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Game 66 wrapup: Cespedes, Crisp injuries worrisome; Doolittle springs speed trap on Yankees; Nakajima getting closer

The A’s have won 19 of their last 24, they are tied for first place in the American League West and they’ve beaten the Yankees three times in four tries this year.

So things are going well.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain amount of uneasiness facing the club as it prepares for the second game of the Yankee series Wednesday.

Much of their success of late has been with the outfield finally intact again. Much of their struggles occurred when the outfielders were hurt, and now there’s a chance that injury might be a problem again.

Yoenis Cespedes came up limping after running out a first-inning grounder and eventually came out of the game in the third inning.

Coco Crisp didn’t come out of the game at all, but in addition to the usual mound of ice he had strapped to his left hamstring after the game, he had a smaller bag wrapped around his right ankle.

Manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday would be the first time the club could make any kind of clear statement on just how serious Cespedes’ injury is. And while the manager doesn’t believe Crisp’s injury is serious, Crisp’s legs are crucial to his playing at a high level.

History says that the club can’t be without Cespedes or Crisp for long and compete at its best level. The A’s are now 34-17 (a .667 winning percentage) when Cespedes is in the starting lineup this season and 5-10 (.333) when he’s not.

The percentages are exactly the same for Crisp, although the numbers are different – 32 wins against 16 losses.

That’s not to say that Cespedes or Crisp played definite roles in each of the games the A’s won while they were starting. It is to say that the A’s generally play to a higher level when Cespedes and Crisp can help guide the way.

So when there will be some slightly unnerving moments Wednesday while the A’s wait to see how their outfielders check out.

 

–Sean Doolittle has not had things easy lately.

Until Tuesday night. Asked to hold a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning, he did as requested, throwing a 1-2-3 inning of relief.

He struck out the Yankees Chris Stewart to end the inning, and that at-bat may be one that serves as a turning point for Doolittle, who’d allowed 10 runs in his previous five appearances.

“He was fouling the ball off,’’ Doolittle said, “but there was something in the way he was fouling the ball off. He was late on my pitches. I really felt good.

“I was able to slow (the Yankees) down and speed them up. That maybe something I hadn’t been doing enough.’’

 

–Hiro Nakajima’s numbers have fallen off a bit at Triple-A Sacramento, but if anything, manager Bob Melvin was more effusive about the shortstop Tuesday than he’s been lately.

“He was at around .320 and now he’s just under .300,’’ the manager said. Nakajima came into Tuesday with a .292 average. “He’s been doing well.’’

The manager was particularly pleased with the way Nakajima was adapting to playing some second base and some third base. He was strictly a shortstop when playing in Japan.

“He’s been very open to playing different positions,’’ Melvin said. “He wants to contribute. And the way he’s been playing, who knows? It could be any time.’’

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A’s lefty bats come out of exile starting Wednesday

Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees with C.C. Sabathia pitching was the fifth straight game for the A’s against a left-handed starting pitcher.

In the feast-to-famine department, as the schedule currently stands, Oakland will see just one left-handed starter in the next 21 games, including a stretch of 16 consecutive games against right-handed starters.

It could be a time for John Jaso to break a personal record.

“I was thinking about it, and I think my personal record for consecutive games (catching) is like four or five,’’ Jaso said Tuesday before another day on the bench. Derek Norris, known as Dino in the A’s clubhouse, has caught all five starts against lefties.

It’s been a good three weeks for Norris to get at-bats as the starter as the A’s have faced left-handed starters in 12 of their last 18 games. Wednesday night, that all comes to an end. Jaso, a lefty who usually gets starts against right-handers will start the next two games against Yankees’ right-handers Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda, then after lefty Joe Saunders starts for Seattle Friday, the glut of right-handers set to face the A’s starts.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said he can’t remember a time when one of his teams went back and forth between facing most lefties to now facing mostly right-handers.

