A’s look to turn tide against Rangers

Tonight’s lineups, as the A’s try to find the win column in Arlington:

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

Rangers — Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS , Hamilton LF, Beltre DH, Young 3B, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Torrealba C, Chavez CF, Lewis RHP.

–This marks the second straight game that Josh Willingham serves as DH. He told me before batting practice that he’s feeling fine physically, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said Willingham would be back in left field Sunday.

–Notable stats involving tonight’s starting pitchers: Adrian Beltre is 6 for 17 (.353) with one homer lifetime against the A’s Brandon McCarthy. Hideki Matsui, who has been stuck on 499 career professional homers for 18 games now, is 6 for 16 (.375) with two homers against the Rangers’ Colby Lewis.


Josh Willingham, Grant Balfour return from DL; Guillermo Moscoso optioned to minors; Coco Crisp batting second vs. Rangers

There was lots of pregame activity for the A’s today. Let’s get to it …

–Josh Willingham and Grant Balfour were both activated from the DL, with pitchers Guillermo Moscoso and Graham Godfrey being optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. Yes, it’s awkward timing for Moscoso to go down given the gem he threw Wednesday. But there’s a plan behind this: The A’s want all the bullpen reinforcements they can have for this four-game series in homer-happy Rangers Ballpark. Moscoso would have been unavailable all weekend. “They need fresh arms,” Moscoso said. He also said he’s been told that he’ll pitch July 14 for Triple-A Sacramento, and that – tentatively – the plan is for him to return to the major league rotation July 19 and start at Detroit. Moscoso knows nothing is set in stone. A’s manager Bob Melvin confirmed the A’s are eyeing July 19 for Moscoso’s return to the rotation. That’s no guarantee, but Melvin acknowledged Moscoso is the front runner. “You guys have seen him pitch, he deserves to be a front runner,” Melvin said. That seems to indicate the A’s might be eyeing Tyson Ross as a reliever when he gets healthy, assuming Ross rejoins the major league roster when he comes off the DL.

The A’s want Godfrey to stretch back out again and be ready if he’s needed as a starter or long reliever.

–The lineups:

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

Rangers: Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton LF, Beltre 3B, Young DH, Cruz RF, Moreland 1B, Napoli C, Chavez CF; Holland LHP.

–Melvin dropped the hot-hitting Scott Sizemore from second to fifth, keeps Weeks as his leadoff man and slots Crisp right behind Weeks, giving the A’s a speedy combo atop the lineup. “Coco can hit anywhere in lineup, and a I appreciate what he did in the ‘3’ hole when he was there,” Melvin said. “I want him to be able to swing. I don’t want him to go up there and have to take all the time, and in the first spot you gotta be a little more selective. He’s a smart hitter, and when a hole is open between first and second he’s able to pull the ball and get his hands over. He’s got a pretty good awareness of what he needs to do every at-bat and I want him to be able to go up there  and swing.”

–Melvin said he plans to give Matsui a day off Friday, and thinks some of Matsui’s struggles might be because he’s a little worn down. (Willingham will DH on Friday). You’ll also notice Chris Carter remains in the lineup at first base against the lefty Derek Holland. “With our lack of production here recently, he’s a guy we look to produce for us. You gotta stick with some guys,” Melvin said.


Getaway day for the A’s

Ben Enos filling in for Joe Stiglich today

Another warm one on tap here in Oakland, and the bags were already being lined up outside in preparation for the trip to Texas tonight.

First off, here are today’s lineups:

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

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Kennedy DH, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Peguero LF, Gutierrez CF, Bard C, Figgins 3B. Vargas P.

Not a ton to report in terms of pregame news today. Manager Bob Melvin said Grant Balfour is on track to come off the disabled list tomorrow in Texas as scheduled. The right-hander threw for Sacramento last night in his final rehab appearance and allowed a run on two hits and a walk in one inning.

Tyson Ross made the start for the Rivercats last night and didn’t have the cleanest outing. He threw just 3 1/3 innings, allowed seven hits and four earned runs. He struck out four and walked two. Melvin said the biggest thing was Ross got his pitch count up, and the right-hander had to come out in the fourth inning after 71 pitches. Melvin also said that Ross will throw another rehab appearance, likely in five days. With the way the minor-league calendars look, I’m guessing that’ll be in Stockton.

Final piece of injury news is Melvin said OF Josh Willingham had another positive day yesterday and that the team hopes to have an answer on his status in Texas. Nothing definitive on that yet.


