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Game 123 wrapup: Milone not thinking too much about job status; Donaldson RBI swing on way back; Otero continues to push for more signficant time

No one knows better than Tommy Milone that his spot in the Oakland rotation comes with no guarantees.

Pitch well in the season’s final six weeks and he can figure he’ll keep getting the ball every five days.

Pitch poorly and the A’s have options. Brett Anderson, the A’s opening day starter, is on an injury rehabilitation assignment and is being groomed to return as a starter after a stretch in which the A’s thought the club might be best served with Anderson joining the bullpen.

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Game 122 wrapup: A’s in better shape, but worse, too, with 40 games to play; Reddick’s cannon a thing of beauty; Sogard’s superior skill at shortstop

After 122 games last year, the A’s were five games behind Texas, so it’s clearly better that after 122 games this season Oakland trails the Rangers by just 1.5 games.

Right?

Well, maybe.

At this point last year, the A’s had clearly turned a corner. After a stretch of four losses in five games, the A’s had gone 5-1 in Games 117-122. They would only lose 12 of their final 40 games.

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Game 121 wrapup: A ragged but good win that could pay dividends down the line

In for John Hickey …

It’s nothing short of amazing that the A’s pulled out Friday night’s 3-2 win. They were a pitch away from disaster much of the night against a Cleveland team that has a legitimately scary lineup. As I wrote in my game story, this one won’t go in the Beautiful Baseball Hall of Fame, but it was a gritty win nonetheless and one that stacks up as very important in the standings.

For one, it got the A’s back within a half-game of the Rangers in the A.L. West. Just as importantly, it opened up more space between the A’s and their closest challengers in the wild-card race. They’re 4 up on Baltimore, 4 1/2 on the Indians. The Indians, conceivably, could have come in and by sweeping a three-game series, gotten back within a half-game of the A’s, and now that won’t happen. So it doesn’t really matter how the victory was achieved. It simply was.

A couple of  noteworthys  …

–Yoenis Cespedes has his power stroke back. His first-inning two-run homer was his fifth in 17 games after that 25-game homerless streak. He’s still not the Cespedes of last season, but the confidence seems to be coming back, and a hot last half of August could be crucial for the A’s to get through a tough part of their schedule.

–Dan Otero was a nice pickup for Oakland off San Francisco’s scrap heap. He has a rubber arm and he’s a nice bridge to the back end of the bullpen when needed. He pitched a 1-2-3 sixth protecting a 2-1 lead, and even though Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour weren’t at their best, most times it’s going to be lights out. Game ball to Otero.

–Eric Sogard has convinced me he’s the second baseman for the long term. It was questionable whether he could hit enough, but he actually is a nice balance of offense and defense, and just an all-around good guy to have in a clubhouse. Clearly, he just required regular playing time.

–That Josh Donaldson bunt in the fourth inning after Brandon Moss’ opening double drew raised eyebrows everywhere. It seemed strange that Bob Melvin would make that kind of call. Turns out, according to the manager, that Donaldson had the option of bunting or swinging away against the tough righthander Justin Masterson. He got the bunt down and Moss went to third, but the A’s didn’t score. Donaldson probably should have taken his chances on delivering a big hit there and not giving himself up. Too early to be playing for one run there.

–Thought sure we might see Jason Giambi against Balfour in the ninth. That would have something to see. Maybe Saturday night’s game. We need a Giambi at-bat for old time’s sake before this weekend ends. This might well be the last time we get to see him in uniform here in Oakland, at least as a player. C’mon, Terry Francona, thrill the home folks and let them see a player who provided them so many thrills once upon a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pre-game notes: Jaso’s chances of 2013 return look dicey

In for John Hickey, who will be back for the weekend …

To see John Jaso in the A’s clubhouse, you would think nothing is wrong. He seems fine, happy, healthy. But that’s the deal with concussions — you can’t see what’s really going on.

In a meeting with the media Friday night before the A’s opened a three-game series with Cleveland, the Oakland catcher told a different story, and from what he was saying, it certainly would seem iffy that he’ll make it back before the end of the season. After being examined with Pittsburgh concussion specialist Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins earlier this week, Jaso was advised that it would be three weeks minimum before he could resume baseball activity, “and that was being generous.”

“Basically, he said I am still symptomatic, and it would be very unwise to go out and keep playing while I’m still having symptoms,” Jaso said. “My brain is still injured, basically, and as soon as I might take more impact or make a wrong movement, I’m going to reaggravate the concussion I’ve already had and I could really prolong this thing.”

