PREGAME NOTES: Norris back, Reddick a ways away, Nakajima clearly not in the picture

In for John Hickey …

Derek Norris was activated from the disabled list Thursday and now the A’s have three solid catchers (Kurt Suzuki, Stephen Vogt, Norris) for down the stretch, even without John Jaso, who is looking more and more like he might be out for the year with concussion issues.

How healthy is Norris with his fractured toe? Here’s the answer from the man himself.

“I don’t know how long it takes for a bone to heal, but it feels fine,” he said. “I caught two games down in Sacramento, and I’m ready to go. It feels better every day. It was real sore at first. But now it’s fine. Something like that wasn’t going to keep me out. If it was a completely broken and I couldn’t walk on it, that would be one thing. But it was manageable to begin with and it’s almost 100 percent now.”

Manager Bob Melvin is happy to have Norris back.

“He’s not in the lineup today, but having a third guy now gives us the opportunity to do some in-game stuff that maybe we weren’t able to do before,” he said. “We feel like we have three quality guys, so whoever is starting on a particular day, we feel good about.”

–Josh Reddick hit in the cage Thursday and will probably take some live B.P. when the team gets to Minnesota early next week. So it looks like it’ll still be a little while for Reddick.

–Even though he has been a bit rough around the edges in his outings so far, Melvin has been OK with the way Brett Anderson has pitched. “It’s tough for him,” Melvin said. “He’s the one guy who really doesn’t know what his role is. If the opportunity comes up like yesterday where we can stretch him out a little bit then we’ll do that. He’s also shown he can be a factor for us late in games for an inning. It’s difficult for him to prepare, but it is what it is. He’s a guy who might pitch in any particular role. But for me, the stuff looks good. Maybe the numbers don’t look so good right now, but the stuff looks good and every time we’ve brought him out there it’s looked good, whether it’s a long role or short role.”

–I asked Melvin what was up with Hiro Nakajima since the Triple-A season was over and whether he went back to Japan. “I would imagine, yeah,” he said. “But I’m not sure, though.” Nakajima is not on the 40-man roster and wasn’t among the September call-ups. It’s a pretty good clue how far off the radar he is with the A’s right now, but he’s still under contract for next season (with a club option for 2015).

–Chris Carter doesn’t have much of a batting average and he’s struck out 184 times (wow!), but he’s still had a decent production year in Houston (27 homers, 73 RBIs).


The lineups:

OAK: CF Crisp, 3B Donaldson, SS Lowrie, RF Moss, LF Cespedes, DH Smith, 1B Barton, 2B Sogard, C Vogt. RHP Gray (2-2, 2.57)

HOU: SS Villar, 2B Altuve, LF Crowe, 3B Wallace, 1B Carter, DH Krauss, CF Barnes, RF Hoes, C Pagnozzi. RHP Peacock














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.








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.













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.























Game 109 wrapup: Dour evening for a fireworks crowd, too early to think changes, in search of Crisp and Cespedes

In for John Hickey …

Well, the first game against the Rangers was a bust. It started well for Oakland, with 10 straight first-inning strikes by Tommy Milone and a two-run double by Brandon Moss in the bottom half. But it never got any better than that the rest of the night. Texas is hot right now, working off the fuel of three straight home walk-offs and Yu Darvish striking out 14 on Thursday. Somebody needs to step up and snap them back to reality.

Quite honestly, the Rangers aren’t anywhere near what they once were and it would be disappointing to see the A’s be overhauled by a team that no longer has Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli in its lineup, has probably lost Lance Berkman for the season, and will likely lose Nelson Cruz for most of the rest of the year come Monday. Liked the tweet I saw tonight that noted Bud Selig’s slow-t0-act pace has cost the A’s again. Cruz and all of the other Biogenesis offenders get a free weekend because MLB is still a bit leery of dropping the hammer on Alex Rodriguez. Sure enough, Cruz hit a two-run homer on a day when he was supposed to get suspended, and the A’s ultimately dropped an 8-3 decision to the Rangers.

I’m baffled by how these two teams have gone up and down this year. Texas leads by seven in early May, the A’s make a 13-game swing and lead by six in late July, and now it appears to be swinging back the other way again. Oakland really needs to make a stand these next two games or risk losing the nice lead it built over the last month. Worse yet, Texas’ schedule the rest of August is incredibly favorable — 24 straight games against losing teams — while the A’s play 15 of 24 against teams over .500.

