Vogt comes back to life with a pair of awards and a return to the field

Stephen Vogt missed 12 games with one of the worst foul tip shots to the groin you are ever likely to see on a baseball field. I hadn’t actually seen the video until Tuesday night, and it was hard to watch. You’d like to say you feel Vogt’s pain, but … uh, no thanks.

“I don’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Vogt said. “It was the worst 10 days of my life, and I don’t ever want to go through it again.”

But he’s finally getting back to normal. After a couple of games at designated hitter, Vogt was at first base against the Rangers and he could be getting back behind the plate sometime this weekend, perhaps for Barry Zito’s momentous Saturday start against old pal Tim Hudson.

W”e’re pretty much healed, we’re glad to be back in there,” he said. I want to play every day. I’m glad that it wasn’t anything more than it was. I’m glad it was a two-week thing and not a life thing. I’m very blessed and lucky that it wasn’t anything worse.”

Vogt also has been prepping for getting behind the plate both mentally and physically. He caught what he said was an hour’s worth of bullpen sessions Tuesday, because the biggest challenge is overcoming the psychological aspects of the hit he took. You get a little gun-shy after what he went through, and he wants to break through those mental barrier.
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Ryan Cook trade was quietly made, but he was just one of the big reasons A’s have failed this year

In for John Hickey …

People forget just how good Ryan Cook was in 2012. Really good, and really nasty. He was 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 14 saves, only allowed 42 hits in 73 1/3 innings and struck out 80 with a 0.914 WHIP. He made the All-Star Game, where he pitched a 1-2-3 inning and struck out Bryce Harper and David Wright looking. He was a mainstay in the A’s power bullpen along with Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour and one of the big reasons the A’s wound up winning the American League West.

“He was paramount to the success we’ve had here the last three years,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We don’t accomplish what we did, certainly in ’12.”

But Friday, just before the trade deadline, Cook was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later, who is not likely going to be anyone you’ve ever heard of. It was done swiftly, quietly, and without much emotional reflection.

But really now, what the heck happened to Cookie?

He still had the stuff, as he showed in spring training. He just didn’t know where it was going. He pitched in just four games for the A’s this season, and gave up runs in three of them. He was dispatched to Triple-A Nashville, where he was on-again, off-again, and never returned to Oakland. He was 4-1 with eight saves but had a 4.05 ERA and his hits-to-innings pitched ratio was almost dead even. His strikeouts were down, and his WHIP was a less than imposing 1.380.

It’s easy to dismiss Cook as a non-factor in 2015, but he should have been. He’s only 28, should be in the prime of his career, and had he even been close to his form in 2012 and 2013, he really would have helped this ’15 club. With Doolittle out, he conceivably could have stepped in as the closer as hard as he threw. It never came close to materializing, which makes you wonder why the A’s could never get him straightened out.

“Sometimes when you sent down, you can get a little bogged down with your confidence and your motivation,” Melvin said. “Sometimes a change of scenery in a new organization can really invigorate you. I think that will be the case with him. I know he’s excited about the opportunity.”

But what happened?

“Baseball’s about making adjustments and being consistent, and this year, he was not as consistent as we’d seen in the past,” Melvin said. “Maybe a little at the end of last year, too, the command issues ended up biting him a little bit. I think more than anything, it was the command issues, because the stuff was pretty close to the same.”

Coco Crisp played nine innings at Class A Stockton Thursday night, was scheduled to play another nine Friday night and may play another game over the weekend, then he’ll return to Oakland on Sunday and possibly play on Monday.

Melvin said the A’s don’t yet have a plan for left-hander Felix Doubront, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations just before the trade deadline, but he’s inclined to think Doubront will get some starting opportunities, if for no other reason that the A’s have no left-handed starters at the moment. A 25-man move will be made once Doubront arrives in Oakland.


As strange as season has been, Billy Burns offers great hope for long-range future

I Believe In Billy Burns. And so does Stephen Vogt.

“He’s been a consistent, solid baseball player all season,” Vogt said Saturday night. “He’s the Rookie of the Year, in my opinion.”

