Game 142 wrapup: Suzuki could be the key to Straily’s big breakthrough

In for John Hickey …

Just 20 more to go. No one can predict how the American League West is going to play out, but when you get an effort like Dan Straily provided Saturday, you have to feel like your chances just got a lot better. Straily has arguably been Oakland’s most unpredictable starter, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that he is 3-0 since Kurt Suzuki has returned to the team.

For my money, it’s not coincidence. When you think about how many young pitchers the veteran catcher has helped nurture to prominence, you can’t help but believe there is method to Bob Melvin having had Suzuki behind the plate for all three of Straily’s starts since he’s been back.

Nothing against Derek Norris or Stephen Vogt, but Suzuki is a take-charge guy behind the plate and he knows how to maximize a pitcher’s strengths. He seems to have made a quick connection with Straily, who has been very confident and much more in control of his repertoire in recent starts. Part of that is maturity, of course, but it’s clear Suzuki understands that if Straily can just command his fastball and get ahead in counts, he can use his unreal slider as an out pitch.

While making sure to praise all of the A’s catchers and say that he feels comfortable pitching to any of them, Straily relayed a story that tipped off Suzuki’s edge. He said Suzuki came to him the first time he caught him and told him not to worry about bouncing his slider in the dirt, that if any of them got away, they would be completely on him. Suzuki, of course, is one of the best, if not the best, at blocking balls in the dirt, so Straily may have a bit more confidence snapping off that pitch knowing it’s not going to carom to the backstop. He’s been throwing some filthy ones lately. The one he struck out Brett Wallace with in the sixth inning Saturday, in particular, was an absolute beauty.

In my game story, I fashioned a case for Straily as a late-rush Rookie of the Year candidate. He has as many wins as any A.L. rookie starter. He’s made more starts, pitched more innings and struck out more batters than any other rookie starter, and he’s dropped his ERA to 4.15, which is close to his season low. The bet here is that Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias is probably going to win the award, and Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer is probably a close second, but at least Straily has worked his way into the conversation.

Saturday may have been his best start yet and even though the A’s only gave him two runs of support — solo homers by Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie (both bombs) — he pitched coolly and confidently and made those runs stand up through seven innings. One walk and very few three-ball counts, too. Two hits. Seven strikeouts.

It’s a heck of a sign, particularly knowing that Straily’s next turn will be in Arlington against the Rangers next weekend. I was on the road trip in which Straily outdueled Yu Darvish in Texas, so he’s obviously not intimidated by pitching there. But you can bet Suzuki will be behind the plate for that one.


PREGAME NOTES: Melvin not worried about Balfour, Oakland manager recalls Petit

In for John Hickey …

Whew, like my iPhone, still trying to get my internal main battery charged up after covering the closest you can come to a perfect game without actually throwing one Friday night in San Francisco. Fortunately, I also covered Dallas Braden’s perfect game in May of 2010, so personally, I can live with the result. In fact, I may actually have seen something rarer. There have been 23 perfect games in major league history and I’ve seen one of those. But there have only been 12 perfect games broken up with two outs in the ninth and now I’ve seen one of those. And I was also on hand Nolan Ryan’s seventh. So I think my bucket list is complete on no-nos, perfectos and near-perfectos.

It’s interesting that A’s manager Bob Melvin had some insight into Yusmeiro Petit. He managed him in Arizona for a couple of seasons.

“I do remember him pitching some good games in San Francisco,” Melvin recalled. “That’s a good ballpark for him. He can keep the ball in the middle of the field. It’s a big park there. He’s able to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat when he’s good, and he mixes his pitches up. He’s got a little crossfire to him across his body, and there have been times when he’s been really good. Hats off to him, that was a terrific performance yesterday.”

Melvin also spoke to why Petit hasn’t been able to find a stable home in the majors.

“I think it’s because of some consistency issues with him,” he said. “He’ll be good at times and then he won’t be at time. His problem when I was with him is getting the ball up in the zone, and when you don’t throw that hard your fastball is fairly straight. You can give up some homers. But from what I see, he’s pitched pretty well. When he’s down in the zone, he’s much more difficult to deal with.”

–Melvin said Grant Balfour, who threw 37 pitches in a rocky ninth inning Friday, isn’t available today against the Astros and Sunday will depend on how Balfour feels. While Balfour has lost a bit of stuff in recent outings and hasn’t been all that sharp, either, the manager isn’t too worried.

“He may be trying to overthrow his fastball a little bit,” Melvin said. “He had three days off. If you really look at how the inning went down, there’s an infield hit, a potential double play ball, a poke to right. He didn’t walk anybody. So granted his stuff may not have been as crisp as it was earlier in the year, but there are going to be periods of time when struggle a little bit and it’s not just the closer. It could be anybody, but it’s more magnified when it is the closer because he’s the last line of defense.”

