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Game 83 wrapup: Sogard’s running catch saves the day; Donaldson’s collision with tarp steals the show

If you want to break down the difference between winning and losing for the A’s and the Cardinals Sunday at the Coliseum, you have to look to the seventh inning.

You have to look at the run the Cardinals did not get and the run that the A’s did score.

After six innings, the A’s had a 6-5 lead and had dipped into the bullpen for lefty Sean Doolittle. The Cardinals got a leadoff double from Matt Carpenter, who looped a ball down the left field line in wide-open turf and suddenly the Cardinals’ high-powered offense was primed with the National League’s leading hitter, Yadier Molina, at the plate.

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Game 82 wrapup: Cardinals’ Wainwright, A’s Colon are different in style but the same in results

The first thing you have to understand is that Adam Wainwright and Bartolo Colon are nothing like one another.

Wainwright is 6-foot-7. Colon is 5-11.

Wainwright throws every pitch under the sun. Colon throws fastballs, then more fastballs.

Wainwright pitches in the National League for the Cardinals. Colon, close to being a lifer in the American League, pitches for the A’s.

Wainwright is, at 31, in the middle of his career. Colon is, at 40, close to the end.

But in one instance the right-handers could be twins.

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Game 81 wrapup: A’s selectivity at plate shows up once more; pitchers ability to avoid walks pays off

If there was one inning in the first 81 games of the season that defined the A’s offense, it was the second inning Friday.

The A’s worked Shelby Miller, a rookie who’d already won eight games for the Cardinals, for 51 pitches in the inning, with Miller getting just two outs.

He eventually gave up five runs on five hits and two walks as the A’s hitter made him unable to close out the inning no matter what pitches he threw.

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A’s, Holliday both in better places since 2009 union

Matt Holliday was supposed to change the way things were done in Oakland.

An outfielder with a big bat, big RBI potential and a big salary, Holliday was the A’s foray into big-money baseball.

That lasted for less than a full season. Oakland general manager Billy Beane acquired Holliday for a hefty price – letting a proven reliever, Huston Street, and a would-be star, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, go to Colorado.

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Game 80 recap: Best may still be to come for Griffin, Donaldson reaffirms All-Star candidacy, and a pair of golden sombreros

In for John Hickey …

I’ve seen the golden sombrero before — that would be four strikeouts by a hitter in four at-bats — but I’ve never seen two in the same nine-inning game. So there’s a first for everything at the ol’ ballyard. Chris Young fanned four times for the A’s and Jay Bruce went for the  quadruple whiff for Cincinnati.

Bruce obviously felt a lot worse about his. He struck out with runners at second and third in the first inning, a development that could have changed everything about A.J. Griffin’s glorious day on the mound. He also fanned as the last out in Griffin’s first complete game, a two-hit shutout.

Young took his in good humor. Following the game, he retweeted a fan who dubbed him KKKKhris Young on Twitter. That’s pretty upstanding for a guy who is now hitting .188 with 47 strikeouts in 181 at-bats.

It’s always easier to deal with personal failure when you win. Hey, talk to Stephen Vogt, who could be making history if he hangs around with the A’s after Wednesday. He has an RBI and he’s caught a shutout in the bigs, but as a hitter, he’s drawing a bead on a dubious record — most at-bats to start a big-league career by a position player without a hit. He’s at 0-for-31 with his 0-for-6 the past two days (he went 0-for-25 over three stints with Tampa Bay last year). The thing is, he’s not clueless. He’s made good contact in every at-bat so far, hasn’t struck out. He just hasn’t had any luck. To wit, Reds second baseman Cesar Izturis caught what looked to be a sure hit over his shoulder in the second inning.

The modern-day record is 0-for-35 set by Vic Harris of the Texas Rangers in 1972. Dolph Camilli had an 0-for-34 to start his career, and former A’s first baseman is third on the list with an 0-for-33.  Everybody’s rooting for the guy not to break it, even us scribes. Hopefully, the A’s keep him up long enough to get that first hit. Heck, they might consider keeping him up anyway. He looks to be a solid catcher with a good knack for calling a game. Griffin praised his work behind the plate Wednesday, noting he only shook him off a couple of times. And he’s a left-handed bat.

Melvin hinted he might stick around, and praised his work behind the plate.

“He’s done a nice job, whether it’s setting up, blocking or working with the pitcher,” Melvin said. “Everything he’s done has been really good. For his confidence, that goes a long way knowing that even if you don’t get a hit, you’re contributing. As a catcher, I don’t think there’s anything you find more prideful than calling a shutout.”

It’s easy to think of Griffin as an old hand — same for Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily — but these guys are still so young with so much episode. Griffin is 25 with a year and two days in the big leagues and he shuts down one of the best hitting clubs in baseball on two hits? It just speaks to what his future could be once he can be consistent with his command, and he’s not bad now.