The good news, Jaso said, is that he’ll recover 100 percent eventually. But he doesn’t know when “eventually” will be, and he knows time is running out. Once he’s cleared to resume activity, he has to get back in baseball playing/hitting shape, and at catcher, that can be even more challenging. Jaso is maintaining his conditioning and he will soon begin hitting off a tee, but it’s going to be a very slow process.

Jaso must go through brain stimulation exercises on a daily basis to try and speed up the process.

“They say it might even make me a better hitter,” he said.

Jaso still gets random headaches, nausea, dizziness and cold sweats. When he does any kind of up/down movement, he feels something tantamount to car sickness. His eyes can’t re-train focus if he looks at something in the foreground and then tries to adjust to something in the background.

“It wasn’t something I could fake, or anything like that,” he said.

Jaso last played on July 24, but after taking hard foul tips off his catcher’s mask in back-to-back games. He was placed on the special 7-day “concussion disabled list” but his situation has dragged on longer than anybody had imagined, to the point Jaso admitted he was scared what he might hear from Collins, that he might not be able to play anymore, period. But knowing he will play again, it now just hurts wanting to get back in there.

“I really want to rush back,” he said. “I was hoping he would tell me it would be a little sooner. But I just have to do what he told me and try to keep my body ready when I do come back. I won’t have to get in shape.”

Jaso said he wanted to see what the Coliseum’s football configuration looked like one day while rehabbing, and he took the elevator to the press box. It wasn’t a good idea.

“I’ve never had vertigo or anything, but when I got up there, it was immediate,” he said. “I had a loss of balance — it was really weird.”

Manager Bob Melvin said he won’t even consider allowing Jaso to play until he’s convinced he’s 100 percent.

“First and foremost, we’re worried about him, and based on what Dr. Collins said, he will recover fully,” Melvin said. “That’s the first thing that makes you feel better about it. But the timetable on this thing, we just don’t know yet and we’re certainly not going to anything until he can do baseball activities, and that’s when you get a better idea of when he can come back.

“Whether or not he comes back this year, I’m not sure. We certainly hold out hope for that. But I don’t think anybody could predict at this point.”

Complicating the process is that three more weeks of no baseball activity takes it in to mid-September, when most minor league teams have wrapped up, so rehab game opportunities become more problematic.

Melvin said he’s happy with the job Stephen Vogt has done in Jaso’s stead.

“We’re lucky to have a guy like that,” Melvin said. “He wasn’t even with us in spring training, but he’s done such a good job with the pitching staff and he’s very prepared for each game.”

–Coco Crisp won’t start for the fifth straight game. His right hand is still sore, as much from the injection he had to aid his recovery.

–Yoenis Cespedes is center field tonight against the Cleveland Indians, his first time in center since May 14. Melvin isn’t worried, noting that center is his natural position and going back there will be like “riding a bike.”

–Brett Anderson will make his first rehab appearance in Sacramento Saturday night — 2 innings or 35 pitches, whichever comes first.

–Eric Sogard pronounced himself fine after getting his legs taken out from under him by Chris Carter’s broken bat, which struck Sogard in the leg while he was catching Carter’s soft liner. Sogard said he never saw the flying bat. Jed Lowrie, his right knee feeling much better, is back at shortstop.

–Lots of familiar old faces on the field tonight before the game — Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher are in town with the Tribe, and Rickey Henderson was here as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Game 120 wrapup: With Gray and a healthy Anderson, A’s could have playoff rotation they need against Detroit, Tampa Bay

In for John Hickey …

If we know anything about Bob Melvin, it’s that he doesn’t like all-encompassing, big-picture evaluations of a happening in a particular game. Hence, I kind of knew the answer I’d get when I threw out the notion regarding Sonny Gray possibly changing the dynamic of the A’s starting staff and their season.

Maybe Melvin’s right. Let’s not put too much on the kid’s shoulders, even after a dramatic home debut in which he threw eight shutout innings with nine strikeouts and showed off electric stuff, not just a mid-90s fastball, but a killer curve and a decent changeup. Catcher Derek Norris said he also has a wicked slider, but there wasn’t even a need to pull it out for this Coliseum maiden performance.

We have to be reminded that Gray shut down the Astros, who might be hard-pressed to win the Pacific Coast League. If he does it against an AL East opponent or the Rangers, unbridled euphoria might be the order of the day for A’s fans.