Jemile Weeks, Gio Gonzalez earn honors; Willingham might play vs. Texas Rangers

Here’s the latest on another very warm day at the Coliseum …

A couple of individual awards came the A’s way Tuesday, as second baseman Jemile Weeks was named the American League’s co-Rookie of the Month along with Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned AL co-Player of the Week honors with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. It’s the sixth time an A’s player has earned Rookie of the Month, but Weeks is just the second  position player to do it. Shortstop Bobby Crosby was honored in June 2004.

It’s impressive in that this truly was Weeks’ first month in the major leagues. He’s hitting .299 with 13 runs and six stolen bases in 25 games since being called up June 7, providing a jolt of excitement immediately upon his arrival. But I’ll be interested to see what happens with him once cleanup man Josh Willingham returns from the DL. I would think Hideki Matsui goes back to the No. 3 spot, Coco Crisp returns to leadoff and Weeks might drop back down to the No. 9 spot. I think that makes for an overall stronger batting order. Where would you like to see Weeks hit once Willingham comes back? …

–Speaking of Willingham, he’s been running for the past couple days and is doing well enough that both he and manager Bob Melvin think he could return sometime during the four-game series at Texas that begins Thursday. “Cautiously optimistic” is how Melvin characterized things. Willingham said the key is how his strained Achilles responds AFTER he’s done running. That’s when he still experiences problems. “If it continues to get better, I’ll play in Texas,” he said.

–Check out this all-encompassing review of the Oakland Coliseum, courtesy of www.stadiumjourney.com. Do you agree with the points made? Disagree? Feel free to share …

The lineups:

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

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Guiterrez CF, Halman RF; Hernandez RHP.


A’s begin important AL West stretch vs. Mariners

Here’s the lineups for the opener of the A’s three-game series against the Mariners:

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

Sea – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Cust DH, Halman CF, Peguero LF, Bard C; Pineda RHP.

–Lost in the hoopla of Gio Gonzalez’s All-Star selection Sunday: The A’s are beginning a block of 11 straight games against the rest of the AL West – three against Seattle, four at Texas, and four against the Angels coming out of the All-Star break. If they’re going to jump back in the division race, the opportunity presents itself over this stretch. And it’s safe to say these 11 games will largely dictate how the A’s operate regarding the trade deadline. If they’re in second or third place and 4-5 games out of first, maybe they keep their team intact. If they lose ground from where they’re at right now (6 games out), I’d expect to see some veterans shipped out.

Typically, we would say the Mariners offer the softest test of the three division opponents. But Seattle has played better than people expected, and the A’s don’t catch a break, facing a 1-2 pitching combo of Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in the first two games. Can the A’s, who swung the bats so well Sunday, find a way to break through against these guys?

–Left fielder Josh Willingham (strained Achilles) had a “good day” yesterday, according to manager Bob Melvin. Still no word on when Willingham might come off the DL, but when he does come back, Melvin said he plans to alternate Willingham and Hideki Matsui at the left field/DH spots. It makes sense to limit Willingham’s activity early on, and Matsui has proven a very capable outfielder.

–Reliever Grant Balfour (strained right oblique) is confident he’ll be ready to return from the DL on Thursday when he’s eligible. He threw 38 pitches off the mound Sunday and he’s slated to throw one inning for Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday at Fresno. “I’m ready to go,” Balfour said. “I hate being out and I tried to get ready as quick as I could.”
Melvin said he’s eager to get Balfour back in his eighth-inning role. He likes Joey Devine and Brian Fuentes for the seventh, and Balfour in the eighth setting up for Andrew Bailey.

–I saw Gio Gonzalez trying on his All-Star hat – basically the A’s hat (gold bill) with the All-Star emblem on it. He’ll start Friday against Texas and then would be available on three days’ rest for the July 12 All-Star Game. “I think an inning would be all right on three days’ rest,” Melvin said.


Outman’s demotion and how the A’s starting rotation shakes out

A quick, non-All Star Game related update …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin said Josh Outman’s demotion was merely a numbers’ game, and that he told Outman as much. It’s not too surprising that Outman is the odd man out of the six starters that were in the A’s mix. He’s battled a bit of arm fatigue, still feeling the effects of a long layoff from Tommy John surgery. I’d expect to see him back at some point this season. He was a very solid fill-in with all the rotation injuries.

So the rotation going into the All-Star break: Gio Gonzalez today, followed by Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill and Guillermo Moscoso against Seattle; Rich Harden, Gonzalez, McCarthy and Cahill against the Rangers. It will be interesting once Tyson Ross is ready to return from the DL. Does he bump someone in the rotation? Join the bullpen? Stay in the minors?