Sean Doolittle went through a similar rough patch recently and now seems to be back in form.

“You have to stay confident with those guys and sometimes you have to let them fail,” Melvin said. “But sometimes it’s a little easier to make an adjustment with a setup guy than the closer.”

–Coco Crisp is not in the lineup, but it’s a schedule day-after-night off day.

“This day was on the docket for him,” Melvin said. “We try to be careful with him and keep him healthy. He plays hard, and he plays that style every inning of every game, so we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble at times maybe pushing him a little too far, with the wrist on top of that. So it’s always difficult to do, it’s not like I enjoy giving him a day off at this point in time, but we feel it’s the prudent thing to do. We have a game tomorrow and then another off day after that, then 16 in a row. Again, it’s difficult to do, but sometimes you have to do difficult things.”

Jed Lowrie’s the leadoff man, and here are the full lineups:

OAK: SS Lowrie, CF Young, 3B Donaldson, LF Cespedes, 1B Freiman, 2B Callaspo, DH Norris, RF Choice, C Suzuki. RHP Straily (8-7, 4.38)

HOU: SS Villar, 2B Altuve, RF Crowe, DH Castro, 3B Dominguez, LF Carter, 1B Wallace, C Pagnozzi, CF Barnes. LHP Oberholtzer (4-1, 2.79)



Game 140 wrapup: Peacock struts his stuff against A’s, to Gray’s chagrin

Have to make a quick exit, so here’s tonight’s game story …

In the 13 days prior to Monday, the A’s played four of the best teams in the American League, posted a 9-4 record, and looked every bit a baseball club on an express train to the playoffs.

Monday night, however, the train jumped the tracks a bit. Oakland played the worst team in the A.L., the Houston Astros, and looked far less full speed ahead in a 3-2 defeat before an announced Coliseum crowd of just 11,569.

The A’s have to hope this curious setback was an anomaly rather than a trend against teams under .500 and out of the postseason picture. Other than their three-game series against the Texas Rangers next weekend in Arlington, the A’s play 19 of their final 22 games against also-rans.

After winning their first 10 games of the year against Houston, the A’s have now lost four of six to the lowly Astros, and three of four to them in Oakland. On this night, they were done in for the most part by right-hander Brad Peacock, a pitcher they included in the trade for infielder Jed Lowrie and had already beaten twice this season.

Peacock (4-5) gave up just three hits, one walk and struck out nine through the first seven innings against a team that pummeled Texas’ Yu Darvish little more than 24 hours before. But the A’s were quick to say Peacock’s effort was not a fluke.

“I had the opportunity to catch Peacock a lot in the minor leagues, and he has the capability to have pretty good stuff,” said Josh Donaldson. “I think we let him get a little comfortable early. The longer the game went, the stronger he got.”

Manager Bob Melvin agreed.

“(Peacock) was getting ahead of us and we probably didn’t make the adjustment until it was a little bit late,” he said. “Once he got ahead, his stuff was much better than we’ve seen.”

But were the A’s flat after their great run?

“I don’t know, I don’t think we came out blazing,” Donaldson said. “It was just one of those days where … I don’t what happened. Come back (Friday) and try to get a win.”

The A’s finally did stage an offensive rally in the eighth inning that chased Peacock, but it came up a run short from tying the game, and then Oakland was shut down by Houston’s fourth pitcher, Josh Fields, in a 1-2-3 ninth.

The meager offensive output ruined another terrific start by rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, who pitched eight innings and retired 20 of the final 21 hitters he faced. He walked one and struck out seven.

But the Astros jumped on Gray (2-3) for six hits and three runs in the first two innings on a two-out RBI single by another former Athletic, Chris Carter and then notched two more runs in the second.

Gray recorded an opening strikeout but then gave up consecutive singles to the No. 8 and 9 hitters, L.J. Hoes and Matt Pagnozzi. He struck out Jonathan Villar for the second out, but Altuve singled to left to bring home Hoes and left fielder Cespedes allowed the ball to carom hard off of his glove into the bullpen and Pagnozzi scored as well.

“I’ve got to do a better job earlier in the game,” said Gray. “I kind of got us off to kind of rough start and we were digging ourselves out of a hole the whole game. They didn’t hit the ball hard, but I wasn’t executing my pitches, especially in the second inning.”

Melvin said his young pitcher could have received more support both in the field and at the plate.

“We didn’t play really great behind him,” Melvin said. “We were a little in-between on a couple of plays and those things end up costing you in close games. But then he settled in really nicely, similar to what he’s done here recently, which was pitch very well.”

Quick note: Melvin was not available to the media until well after the game, but he said later he had to deal with a personal matter not relating to the game.


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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