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Andy LaRoche, Bobby Cramer make A’s roster; Tyson Ross, Eric Sogard sent down

A quick rundown on the A’s final roster cuts (so much for my predictions from this morning!)

–Andy LaRoche was kept as the utility infielder over Eric Sogard. Score that a mild upset as Sogard is the stronger defensive player and was already on the 40-man roster. Obviously, the A’s feel LaRoche is adequate enough with the glove to get by whenever he’s called upon. But this move was all about LaRoche’s potential impact with the bat. He hit .333 this spring and led the team in homers (4) and RBIs (13). Adam Rosales, the projected backup infielder before he suffered a foot injury, was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for LaRoche.

–Bobby Cramer was kept as the final reliever over Tyson Ross. That’s despite a rough bottom of the ninth today in a 2-1 loss to the Giants, when Cramer had a throwing error that contributed to the Giants’ winning two-run rally. That gives the A’s four lefties in their seven-man bullpen. Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Cramer and Brian Fuentes join right-handers Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz and Brad Ziegler (Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day DL as expected). This was a surprising call to me. I like the idea of Ross getting Triple-A seasoning as a starter, and I think that’s best for his future. But I still thought his relief experience from last year would trump any potential benefit of keeping Cramer. It’s a great story for Cramer, who was playing in the Mexican League at this point last year and has never been on an Opening Day roster. He said that he was told to be ready for any relief role — one innings, two innings or long relief. A’s manager Bob Geren classified Cramer as predominantly a long man.

–Landon Powell was kept as the backup catcher over Josh Donaldson, which was no surprise …

More in tomorrow morning’s A’s notebook …

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Andrew Bailey confirms he’s DL-bound; Joey Devine optioned to Triple-A

We have a little bullpen news this morning, as the A’s get ready to play the Colorado Rockies in their final Cactus League game before flying north for the Bay Bridge Series.

–Joey Devine was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento and closer Andrew Bailey acknowledged he’ll be starting the season on the disabled list. I’m sure you’ll find neither surprising. The good news for Devine is his elbow is feeling good, but he hasn’t been sharp enough to claim one of the seven bullpen spots. Bailey played catch this morning for the first time since being diagnosed with a forearm strain, and he’s hopeful he won’t miss much time. “It’s better to miss a little time now than a month or two or three down the road.”

Significantly, Geren mentioned Grant Balfour as a closer option along with Brian Fuentes until Bailey returns. Fuentes has looked shaky recently and Balfour seems to have put things together after struggling with some mechanical issues earlier in camp. It’s worth mentioning that Geren never had singled out Fuentes as the fill-in closer, but based on Fuentes’ experience, it was assumed he’d be the guy. I can’t blame Geren for leaving his options open. “Breslow has been good in that role too,” Geren said. “I was encouraged with Michael Wuertz (Saturday night).”

Something tells me we’ll see the closer-by-committee approach until Bailey gets back …

Here’s the lineup vs the Rockies:

Sweeney CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Kouzmanoff 3B
Ellis 2B
Jackson LF
Powell C
Pennington SS
Cramer P

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Coco Crisp returns, Hideki Matsui sitting today with neck stiffness

We’ve got much better weather today, so the A’s-Reds game is definitely on, with Brett Anderson getting the start.

–Coco Crisp is back in the lineup and said his sore left hamstring is better. But designated hitter Hideki Matsui will not make the trip to Goodyear because of a stiff neck he got from sleeping wrong a couple of nights ago. He did not hit Monday and said he might return Wednesday, depending on how his hitting goes today. He didn’t expect his neck to factor into whether he plays in the outfield Thursday, when the A’s play the Arizona Diamondbacks and won’t have a DH. Manager Bob Geren said he’s anticipating Matsui being his DH on Wednesday and playing the outfield Thursday.

–Geren reiterated that he’ll probably announce his Opening Day starter by the end of the week, as well as the other starters for that first three-game series against Seattle. He also says he’s inclined to NOT skip his fifth starter early in the season because of off days. He likes the idea of all the starters getting an extra day of rest.

The lineup vs. the Reds
Crisp CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Willingham LF
Sweeney DH
Suzuki C
Ellis 2B
Kouzmanoff 3B
Pennington SS

Anderson LHP

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Josh Outman sent down, 5th starter battle officially down to three

****Here’s the lowdown on the A’s news of the morning …

Left-hander Josh Outman, who appeared a top candidate to be the fifth starter when spring training started, was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento along with right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who also merited consideration for the spot early on.