Some fans seem to be panicking already. They want to see changes. Nah, it’s too early for that, if it’s even necessary at all. No, Milone didn’t have it on this night, and if you’re looking for a prime candidate to be replaced in the rotation at some point by Brett Anderson or Sonny Gray, Milone might top the list. But there isn’t enough separation among the other four young starters to make that determination just yet. Jarrod Parker has been up and down, too. Dan Straily has had good games and bad. A.J. Griffin might be the No. 2 man right now behind Bartolo Colon, but he leads the league in home runs allowed.

Anderson is at least two weeks away from returning to the rotation if the A’s determine that’s where he’s best suited (and quite frankly, putting him in the bullpen would be a waste, considering how deep the bullpen already is). Gray has electric stuff, but he might not be ready for the intensity of a pennant race. So at least until Anderson is ready to go, it’s difficult to foresee any rotation changes.

Lineup-wise, what you see is what your going to get. There won’t be any changes, other than Alberto Callaspo playing second against lefthanded pitching. They just need more from the big guns. Coco Crisp had an RBI double Friday night, which was good to see, because he’s been in one of the worst protracted slumps since he came to the A’s — he’s hitting around .180 over his last 36 games. As for Yoenis Cespedes, he really needs to start hitting some home runs, and more importantly, just driving in more runs. Same for Josh Reddick. It can’t be Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss carrying the offense. They’re complementary contributors, guys who perform best when the most dynamic players on the team – Crisp and Cespedes – have it going. We keep waiting.

But even though the A’s have lost 3 1/2 games to their six-game lead in four days, this doesn’t look like a swoon. It’s more of a lull. The A’s have simply been too good for too long to believe what they’ve done last season and this has been a mirage. Maybe getting slapped around by the Rangers Friday night will stir some angry juices in the A’s clubhouse, and they’ll snap out of their funk over the weekend.

Bottom line, still more than 50 games to go, and the A’s are up 2 1/2, not a bad position whatsoever. But winning a couple Saturday and Sunday would sure relieve a lot of the pressure Texas is applying right now. Oakland was on the verge of delivering an early knockout in the A.L. West, but now it’s a dogfight again.









PREGAME NOTES: Be wary of Rangers in a tight race, Rosales on his new duds, Anderson throws a live BP

In for John Hickey …

It seems like the A’s and Rangers have already played something like 20 times this season. Actually, it’s only been 10, and Oakland is 4-6 against them. After this three-game weekend set, they’ll still have home and home series to play, so while this series is big, it’s not edge of the dugout crucial.

What the A’s would like this weekend is to expand their cushion just a bit. In case you haven’t noticed, the A.L. playoff race is getting crowded and it’ll pay to stay in front in your division, because the wild card could become a real frenzy over the final two months.  You’ve got four A.L. East teams still in the hunt. Cleveland entered Friday a game behind Detroit in the Central. Kansas City had won 9 of 10. So this is only starting to get interesting, and the A’s have assured themselves of absolutely nothing just yet.

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Game 107 wrapup: Mere minor deal shows Beane satisfied this club has what it needs

In for John Hickey …

Well, the less said about this one, the better. A rare clunker after winning 24 of 30 at the Coliseum, and the A’s will quickly turn the page and hand the ball to Bartolo Colon Wednesday.

So, no Jake Peavy. No middle of the order hitter. In the end, unless some other team calls the A’s with an offer Billy Beane can’t refuse, the A’s will likely watch the trade deadline pass without a blockbuster deal to bolster the roster down the stretch.

Guess what? They don’t really have to. Peavy might have been nice insurance in the event of a Colon suspension (seems unlikely, but until Friday comes and goes, hold your breath) or another starter injury. But the A’s have plenty of pitching depth with Brett Anderson looking like he may be just a few weeks away if that and Sonny Gray at the ready in the minors. As for the hitting part, the guys here have the wherewithal, they just have to get it done.

So, Alberto Callaspo for Grant Green. That’s your deadline deal. Not impressed? Hey, admittedly, it’s not an earth-shaker, but Callaspo should help against left-handed pitching. He’s a career .300 hitter against lefties, and he can also spell Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie, with Callaspo filling in at third when needed and Eric Sogard at short.