Of late, the only left-handed Oakland hitter to get regular at-bats has been right fielder Josh Reddick.

“I’ve been telling our lefties they’re going to be returning from exile,’’ Melvin said.

One of those has been Jaso.

“It’s about time for me to get some time in,’’ Jaso said, laughing.

So far this season, the A’s have gotten more offensive production out of Jaso (274, one homer, 15 RBIs) than from Norris ((.193, two homers, 10 RBIs).

But as Melvin said, there hasn’t been the normal ebb and flow between facing right-handers and left-handers that one usually sees, so both men have had trouble getting their swings honed.

It sounds like for Jaso, at least, that is about to change.

Jaso will get most of the at-bats against right-handers, but not all of them.

“It’s important for him to get some at-bats,’’ Melvin said. “Maybe play in in day games after night games. I haven’t been doing that lately with us facing three right-handers in Milwaukee and four lefties in Chicago. But we’ve definitely got to keep Norris in the mix.

 

–When Ichiro Suzuki first game to the big leagues with Seattle, Lou Piniella  was his manager, the A’s won 116 games and Ichiro was Rookie of the Year and MVP, so Piniella remains one of Ichiro’s favorites.

Another high on Ichiro’s list is the man who replaced the legendary Piniella in Seattle for a couple of years, current A’s manager Bob Melvin.

“How’s Bob doing?’’ Ichiro asked before Tuesday’s game.

Told that the A’s, before two weekend losses in Chicago had been on a roll winning 18 of 21, Ichiro answered his own question.

“He’s doing OK,’’ the Yankee veteran said.

 

–Two quotes of the day.

Melvin on playing the Yankees: “For everybody in baseball, you have 29 rivals and the Yankees.’’

Josh Donaldson on making the conversion from catcher last spring to potential All-Star third baseman: “Every time I see a foul ball go off (John) Jaso or Dino (Derek Norris), I go, `What was I thinking?’ ’’

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Schedule inequities on display this week with A’s hosting Yankees in New York’s one trip West

There will never be a time when the three American League West teams located on the eastern rim of the Pacific Ocean – the A’s, the Mariners and the Angels – won’t have troubling schedules.

They are about 1,500 miles from the other two teams in their division, Texas and Houston, and further still from the rest of the American League venues.

The question we pose here today is why the schedule makers insist on making things worse than they already are.

The Yankees, who come to town for three games beginning Tuesday, are in Oakland as the middle stop in a three-city West Coast swing. They’ve been to Seattle, and next they head to Anaheim.

The Orioles have already had a three-city junket to the West Coast. The Red Sox, in July, and the Rays in late August and early September, will do likewise.

Such a schedule makes it easy for those teams, minimizing the amount of mileage each accrues and leaving them with just two cross country flights for the AL West portion of the schedule – one to the West Coast and one back to the East Coast. With a day off mid-trip and another after after, it’s as close to a piece of cake as schedule makers can devise.

How many of the West Coast teams have reciprocal deals? None. The A’s, the Angels and the Mariners each must take three separate trips to say they’ve visited those same four cities. Oakland, for example, had Tampa Bay and Boston on an April trip, but their trip to New York was coupled with stops in Cleveland and Seattle. The trip to Baltimore later in the year will also include a stop in Detroit.

The city breakdown for the Angels and the Mariners is a little different, but the basics are the same. The Angels may have the most ludicrous of trips to visit one of those four East Coast cities, heading to Seattle and Milwaukee before making it to Tampa Bay.

It’s subtle, but it’s East Coast bias at a substantial level. The three West Coast teams are always going to have to fly the most miles, but by this kind of discriminatory scheduling, the Major League Baseball makes it worse than it has to.

There was a time in the 1980s and 1990 when the A’s could generally count on a three-city Baltimore-Boston-New York trip, but as the number of teams have expanded, the number of divisions has increased to three and interleague play has become season-long, that seems to have gone.

