Sonny Gray could help A’s to a sunnier future soon

In for Joe Stiglich tonight …

I’ve been spending the last few hours trying to think of some famous Sonnys. Tough. Sonny Bono. Sonny Barger. Sonny Boy Williamson. A lot of great saxophonists, for some reason: Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss. One of the Godfather’s bullet-riddled offspring, of course, Sonny Corleone.

In sport, we’ve had a heavyweight champ named Sonny, Sonny Liston. A Hall of Fame quarterback, too, Sonny Jurgensen, and here’s one A’s PR man Bob Rose pulled out of his deep recesses – former Washington QB Sonny Sixkiller, one of the great names in the history of sports. Longtime Warriors fans will also remember swift swingman Sonny Parker.

But it’s a rare name in baseball. In fact, the last two major leaguers of note who went by Sonny are from the 1960s: former Atlanta shortstop Sonny Jackson and one-time Cleveland pitcher Sonny Siebert. Siebert retired in 1975, and at least in my Baseball Reference search, nobody since.

Enter Sonny Gray, the A’s top draft pick, who could end the drought sooner than later. The 18th overall selection, the right-handed pitcher not only signed Monday, Oakland immediately put him on  the fast track. He’ll head to the Rookie League in Arizona Tuesday, but he’ll only be there for a week or two to get his arm ready. Then he’ll make a big leap to Double-A Midland.

Gray, 21, was 12-3 with a 2.12 ERA and .200 opponents batting average in 18 games, all starts, for Vanderbilt University this year, including two appearances in the 2011 College World Series.  In 119.0 innings, the junior struck out 124 and walked 46 while allowing just four home runs.

Gray said there was never any doubt he was going to sign with Oakland.

“One of the reasons I signed so soon is I’m going to go to Midland probably around Aug. 5-6 and stay there for the rest of the season,” he said. ”I thought it was a great opportunity. (The A’s) came up with the proposal to go to Midland and we jumped on it. Going to Double-A is exciting. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s something I’m looking forward to.
Gray arrived in the East Bay Sunday, took a physical Monday morning and signed Monday afternoon. He suited up at O.co Coliseum before Monday night’s game against Tampa Bay and worked out on the field with the major-league team. He’s had to deal with ribbing throughout his baseball career about his name — he’s aware it’s an oxymoron — but he’s used to it.
In college, going around from town to town, I kind of got yelled at a lot for that,” he said. :Some of the Oakland guys were even asking me, `What’s your real name?’

A’s go for rare series victory over Yankees

The temperature has taken a small dip today, and there’s even a chance of rain for the A’s-Yankees series finale ….

The A’s would take the series with a victory, and it would be significant. They’ve dropped nine straight series to the Yankees, an Oakland record for most consecutive series lost against any team.

The morning’s news …

–Tyson Ross will make a rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento today, throwing 65-70 pitches. His role once he’s activated from the DL is TBA (starting or relieving?), and I’d think the decision is tied to A) how Guillermo Moscoso continues performing in the rotation, and B) which pitchers (if any) are dealt before the trade deadline. If Moscoso has another shaky outing or two, perhaps the A’s swap in Ross for that rotation spot. I can’t see Ross replacing any of the current relievers unless someone is traded.  He could also join Sacramento’s rotation.

–Scott Sizemore gets a day off, with Eric Sogard playing third and batting ninth. Cliff Pennington, 11 for 27 over his past seven games, moves up to eighth.

–Interesting note from Elias: Hideki Matsui has hit 32 percent of his major league home runs (54 of 169) off left-handed pitchers. That’s the highest percentage among the 62 left-handed hitters with 50 or more career homers.

The lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Suzuki C, Pennington SS, Sogard 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Yankees — Jeter DH, Granderson CF, Teixeira 1B, Cano 2B, Swisher RF, Martin C, Jones LF, Nunez SS, Laird 3B; Colon RHP.


Will the daylight change A’s luck against Yankees?

Afternoon ball at Yankee Stadium today … The A’s don’t get many Saturday ‘day’ games on the road, as lots of teams like playing their Saturday contests at night. Maybe the earlier start is advantageous for the A’s. The quicker they flush out Friday night’s blowout loss, the better.