This news doesn’t surprise considering how Outman has struggled to this point. The guy hadn’t pitched since June 2009 as he faced a long road back from “Tommy John” surgery. Still, Outman entered the spring healthy, and the A’s brass talked highly of his chances. But Outman has been frank that it might take a while for him to find his form.

“I had a feeling it was going to be like this,” Outman said this morning. “I haven’t competed as well as the other guys competing for the fifth starter spot.” A’s manager Bob Geren said Outman just needs innings at Triple-A to continue shaking rust off. “He’s been improving, he just needs to keep on that track to be ready to pitch at this level. I told him I’ve been through a lot of things in this game, but I’ve never missed 18 months.”

This leaves Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer fighting to be the fifth starter. As things are shaping up, McCarthy is emerging as the favorite, especially if he pitches well in today’s start against the Giants. Geren said that all three pitchers have a chance to make the roster “in one capacity or another.” That means any of the three could make the team as a long reliever, even Ross, who the A’s have said they’d like to keep as a starter.

–Split-squad action today:

A’s vs. Diamondbacks at home:
Crisp CF; Suzuki C; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Kouzmanoff 3B; Jackson 1B; Sogard SS; Taylor RF; Timmons 2B; Braden LHP.

A’s at Giants:
Pennington SS; Ellis 2B; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Carter LF; Sweeney DH; LaRoche 3B; Donaldson C; Carson CF; McCarthy RHP.

–Ryan Sweeney had not been cleared to play two days in a row yet on his surgically repaired right knee, but Geren said he’d pinch-run for Sweeney if he gets on base in his third or fourth at-bat. And he’s not playing defense, so it’s a light day.

–Joey Devine (right biceps) said he had no lingering effects from a 35-pitch bullpen session Saturday. He could face minor league hitters in a day or two …

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Crisp expects to return Sunday; Sweeney goes deep

Here’s your afternoon A’s update since I didn’t post anything baseball-related this morning:

–Coco Crisp says his left hamstring injury isn’t serious, and he thinks he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow. Last season he missed time with an injury to his right hamstring, and he said he tried to play through that when he shouldn’t have. “I’m just trying to stay on top of it.” The left hamstring tightened on him last night as he swung during his second at-bat.

Ryan Sweeney started in center field today and hit leadoff in Crisp’s place. A’s manager Bob Geren said this morning that he’s seen more power from Sweeney in batting practice. Then Sweeney drilled a two-run homer to left-center in the third inning off the White Sox’s Jake Peavy — that’s opposite-field pop that Sweeney doesn’t display all that often. …

Craig Breslow is throwing in a minor league intrasquad game this afternoon, and he’ll do fielding drills afterward to test his sore hamstring. Breslow’s arm strength is fine but his mobility is keeping him out of Cactus League action to this point …

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Random items on an odd day in A’s land

It just ain’t right. … Today’s A’s-White Sox game starts at 4:05 p.m. local time, and the odd start just throws the daily routine off completely. The A’s clubhouse opened at 11 a.m., players stretched at noon and then took batting practice before they make the long drive to Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Everything is pushed back about three hours from what it’s been for the past four-plus weeks — not really a day game, not really a night game. It’s baseball no-man’s land today. But enough with the drama …

–Today’s lineup against the White Sox looks familiar:

Crisp CF; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Suzuki C; Ellis 2B; Kouzmanoff 3B; Pennington SS; Cramer LHP (with Outman to follow) …

–Manager Bob Geren says he’ll tinker with his lineup, but this is the third time we’ve seen this look (and second day in a row) when Geren has penciled in an ‘A’ lineup. So he likes something about it. The top five hitters are no surprise. As for the 6-8 hitters, Geren says they could be interchangeable. I had Kouzmanoff pegged as the possible No. 6 guy, but Geren said there’s justification to hit him eighth. “You need power down in the lineup too. I’m not saying he’s going to hit there. I fully expect him to rebound in his second year in the league. If the spring is any indication, his swing looks great. He could definitely climb up in the order depending on how he does.” Kouzmanoff is hitting .387 with one homer and seven RBIs in 12 games.

–Lefties Bobby Cramer and Josh Outman both take the hill tonight, and it’s an important outing for both. Cramer is squarely in the 5th starter discussion and needs to keep up with Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross. Outman, who has struggled, really needs to turn things around quickly.

