and start if necessary. It’ll be a short leash, though — if he bombs as badly in the regular season as he did in the Cactus League, it could be sayonara for the popular Australian left-hander.
The tough-luck loser in the competition could be young left-hander Norberto, who pitched so well out of the Oakland bullpen last year until derailed by a shoulder injury in August. But his job was effectively filled by Jerry Blevins, now solidly entrenched as the No. 2 left-hander in the pen behind Sean Doolittle. Norberto won’t like to hear it, but he’s probably better suited to Triple-A at this point where he’ll surely get more work.
Then again, the A’s could think fondly enough of Norberto to give him the job and take their chances outrighting Blackley. But the bet here is Blackley lands the last spot.
Yoenis Cespedes is going to have a huge year if he stays healthy. He hit his fifth homer in nine days and his second in five days off Tim Lincecum. I’ve already gone on record that he could hit 40 homers and win the AL MVP. How good am I at predicting? Well, I called his homer Thurday night only seconds before he crushed it, and our Dan Brown is my witness.
It’ll be critical that Cespedes gets protection in the lineup, though, because teams will be pitching around him if he goes too off the charts. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bob Melvin move Cespedes up to third in the batting order at some point whereby he could get that protection from both Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss instead of just one of them.
Moreover, you just want that guy batting in the first inning of every game and getting as many ABs as possible over the course of the season.
Sogard got robbed twice in the Bay Bridge opener. First, Brandon Crawford made a brilliant stab to take away a second-inning hit. Then he wasn’t credited with a sacrifice on a safety squeeze bunt that brought home a run later in the game. Not to worry, he’s still hitting .480. But he very easily could have been 2-for-3 Thursday night instead of 1-for-4.
Tommy Milone pitched pretty well despite giving up a couple of runs. Fully expect another double-digit win season from the young left-hander. His poise and consistency is remarkable for a young pitcher, and he says he’s working hard to get more ground ball outs.
Only two more days left of meaningless ball, then it starts for real. It can’t get here soon enough. Talk to you tomorrow.