A’s manager Bob Melvin acknowledged this morning that this 11-game losing streak to the Yankees is probably taking a mental toll on his team. “Typically, when you’ve lost that many games, you can’t help but think about it,” Melvin said. “Every game you don’t win, the questions arise, and you have to think about having answers for them.”

–With Coco Crisp getting a day off, Cliff Pennington is hitting second. Hideki Matsui is back in the No. 3 spot and Josh Willingham is hitting cleanup. Melvin says he flip-flopped his 3-4 combo to keep the left/right variation throughout the batting order.

–Joey Devine’s brief but eventful outing last night was all over the highlights shows, thanks to his wayward pitch that went behind Brandon Laird. Both Devine and Melvin maintain that Devine’s primary problem Friday was the constant sweat he had on his hands that kept him from getting a good grip on the ball. “Every throw it was sweat dripping down to the finger tips,” Devine said.

That’s potentially a problem, since pitching in humid weather is a fact of life for major leaguers, especially on the East Coast. “Hopefully I can make an adjustment and get back out there and have a better outing,” Devine said. As part of that adjustment, he’s wearing a lotion on his arm today called Sweat Shield, which is supposed to close his pores and make him sweat less. Melvin said he wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Devine as his regular seventh-inning reliever, but Melvin also said: “Everybody is pitching in the same conditions, so he’s going to have to find ways to combat that.”

The A’s are having a hard enough time handling the Yankees. They don’t need perspiration working against them too …

The lineups:

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

Yankees – Gardner LF, Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Teixeira 1B, Cano DH, Swisher RF, Martin C, Nunez 2B, Laird 3B; Burnett RHP.


A’s try to beat the heat (and the Yankees)

It’s a scorcher at Yankee Stadium this evening. It’s just past 6:30 p.m., and weather.com lists the temperature at 101 degrees, with a heat index of 109  (factoring in the humidity). Several A’s players are saying this is some of the worst weather they’ve experienced as far as temperature and humidity combined. No surprise the A’s cut batting practice a bit short. The Yankees didn’t hit outdoors at all …

–The lineups, w/Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore  back in action:

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

Yankees: Gardner LF, Jeter SS, Granderson CF, Teixeira DH, Cano 2B, Swisher RF, Posada 1B, Nunez 3B, Cervelli C; Hughes RHP.

–A’s manager Bob Melvin said a pitcher’s energy and stuff can fade quickly in this weather, so keep an eye on how Trevor Cahill fares as the innings tick away. Cahill obviously wants to turn his luck around against the Yanks. Two hitters in particular that he must bear down on: Robinson Cano (4 for 9, 1 HR off him lifetime) and Mark Teixeira (4 for 8, 2 HRs). No stats jump off the page as far as A’s hitters vs. Phil Hughes, the Yankees starter. The body of work is pretty small for everybody in the lineup.

–There was no Eric Chavez reunion with his old teammates today: The former Athletic is down in Tampa for a rehab assignment. He’s close to returning from a bone bruise in his left foot that landed him on the 60-day DL back in May.

–If you get to New York City and visit Little Italy, I recommend lunch at Cafe Napoli. Great daily specials … order the chicken piccata!


A’s playing musical chairs in the infield vs. Tigers

It’s the thinnest of benches for the A’s tonight. Jemile Weeks is sitting out after fouling a ball off his right instep last night. Scott Sizemore, as expected, won’t play after taking a pitch in the jaw area last night.  With the A’s carrying just three bench players (and eight pitchers), that leaves Ryan Sweeney as the only healthy position player available off the bench for manager Bob Melvin.

Conor Jackson draws the start at third, Eric Sogard is playing second and backup catcher Landon Powell is playing first. Sogard has played lots of second base in his career, so it would seem the bigger concerns are Jackson and Powell on the corners. Both took extra work before the game, but keep an eye on whether the Tigers try laying down some bunts early on. Powell appeared in six games at first base in 2009 (four starts) and entered one game at first as a substitute last season.  He’s taken grounders  this season as a way to stay ready. Jackson has made a couple of appearances at third this season, but he’s much more comfortable at first and in the outfield.

