3

Winless in Seattle — so far

The roof is open at Safeco Field and it’s another picturesque afternoon. Indeed, the weather has been terrific up here the past three days. The baseball? That’s been a bit uglier, at least from the A’s perspective. Getting swept by last-place Seattle is no way to begin a nine-game road trip, so the A’s badly need a victory today with left-hander Gio Gonzalez on the mound.

Here’s the lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, Sizemore 3B, Rosales SS, Sweeney RF, Powell C; Gonzalez LHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp 1B, Wells RF, Gutierrez CF, Bard C, Wilson 3B, Halman LF; Furbush LHP.

–David DeJesus remains out, as manager Bob Melvin said the outfielder’s right thumb is more a mental issue right now than a physical one. DeJesus has been reluctant to cut it loose while swinging the bat. It appears his return will come Friday at Tampa Bay, when the A’s might also welcome back shortstop Cliff Pennington. Pennington continues to do better following his Bell’s palsy diagnosis. He got through full baseball activity Tuesday and said he could play right now if needed. He’s being brought along slowly as a precaution.

–Tuesday night’s game landed on the highlight reels for a couple different reasons. The A’s ridiculously handled Brendan Ryan’s infield single – letting him advance two extra bases while infielders wandered around confused. And then there was the Ichiro look-a-like who tried picking up the fair ball that Dustin Ackley hit down the right-field line. This guy heard a round of boos and then had to answer to stadium security for interfering with the game. I saw the same guy standing in front of the stadium this morning, wearing his No. 51 uniform and posing for pictures with fans. It’s a regular gig for him.

One can only wonder how Ackley might wind up with a triple today. On Monday, Ryan Sweeney misplayed his low liner with the bases loaded, and Ackley wound up on third with three RBIs. Then a nutty fan interferes on a play Tuesday, and the umpires award Ackley another triple. We’ll see what today has in store …

2

Cliff Pennington doing much better, targeting possible Friday return

The news looks much better regarding A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington, who was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy last night. Pennington woke up feeling much better today, and said he can close his left eye and blink. He likely won’t play until Friday’s series opener at Tampa Bay, at the earliest. But both he and manager Bob Melvin were breathing a sigh of relief. Bell’s palsy is a nerve condition that causes partial facial paralysis, and Pennington left last night’s game with numbness on the left side of his face.

“I can blink, I can close,” Pennington said. “I’m still numb, but it’s night and day from yesterday. I’m going to do everything normal (as far as baseball activity). I’m going to keep going like normal, except I’m not playing.”

Because he was having trouble keeping his left eye closed last night, he put trainer’s tape over his eye so he could sleep. “I was so tired from stress that I slept great,” he said.

–To provide depth on the bench, the A’s recalled infielder Adam Rosales from Triple-A and designated reliever Jerry Blevins for assignment. Again, this DFA is procedural for Blevins because he has more than three years’ service time in the majors. He has to pass through optional waivers before being sent down. He is still on the 40-man roster and won’t be going anywhere.

Your lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Willingham DH, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Suzuki C, Sogard SS, Sizemore 3B; Harden RHP.

Mariners — Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 3B, Olivo C, Smoak 1B, Wells LF, Gutierrez CF; Hernandez RHP.

3

Update on Cliff Pennington’s condition, and other notes from A’s 8-4 loss to Mariners

A quick postgame recap of the A’s 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners. I figure many of you will get the early-edition story in your papers, and it won’t include the postgame news …

–Shortstop Cliff Pennington left the game in the bottom of the sixth and was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a nerve condition that causes temporary facial paralysis. He said he began having problems closing his left eye Sunday night, and the condition worsened Monday to the point he had to come out of the game.

Scary stuff, obviously. Scanning some online articles, it appears Bell’s Palsy can last a couple days, a couple weeks or even longer. Sometimes it’s just a one-time occurence for people and never surfaces again. Pennington had never experienced any problems of this sort before Sunday night.

He is on medication right now and is listed as day to day. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on the DL. This isn’t a condition you want to take lightly, or attempt to play baseball with until you know it’s under control. Plus, the A’s only have a three-man bench right now, and that’s really two when you consider that David DeJesus is still unavailable because of right thumb soreness (manager Bob Melvin hopes to have him back Wednesday).

A reporter who was in the A’s clubhouse afterward said he had a bout with Bell’s Palsy about 30 years ago. It affected him for about six weeks, then symptoms disappeared and he’s never experienced it again. That’s just one person’s experience.