Burns should be the Rookie of the Year in a lot of people’s opinions by now. If he’s not, they’re not paying close enough attention, and that’s entirely possible considering Oakland’s standing in the American League. But the campaign needs to start now, because there is not a better candidate out there, and he may need some public relations to drive home the obvious.

Burns scored the game-winning run in the A’s 3-2 10-inning victory on Vogt’s first-pitch single, and if Rickey Henderson was watching at home, you know he was saying, “Yeah, kid.”

Vogt got the Gatorade shower and the shaving cream pie, but Burns was the true hero of the winning rally. He not only opened the bottom of the 10th with a double in the right-center gap, he boldly bolted for third with nobody out and stole the base. Maybe not the proper play with the meat of the A’s order coming up, but no question, once he made it, the odds increased significantly that Oakland would get him home.

“I tried to time it up to get a good jump and I feel like I did get a good jump, so I just carried through with it,” Burns said. “Sometimes I’ll shut it down but I felt with the timing I had I thought I had a good shot at it, so I just took a chance.”
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Graveman making Donaldson trade look better and better

News flash: Kendall Graveman is good. Very, very good. His latest seven-inning shutout stint extended his scoreless streak to 16 innings, and he outdueled the bane of Oakland, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, for his latest feat of fine mound work.

This is the Graveman who dazzled in spring training. He ran up against the rocks when the regular season started, but the general consensus among the A’s is that he started rushing when the regular season began. He needed a short stint in the minors to calm himself down and start again. Ever since his recall on May 23, he has been just short of brilliant — nine starts, none in which he’s allowed no more than three runs and the last six in which he’s allowed no more than two. His ERA is 1.78 over those nine starts (12 earned runs in 60 2/3 innings pitched).

A lot of folks didn’t understand the Donaldson trade considering the A’s still had control of his services for another three seasons. But now, they have a 24-year-old starter who could be a mainstay for the next five years. He’s a bona fide candidate for American League Rookie of the Year (along with teammate Biily Burns), and while Donaldson is having an All-Star first half in Toronto, the A’s aren’t so bad off for making the deal. We haven’t even seen Sean Nolin yet, the other starter obtained in the deal (he’s 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA at Triple-A Nashville) or still-teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto, who’s hitting .281 with seven homers at Class A Stockton.
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The halfway point sell-off looms as A’s stumble once again on crucial homestand

We’re still a couple of weeks from the All-Star break but the A’s will actually reach the 81-game midway point with Wednesday afternoon’s interleague series finale against the Colorado Rockies. Gosh, how time flies when you’re having fun.

At 35-45 through the first 80, the writing is pretty much on the wall for the 2015 A’s and it reads, “Not entirely hopeless, but …” They looked like they had something going when they won five in a row on the road coming into a 10-game homestand. But with four losses in five games at the Coliseum confines, Oakland is on the precipice. A bad weekend against Seattle could set the course of the club’s second half long before anyone anticipated it.

If Billy Beane could get such a strong read on last year’s club at the midway point — the A’s were 51-30 through 81 games in 2014, in case you were wondering — it doesn’t take a mind reader to know what Beane must be thinking right now.

Sell, and sell fast. He has marketable commodities with which he can reap long-term gains and the sooner he can move impending free agents like Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard and possibly even Eric O’Flaherty, the more he will likely get in return from clubs in need for the second-half playoff push.

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Top pick Martin agrees to terms, works out with club; Gray in hospital with flu-like symptoms

The A’s agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Richie Martin Tuesday and the 20-year-old shortstop out of the University of Florida worked out and took batting practice with the team before heading out on his summer minor-league assignment.

Martin, the 20th overall pick, will depart Wednesday and begin play with Oakland’s short-season Class A team in Vermont. Before he left, he got the grand tour of the major league clubhouse and met most of the players and staff. His biggest thrill, he said, was the shoes he received from equipment manager Steve Vucinich.

“I actually heard about the white shoes about a week ago and I was pretty pumped about that,” Martin said. “I’ve never worn white shoes in my baseball career.”

Martin said while growing up in Valrico, Fla., he watched A’s players Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist when they played with the Tampa Bay Rays. He’d only been to California once before this week, when he was 9, so he doesn’t know a whole lot about Oakland or the A’s organization.