Melvin said he’s hopeful that Weeks and Sizemore both will return for Friday’s series opener against the Yankees (Sizemore shares that hope). Melvin considered Weeks available in a pinch tonight. Sizemore, who took a fastball off the jaw and neck, said his neck is the bigger issue right now. When he simulates standing at the plate, he can’t turn his head all the way toward the pitcher. But Melvin noted that Sizemore’s face was less swollen than last night.

More updates …

–Right-hander Tyson Ross will test his sore shoulder with a bullpen session Friday in Sacramento.

–It was 95 degrees at first pitch, which makes the Christmas theme going on tonight at Comerica Park all the more odd. I saw a big Christmas float outside the stadium that said “Season’s Greetings”, and then heard “White Christmas” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” playing during batting practice. Not sure what that’s all about, but “roasting” at least is appropriate for today …

The lineups:

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

Tigers — Jackson CF, Boesch LF, Ordonez RF, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Guillen 2B, Avila C, Kelly 3B, Santiago SS; Below LHP.


Guillermo Moscoso makes his return for A’s; Josh Willingham not in lineup

Think back to the A’s starting rotation candidates during spring training … It figured Rich Harden might eventually get healthy and contribute for the big league club. Josh Outman, too.  But who would have thought Guillermo Moscoso would play such an important role for the A’s in 2011? The right-hander makes his return tonight against Detroit, after being sent to Triple-A for a spot start as the A’s re-worked their rotation over the All-Star break. Moscoso takes a 2.16 ERA into the game in 10 appearances (eight starts), and he’s provided stability as injuries ravaged the starting staff. His outing will be key in setting the tone for the A’s on this five-game road trip through Detroit and New York …

–Josh Willingham is out of the lineup tonight, with Ryan Sweeney playing left field and Hideki Matsui serving as DH. A’s manager Bob Melvin is trying to be cautious with Willingham in the aftermath of his strained left Achilles. Melvin wanted to get Willingham back-to-back days off (including Monday’s off-day) and said that Willingham is likely to play all four remaining games of the trip.

–Tyson Ross came out of his throwing session well over the weekend and is likely to throw off the mound sometime this week before starting in a minor league game. Ross said during the last homestand that his oblique injury is healed, and now he’s trying to work through the soreness in his right shoulder.

–Coco Crisp will get a rest at some point this week, according to Melvin. Crisp was just 3 for 16 on the last homestand. Another player who I’m guessing will get a break soon — Jemile Weeks. He has started 35 straight games at second base since being called up. Unlike Crisp, Weeks is rolling at the plate, so it’s tough to take him out right now. He went 9 for 16 on the last homestand.

–Reliever Jerry Blevins was optioned to Triple-A to clear a spot for Moscoso. No big surprise there …

Tonight’s lineups:

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

Tigers — Jackson CF, Boesch LF, Ordonez RF, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Peralta SS, Guillen 2B, Avila C, Inge 3B; Porcello RHP.


Remembering the early Hammer, a pitch for Charlie O. and oh yeah, an A’s game

In for Joe Stiglich on 80s Day at the O.co Coliseum. Joe was probably playing with Hot Wheels back in those days …

As for me, I’m probably one of the few people around anymore who remembers Hammer in his Oakland A’s heyday, when he was owner Charles O. Finley’s “eyes and ears” around the ballpark for the much of the 1970s. Fresh out of college and working for the Hayward Daily Review, I did some backup work on the A’s in 1977 and 1978 (as I’m still doing now, quite amazingly) when Hammer was regularly in the press box during games. He would participate and sometimes organize betting pools with the sportswriters of the day – the great Ron Bergman of  the Tribune, Glenn Schwarz of Examiner, Herb Michelson of the Sacramento Bee and others. Amazingly, Hammer hustled his way to victories in most of those pools, particularly attendance pools where so many of us believed young Stanley Burrell was privy to inside information on the crowd counts. Hey, it didn’t really matter. Hammer kept us entertained during a lean time for the A’s.

I asked Hammer about those pools Sunday and he remembered them well.

“We had the first-hit pool and the attendance pool and I used to tear you journalists up,” he said. “It was fun times. You could look and tell, you watch enough ballgames, you could estimate the crowds pretty good.”

But what about the details on the inside info?

“When you have no story, create one,” he said. “Such is the life of a writer.”

