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A’s: Bullpen is bullying opposing offenses these days

Ryan Cook is on a major roll, unscored upon in his last 18 games, pacing a red-hot a's bullpen.

Ryan Cook is on a major roll, unscored upon in his last 18 games, pacing a red-hot a’s bullpen.

In the middle of a tight pennant race there’s a tendency to look at the things that should be better than they are.

The things that are better than they should be can get glossed over.

That brings us to the A’s, who, it is true, have been struggling to score runs. And that’s an issue.

Equally a part of the equation, however, is just how difficult Oakland pitchers are at making it difficult for other teams to score.

Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle combined to throw 3.1 perfect innings in relief of winning pitcher Jason Hammel Tuesday.

It’s just part of a bigger picture.

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A’s: Crisp delighted to join the team in a victory again

Coco Crisp returned to the A's lineup in a big way Tuesday.

Coco Crisp returned to the A’s lineup in a big way Tuesday.

It had been less than two weeks since the last time Coco Crisp had been in the A’s starting lineup.

Quite a lot has happened in that seven-game interval. The A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. The Angels have crept closer in the standings. The Oakland offense had stalled.    Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays doesn’t change all of that. It does modify it some, though.

The offense is still struggling, but it was Crisp who came up in the fifth inning, looked for the biggest whole on the infield and guided the ball into right-center field for the game’s first RBI.

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A’s: Rally Possum delivers as Norris hits walk-off single in 10th to beat Balfour, Rays

Derek Norris gets the pie and Gatorade treatment after his walk-off hit. (Staff photo/D. Ross Cameron).

Derek Norris gets the pie and Gatorade treatment after his walk-off hit. (Staff photo/D. Ross Cameron).

The A’s might have found themselves their new mascot — the Rally Possum.

Oakland ended a night of frustration with runners in scoring position when Derek Norris singled with the bases loaded in the 10th inning off former A’s closer Grant Balfour to beat the Rays 3-2.

Norris’ hit — the A’s first breakthrough of the night after stranding the bases loaded three previous times — came shortly after a possum appeared in the corner of the outfield.

Whether it remains as a good luck charm or not is to be seen, but for one night the A’s were happy to have it around. The win allowed Oakland to stay one game against of the Los Angeles Angels in first place in the American League West. Continue Reading

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A’s pregame notes: Gray wins pitcher of the month, Parker throws from 45 feet

Sonny Gray won the AL pitcher of the month award for the second time this year. (Staff photo/Dan Honda).

Sonny Gray won the AL pitcher of the month award for the second time this year. (Staff photo/Dan Honda).

A’s pitcher Sonny Gray collected his second American League pitcher of the month award Monday. He was honored after going 5-0 with a 1.03 earned run average in five July starts.

“I was excited to get it,” Gray said of the award. “But it was really nice to have a nice month, especially after struggling the month before a little bit. So it’s just really nice to get back on track.”

Gray is the first A’s pitcher since Barry Zito to win this award twice in one season. Zito was honored in August and September of 2001. No pitcher had won the award twice in an Oakland uniform at all since Mark Mulder (June 2002 and June 2004).

Gray rebounded in July after going 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in June. That was his worst month of the season, but it’s all relative for a pitcher who is now 12-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his first full season in the big leagues. Continue Reading

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A’s: Parrino, Sizemore, Rosales among possible infield help

The A's need a backup shortstop now that their backup, Nick Punto, is headed for the disabled list.

The A’s need a backup shortstop now that their backup, Nick Punto, is headed for the disabled list.

The A’s aren’t done rearranging their roster.

They knew that as soon as they saw Nick Punto round third base, then scramble on all fours to get back to third base.

Punto had to be helped off the field, and manager Bob Melvin said after the game that the consensus was that Punto was heading to the disabled list. He was the A’s second baseman Saturday, but he’s their top backup at shortstop to Jed Lowrie, and the club is going to need a replacement pronto.

In the short term at least, the A’s can promote Andy Parrino from Triple-A Sacramento. He’s been up before and he can play all three infield positions. He’s been playing shortstop for the River Cats while batting .286, and he could fill in at second, third or short, as needed.

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A’s: Lester addition forces Tigers to play catchup

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Deny them what you will, the Oakland A’s aren’t boring.

They could have settled for just having made the Independence Day trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but in the final six hours before the trade deadline they went out and completely rebuilt their roster.

At that point, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander said Oakland made the trade because of the A’s had to come through Detroit in the post-season.