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Pre-game notes: Gray’s first Oakland start, Melvin laments, A’s thoughts on replay

In for John Hickey (and thanks for two superb days of subbing from Steve Corkran) …

The A’s found late-season juice from their rookie pitchers last year down the stretch. Now they turn to a new one Wednesday in a game they really need. Sonny Gray makes his first Oakland appearance and start and it might be worth writing this date down. As manager Bob Melvin said this morning, “Not only us, but our fan base is looking forward to Sonny Gray pitch for the first time in Oakland, and rightly so — what he’s done to this point, he has good stuff, he’s got a good fastball, he’s got a good assortment of breaking pitches and he’s a very confident guy. So this is a guy who has a chance to be around for quite awhile.”

Partly because of his arsenal and partly because of his comparable small size, Gray has been sized up by some as the second coming of Tim Hudson. The A’s and their fans could only be so fortunate if that turns out to be the case. Today will be a good debut test, even if it is the Astros. Gray can establish himself as a stopper right out of the gate.

Melvin was not happy he got tossed Tuesday night after arguing the Eric Sogard out play in the eighth inning Tuesday. He was more upset with himself than the umpire.

“If I had it to do over again — and I didn’t have intent to get thrown out of that game — but I can’t get thrown out of that game. In a close game like that, you have to go out there and give your two cents and address what you think is right or wrong, but I can’t get thrown out of that game. When I’m sitting in there watching it on TV, especially here where you feel like you’re 10 miles away, I don’t do my team any good. Even though everybody on my staff is able to handle stuff like that, everybody in the dugout has a job to do and I wasn’t there to do mine. So I feel bad about that.”

I asked Melvin if he thought he deserved to get tossed considering how quickly he got the thumb.

“It was pretty quick, but whether I deserved it or not, it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “I got thrown out. The intent wasn’t to get thrown out.”

No magic word?

“Well, apparently,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what the precise magic word was.”

Of course, if baseball’ s proposed new replay system that will prospectively go into effect in 2014 was in place Wednesday night, Melvin wouldn’t have to had to run out to argue, he wouldn’t have been tossed, and the game might have been altered entirely. Melvin could have simply challenged the call and it would have reviewed in the A’s favor (because Sogard was pretty clearly safe).

That’s what we have to look forward to at some point, and it can’t get here fast enough. Replay will help baseball just as it has helped other sports in getting the call right most of the time on bang-bang base plays, balls down the line, home run calls and other calls not involving balls and strikes.

“As long as they don’t have robot back there beeping whether it’s a ball or a strike, it’s fine with me,” said pitcher Brett Anderson, who makes his first rehab start Saturday in Sacramento. “As long as they work out the process where it doesn’t stop the game. Baseball’s long enough and pretty much boring as it is in certain times, you don’t want it to halt the flow of the game too much.

“At least they’re doing something about it,” Anderson continued. “It takes a little bit of the human element out of the game. As long as it doesn’t affect balls and strikes, which would change the game entirely. But as far cut and dry, out and safe, fair or foul, home run or not home run, you should be able to get those right every time. Whether it affects outcome of the game good or bad for us, at least you can go home and feel comfortable about the fact that it was the right call and you can live with it.”

Melvin said he didn’t want to comment at length until it’s official (it still must be approved in November by owners, but count on that), but then was pretty explicit about how he feels. For one, he believes replay needs to be instituted.

“My stance has probably changed on that in the last year or so,” he said. “You want to get it right, and I was always a little bit of a traditionalist before where there’s human error involved. But as long as everybody’s on the same page with it and idea is to get it right, I’m all for that.”

Melvin said he believes having a central site that decides replay challenges “could potentially speed it up. Where the flags come into play, I’m not really sure, but you not only want to get it right, you want to get it right quickly. So if someone’s watching it, and is on top of it, and has the use of replay very quickly, then that certainly doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me.”

Prospectively, managers will get three replay challenges per game, two in the first six innings and one in the final three, and all challenged plays will be ruled upon at MLB headquarters in New York City, similar to the way the National Hockey League rules on all of its controversial goal replays in Toronto.

 

 

Miscellany: Coco Crisp is out again today with a sore hand that is also recovering from an injection. Presumably, he could still pinch run. Jed Lowrie is at DH partly due to a sore right knee. There is no prognosis on catcher John Jaso’s return. It doesn’t sound like it will be anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Astros 2, A’s 1 (11 innings) game story

OAKLAND – Athletics manager Bob Melvin warned of the Houston Astros being a much different team than the one his squad overwhelmed the first dozen times they played this season.

Melvin talked of an Astros team that isn’t afraid to take chances, one that has settled on a new assemblage of talent and can’t be taken lightly.

As if on cue, the Astros beat the A’s in the opening game of the teams’ three-game series and backed it up with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night before 18,278 at the Coliseum.

The Astros scored the decisive run on a double in the 11th inning by backup catcher Carlos Corporan off A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.