Funny thing, the 80s really weren’t Hammer’s decade. He was a young celebrity with the A’s in the 1970s, but left the scene following the 1980 ownership change. When he emerged as a music star, he didn’t really hit it big until 1990, when his monster hit “U Can’t Touch This” became the first rap single to hit the top 10 Billboard charts.

Hey, whatever works if you’re the A’s. The Hammer Bobblehead Day was well attended, as it should be for a true local hero. Whether you’re  a Hammer fan or not, you have to respect his legacy. The hardest part is knowing that next year, he’ll turn 50 years old. Remembering the days when he was 15-16 years old, that makes me feel like a true dinosaur.

There is little question Hammer’s early exposure to Finley helped him in his later career in the music biz, because he learned some valuable lessons in self-promotion. He didn’t deny it.

“I think some of the biggest things was being around Mr. Finley himself, the architect,” he said. “There’s one game that’s played on the field, but there’s another game that is worked out upstairs that allows for the product and the game to happen the way it does. The game was quote-unquote not as entertaining as the marketing genius Mr. Finley would like, so he would say, `Hey, let’s have a mechanical rabbit to pop out of the ground to give the umpire the balls. That’ll make the kids laugh, that’ll make everybody happy. If the game is too masculine, let’s get ball girls instead of ball boys, put a beautiful young girls out there.”

Hammer ticked off several other Finley innovations, then summed them up by saying, “The genius of Charles O. Finley, and being exposed to that year-in, year-out, from the time I’m basically 9 or 10 years old until I’m 18, played a tremendous part, which is why I took him on Oprah Winfrey and thanked him on Oprah, thank God before he passed away.”

Hammer thinks unequivocally Finley should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Absolutely, but not as somebody’s favorite, just on facts,” he said. “You won’t be doing Mr. Finley a favor, you’ll just be doing what he earned. You’re talking about a man who would acquire talent, curate talent, market and promote the team and then actually win division and world championships and let you know it wasn’t an accident by doing it consecutively, year in and year out.”

Tough to disagree. What’s remarkable is that Finley has no real memorial at the Coliseum, and he’s not in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, either. He was directly responsible for three of the five A’s retired numbers. He hired the late Dick Williams, also in the Hall. He drafted Rickey Henderson for the next generation of A’s fans.

As I finish this, the A’s are up 8-0 in the top of the third. Now that’s a throwback to the ’80s, particularly the latter part of the decade!


Bullpen depth key for A’s in doubleheader

A’s manager Bob Melvin could sure use a long outing from Trevor Cahill in today’s doubleheader opener. Six relievers pitched last night, and while most could probably come back and pitch in one game, how many can pitch in both today? Keep an eye on the A’s bullpen situation as the game(s) unfold. Brian Fuentes and Fautino De Los Santos were the only two relievers not to throw Friday night.

Joey Devine said he feels better after leaving Friday’s game with back spasms. He was set to throw before the game to gauge whether he can pitch, and he was hopeful of being available for the second game. Devine said he’s had back spasms before (most recently in early April), and that it’s typically a 24-to-48 hour thing. That would seem to leave him doubtful for today, but Melvin is hopeful of having Devine for one of the games.

Triple-A Sacramento is playing at home tonight and Josh Outman is slated to start. In a real pinch, the A’s could promote Outman and get him here in time for the nightcap.

–Melvin said Josh Willingham will serve as DH in both games, figuring that’s the only way Willingham could play in both. The A’s are still being conservative with how they use Willingham considering his recent Achilles injury. Hideki Matsui is playing left field in the first game and is likely to sit the second.

Lineups for first game:

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

Angels – Aybar SS, Hunter RF, Abreu DH, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 2B, Trumbo 1B, Mathis C, Trout CF; Weaver RHP.


Chris Carter sent down, Eric Sogard called up; Grant Green debuts in center field for Double-A Midland

The second half of the season appears a great time for the A’s to get their top young prospects some major league exposure. But on the first day after the All-Star break, the A’s sent Chris Carter  the other direction, optioning the first baseman to Triple-A Sacramento and recalling middle infielder Eric Sogard. It’s a clear sign that the A’s brass doesn’t regard Carter as part of the solution for the team’s current offensive woes. At this point, you have to wonder where Carter fits into the A’s thoughts at all. He hit .133 with no RBIs in 10 games during his call-up and hardly distinguished himself with the glove.