But after the A’s moved Yoenis Cespedes from left field and shipped him to Boston in exchange for All-Star starter Jon Lester and platoon left fielder Jonny Gomes, it seemed like the Tigers were playing catch up with the A’s when Detroit made a three-team deal for the other big name starting pitcher out there, David Price.

With it being obvious there was no room at the inn for Tommy Milone in the A’s rotation near term, they traded the minor league starter to the Twins for center fielder Sam Fuld.

The moves spoke about the A’s on several levels.

One. They didn’t believe they could re-sign Cespedes to a long-term contract when his four-year deal ran out after next year.

Two. They didn’t see Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez as giving them their best chance to win in a post-season start.

Three. Center field is a problem. Coco Crisp has trouble staying in the lineup ever since running into a pole holding up the Coliseum outfield fence and suffered whiplash. And Craig Gentry has a broken right hand that will keep him out two more weeks at a minimum.

Four. There is no time like the present. The A’s are playing to go to the World Series this season. Next season will have to take care of itself.

Things could change, but Lester seems to be a two-month purchase. He gives the A’s something that, with all their pitching, they didn’t have – experience pitching in the World Series. He was 2-0 in the series last year with a 0.59 and 4-1 in the three rounds of the playoffs overall and his career ERA in the playoffs is 2.11.

The A’s have the best record in baseball four months into the season, but that gets you nothing, particularly when the team with the second-best record in the majors is in your division. Because of that, general manager Billy Beane keeps pushing forward.

Since Jan. 1, Beane has added a left-handed reliever who has been one of the best in the game, Eric O’Flaherty; added a right-handed hitting first baseman in Kyle Blanks, claimed lefty pitcher Jeff Francis from the Reds, traded for left-handed starter Brad Mills, traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then traded for Lester and Gomes and reacquired Fuld.

That nine additions this year already, and even with Blanks injured and Francis no longer around, as A’s co-owner Lew Wolff told me Thursday, “there’s time yet.’’

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A’s: Moss’s one last at-bat dissolves a night of frustration

Brandon Moss bounced back from pop-fly central Tuesday to deliver the go-ahead hit in 7-4 win over the Astros.

Brandon Moss bounced back from pop-fly central Tuesday to deliver the go-ahead hit in 7-4 win over the Astros.

Brandon Moss didn’t believe he could get much more frustrated in one game than he did in the first eight innings Tuesday.

The A’s right field flew out to left field four times. And the words “flew out’’ scarcely describe the at-bats.

“It had been a pretty frustrating day for me so far; I hit four straight weak, weak popups to the left,’’ Moss said. “ Two of them should have been to the shortstop. It hadn’t been a very good day until the last at-bat.’’

Moss had a career-best 10-game hitting streak come to an end Sunday. Since the single that got him to double digits, he’d gone hitless in 14 consecutive at-bats before coming up in the ninth. He was given the chance because Yoenis Cespedes’ single to right fell in to tie the game.

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A’s: Looking at options 48 hours out from trade deadline

It’s closing in on 48 hours before the trade deadline hits (1 p.m. PDT Thursday), and just where do the A’s stand?

For one thing, they’re in a position where they don’t need to make a trade, although they continue to explore second base options. And while they don’t need an outfielder long term, they could use one until they know that Craig Gentry (disabled list, broken right hand) and Coco Crisp (neck) are healthy.

With the July 4 trade for starters Jeff Samardzija (pitching tonight in Houston) and Jason Hammel (pitching the series finale Wednesday), the A’s addressed their most pressing need going forward. On the other hand, you can never have too much pitching, so there’s that.

But the trade deadline is not to be trifled with, so let’s have a look as A’s possibilities:

 

–Second base: Probably the best option for the A’s is the Rays’ Ben Zobrist (.269, 8 homers, 29 RBIs). He was an All-Star last year, and at 33 is something like perfect for the we’re-all-about-versatility A’s because he can play second, third and the outfield, although he hasn’t been in center field since last year. He’s under club control through 2015, which would fit nicely into the Oakland narrative, too.

The Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera (.249, 9 homers, 40 RBIs) has been strictly a shortstop since 2010, but he came up as a second baseman/shortstop and if the A’s were convinced he could give them the defense they need, he could be a nice bit of 28-year-old adrenalin for the A’s lineup.

Then there’s Aaron Hill. The Diamondbacks’ second baseman is, at 32, having the worst year of his career (.255, 8 homers, 49 RBIs), but it was just last year that he hit .291 and two years back he hit .302 with 26 homers, and a change of scene could do the right-handed hitter well. He’s owed a lot of money, though, $24 million over the next two seasons and the A’s wouldn’t take that on without getting a bucket of money back from Arizona.