Pennington said “it feels like you went to the dentist and the whole side of your face is numb.”

You have to hope this is a temporary thing …

–As for the on-field news, the A’s did not start this nine-game road trip off on a good note. That bases-loaded, no-out situation in the first, when they came away with no runs, looked an awful lot like their pre-All Star break offensive form.

But perhaps more concerning for the A’s was Trevor Cahill’s outing. He went just four-plus innings, allowed 12 hits and was charged with seven runs. Cahill just hasn’t been able to string together several good outings in a row since his 6-0 start. “We know he’s an elite pitcher, he’s just having trouble running two or three starts together (to build on),” Melvin said.

It’s worth noting that not everything was hit hard off Cahill. And his defense let him down at times. But he was constantly putting runners on base, and when you do that, there’s no margin for error.

–With a double and home run Monday, nine of Kurt Suzuki’s last 12 hits are for extra bases.

That’s all for now …

0

A long journey begins

The key number for this nine-game road trip the A’s are starting: 6,544.

That’s the total miles the team will fly from Oakland to Seattle, to Tampa, to Toronto and back home. There are off-days sandwiched around both ends of the Rays series, but that is one brutal trip given the crazy routing. Not exactly ideal for a team sporting a 18-35 road record, though I’m not sure how much the travel itself has factored into the A’s play on the road. Given how well they played on the last homestand, an obvious key is whether the A’s bats can stay hot on this three-city journey. They open up against a Seattle team that just traded two-fifths of its starting rotation in Doug Fister and Erik Bedard.

Speaking of travel, the Mariners won’t have too much sympathy for the A’s, given the grind they annually face as a result of being tucked away in the northwest corner of the country. The difference for the Mariners and, say, the teams situated way up in the Northeast is that Seattle’s division opponents are much more spread out, making for longer trips (and more often) throughout the season.

Personally, I’m just happy I remembered my passport for when we cross into Canada.

–Lefty Jordan Norberto, one of the players obtained in the Brad Ziegler trade, joined the A’s today. He knows Conor Jackson (a former teammate with Arizona), Jemile Weeks (an opponent in the minors) and Fautino De Los Santos (who grew up in a neighboring town in the Dominican Republic.). His addition gives the A’s eight relievers – four lefties and four righties – and manager Bob Melvin said he likes the flexibility that gives him for matchups. I’d expect a reliever to be sent down sometime after this series, however. Melvin acknowledged that it’s tough operating with a three-man bench, and since Toronto and Tampa Bay both play on turf, he would like to give some position players a game off to save them wear and tear. He’ll need more depth in order to do that.

–Norberto throws a fastball, slider and change-up, and he said his command has improved a little lately because he’s repeating his delivery better.

–Still no David DeJesus in the lineup, but he swung off a tee today and said his right thumb is feeling better.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Pennington SS, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B, Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 1B, Olivo C, Wells LF, Figgins 3B, Gutierrez CF, Beavan RHP.

4

Wuertz to DL, trade talks warming (updated)

In for Joe Stiglich again tonight …

Friday night, Bob Melvin almost made it through a 13-minute session with the media without talking about an A’s injury. Then he blew it by mentioning on his own that reliever Grant Balfour was iffy to pitch after he was hit in a back with a baseball earlier in the week.

Saturday night, it was back to the status quo — injury talk right out of the blocks. This time, reliever Michael Wuertz. He’s headed to the 15-day DL with what the A’s are terming  right thumb tendinitis, and Jerry “The Human Yo-Yo” Blevins is being recalled once again from Triple-A.

If you saw Wuertz pitch Friday night in giving up four earned runs in the eighth inning, including a three-run homer to Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer, you might have suspected something was wrong. Wuertz has … well, he isn’t sure. It’s not really a thumb injury so much as a wrist condition which affects him almost like carpal tunnel.

He said he started his outing feeling fine, but then the sensation — or lack thereof — kicked in.
 
 “It started toward the end of the outing, once I got over about 20 pitches,” he said. “It’s kind of had to pitch when you can’t feel the ball.”
 
Wuertz had this same issue late last year, got a shot of cortisone but never really knew what it was.
“After the season I got it checked out and now I think we have a better handle on it,” he said. “But I still don’t even know what it is, to be honest with you. It swells up and there’s a little numbing in the fingers. It’s kind of a hard thing to explain.”
Manager Bob Melvin said Wuertz will have another cortisone shot, shut it down 4-5 days and then begin throwing again. Wuertz added that he’ll have the shot in an area more specific to where the problem is originating this time.
   “(The shot last year) wasn’t in the problem area because we didn’t really know what was wrong with it,” he said. “Now that we have it narrowed down to a specific area we know a little bit more. It’s more so in the wrist. It just swells up and gets real tight and stiff.”
Melvin hypothesized that the way Wuertz throws certain pitches may have created the problem.