“The only thing I really knew was seeing the movie `Moneyball,’ ” Martin said.

Asked to give a comparison with general manager Billy Beane and actor Brad Pitt, who played Beane in the film, Martin said, “The hair was spot on, and the glasses. But I’d only been around him for an hour, and in the movie, they kind of made him more aggressive and everything was about business. But he was making jokes, and the whole time I was around him, he was smiling. So maybe he’s not like Brad Pitt in that sense.”

Martin, who hit .291 as junior with the Gators with a .399 on-base percentage, said he has drawn comparisons with Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond as a good blend of offensive and defensive skills. He added that he grew up idolizing the great Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Martin, who was accompanied by his parents to his signing, also noted that his maternal grandfather, Walter Thomas, played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. Thomas actually played parts of four seasons with the Monarchs and in 1945, batted second ahead of future Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Satchel Paige also was on that Monarchs team.

Martin isn’t sure how long it will take him to get to Oakland for real.

“Hopefully it will be quick,” he said. “It depends on how I play and nothing but that.”

The A’s have now signed or agree to terms with 31 of their 40 selections from the draft, including each of the first 13 and 19 of the first 21.

Scheduled starter Sonny Gray had to be admitted to the hospital Monday night with flu-like symptoms, and as far as manager Bob Melvin knew, Gray was still there Tuesday afternoon.

“It hit him pretty hard,” Melvin said. “He’s actually been dealing with it for the last couple of days, but last night, it actually got worse. I talked to him this morning and he still sounded pretty weak, but he said he felt a lot better than last night.”

Melvin wasn’t sure how Gray would be slotted back into the rotation, noting that it would depend on how quickly he recovers.

Chris Bassitt was called up from Triple-A Nashville to take Gray’s start, and infielder Max Muncy was optioned.

Elsewhere, just an off day for outfielder Josh Reddick against a left-handed starter. He’s available, and will start on Wednesday.


Trouble signs from the bullpen for a second straight day could portend a longer-term problem

I’d have to go back and check, but I don’t know that the A’s bullpen gave up two three-run homers all year in 2014. Maybe, probably, but back-to-back days like we saw Saturday and Sunday? Doubtful. And of the six home runs allowed by the pitching staff over the first seven games, five of them have been hit off the relief corps. That’s not good.

Of all the trouble signs that emerged over the weekend in two dispiriting extra-inning losses to the Seattle Mariners, the performance of the bullpen is perhaps the most disturbing.

“We’re better than that,” said manager Bob Melvin.

But are they? Think about it. The A’s are without their closer, Sean Doolittle, whose return from a shoulder injury is still sketchy. Before Sunday’s game, Melvin said he didn’t know when Doolittle would get on a mound, and he offered up late May as a guess-timate regarding his return, but he wasn’t really basing it on any hard and fast evidence. If there’s still a shoulder tear in there, even a small one, the A’s have to brace for the possibility that even if Doolittle does return on the late-May timetable, there will be a question if that shoulder can hold up.

Last year’s two primary set-up men, Luke Gregerson and Ryan Cook, aren’t here. Gregerson left via free agency and Cook is in the minors trying to figure out some serious mechanical issues.

Hence, everyone else is being pushed back into roles where they may not be quite as comfortable. Tyler Clippard, a very good setup man in Washington, is closing. Eric O’Flaherty and Dan Otero are pitching later in the game than they normally do, and in O’Flaherty’s case, even though he is in his second season following Tommy John surgery, he still isn’t showing the kind of explosive stuff he possessed that he had in Atlanta before the injury.

Fernando Abad, a situational lefty, is being asked to pitch to lefties and righties. Evan Scribner couldn’t make this bullpen a year ago, and R.J. Alvarez is a hard-throwing young guy who is just getting his feet wet as a major-leaguer. Jesse Chavez is the long guy, probably more suited to starting than relieving, but he may be pressed into seventh- and eighth-inning service if the problems continue.

So right now, it’s tough to say they’re “better than that.” Maybe better than what we’ve seen so far, but perhaps not good enough without Doolittle and an effective Cook.