The A’s now trail the Rangers by two games in the American League West, the first time they have been that far back since June 2.

For that, the A’s owe back-to-back losses to an Astros team that they beat 11 of the first 12 times they played this season.

Coincidentally, the A’s lost both games this series right after noted Astros killer Chris Young came within inches of adding to his lore.

Center fielder Young hit what he thought was a game-winning home run both times, only to be stunned by the actual outcome.

Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman on Wednesday night leaped above the left-field wall to snare a Young drive with two outs in the 10th. He waited until he got near first base before he displayed the ball Young thought disappeared into the night.

On Tuesday night, Young hit what he thought was a game-ending, two-run home run in the ninth. However, the third-base umpire signaled foul ball. A review of the play supported the initial call.

Both times, Young looked on in disbelief, with both hands on his helmet.

The Astros relied upon a barrage of hits and five runs off A’s ace Bartolo Colon in the first game. On Wednesday, the Astros trotted out one of their top prospects in right-hander Jarred Cosart.

Fortunately for the A’s, they had Jarrod Parker on the mound to counter Cosart’s mastery. He entered the game with a career-high six-game win streak over his previous 13 starts. He last lost a game May 22.

Parker and Cosart matched each other almost pitch for pitch through the first six innings, with neither pitcher getting into much trouble.

Former A’s top prospect Chris Carter ended a scoreless game with a towering home run to left field on the first pitch from Parker in the seventh inning.

Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes gave brief chase before he stopped and watched the ball land well into the bleachers for Carter’s 22nd home run of the season.

Again, Parker got victimized by the long ball. The one he allowed to Carter marked the 18th of the season. He allowed only 11 all last season.

The A’s responded with a run off reliever Philip Humber in the bottom of the seventh, courtesy of an RBI double by Brandon Moss. Humber worked out of the jam afterward.

Parker faced the minimum number of hitters through the first three innings, and he allowed only two singles and a walk through five innings.

The Astros managed three singles in the sixth. However, the A’s turned a double play after the first hit and got out of the inning on a grounder to first baseman Moss.

 

– Corporan also is the guy that broke up Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish’s no-hitter in the eighth inning Monday. He entered the game against the A’s on Wednesday as a defensive replacement for Jason Castro.

– Regular lead-off hitter and center fielder Coco Crisp didn’t start for the third straight game as a result of a sore left wrist.

“We gave him a little injection last night, which probably sets him back a day or two,” Melvin said.

Crisp is available to pinch-run until his return to the lineup. Alberto Callaspo batted lead-off Wednesday night for the first time since he signed with the A’s.

Callaspo failed to bunt over Eric Sogard in the eighth and 11th innings after Sogard led off both innings with a double.

 

– Jed Lowrie received a day off Wednesday. Melvin said the rest for his starting shortstop had more to do with how much Lowrie has played this season than it did with Lowrie getting hit in the right knee on a pick-off throw at second base Tuesday night.

Eric Sogard started at shortstop Wednesday. Lowrie pinch-hit in the 11th and struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch.

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A’s-Astros pre-game notes

OAKLAND — Here are some pregame notes to tide you over until the Astros and A’s complete their game tonight at the Coliseum.

– Catcher John Jaso still hasn’t been cleared to do baseball-related activities, manager Bob Melvin said. However, he was informed by noted concussion expert Dr. Michael Collins that “he’s going to be fully recovered from this.”

Melvin said Jaso is permitted to do physical activities such as weightlifting and riding a stationary bike. There is no timetable for Jaso’s return. He will remain on the disabled list “for the foreseeable future,” Melvin said.

 

– Melvin said ace Bartolo Colon isn’t going to receive any additional rest on the heels of back-to-back rough outings.

Colon allowed five runs each against the Reds and Astros and got removed before the fifth inning both times.

“He’s just going through a rough patch right now,” Melvin said.

Melvin said he was encouraged by Colon’s “uptick” in velocity against the Astros on Tuesday night. He is hopeful that the movement on Colon’s pitches picks up the next start.

 

– Jed Lowrie received a day off Wednesday. Melvin said the rest for his starting shortstop had more to do with how much Lowrie has played this season than it did with Lowrie getting hit in the right knee on a pick-off throw at second base Tuesday night. Eric Sogard started at shortstop.

 

– Regular lead-off hitter and center fielder Coco Crisp didn’t start for the third straight game as a result of a sore left wrist.

“We gave him a little injection last night, which probably sets him back a day or two,” Melvin said.

Crisp is available to pinch-run until his return to the lineup. Alberto Callaspo batted lead-off Wednesday night for the first time since he signed with the A’s.