“The way he torques his slider, it puts a lot of pressure on that area,” the manager said. “He grips the ball back and throws a slider a little bit differently than most. After the first 15 pitches or so, you could see the stuff go down and the velocity on the slider go down. So it’s flared up on him enough that it’s been a little bit of a concern.”

———————

There wasn’t much trade talk involving the A’s as the game neared, but several baseball sources in the East reported during the game that the Boston Red Sox had acquired pitcher Rich Harden for Triple-A first baseman Lars Anderson. Neither team has officially announced it as of yet, but that could happen as soon as the conclusion of tonight’s game.

Josh Willingham was in the lineup Saturday night. He’s at DH, Hideki Matsui’s in LF. Suppose it doesn’t matter where to those who don’t wish to see the A’s biggest power threat traded. Right now, it looks like he just might stay. Even his wife sent a note out on Twitter saying that she’d be surprised if her husband was dealt.

The Pirates were reportedly interested in Willingham and possibly one of the A’s relievers, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that those talks are now dead and that they never really caught fire in the first place. The Braves and Red Sox have also been mentioned regarding Willingham, but nothing serious appears to be in the works.

Willingham going to DH is just a precautionary thing, by the way. He said Friday his Achilles is feeling good, but as Melvin said, “We want to make sure it continues to feel good.”

As for all the other A’s possible trade commodities … nothing worth mentioning. The Rangers acquired reliever Koji Uehara Saturday, which will surely end all the speculation regarding their reported pursuit of Andrew Bailey, which never seemed like a serious possibility. Surprising there haven’t been more discussions involving Coco Crisp, who’s healthy, playing well and would be a terrific addition at the top of some contender’s lineup.

Of course, things could change on a moment’s notice, and the trade deadline isn’t until 4 p.m. Sunday.

———————–

If there was a bright spot to Friday night’s 9-5 loss, it was the performance of right-handed reliever Fautino De Los Santos, who replaced Gio Gonzalez in the sixth and got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam. He had a long two-out battle with the Twins’ Joe Mauer, but finally retired Mauer on a weak fly to left.

Melvin said he really likes what he’s seeing from De Los Santos

“We’re kind of spoon-feeding him into a more prominent role,” he said. “He is definitely a stuff type of guy who has the ability to either be a set-up guy or a closer down the road. You don’t want to throw him all at once and say, `Here’s the seventh inning.” But we’re moving him up and last night was another step in that direction. He comes in bases loaded, one out and gets us out of it. As long as he throws the ball over the plate, he’s going to be good.”

—————–

Melvin doesn’t really have any concrete answers about the woefulness of the A’s defense other than to say it’s a “work in progress.” He did say that after Gonzalez’s throwaway at second base on a potential double play comebacker might prompt some pitchers’ fielding practice soon.

——————-

The lineups:

A’s: 2B Weeks, CF Crisp, LF Matsui, DH Willingham, RF DeJesus, 1B Jackson, SS Pennington, 3B Sizemore, C Powell. P Moscoso

Twins: CF Revere, 2B Plouffe, C Mauer, 1B Cuddyer, RF Kubel, DH Thome, 3B Valencia, LF Young, SS Nishioka. P Blackburn



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Bailey addresses trade rumors, Melvin sidesteps extension talk

In for Joe Stiglich tonight. I sense a pattern here; he’s always taking the fireworks nights off …

It’s rather puzzling that of all the A’s players you would be expecting to get buzz two days before the MLB trading deadline, Andrew Bailey would be far down the list. But right now, he might be the hottest. The word out of Texas is that the Rangers are working the cellphones hard regarding Bailey, along with Padres closer Heath Bell. Another Texas news outlet said the Rangers are looking at A’s relievers without mentioning Bailey specifically.

As Joe noted in his blog post right before this one, you can see both sides of the argument as far as the notion of the A’s trading Bailey. Yes, he’s under A’s control through 2014, he’s making a pittance (although he’ll be due a hefty raise in his first arbitration next year), and — oh yeah — he’s a pretty darned good closer when he’s healthy.