Talk about adding Nick Franklin from the Mariners has happened, but it’s tough seeing Franklin a fix for this year. He’s never played a full season in the big leagues and has spent most of this year in the minors after the addition of Robinson Cano. His defense is unproven, but he’s been a consistent .300 hitter the last two years at Triple-A Tacoma, even if he’s hit just .128 in 17 games for Seattle this year.

 

–Center field: Marcell Ozuna (.272, 16 homers, 57 RBIs) is someone who probably shouldn’t be mentioned, because why would the Marlins trade a 24-year-old who might be an impact player? Well, the Marlins have approached the A’s about starting pitcher Tommy Milone, and if the A’s are going to entertain thoughts of trading Milone, who was 6-0 over an 11-game stretch before getting bumped to the minor leagues by the arrival of Hammel, Oakland may as well ask for someone they could really use over the long term knowing that the Marlins seem to have available center field options in their minor league system.

The A’s couldn’t hold on to left-handed hitting center fielder Sam Fuld because there was no room on the roster after early April, but Fuld, now with the Twins, would seem to be just what the A’s need – a defensive whiz with the ability to play off the bench. He’s done a decent job (.272, 1 homer, 17 RBIs in 51 games) for Minnesota, but he’s probably available.

 

–Pitching: As we said above, the A’s don’t really need another starting pitcher, but they’ve called the Red Sox in the last few days with left-hander Jon Lester (10-7, 2.42) available from last-place Boston.

And the Marlins have contacted the A’s about possibility of the left-handed Milone, currently pitching at Triple-A Sacramento, heading to Miami.

Sean McAdam of CSNNE first reported the A’s interest in Lester, although Oakland is far from being at the top of the heap. Toronto, St. Louis, Seattle, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the A’s join the Brewers and the Braves in being interested enough to see if there is room at the table.

The Red Sox are willing to move Lester, and Lester is willing to be moved, but any decision is likely to come down to the final hours leading up to the deadline. At a minimum, the A’s would have to send Milone to the Red Sox, but it’s not clear the A’s have enough in the minor leagues system to complete a deal for the veteran, who would be just a two-month addition.

Lester isn’t the only starter the A’s have asked about. They tried to get David Price from the Rays a month ago, but they moved to Samardzija and Hammel when the Rays said they weren’t ready to make a move. Since then, it seems that Price will stay put with the Rays playing better, but you never know.

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A’s: Reddick keeps putting on a defensive show in right

Josh Reddick’s up-and-down offense – it’s currently up – takes a lot of hits in social media. 

Josh Reddick wound up on his back making catch to rob Houston's Jose Altuve of a hit Monday in the seventh inning. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Josh Reddick wound up on his back making catch to rob Houston’s Jose Altuve of a hit Monday in the seventh inning. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

There are A’s fans routinely looking for his scalp. It’s in part because he hit 32 homers two seasons ago and hasn’t come close to matching that kind of production since, battling an unending series of injries.

And manager Bob Melvin said that no one on the A’s roster hits in tougher luck that his right fielder.

The thing is, Reddick’s game is more than about just offense, although he’s 8-for-25 (.320) since coming off the disabled list, and the A’s would take that kind of production during the stretch run, no questions asked.

What separates Reddick from other right fielders is his defense, which was put on display on back-to-back tests in the seventh inning in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Houston Astros.

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A’s: Burns’ spring training trial could be ready to pay off

Billy Burns went from Double-A to the big leagues Monday, joining the A's in Houston.

Billy Burns went from Double-A to the big leagues Monday, joining the A’s in Houston.

Billy Burns was almost out the hotel door, heading to the ballpark in Frisco, Texas, where he’d be the center fielder Monday night for the Midland Rockhounds, the same as the day before and the day before that.

His manager, Aaron Nieckula, changed everything with one phone call. Pack your bags and come to the park, Nieckula said. An explanation would be awaiting.

It was, but Burns didn’t need it. Shortly after the first call he got another, this one from A’s traveling secretary Mickey Morabito, on the line to arranging a quick flight to Houston, where Burns would be joining the A’s. Oakland was down two center fielders, Coco Crisp out for at least a few days with a neck injury and Craig Gentry out possibly a couple of weeks or more with a broken right hand.

Before the night was over, Burns would go from being a .250 hitter at Double-A unhappy with the level of offense he was putting out, to being up two levels and getting his first big league at-bat. He flew out to right as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a 7-3 loss to Houston.

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