Melvin said he didn’t want to speculate about whether Ross would rejoin the rotation after the break. “I’m not going to go there as far as whether he’ll start or relieve.  He can do both.” That was interesting to hear because Melvin wasn’t directly asked about Ross as a bullpen option …

Today’s lineups, w/Cliff Pennington back down in the No. 9 spot for the first time in a while.

A’s –Weeks 2B, Sizemore 3B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Carter DH, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Powell C, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Diamondbacks: Bloomquist LF, Johnson 2B, Upton RF, Young CF, Drew SS, Pena DH, Nady 1B, Roberts 3B, Blanco C; Kennedy RHP.


Gio Gonzalez named as Oakland A’s lone All-Star

A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez was named to his first All-Star team Sunday, a testament to the transformation he’s made from an erratic young talent to a polished major leaguer.

Gonzalez, 25, was expected to be the lone Athletic chosen for the July 12 showcase, and indeed he was when American and National League rosters were revealed. Gonzalez was one of five pitchers that Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, the AL manager, hand-picked for the squad.

Fan voting determined the starters, and player votes and managers’ picks filled out the reserve players and pitchers.

“It’s awesome,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He works so hard. Everybody knew he had the talent, but to see him put it together is awesome. He deserved it, well deserved for sure.”

Gonzalez wasn’t expected to be available for comment until after the game because he’s pitching Sunday. He’s also slated to pitch Friday against Texas, which would make him available to pitch in the All-Star Game on three days’ rest.

“He’s having an outstanding year,” Washington said. “He’s a tough competitor. We face him enough. And he gives me a nasty left-hander out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez was a can’t-miss prospect when he made his big league debut in 2008, but he struggled with his command – and maturity. Once he found trouble on the mound, he had trouble not letting things snowball.

Beginning in 2010, Gonzalez showed major strides. This season, he’s been the anchor of an A’s rotation that’s been gutted by injuries. He is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA, a mark that ranks fourth among American League starters. His .216 opponents’ batting average ranks eighth in the league and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings is tied for third.

“We’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the league and he’s been our best starter so far,” A’s reliever Brad Ziegler said. “He’s just been able to bounce back from adversity better. Also, just learning to trust his fastball more. Sometimes he would fall in love with his curve ball, and when you’ve got a 94 mph fastball, that’s not always necessary.”


Willingham to remain on DL, possibly through the break

In for Joe Stiglich tonight …
Josh Willingham is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, but that’s not going to happen because the outfielder’s left Achilles tendinitis is still troubling him after he made two rehab starts with Triple-A Sacramento Thursday and Friday.

“It’s not progressing the way I thought it would,” he said Saturday night. “It was sore after I played in the two games and a bit tight during the games. I’m pretty bummed out about it.”

Willingham, who was placed on the 15-day DL June 23 retroactive to June 18, isn’t sure when he’ll be able to return because he thought he’d be ready by now.

“Hopefully before the All-Star break sometime, but if I need more time, I guess I’ll take it,” he said, adding that he believed if he rests through the break, he’ll almost certainly be ready coming out of it.

Willingham didn’t even play in the outfield in his two rehab starts, getting all of his at-bats as a designated hitter. He was 1-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs.

Once his injury is healed, he believes he can get back in the swing of it quickly because he can continue to take batting practice.

“It only affects me when I’m running, not when I’m hitting,” he said. “I’ll just try to stay sharp in that area and try to get better running.”


One of the players adversely affected by the A’s managerial change has been outfielder David DeJesus. In the first 16 games under Bob Melvin, DeJesus did not play at all and in four other games was limited to pinch-hitting or pinch-running duties.

Not coincidentally, DeJesus languished through one of the worst offensive months of his career during June. He hit just .148 (8-for-54) and not only didn’t hit a home run, he didn’t drive in a single run. He had just one extra-base hit, a double on the first day of the month.

But Melvin has recommitted to DeJesus by starting him , banking that his offensive track record can provide additional punch to Oakland’s anemic lineup.

“In a situation like we are offensively, you need a guy like that to be productive,” Melvin said. “So it’s my job to give him some time and consistent at-bats to work through it.”

DeJesus made his fifth straight start after collecting two hits in consecutive games. Heading into tonight’s game, he has reached base in seven consecutive plate appearances (four hits, three walks).

“I would certainly like him to continue this type of thing where I didn’t have to worry about right field, that’s his spot,” the manager said.