The A’s had bullpen issues out of the gate last season, mostly with Jim Johnson, but Melvin and Co. were able to work around Johnson because of the depth of the pen. That depth isn’t there this year, nor is the experience or the quality. After a week, you have to give this group the benefit of the doubt that they can, as Clippard said, “clean some things up.”

We’ll learn more on this upcoming road trip, for sure.


Billy Butler has a grand time with his ex-Royals mates, then makes them pay

Billy Butler mashes a two-run double against his old team, the Royals.

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Billy Butler admits he still feels the tug of the Kansas City blue, and the pull was particularly strong Friday when the A’s met the Royals for the first time in Cactus League play.

“I’ve got a lot of friends over there, and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing on the other side,” Butler said. “This game brings you together and bonds you, and what we accomplished last year, that stuff stays with you for life.”

Butler received a huge ovation from Royals fans when he came to bat with runners on first and third and one out in the first inning. He then gave A’s fans in attendance something to cheer about when he pulverized the second pitch he saw past fleet center fielder Lorenzo Cain for a two-run double.

“I told Cain I was going to burn him,” said Butler, who also had a fielding highlight at first base when he alertly tagged out Brett Eibner stepping inside the baseline toward second base following a single.

Butler spent time in the Kansas City clubhouse once the A’s arrived at the ballpark, even sitting on his old locker stool. The Royals also poked some fun at their former DH. Someone posted a bogus notice on an information board denoting “Billy Butler Tribute at 12:20.” Talkative outfielder Jarrod Dyson asked Butler if he’d like to step on a scale for old times’ sake.

“I think they would have mad if I didn’t go over to see them,” said Butler, who was lifted after two solid at-bats. “I had to let Dyson have his way with me for a little while.”

The A’s will visit Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during the second week of the regular season and Butler believes that will be a lot more emotional.

“Spring training’s one thing, but in April when we go there, that’ll be the tough one,” he said. “I spent my whole career there. I did a lot of stuff in the community. Just being in the organization for so long, I have a lot of friends in the city that I’ve met. And it’ll just be weird going over to the other dugout.”
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Kazmir’s spring training debut coincides with Ferrell’s, but pitcher revels in the spirit of it

Spring training 023

If it wasn’t tough enough for Scott Kazmir to wait a week to make his first spring training start with the A’s, he had to do it Thursday with comedian Will Ferrell playing behind him at shortstop.

Kazmir was held back from making his first Cactus League appearance, as was fellow starter Sonny Gray, because of the load both pitchers had during the 2014 season. Kazmir threw 190 1/3 innings, the most he’s thrown since 2007, and the club wants to take it slow this spring with the starters who worked the most last season.

Hence, it just happened that Kazmir finally got the nod on the day Ferrell was filming for his HBO special about playing all nine positions in one day for 10 different teams, shuttling from park to park over the course of the day.

Kazmir pitched a scoreless first inning with Ferrell playing behind him but admitted it was a challenge to his concentration. He wound up throwing 2 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, two walks and striking out four. He threw 48 pitches, but none were more challenging than those first innings one with Ferrell chattering behind him.

“That was tough,” he said. “Pretty much all I wanted to do was turn around and see what he was doing. I heard him pretty much every pitch. But it was awesome, it was cool to have him back there.”
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Will Ferrell’s a comic hit in long morning session with A’s


Trailed by an army of production officials from HBO and Major League Baseball, comic actor Will Ferrell invaded Oakland Athletics spring training camp for nearly five hours Thursday as part of his film day-long odyssey to play every baseball position with 10 different teams around the Cactus League.

It was every bit the circus it was expected to be and then some. Ferrell arrived promptly at 8 a.m. to do the bulk of shooting for a forthcoming HBO special entitled “Ferrell Takes The Field” and told gathered media, “Can’t talk now. I’m in Beast Mode.” He didn’t stop for the next several hours prior to initiating an ambitious playing schedule in five Cactus League games, moving from park to park around the Phoenix area by helicopter.

He spent more time with the A’s in Mesa than any other place. He worked the clubhouse and met players, stretched with the team and had a long conversation with Bert “Campy” Campaneris, who Ferrell has said he’s honoring on the 50th anniversary of the former A’s shortstop great playing all nine positions in a major-league game in 1965.
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