Yoenis Cespedes no longer is around to change the complexion of a game with one swing for the A’s, so help needs to come from up and down the lineup.
Josh Reddick already has stepped up and kicked it into overdrive, as evidenced by his two home runs accounting for the A’s only runs in a 4-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.
More help is on the horizon, as leadoff hitter Coco Crisp nears a return from a sore neck. He missed the past seven games but felt well enough to take swings in the batting cage Sunday.
“He had a good day (Sunday),” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Crisp. “So, that’s good news.”
Melvin said he intends to see how Crisp fares in batting practice before Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays before deciding the next step.
Either way, Melvin said, Crisp is close to returning. There’s a widespread belief in the clubhouse that the A’s offense is more efficient and potent with Crisp atop the batting order.
That’s not a slight on Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry, John Jaso or whoever else has occupied that spot this season, Melvin and others are quick to point out.
“We’re not swinging great,” Melvin said after his team collected only four hits Sunday.
In Crisp, the A’s get “a guy that gets on and creates a little havoc, takes a pitcher’s attention away a lot of times off the hitter, gets a big hit for us,” Melvin said.
Reddick had three of Oakland’s five hits Friday night in a 1-0 loss. He is 16 for 41 in 12 games since he returned from the disabled list. On Sunday, he blasted two long home runs.
Melvin and Reddick said the key to Reddick’s resurgence is his “balance.” Reddick also said he has more success when he doesn’t try to hit home runs.
It’s going to take more than one guy swinging well. The A’s lost Friday and Sunday, when Reddick did the bulk of the heavy lifting offensively.
“We know we’re going to come out of it,” Reddick said. “We’re all tired of waiting. We’re a better lineup than what we’ve shown the last week or so. We all know that. It’s just going to take a little bit of work.”
Third baseman Josh Donaldson went 0-for-4 Sunday and is batting .194 over his past 47 games. Stephen Vogt is mired in an 0-for-17 skid and Jaso 0-for-10.
Crisp’s return figures to make life easier on everyone, Reddick said. He called the prospect of getting Crisp back “huge.” Crisp is batting .274 with a .372 on-base percentage.
“It’s never the same without Coco in our lineup spot … ,” Reddick said. “He’s our spark plug. He gets things going for us. Our record is fantastic when he gets in there and scores a run. We need him back in there as soon as possible.”
On Sunday, it might not have mattered much who the A’s had in the lineup. Royals starter James Shields held the A’s without a base runner for the first five innings and only four overall in his eight innings.
Oakland starter Scott Kazmir had been almost flawless in day games this season, with a 5-0 record and 0.93 ERA in seven such starts entering Sunday’s game.
He cruised through the first four innings Sunday before the Royals parlayed five hits and a walk into a four-run rally.
“Just getting behind hitters, a couple of bad pitches I made a little bit up in the zone,” Kazmir said. “They put some good swings on them. Other than that, I felt good.”
— As expected, the A’s placed infielder Nick Punto on the 15-day disabled list. He suffered a strained right hamstring Saturday while rounding third base in the fifth inning.
The A’s recalled first baseman Nate Freiman from Triple-A Sacramento to take Punto’s place on the active roster. He was batting .284 for the River Cats, with 15 home runs and 74 RBI.
“It’s going to be every bit of two weeks, maybe a little longer, is my guess,” Melvin said of Punto’s injury. “He got it pretty good.”
Melvin said that Alberto Callaspo likely will play more second base during Punto’s absence.
— Kyle Blanks (calf) is slated to run the bases Wednesday and Friday, Melvin said. If all goes well, Blanks might go on a rehab assignment soon thereafter. He is on the 15-day disabled list.
— Reddick turned in the defensive play of the game when he made a leaping catch of a well-hit ball by Nori Aoki in the seventh, crashed into the right-field wall, gathered himself and delivered a strike to first baseman Stephen Vogt to double up Alcides Escobar.
He hit more than one home run in a game for the sixth time in his career and second this season.