Tonight’s lineups:

OAK: 2B Weeks, 3B Sizemore, CF Crisp, DH Matsui, 1B Carter, LF Jackson, C Suzuki, RF DeJesus, SS Rosales. P Outman

AZ: SS Bloomquist, 2B Johnson, RF Upton, CF Young, DH Pena, C Montero, 1B Nady, 3B Roberts, LF Parra. P Saunders








Harden, Matsui and more from A’s 5-4 win over Arizona Diamondbacks

Since I didn’t blog pre-game, here’s a look at the A’s notebook for tomorrow’s paper. And a few postgame notes following the A’s 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin thought Rich Harden’s effectiveness came from him changing speeds on his fastball, which complemented his changeup and split-fingered fastball. Indeed, Harden wasn’t blowing up the radar gun (he topped out at 94 mph), but he was in control during six innings of two-run ball. Hideki Matsui said he remembered Harden dominating with his fastball when facing him in the past. “His command really stood out (Friday),” Matsui said.

–Speaking of Matsui, Melvin credited the veteran with knowing when he had an opportunity to swipe a bag. Arizona first baseman Juan Miranda was playing behind Matsui in the fourth, and Matsui easily stole second base, putting him in position to score on Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single. That was Matsui’s first steal since Sept. 12, 2007. “That was big for us,” Melvin said. “It got us on the board and got momentum back in our dugout.”

–Melvin said Chris Carter would draw another start at first base Saturday.

Here’s tomorrow’s notebook …

Kirk Gibson may have been managing his first game in Oakland on Friday, but the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper obviously has fond memories of the Coliseum.

That’s where his Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the 1988 World Series title, a run that Gibson ignited with his legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.

Gibson reminisced about the abuse he took from fans in the outfield bleachers at the Coliseum during that series.

“(A’s) fans have always been very honest with opponents,” Gibson said. “In the end, I kinda got them back.”

But he added that as his playing career drew to a close with the Detroit Tigers in 1995, he actually chatted pleasantly with a few of those fans who had heckled him through the years at the Coliseum.

He recalled his favorite chant he heard from A’s fans.

“’What’s the matter with Gibson? He’s a bum!’” he said. “I’ve known that for years.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, who was playing for the Giants in 1988, was asked his memories of Gibson’s homer off Eckersley.

“I think everybody remembers where they were when it happened,” Melvin said.

And where was he?

“A bachelor party … but everybody stopped to watch it.”

–Melvin said Brandon McCarthy will come off the disabled list and start Monday against Seattle. Guillermo Moscoso, on turn to pitch then, will slide to Wednesday, and the A’s will go with a six-man rotation until a starter absolutely has to be sent down, Melvin said.

Their current rotation would unfold as follows beginning Saturday — Josh Outman-Gio Gonzalez-McCarthy-Trevor Cahill -Guillermo Moscoso-Rich Harden.

“We’ll make the decisions when we need to make them,” Melvin said. “Certainly, with the way guys have pitched, it makes for difficult decisions.”

–Catcher Kurt Suzuki, now the longest tenured Athletic after Mark Ellis was traded Thursday, moved into Ellis’ locker, which is sectioned off by a wall on one side and provides some privacy.

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich approached Suzuki to ask if he wanted to switch.

“I consider that the best locker,” Vucinich said, then added with a smile: “You can avoid the press if you want.”

–Right fielder David DeJesus’ throwing error Thursday snapped his 301-game errorless streak, which was the longest among active major league outfielders.


A’s reach the halfway point — what’s in store from here?

The A’s hit the halfway point of the season tonight with game # 81. So right off the bat, I’ll throw the question out to you: Do you have optimism that this team can make a second-half run to be a factor in the American League West race? Or is it time to once again start looking down the road to next year? This goes hand in hand with the decision the A’s face with the trade deadline approaching. Do they keep this core veteran group together and play for this season, perhaps even add a piece through a trade? Or do they sell off the marketable players they have (think outfielders and/or relievers) and try to get some prospects?

There’s a bit of pregame news …

–Tyson Ross will make a rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento on Thursday, with another one after that five days later.

–Josh Willingham is doing very well in his recovery from an Achilles injury. In fact, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he thought Willingham might be able to be activated tomorrow from the DL were he eligible. As it stands, Sunday is the first day he can return.

–Melvin said he believes he has several players worthy of All-Star consideration (Gio Gonzalez, Grant Balfour, TRevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey), but he said Gonzalez would have to top that list right now. Tough to argue w/him there. All-Star pitchers and reserves will be announced Sunday.

Tonight’s lineups:

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

Marlins — Bonifacio 3B, Infante 2B, Sanchez 1B, Ramirez SS, Morrison LF, Stanton RF, Dobbs DH, Buck C, Wise CF; Nolasco RHP.