–Keep an eye on the backup infielder situation. Geren said Adam Rosales is recovering as expected from his right foot injury, but from talking to Rosales yesterday, I know he was hoping to be further along by now. Tough to say whether he’ll return by May 1 as the A’s hope. Andy LaRoche is hitting .324, but he’s very unproven as a shortstop. And Steve Tolleson and Eric Sogard have each missed some time and haven’t distinguished themselves yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s sign someone with shortstop experience to back up Cliff Pennington.

That’s all for now …

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Lineups for A’s-Cubs

Clubhouse access is limited this morning because of the A’s annual Players Association meeting, but here’s the lineup against the Cubs.

A’s
Crisp CF
Barton 1B
DeJesus RF
Willingham LF
Matsui DH
Suzuki C
Ellis 2B
Kouzmanoff 3B
Pennington SS

Gonzalez LHP

Cubs
Baker 2B
Castro SS
Byrd CF
Ramirez 3B
Soto C
Pena 1B
Soriano LF
Fukudome RF
Dempster P

(Cubbies aren’t using the DH).

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Bailey diagnosed with strained forearm — news could have been worse for A’s

Here’s a few updates following the A’s 8-1 loss to the Cubs. …

–The team issued a release saying closer Andrew Bailey was diagnosed with a strained right forearm, and that he can begin throwing again when he’s pain-free. Bailey was examined Tuesday in Alabama by Dr. James Andrews. He had no swelling or structural damage, which means surgery isn’t in the cards as things stand. That’s relatively good news for the A’s and Bailey, who looked to be in considerable pain when he left Monday’s outing against Cleveland. “While there’s no timetable for his return, this is welcome news,” A’s GM Billy Beane said in the release.

–Fellow reliever Michael Wuertz (right shoulder) made his Cactus League debut with a scoreless seventh inning. He gave up one hit with one walk and one strikeout, mixing in fastballs, sliders and changeups. “It was nice to get out there in a game situation,” he said. “I had to battle to get out of that inning. Overall, it was a positive outing for me.” He’s confident he’ll squeeze enough games in to be ready by opening night.

–Left-hander Brett Anderson went 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run and three hits in his best outing of the spring. The only damage came on Brett Jackson’s solo homer in the sixth. “I got five or six ground balls on my changeup, which is good,” Anderson said. The lefty said earlier in the spring that he’s inclined to throw his slider rather than experiment with a changeup he doesn’t feel real comfortable with. But pitching coach Ron Romanick is stressing the importance for all A’s starters to utilize their change. “You’ve gotta have that third dimension to be a front-line starter, especially in the American League,” said Romanick. He noted that Anderson is also busting right-handers inside more with his fastball instead of solely relying on his slider.

–The A’s dropped their other split-squad game 4-3 to the Kansas City Royals in Surprise. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy was solid in 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He struck out four and walked none, continuing to make a strong case for the fifth starter’s spot along with Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer. The other No. 5 candidate, Josh Outman, pitches Thursday against the Cubs and needs to turn around his fortunes to remain in the conversation.

Shortstop Cliff Pennington started against the Royals and had two right-handed at-bats, lining an RBI single up the middle in one of them. It’s the first time Pennington, a switch hitter, has hit from the right side in a game this spring as he’s coming off shoulder surgery.

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Kevin Kouzmanoff’s wardrobe malfunction and other A’s tidbits

Pretty entertaining scene today as the A’s took the field to stretch. They’re on the road against Cleveland, so the entire team was wearing their gray pants – except third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. He came out wearing his bright white home pants, sticking out like a sore thumb and hearing it from his teammates. Sometimes Kouzmanoff wanders around the clubhouse as if he’s in his own little world, so I’m not too surprised. … Speaking of Kouzmanoff, a standard he set during the 2010 regular season is carrying on this spring — the guy spends more time signing autographs and chatting with fans than anyone else on the team.

On to the news …

–Rich Harden experienced a setback with his injured lat muscle while throwing long toss Sunday, so he’s going to get checked by a doctor, according to manager Bob Geren. It seems safe to say Harden will stay in Phoenix and work in extended spring training when the major league club heads north for the regular season.

–After Sunday’s regular season-style lineup, the A’s will start just four regulars against the Indians today. They occupy the first four spots in the order:

Crisp CF; Kouzmanoff 3B; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Carter 1B; Powell C; Carson RF; Weeks 2B; Sogard SS; Braden LHP.

I wouldn’t read too much into Kouzmanoff batting second. But I was intrigued by him hitting eighth Sunday. Geren said he’ll continue experimenting with the bottom half of the order during exhibitions to see what he likes.

