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Pitchers set blistering pace with five shutouts in 12 games

Stephen Vogt congratulates Jesse Chavez after he wraps up fifth A's shutout in 12 games this season

Stephen Vogt congratulates Jesse Chavez after he wraps up fifth A’s shutout in 12 games this season

The A’s got a combined shutout Saturday, the fifth shutout by the A’s staff in 12 games to start the season.

It’s not a sustainable pace. Of course, it seemed unsustainable when Oakland had four shutouts in nine games, too. But the pitchers, particularly the starters, just seem to be on a roll.

Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir, Kendall Graveman and Drew Pomeranz have each started one of the shutouts, so it’s not like the A’s are riding one or two hot hands.

The A’s seem to believe that the quality of pitching, if not the number of shutouts, is sustainable.

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Some bitterness lingers over Lawrie’s slide into Escobar; Royals prove it with Ventura hitting Lawrie with fastball

Alcides Escobar of the Royals was not seriously hurt when taken out on this Friday slide by the A's Brett Lawrie, but some bitterness remained Saturday between the two sides.

Alcides Escobar of the Royals was not seriously hurt when taken out on this Friday slide by the A’s Brett Lawrie, but some bitterness remained Saturday between the two sides.

Bitter feelings eased some Saturday in the Kansas City clubhouse over the slide of A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie into Royals’ shortstop Alcides Escobar, but things are far from being smoothed over.

Proof was served up as a 99-mph fastball into Lawrie’s right side in the fourth inning Saturday night from Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura, a teammate and friend of Escobar.

Lawrie’s reaction was to drop his bat and move to first base while the umpires ejected Ventura. Both teams wandered onto the field, but with the exception of A’s outfielder Craig Gentry, no one seemed too worked up about it. Gentry, though, had to be held back.

Escobar, who said his immediate thought after the seventh inning collision at second base Friday was that his left leg was broken, checked out as mostly healthy and could have played, although he was held out of the starting lineup.

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Did hostile crowd impact the outcome of A’s challenge Friday?

Brett Lawrie, his hand on second base, was called out because New York officials checking the challenge  said they couldn't say for sure Lawrie's had was on the base.

Brett Lawrie, his hand on second base, was called out because New York officials checking the A’s challenge of the ruling that said Lawrie was out said they couldn’t say for sure if Lawrie’s hand was on the base. Also, Escobar, who was hurt on the play, doesn’t appear to be tagging Lawrie.

Baseball players always say they like to play in front of large crowds. After what happened in the seventh inning Friday, you have to wonder if the A’s were hurt by playing in front of a packed Kauffman Stadium crowd.

The almost 40,000 people in the stadium were incensed that Brett Lawrie slid into second base and Royals’ shortstop Alcides Escobar hard to the point where Escobar hurt his left knee and had to be assisted off the field.

The crowd was in a fury at that point, the game being tied and a player vital to the Royals’ cause being taken off the field.

So it didn’t go over particularly well in the stadium when Oakland manager Bob Melvin challenged the out call made by second base umpire Greg Gibson.

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A’s ability to control running game to be tested by Royals

Drew Pomeranz got a pickoff Wednesday; A's will need more of those to control Royals' running game.

Drew Pomeranz got a pickoff Wednesday; A’s will need more of those to control Royals’ running game.

Ten games is too small a sample size to make any judgments on the A’s ability to control the running game.

Three games is even a smaller grouping, but the next three days, starting with Friday’s series opener against the Royals, could tell a better story in the A’s battle against the running game.

The Royals are a running team, and it was that ability, combined with the A’s inability to defend against the run, that led Kansas City to a 12-inning 9-8 win in the American League Wild Card game last year over Oakland, ultimately catapulting the Royals into the World Series against the Giants.

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Bullpen’s penchant for giving up homers is troubling

Evan Scribner is one of the A's relievers troubled by early season homers, although manager Bob Melvin likes his performance overall.