The only real question mark here is how quickly Callaspo can adjust to playing second base after not playing the position for three years, and actually a bit longer than that. His last extended work there came in 2009 with Kansas City, when he played 146 games at second (and made 17 errors). Can he still turn the double play? Guess we’ll see. But you can bet he’ll be getting a crash refresher course with infield coach Mike Gallego over the next week or so.

He won’t be playing there a ton. Eric Sogard will still man the position against righties, which means the majority of the time, so the defense shouldn’t suffer too much. And considering Callaspo has some pop and is lethal against lefties, he’s definitely an upgrade, even if a minor one, and he gives Oakland a righty pinch-hitter off the bench who isn’t named Nate Freiman.

Shame about Grant Green, of course, but for all of his potential as a future major-league  hitter, he just never found a position with Oakland. He may not find one anywhere, although he did show signs that first base may be in his future. The A’s don’t have time to find out, especially since Green is now 25, not exactly a youngster in prospect years.

Beane was very clear he made this deal because this club deserves every chance to win now, and Callaspo provides much needed infield depth. Can’t disagree with that. Adam Rosales is not a good shortstop option, and he has struggled at the plate as well. He’s almost certainly a goner.

The team that has posted a 63-44 record to this point is the one that will have to take it the rest of the way, Callaspo and perhaps a waiver deal at some point down the line excepted. With that in mind, it bears repeating what manager Bob Melvin said before the game.

“I always expect other teams to do something and don’t get too caught up in what we’re trying to do because we’re playing pretty well, we have a good team, and regardless of what happens, we’re going to have a good team,” he said. “Billy’s been through this many times before and he’ll do the right thing.”

Fifty-five games to go and a five-game lead. They should have enough to close it out. The real question is if they have enough to go deep into the playoffs (especially with the Red Sox getting Peavy). Let’s get August and September out of the way first, and then it can be debated.














PREGAME NOTES: Anderson very pleased with snappy bullpen session

In for Hickey …

A remarkably quiet night at the O-Dot-Co before the A’s and Jays square it up. Back in the late ’80s when these two teams met, it was THE matchup in the American League. That could change at any time with less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, and knowing Billy Beane, I would expect something from him, even if it’s not Jake Peavy.

For now, it’s about Brett Anderson. The lefthander threw his latest bullpen sssion before the game — 57 pitches — and he was really popping it. He looks close to being ready to pitch in a rehab game, perhaps by early next week, and he said as much after B.P.

“I threw all my pitches and it went well,” Anderson said. “I’ll come in tomorrow and see how I feel and go from there. I have a live BP set up for Friday. It will be good to get some swings against me and see how hitters react to my pitches. Now, I’m just honing in and making sure my arm strength’s good and make sure all my pitches are doing what they’re supposed to.”

What is he most pleased about at this stage?

“That my foot doesn’t hurt,” Anderson said. “Going from where I was a couple weeks or a month ago to where I am now has been a big jump. My body feels good, my arm feels good.”

Said manager Bob Melvin, “He was little more worried about the foot, but at this point, he really has no issues with it at all. He really got after it today.”

Melvin said he would announce Wednesday what the next step would be, but Anderson pretty much spilled the beans, unless the A’s decide he’s so ready, they put him in a rehab game right away.


–Even though the A’s have three off days coming up over the next 10, they won’t change their rotation, said Melvin. “As we are right now, we’ll stay on turn,” he said.

–Melvin on the trade deadline: “I always expect other teams to do something and don’t get too caught up in what we’re trying to do because we’re playing pretty well, we have a good team, and regardless of what happens, we’re going to have a good team. So, Billy’s been through this many times before and he’ll do the right thing.”

–A double bit of good news for Eric Sogard, even if he isn’t in the lineup. First, the pitch he took on the elbow is sore but he’s more than well enough to play. Second, there was a scoring change from Monday night’s game that reversed an error and gave him a hit, reigniting a hitting streak that now stands at eight games.

–Melvin isn’t too worried about A.J. Griffin having surrendered 26 homers, most in the AL. He said Griffin pitches to the situation, and very few of the homers have really hurt him other than inflating his ERA. Of the 26 homers allowed, by the way, only 7 have come with men on base. That’s the way Catfish Hunter used to do it. He gave 39 homers (26 of those solo) in 1973 and finished 21-5 with a 3.34 ERA. Griffin’s 10-7 with a 3.90.

Finally, congrats to former Athletic Jason Giambi for becoming the oldest player ever to hit a walkoff homer for the Indians last night. That was great to see. What’s hard to believe is that the guy is 42.














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.