Griffin has every ingredient for large success — four quality pitches, superior control, a good head on his shoulders and a hyper-competitive attitude. Don’t let the surfer hair and laid-back lingo fool you. Griffin hates to lose and he’d had more than enough of it after a month without a victory. Burning him even more is the A’s hadn’t won in his last five starts. He’s a team guy and is always alluding to that in his comments.

“I want us to win every single game no matter who’s pitching,” he said. “I don’t like losing. I don’t think any of the guys on this team like losing. I don’t want to count the chickens before their hatched or anything, but I feel like we’ve changed the culture a little bit around here and we expect to win every day.”

Josh Donaldson is back on the beam. Homers on back-to-back days, and first-pitch blasts at that. He’s hitting .308 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs, and while no one expects him to beat out Miguel Cabrera for the third base starting job on the American League All-Star team, he’s got to be a strong candidate for the game.

It’d be a great reward for a guy who has worked hard to improve his game both at the plate and in the field. He’s become a superior third baseman and a consistent clutch hitter. He takes his walks when we’re there, but unlike some past patient A’s we’ll leave nameless, he’s not stuck in the walk mentality. He’ll be aggressive when the situation calls for it. Early in the year, he was swinging at a lot of first pitches with good results, but when pitchers started wasting their first pitches to him based on that, he laid off. Now they’re coming in again, and he’s not missing.

“The last week or so, guys have been throwing more first-pitch fastballs,” he said.

The key is Donaldson’s making adjustments. He’s just becoming a complete, valuable major leaguer for the A’s, a long way from where he started at the beginning of 2012.

Nate Freiman had had two at-bats in 11 days leading up to his pinch double in the seventh that drove in the A’s final run. It was an impressive hit, particularly considering the lack of activity. How is he staying sharp?

“I get as much work in the cage as I can,” he said. “Pitchers are nice about letting me stand in during their bullpens occasionally. The most important thing, I come to the park every day, even if I know I’m not in the starting lineup, prepared to play.”

In short, a good day for the A’s on all fronts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Game 79 wrapup: An impressive win to start a telltale homestand, bullpen bolsters its morale

With a quick day game turnaround Wednesday, this will be an ultra-brief recap …

The A’s offense looked as good as it has over the first four innings Tuesday night as it has all season. Maybe not the total production. Just the rhythm of a lineup that is pretty much back together as intended at season’s outset, showing its strength up and down the lineup. As Josh Donaldson keenly noted afterward, the A’s are not unlike the Reds in their makeup when they’re close to full strength. They work pitchers. They have speed at the top. Then they have guys who can do damage throughout the order. And when it’s all humming as it was early in the game, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Many players contributed with key hits and RBIs — Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, and of course, Donaldson with his two-run homer in the third. Coco Crisp didn’t get a hit but he walked twice and scored both times.

The Reds are a hell of a team. I picked them to win the National League this year, and still believe they will. So a 7-3 victory in which the A’s simply took it to starter Bronson Arroyo was a terrific way to start an eight-game homestand against the N.L. Central, including two of its best teams in Cincinnati and St. Louis. These five games against the Reds and Cardinals are going to tell us a lot about Oakland’s legitimacy, because quite frankly, I don’t see any teams in the A.L. as good as these two N.L. clubs.

The A’s got through it even though starter Tommy Milone struggled, largely because the bullpen got back on its horse and pitched like it can. Pat Neshek, who hasn’t had as many righty-righty situational confrontations as he did last year after coming to the A’s, finally got a big one in this game and he nailed it. Bases loaded, tying run at the plate in the fifth, he came in and threw three straight strikes to Chris Heisey to nail down the final out.

Just as impressive — maybe more so considering the hitter — Jerry Blevins faced the same bases-loaded situation in the sixth with two out against the lethal Joey Votto. Blevins got ahead quickly 0-2 and then finally retired Votto on a short popup to left field. Huge.

The bullpen needed that after a rough patch in recent games. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle each pitched a scoreless inning, which they needed as well, and Dan Otero finished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth. Didn’t even need Grant Balfour.

It will be interesting to see if Oakland can back it up Wednesday behind A.J. Griffin, who will be facing Homer Bailey. If nothing else, the A’s got Cincinnati’s attention in a very entertaining first game. Too bad it’s just a two-game series, because this is a dynamite matchup, as will be the weekend series against St. Louis. A successful run against these two teams could go a long way to catapulting the A’s to a fabulous second half. If they can keep the lineup they fielded Tuesday night healthy, I like their chances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PREGAME NOTES: A’s do a bit of a catching shuffle in their cleaned-up digs

In for John Hickey …

Catcher Stephen Vogt was called up from Triple-A Tuesday to firm up the catching corps. John Jaso has a hand injury that may preclude him from catching until Friday and Derek Norris has struggled of late.