On the other hand, this is a team that believes it can sign or develop a closer whenever it needs one. It’s a team that traded a young closer in Huston Street just a few years ago. Bailey has also had elbow issues, which might prompt the A’s to strike while the iron is hot if the right deal drops in their laps. It’s highly unlikely they’re pushing a Bailey trade, but it makes sense that they’d listen.

I would doubt the A’s will be shipping Bailey somewhere, particularly to a division rival. But you never know, especially if Billy Beane sees a young prospect he covets.

So how does Bailey feel about being mentioned in trade talk?

I think our bullpen is one of our strong points and other teams’ GMs are just doing their due diligence to find the best arms out there,” he said. “It’s a little different, since I’ve only known this organization. So we’ll see what happens.”

Bailey straddled the fence on whether he would welcome a trade. On one hand, he doesn’t want to be excised from what the A’s may be building. On the other hand, if he could play with a contender now …

“I love this organization,” he said. “Obviously, the name of the game is winning and I want to be part of that. We have a lot of young talent and something to build around. But maybe go somewhere and have an opportunity to win now would be cool as well.”

Bailey said he’s only heard what he’s read on Twitter and elsewhere online, so he’s not getting too nervous yet.

“Right now, it’s all media speculation, I assume,” he said. “I haven’t heard one thing from the organization or my agent.”

——

Get ready for the every-day-or-so update on Bob Melvin’s status as manager beyond this year. The A’s are 20-22 under Melvin (they’d be .500 without yesterday’s bullpen abomination) and seem to have responded to his leadership. Then again, Oakland actually started the season 22-20 under Bob Geren — their high-water mark over .500 this year — so he hasn’t exactly moved the needle that dramatically yet.

Whatever, this is what Melvin had to say about his situation in Oakland and whether the A’s have approached him about a long-term deal.

“They have not,” he said. “When I came in here, I came on an interim basis and that’s where I’m at.”

Would he like to receive an extension before year’s end?

“I don’t know that it’s possible,” he said. “I think there’s been some scenarios before where an interim manager has been extended, but I think the hiring process is in part to do with where I am right now. Nothing’s been promised to me and I take it day to day, and that hasn’t changed since the first day I’ve been here. I came in under those terms, so obviously, I’m fine with that.”

But isn’t it something Melvin would want resolved quickly once the season was over?

“Sure,” he said. “I think in my position, anybody would like to be considered the answer long-term. I’d like to be here long-term and they know that.”

—————

Grant Balfour was hit in the small of the back by a baseball during batting practice earlier in the week. Melvin said he had him up in the bullpen during Thursday’s game and he wasn’t feeling very good. He’s hoping Balfour will be available tonight, but wasn’t sure before the game.

———-

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s: 2B Weeks, CF Crisp, DH Matsui, LF Willingham, 1B Jackson, RF DeJesus, 3B Sizemore, C Suzuki, SS Pennington. P Gonzalez

Twins:  CF Revere, 2B Plouffe, 1B Mauer, RF Cuddyer, DH Kubel, LF Young, 3B Hughes, SS Tolbert, C Butera. P Liriano

“They have not

8

Thoughts on Andrew Bailey trade talk

The rumor mill is cranking up regarding the Texas Rangers’ interest in A’s closer Andrew Bailey. Brady Tinker of the Dallas-based DFW Sports Beat mentions Bailey specifically as someone the Rangers are pursuing, while Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News adds that Texas is engaged in talks with the A’s about relievers, without mentioning a specific name.

I have heard nothing  to suggest a Bailey-to-Texas deal is in the works, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the A’s would trade him. There’s two ways to look at this decision. On one hand, Bailey is a two-time All-Star who is still affordable and under team control through 2014 (he is arbitration-eligible after this season, but won’t reach free agency until after the ’14 season). The A’s have incentive to hold on to this guy and feel secure about the ninth inning for the next three seasons. But I’d also argue that Bailey’s presence is not going to make or break the A’s chances to be a contender in 2012. This team will need offensive upgrades (let’s assume Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and other veterans won’t be back) to be ready to challenge for the division title. Acquiring (or grooming) capable closers has been an easier task for the A’s than landing impact hitters . A young, affordable and proven closer such as Bailey is attractive to Texas for obvious reasons, and Bailey could fetch a lot in a deal. Or at least the A’s should demand a lot and see if the Rangers bite.