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A’s-Astros starting lineups for Wednesday’s game

Here are the starting lineups for the Houston Astros and A’s in the second game of their three-game series at the Coliseum:

 

 

ASTROS

LF Robbie Grossman

1B Brett Wallace

2B Jose Altuve

C Jason Castro

DH Chris Carter

3B Matt Dominguez

CF Brandon Barnes

RF R.J. Hoes

SS Jonathan Villar

P Jarred Cosart

 

 

 

 

A’S

2B Alberto Callaspo

DH Seth Smith

RF Josh Reddick

LF Yoenis Cespedes

1B Brandon Moss

3B Josh Donaldson

C Stephen Vogt

CF Chris Young

SS Eric Sogard

P Jarrod Parker

 

 

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Astros 5, A’s 4 — game story

OAKLAND – The A’s had everything lined up in their favor Tuesday night. They were playing at the Coliseum, the first-place Rangers lost and the majors’ worst team occupied the other dugout.

Oh, and the A’s also happened to have ace Bartolo Colon on the mound, while the Houston Astros countered with Jordan Lyles, a pitcher that before Tuesday last won a game almost two months ago.

Yet, something happened on the way to that expected easy victory, as the Astros roughed up Colon early and often en route to a 5-4 victory in front of 14,261.

In the process, the A’s squandered a chance to move into a tie in the American League West with the Rangers, who lost to the Brewers on Tuesday.

The A’s came close to pulling off an improbable comeback when Chris Young smoked a ball over the left-field fence for what appeared to be a walk-off, two-run home run.

Instead, third-base umpire Doug Eddings signaled foul ball. Athletics manager Bob Melvin argued the call and convinced the umpiring crew to review the call.

After a short review, the umpires upheld Eddings’ call. Television replays showed that Eddings, indeed, made the proper call. Young struck out on the next pitch to end the game.

Young said he felt as if the ball was going to stay fair. He and Melvin said they appreciated the umpires making sure they got the call right.

“I got the pitch was looking for and almost did what I planned on doing with it,” Young said. “So, it’s just tough luck on that one.”

Colon failed for the third straight time in his quest to win his 15th game of the season. Once again, he didn’t even last long enough to qualify for a win.

Colon struggled from the outset. He allowed two runs in the second and third innings. Both times, Colon didn’t do himself any favors.

In the second inning, he issued a leadoff walk to catcher Jason Castro. In the third, Colon failed to cover first base on a one-hopper to first baseman Brandon Moss. Both runners scored.

The Colon of late bears little resemblance to the one that breezed through the first four months of the season.

He went 15 straight starts without allowing more than three runs, earned or not, before he got roughed up for five by the Reds in only 2 2/3 innings last Wednesday.

Colon said through an interpreter that bad outings are going to happen over the course of a long season. They just happen to be coming in succession.

“I feel good,” Colon said. “My command wasn’t the best.”

Melvin said he was encouraged by the fact that Colon’s velocity returned to normal Tuesday.

“It looked like the pitches he made in the middle of the plate, they hit,” Melvin said of the Astros.

The five runs the Astros managed off Colon made it back-to-back outings with that many allowed. Worse, the Astros needed only four innings to turn the trick.

So much for the A’s easing into a nine-game home stand with three games against an Astros team they defeated 11 times in 12 games before Tuesday. It was the Astros that looked as if they have the A’s number.

While Colon struggled, Lyles breezed through seven innings and experienced few jams. The A’s managed seven base runners and one run off Lyles.

The A’s broke through for three runs in the eighth, with the final two coming on a home run by Yoenis Cespedes.

Melvin was asked before the game if he intended to lighten Colon’s workload in September. He said that process started earlier this month, when Colon received a couple of extra days between starts.

It’s worth noting that Colon is at 154 1/3 innings so far, 10 innings shy of matching his heaviest workload since 2005, when he hurled 222 2/3 innings.

Then again, he was a relatively spry 32 years old that season. He’s now a 40-year-old pitching late into the season, under the pressure of a pennant race.

“I never feel tired,” Colon said, when asked if fatigue is a factor.

 

– Young entered Tuesday’s game 13 for 42, with three home runs, 10 RBI, 11 runs and six walks against the Astros this season. He went hitless in five at-bats Tuesday.

 

– Jesse Chavez pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief of Colon and didn’t allow a run. His solid outing prevented Melvin from putting added stress on his relievers.

 

– Cespedes went 4 for 26 on the just-concluded six-game road trip. He collected a single, double and home run in four at-bats Tuesday.