Vogt got to the Coliseum plenty early to begin his new duties and “get my feet wet.” When someone reminded him of the sewage mess from last Sunday, Vogt amended getting his feet wet “not the way I heard.”

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Game 78 wrapup: Straily sent down as A’s consider options; Jaso pinch-hits, catches, still feels pain; Melvin alters pinch-hitting strategy

Dan Straily was caught off guard Sunday afternoon when he was summoned into a quick meeting with A’s manager Bob Melvin after a 6-3 loss to Seattle.

Straily, who has been in the Oakland rotation since a stress fracture in Brett Anderson’s right foot put the opening day starter on the disabled list, was given the word. He was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento, at least for a short time.

Oakland has a day off Monday, another Thursday and a third next Monday. With all that extra time, the A’s will not need to employ a fifth starter until July 6. So the A’s will bring up a fresh face, although the club said no decision has been made yet on who might get the call.

Since the bullpen will be, theoretically at least, rested with two days off in four days, it’s unlikely to be a reliever. It won’t be a starter, since there’s no need. So it almost certainly will be a position player. The A’s are a little short at catcher and at middle infielder, so the likely choices would be catcher Luke Montz or one of two infielders, either Andy Parrino or Hiro Nakajima.

The A’s aren’t getting much production out of catcher Derek Norris (.188) or part-time shortstop Adam Rosales (.195). Montz is hitting .265 with some power and did an adequate job as third catcher when he was up earlier. And Nakajima, who had a big hot streak to get up to .320 for Sacramento, fell down to the low .270s before rebounding to .279 entering Sunday.

As for Straily, he may be the man who gets the call when the A’s need a fifth starter again, but as both he and manager Bob Melvin said, there are no guarantees.

“There’s nothing promised,’’ Melvin said. “Do we want it to be Dan? Absolutely. But we don’t want him going do there with no sense of urgency.’’

For his part, Straily took the demotion in stride as much as was possible.

“With all these days off, it was either this or be the long man in the bullpen,’’ he said. “I have the confidence I’ll be back. There’s no reason to get down. This isn’t the desired (move).

“But I have to go down and make sure I’m still first on the list. Just like every other time I’ve gone down.’’

 

–John Jaso enter Sunday’s game as a pinch-hitter after having missed three consecutive starts with a nasty abrasion on the palm of his left hand.

Did he come back too early? Jaso seemed to think he did.

“I took some swings off a tee, and it felt OK,’’ Jaso said. “(But in the game) I took a swing and it still hurt.’’

The A’s are hoping that a day off Monday will leave Jaso good to go Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Jaso was involved on one of the key plays in the game in the 10th inning when he couldn’t block a pitch in the dirt that had the Mariners’ Mike Zunino struck out. Zunino wound up getting to first base safely on the wild pitch from Grant Balfour and the Mariners went on to win on a three-run homer by Kendrys Morales.

“I rushed the throw a little, and I didn’t have to,’’ Jaso said. “And that cost us there. If I’d slowed down and collected myself, I would have had him.’’

–Melvin likes to use as few players when making a move as possible.

He went against that philosophy in the ninth inning when he used first baseman Nate Freiman to hit for second baseman Eric Sogard with a man on first base and one out.

In the past he would have used Adam Rosales, who could then have come in to play second base for Sogard. Instead, Freiman was used (he flew out) and Rosales came in to play defense, leaving only Chris Young available on the bench.

It turned out to be not a huge deal, but it could have been if the Mariners and A’s had gone past the 10th inning.

Rosales is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts as a pinch-hitter and it may be that Melvin is running out of time waiting for Rosales to contribute in that situation. The shortstop/second baseman is hitting just .195 overall, but take away those 11 at-bats and he’s hitting a marginally more respectable .214

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After 30 games in 31 days, A’s look a bit worn down

With Sunday’s game in Seattle, the A’s stretch of playing 30 games in 31 days comes to an end.

And probably not a moment too soon, because the A’s are starting to show some fatigue, particularly in the last week.

Are the four losses in the first six games of this road trip an indication of fatigue? It’s not out of the question. Oakland started this streak with 16 wins in the first 20 games, then lost two of three at home to the Mariners, followed by dropping three of four to the Rangers in Texas before splitting the first two games of the series in Seattle.

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Game 77 wrapup: Straily’s time on the mound getting shorter, but pitching coach may have a fix

A’s starting pitcher Dan Straily had gotten, in the words of manager Bob Melvin “more rope’’ the better he pitched over the course of the last month or so.

That seems to have changed.

After letting a 6-3 lead slip away in Texas earlier in the week, Straily was pulled from the game after 4.2 innings.

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