Evan Scribner is one of the A’s relievers troubled by early season homers, although manager Bob Melvin likes his performance overall.

Evan Scribner and R.J. Alvarez combined to throw the final three innings for the A’s Wednesday in a 6-1 loss to the Astros.

Both men gave up solo homers, adding to a trend the A’s never saw coming.

Five different A’s relievers have allowed a home run. Overall, the bullpen has been roughed up for 11 runs, and all of those have come on homers, including Luis Valbuena’s deep fly off Scribner and Evan Gattis’ missile off Alvarez Wednesday.

In themselves, the Wednesday homers don’t mean much. They just took the score from 4-1 to 6-1. But that’s not true across the board for the relief corps, which Oakland was counting on to be its backbone in much the way it was a year ago.

Saturday saw Dan Otero raked for a three-run Nelson Cruz blast in the eighth inning just moments after the A’s had taken the lead with two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Oakland had to rally to tie and force extra innings, but lost in 11.

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Canha takes his movie line knowledge to a wider audience

Mark Canha, who quoted "Bull Durham" in a post-game interview last week, got some national exposure Wednesday on MLB Network's Intentional Talk.

Mark Canha, who quoted “Bull Durham” in a post-game interview last week, got some national exposure Wednesday on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk.

Mark Canha came into the A’s clubhouse about three hours before Wednesday’s game started and shook his head.

“I don’t know how it went,’’ Canha said.

The Oakland rookie utility player had just been on the field taping a segment for MLB Network’s Intentional Talk. They’d been drawn in both by Canha’s hot start (11 hits in his first six games, including a homer) and by his paraphrase of some lines from Kevin Costner in “Bull Durham’’ to the media after his first game.

He’d gone three-for-five with two doubles and four RBIs last Wednesday, just barely missing a grand slam for his first big league hit. When he talked about the game afterward, he never broke stride in recreating Costner as Crash Davis giving advice to Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh character on how to be as bland as possible with the media:

“I’m just trying to help the ball club,’’ Canha said. “And, uh, I’ll give it my best shot, and the good lord willing, things will work out.”

The actual Costner lines run like this:

“We gotta play ‘em one day at a time.’’

“I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ball club.’’

“I just wanna give it my best shot and, the good lord willing, things will work out.’’

So, not bad.

After the clip of the Canha interview was played, the first baseman/outfielder was hit with a pair of movie quotes, one from the “The Sandlot,’’ the other from “The Natural,’’ and he correctly identified both.

Canha watched his performance in the clubhouse with his teammates, got plenty of positive feedback, then headed out of the room.

“I guess that wasn’t too bad,’’ he said.

Costner was at Monday’s game in Houston, but Canha didn’t find out about it until later, so there was no chance to compare acting techniques.

 

NOTES

–Second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist got his first day off of the season Wednesday thanks to some heel pain that has been dogging him for a couple of days now. Manager Bob Melvin said he liked the thought of Zobrist being able to combine Wednesday with Thursday’s scheduled off day to give the right heel time to heal.

–Josh Reddick stepped into Zobrist’s role as the No. 3 hitter. Reddick didn’t bat third last year and had just 14 games there in 2013, but in his career he’s actually batted third for 147 starts, 30 more than in any other spot in the batting order. He has a .234 average batting third.

–Sean Doolittle seems to be making some progress toward getting back on a mound after missing all spring with strained left rotator cuff. Melvin was effusive in talking about Doolittle throwing pain free from 105 feet, his best result to date.

–Melvin said the difference in lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty from last year to this is clear now that he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. O’Flaherty gave the A’s 1.2 innings of relief Tuesday and was available if needed to pitch Wednesday.

–Center fielder Sam Fuld has five multiple-hit games already, second-best in that category in the Major Leagues so far.

–Billy Butler’s nine-game hitting streak coming into Wednesday ties him for the best-ever streak to start an A’s career. Alfredo Griffin also hit in nine consecutive games when he joined the A’s in 1985.