It should return, because the West Coast teams have enough built-in scheduling issues as it is. The A’s, for example, have five different trips to the Eastern Time Zone. And with the addition of Houston to the AL West this year, there are a total of six stops in the state of Texas for each West Coast team.

The West Coasters would be getting a break if they could play the Rangers and the Astros as part of a combined trip, but that hasn’t been deemed important. The A’s had one Texas-Houston trip this season, but that’s it and the other four stops will be combined with trips to other cities.

The Angels have it even worse. They have no conjoined Texas-Houston series, so they have to fly to into and out of the State of Texas six different times. That’s a joke.

You can bet that Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t see the humor in it. It’s a good bet that he, A’s manager Bob Melvin and Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge would supplicate themselves at the altar of MLB in New York if they thought it would bring about any change.

There are always going to be schedule inequities with the bulk of Major League Baseball teams concentrated in the Eastern and Central time zones. But it’s time somebody in the scheduling department of the commissioner’s office did something to level the playing field a bit.

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Game 65 wrapup: For one series, A’s have trouble getting men in scoring position; starting pitchers continue to go deep in games

The A’s are talking a good game about not being tired at the end of a 17-game stretch, but looking at this weekend’s four game series in Chicago, you have to wonder.

The A’s got just 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That’s just over three per game. That’s not enough to win with consistently.

What Oakland did do was hit home runs, six of them. Five of the six, however, were solo shots, including Coco Crisp’s homer that gave the club an early lead Sunday.

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Chris Young has Melvin’s backing through struggles

It’s been a tough year so far for Chris Young, but the A’s outfielder still has the solid support of Oakland manager Bob Melvin.

Young, who normally starts against left-handed pitching, was out of the lineup Saturday because of illness. He was feeling better, and he was back in the lineup Sunday as the designated hitter.

Young comes into the day with a .177 average, five home runs and 22 RBIs. Along the way he’s spent 2½ weeks on the disabled list with a quad injury and floundered when at the plate.

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Game 64 wrapup: Close call at first hard to take; Milone earns right to finish tough seventh inning

Nate Freiman, like any first baseman, knows how to gauge a close play at first base, even a play he can’t see.

Judging the impact of the ball hitting the glove while feeling through your leg as a runner is almost simultaneously hitting the base becomes a habit.

And what did Freiman think of the eighth inning play Saturday when second baseman Jed Lowrie tried to throw out Chicago leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza on a medium-speed grounder  with the score tied at 1-all?

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Game 63 wrapup: Reddick’s nonchalance at the wall dazzles A’s; starters giving plenty of innings

When you’re going good, the deep fly balls are only deep enough when you hit them.

Just ask the A’s, who have hit five homers the last two nights in Chicago and who have emerged with a pair of one-run wins.

In each case, the White Sox tried to counter with a final-inning homer of their own off A’s closer Grant Balfour, but failed. On Thursday Yoenis Cespedes had his back to the left field wall when he caught what would have been a game-tying homer by Adam Dunn.

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Cespedes would welcome a trip to Home Run Derby

Has this road trip been an audition for the Home Run Derby for Yoenis Cespedes?

Strictly speaking, no. But Cespedes’ two homers Wednesday and two more homers Friday may well serve the purpose.

Make no mistake. Cespedes would welcome the chance to head to New York during the break for the Home Run Derby in Citi Field.

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Game 62 wrapup: Straily’s learning curve; Balfour survives Dunn’s deep drive; Reddick chooses strong throw over homer; Doolittle back to form

Dan Straily retired the first seven White Sox batters he faced and the last seven he faced.

In between, there were some rocky moments. But it’s fair to think that Straily’s role in the A’s 10-inning 5-4 win over Chicago could serve as a positive learning experience for the 24-year-old right-handed starter.

The Sox got him for three runs in the third, putting together four hits in the space of five batters. After Oakland had crept close at 3-2, the Sox added a run on an Alejandro De Aza single in the fifth and tried to add a second on a sacrifice fly.

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