 What would the A’s want in return? This is purely speculation, but I could see them targeting shortstop Jurickson Profar. He’s just 18, playing for low Single-A Hickory (N.C.), so he’s not close to big league-ready. But the A’s need a long-term answer at shortstop (that’s evident by the Grant Green-in-center field experiment), and Profar is ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers’ No. 2 prospect.  I’m told Texas isn’t eager to part with him, but that’s the caliber of player the A’s should want as the centerpiece of such a package.

A’s general manager Billy Beane says he doesn’t feel the need to make any trades by Sunday’s deadline. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean he won’t pull the trigger if he gets the right offer. Again, all speculation on my part, but interesting to ponder …

Any thoughts?

6

Crisp gets a day off, plus a little Matsui discussion

Slow news morning for the A’s … Coco Crisp is getting a day off, with Ryan Sweeney playing center field after his big night Wednesday.

–Hideki Matsui was a big topic in Bob Melvin’s media session, no surprise considering how he’s hitting. I asked Melvin about whether he thinks the outfield time that Matsui is getting might be benefitting him on the offensive side. Melvin said he definitely thinks that’s the case, and that Matsui told him after interleague play ended that he’d like to continue playing some defense in addition to serving as DH.

“I think it helps with his focus,” Melvin said. “He’s so in tuned to the game, you’re almost not using the full potential of him by just DH’ing him.”

Today’s lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney CF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B; Harden RHP.

Rays — Jennings LF, Damon DH, Longoria 3B, Zobrist 2B, Kotchman 1B, Upton CF, Joyce RF, Chirinos C, Rodriguez SS; Davis RHP.

3

A’s option reliever Joey Devine to minors, recall Trystan Magnuson

The A’s optioned reliever Joey Devine to the minors today and recalled right-hander Trystan Magnuson to take his place. Obviously, they think Devine’s recent struggles weren’t just about him losing his grip on the baseball. A’s manager Bob Melvin pointed to Devine’s past three outings, when Devine allowed four earned runs and four walks combined against Detroit and the New York Yankees. “Joey was struggling with his command, and in his role, being the seventh inning guy, it’s a difficult one to struggle with your command in,” Melvin said. “… We just felt like it was best to work on things in the minor leagues and get his command back there.”

Devine unintentionally threw pitches behind hitters on Friday and Sunday against the Yankees, saying he was having trouble gripping the ball because of the extreme humidity. He didn’t appear to have much confidence in his fastball Sunday. I lost track of how many sliders he threw in a row at one point, and when a guy possesses a mid-90’s fastball, you don’t want him shying away from it.

Magnuson impressed the A’s with 3 1/3 scoreless innings against Florida on June 30, but then he had to be sent down because the A’s needed a fresh arm for the next day. He told me he’s been working on his split-fingered fastball to use as another weapon against lefties.

Here’s your lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney RF, Pennington SS, Sizemore 3B, Powell C; Cahill RHP.

Rays: Jennings CF, Damon DH, Zobrist 2B, Longoria 3B, Kotchman 1B, Joyce RF, Shoppach C, Fuld LF, Rodriguez SS; Shields RHP.

2

A’s need strong start from McCarthy; Barton has torn labrum in shoulder

The A’s are looking for a strong pitching performance to support the impressive hitting they’ve been getting. … Wait, did I just write that? It’s true. Oakland suddenly is a team swinging the bats well, while the starting pitchers have struggled a bit. The starters have tossed fewer than six innings in each of the last six games and are 1-3 with an 11.13 ERA over that time. Overall, the pitching staff has a 5.30 ERA over the last 14 games. Brandon McCarthy takes the hill tonight trying to turn things around. The bullpen could certainly use some rest …

–First baseman Daric Barton confirmed to me that he has a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder, and that he’s visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum in Southern California on Wednesday. Surgery is a definite possibility, and that would all but certainly end Barton’s season. Shortstop Cliff Pennington had a 5-6 month recovery period when he had a labrum tear repaired on his left (non-throwing) shoulder last offseason.

Barton said he originally hurt his shoulder diving back into second base during the A’s series at Minnesota in early April, so it’s something that he’s been dealing with all season and perhaps is partly to blame for his struggles. He hit .212 with no homers and 21 RBIs with the A’s and got demoted to the minors June 22. Since then, he’d hit just .197 in 17 games with Triple-A Sacramento.

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Willingham DH, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Sizemore 3B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Rays – Jennings LF, Damon DH, Zobrist 2B, Longoria 3B, Kotchman 1B, Upton CF, Joyce RF, Chirinos C, Rodriguez SS; Price LHP.