–The century club: The A’s four shutouts in the first nine games is just the fourth time in MLB history that’s been accomplished, the first time in 105 years. The 1910 White Sox were the last team to do it.

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Reddick’s slick glovework keeps Astros quiet

Josh Reddick was more than a little upset with himself for dropping a fly ball that probably would have given the A’s a win over Seattle Sunday in Oakland. 

Josh Reddick on the run to steal extra bases in eighth inning from Astros' Evan Gattis.

Josh Reddick on the run to steal extra bases in eighth inning from Astros’ Evan Gattis.

The Oakland right fielder got some payback in the eighth inning Tuesday with a pair of running catches that turned what could have been a monster inning for Houston into nothing more than a slight bump in the road.

With one out and the A’s up 3-0, Evan Gattis hit what he hoped would be a solo homer, but Reddick raced into the right field corner to catch the ball up against the wall.

Oakland reliever Dan Otero gave up a couple of singles after that, so manager Bob Melvin went to Fernando Abad in an effort to get the inning’s final out.

Jason Castro hit a rocket off Abad, but again Reddick was able to run the ball down, ending the inning. That was essentially it for the Astros offense on the night as the A’s got their fourth shutout in nine games.

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Fuld’s acrobatic catch has A’s marveling at his defensive skills

Sam Fuld's eyes never lost the ball on this catch in right-center against the Astros Monday night.

Sam Fuld’s eyes never lost the ball on this catch in right-center against the Astros Monday night.

The A’s defense has had its share of issues the first eight games of the season, but there have also been some highlight film candidates, including Sam Fuld’s full-stretch dive in right-center to end the fifth inning Monday in Houston.

It saved a run and it saved right fielder Josh Reddick from kicking himself.

“I thought that was my ball,’’ Reddick said of Jake Marisnick’s rope into the gap with a man on second base. “it was very impressive to see what Sam did on that play. I didn’t get a good break on it, but he did; he always gets a good jump.’’

Manager Bob Melvin said he assumed the ball wouldn’t be caught, but if it was, it would have been Reddick to catch it.

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The long and short of it is that Canha’s having a fine start: Vogt’s ankle OK; Melvin sticks with same lineup third time

Mark Canha is hitting in luck -- both good and bad -- to start his MLB career.

Mark Canha is hitting in luck — both good and bad — to start his MLB career.

Mark Canha is a sports fan, follows the Sharks, the Warriors and the 49ers, but mostly he’s a baseball fan.

Monday night he got a reminder why baseball appeals to him so much, something about the sheer unpredictability of it.

Batting to lead off the third inning, he got on top of a ball that dribbled about three feet in front of the plate. He dropped his bat, started running and the A’s left fielder found himself at first base with a single.

Two innings later, he came up with one out and one on and simply crushed a ball, hitting it about as hard as he could, which in the case of the San Jose product out of Cal is on the upper levels of crushing. This time he didn’t make it out of the batter’s box. No need. The ball was hit on a line to third base where the Astros’ Luis Valbuena caught it.

“That’s just the way baseball goes,’’ Canha said Tuesday. “You get a hit on one in front of the plate like that, then you sting one and get nothing.

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Kazmir fights off moisture, calf cramps en route to 2nd win

Scott Kazmir survive a moist, sometimes slick mound at Minute Maid Park to beat the Astros 8-1 Monday.

Scott Kazmir survive a moist, sometimes slick mound at Minute Maid Park to beat the Astros 8-1 Monday.

Talk about a slippery slope.

Scott Kazmir was born in Houston, still lives in the area and yet was completely baffled by the pitching mounds at Minute Maid Park Monday night, likely a product of the mega-humid Houston weather.

“It started in the bullpen and was the same on the field,’’ Kazmir said. “The mounds felt wet. I don’t know why. But I had real trouble in the pen and in the first inning.’’

Bullpens generally are groomed and groomed and groomed again to get the right feel, a feel that includes no moisture. That made Monday more than a tad odd for the lefty starter.

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