–Dallas Braden has not been concerned about his three lackluster starts so far, but the lefty needs to start putting together some quality outings.

–Gio Gonzalez will pitch in a simulated game Wednesday, when the A’s are off. That keeps him on his regular five-day turn. Judging by the pitching schedules, Gonzalez is the logical candidate to get the ball for the April 1 opener against Seattle. As it stands, his turn would come March 31, but the A’s may take the opportunity to give him the extra day’s rest. But Geren – who’s in midseason form with his “Don’t Tip My Hand” philosophy – pointed out he has some cushion to adjust the rotation leading up to the opener. The A’s don’t play March 31, and they’ve got another day off April 4. But Gonzalez’s sterling form so far makes him a strong contender for the opener.

–The daily bullpen updates: Michael Wuertz is still scheduled to make his exhibition debut Tuesday; Craig Breslow is throwing off the mound today, and Geren said Saturday is a possibility for the lefty’s first game. “That’s a solid 12 days before Opening Day,” Geren said. “I’ll take it.” … Closer Andrew Bailey will make his second appearance today.

–Reliever Danny Farquhar was reassigned to minor league camp this morning.

–A little radio news: The A’s confirmed that Chris Townsend will be back hosting the call-in show before and after every regular season game on KTRB. His first broadcast is March 28, the first game of the Bay Bridge Series against the Giants.

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A’s face Felix Hernandez in his Cactus League debut

Are the A’s getting a preview of what’s to come opening night? Felix Hernandez takes the mound today for his first start of the spring, and there’s a great chance he’ll also be pitching the April 1 opener at the Oakland Coliseum. Ichiro Suzuki is in Seattle’s lineup today and Hideki Matsui is at DH for the A’s, which is creating a buzz among the many Japanese reporters on hand.

The lineups:

A’s

DeJesus CF
Jackson 1B
Matsui DH
Kouzmanoff 3B
Carter LF
Carson RF
Powell C
Tolleson 2B
Green SS

Moscoso RHP

Mariners

Ichiro RF
Figgins 3B
Gutierrez CF
Carp 1B
Wilson 2B
Ryan SS
Saunders LF
Gimenez C
Mangini DH

Hernandez RHP

–Things are a bit rocky for left-hander Josh Outman right now, and he doesn’t hide that. He’s allowed 11 hits, six walks and six earned runs in three outings (4 2/3 innings). It’s not all that shocking that Outman is struggling after being sidelined since June 2009 by elbow surgery, but he’s still frustrated.

“It sounds kind of stupid to say I felt good (against San Diego on Sunday), but physically my arm felt fine,” Outman said. “Just mechanically, I’m not where I need to be and it’s obvious by the performance. It’s just when I get up to game speed, I’m not where I need to be with making pitches and throwing ball where I need to throw it. The result is not great. It’s good that it’s not the end of March yet. But at the same time, I feel like my command has kind of gone backward as the exertion level is going up.”

–I considered Outman the front-runner for the No. 5 starter spot entering camp, and if he rights the ship I think he still is. But Bobby Cramer and Tyson Ross have sure looked good so far in their push for the job. A’s manager Bob Geren has been impressed with Ross, saying the right-hander hit 95 mph seven times Sunday against the Brewers. And Brandon McCarthy remains in the mix as well. Rich Harden has yet to get back on the mound since suffering a side muscle injury, so his chances of being ready for the start of the season look remote.

–Daric Barton is day-to-day after bruising his right calf during a collision at first base yesterday. Barton jumped for a high throw from Kevin Kouzmanoff and got hit while in the air. “It should be minor,” Barton said. “It’s kind of like a charlie horse, a knot. Just some tightness. The runner hit me. It could have been his foot, knee, shin … Whatever it was, he got me pretty good. He knocked my feet out from under me.”

–Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow were scheduled to throw in a simulated game today, and if that goes well, manager Bob Geren said they’d pitch in their first exhibition Thursday.

–For what it’s worth:

*Outfielder Matt Carson is tied for second in the Cactus League with three doubles.
*Coco Crisp is 7 for 15 (.467) through five games.
*Mark Ellis is 5 for 12 (.417) in four games.
*Conor Jackson is 0 for 14 through five games, but he’s hit a few balls on the nose.
*Michael Taylor is 1 for 13 since hitting a three-run homer last Monday.
*Hideki Matsui is 0 for 8 through four games with four walks.

–I’m heading home for a few days, but Carl Steward is on the scene and will be providing your daily coverage in the paper and on the blog …