I’ve been of the opinion that the A’s need to draw a conclusion on Carter by season’s end – is he a part of this team’s future or is it time to look for another young 1B/DH type? Perhaps the A’s have already made that decision. Manager Bob Melvin was careful to point out Carter’s biggest strength. “One of the attributes he has that we don’t have a whole lot of here is power.” But Melvin’s other comments were more telling. “I think confidence plays in it for him, and he’s gonna have to find a way to believe in himself,” Melvin said.

–Sogard has played strictly shortstop all season for Sacramento, but Melvin said he’ll get work at second, short and third. If he doesn’t debut in Saturday’s doubleheader, he will surely play Sunday. Melvin said Cliff Pennington may play shortstop in both games tomorrow and get Sunday off.

–A noteworthy development at Double-A Midland: Shortstop Grant Green, the A’s top prospect according to Baseball America, played center field for the first time Friday night. He’ll get more time there in the future. “We’re going to explore it,” general manager Billy Beane said. “We think it’s something he could take to very well. It’s a big void in the organization right now. We’ve thought his bat would get him to the big leagues quicker than his glove. It’s a way to merge the two and address an organizational need.” Green’s defense has been rough at shortstop since being drafted in the first round out of USC in 2009. He’s made 58 errors since the start of the 2010 season.

Tonight’s lineups:

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

Angels – Aybar SS, Hunter RF, Abreu DH, Wells LF, Kendrick 2B, Callaspo 3B, Trumbo 1B, Mathis C; Trout CF; Haren RHP.


Starting rotation plans and other pregame A’s notes

This weekend certainly hasn’t gone according to plan for the A’s, and it’s doubtful how much salvaging a win today will mean in the big picture. But certainly, the A’s need something positive to draw on as they disperse for the All-Star break. Here’s the pregame news coming out of the clubhouse:

–The starting rotation coming out of the break will go Brandon McCarthy against the Angels on Friday, Rich Harden and Trevor Cahill in Saturday’s doubleheader and Gio Gonzalez on Sunday. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, but the A’s won’t need that fifth starter until July 19 at Detroit, thanks to off-days. Guillermo Moscoso remains the favorite to return to the big league rotation and make that start. Tyson Ross (strained oblique) is still an option, but he’s struggled in two rehab starts with Triple-A Sacramento, giving up 13 hits and eight runs in just 5 1/3 innings. Ross is pitching for Single-A Stockton today (Sacramento is off). “You want a guy to have some success (in a rehab start), and I know he does as well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.

With this setup, Harden will get eight days’ rest before his next start, as Melvin wants to make sure the right-hander is fresh and healthy (there’s no indication that Harden isn’t healthy). Trevor Cahill will get one extra day of rest for each of his next two starts (thanks to off-days), an idea Melvin also prefers.

–It’s no surprise that Conor Jackson isn’t in today’s lineup after the shot he took at first base last night from Elvis Andrus. Jackson said he’s “pretty sore in a bunch of places,” including his ribs. “I’ve never had a rib issue so I don’t know what to expect here,” Jackson said. “They’re not broken, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms. It’s just like I took a Mike Tyson jab.”

I’ve never been punched by Tyson, but I imagine it can’t feel too good.

–Hideki Matsui is also out of the lineup, with Chris Carter as DH and Adam Rosales getting a rare start at first base. Melvin said he simply wanted to get Matsui a little extra rest with the All-Star break beginning Monday, and that Matsui will return to the No. 3 spot on Friday against the Angels. “He’ll never say it, but I really do feel like I extended him too much by playing him in the outfield a lot,” Melvin said. “He really wasn’t conditioned for it, but I needed him so badly.”

After the break, Melvin envisions Matsui drawing maybe two starts a week in left to allow Willingham to DH and get a bit of  rest.

Today’s lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, DeJesus RF, Crisp CF, Willingham LF, Sizemore 3B, Carter DH, Suzuki C, Rosales 1B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Rangers –Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton CF, Beltre 3B, Young DH, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Napoli C, Murphy LF; Harrison LHP.