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Can new kids on the block relocate A’s from the cellar?

Will Joey Wendle and the rest of A's newcomers lead an escape from last place?

Will Joey Wendle and the rest of A’s newcomers lead an escape from last place?

It won’t mean much outside the West Coast if the A’s were to do an about-face in the final four weeks of the season and pass the Angels in the standings.

Both teams have had miserable years. The A’s finished dead last in the AL last year, and while a repeat of that is unlikely with the Twins having nine more losses than the A’s to this point, they are last in the AL West with a 59-79 record.

The Angels have trailed the A’s much of a yo-yo season, but a recent surge had moved the Anaheim crew four games up on the A’s in battle to avoid cellar rental. If the Angels would have won Tuesday’s game to stretch that lead to five games, the A’s would have had few answers as to how to take the Angels down.

But coming into Wednesday, the A’s are only three back, and a win Wednesday would not only give the A’s a series win by a realistic chance of finishing out of last place.

And when vacating last place is all there is for a baseball team, it matters quite a bit, regardless of what outsiders might believe.

Do the A’s have enough in the tank to escape the cellar? Not unless they get some unexpected help. But they got some Tuesday night from a pair of rookies, Ryon Healy and Joey Wendle, who drove in all of the Oakland runs in the eighth inning of a 3-2 win that stole a seemingly easy victory from the Angels.

But there are new faces here, and more on the way. Jharel Cotton, the Virgin Islands native who came over in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade with the Dodgers on Aug. 1, gets his first Major League game in a start Wednesday.

Raul Alcantara, who stumbled through his MLB debut Monday, will, manager Bob Melvin believes, be better now that he’s had a game to get his nerves under control.

And then there are some minor league hitters, including first baseman Matt Olson and center fielder Jaycob Brugman could get looks, as could slugger Renato Nunez, who doesn’t have a regular position but who hit 23 homers and drove in 75 runs while bouncing between left field and third base.

Could they make the difference between last place and fourth place for the A’s?

That’s what the next four weeks are all about.

 

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Have the A’s seen the last of starter Rich Hill?

Have the A's seen the last of Rich Hill in the rotation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Have the A’s seen the last of Rich Hill in the rotation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Rich Hill will be making his first start as a Dodger this weekend in Los Angeles, so what he does has no impact on the A’s, his former team.

Except that it might. The left-handed starter is a free agent at the end of the year, and he said Thursday he expects the A’s will be one of the teams calling on him come autumn.

More than that, he will be listening. He and his family enjoyed living in the Bay Area and could see living there again.

“You look at the record there and maybe you don’t see what I see and a lot of people in the game see,’’ Hill said. “The A’s are a team that has a lot of good young talent. I like what they have there. I think they’re going to be good real soon if they can stay healthy.

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A’s Danny Valencia trip to disabled list seems probable; likeliest replacement figures to be INF/OF Tyler Ladendorf

Danny Valencia's next stop may be the disabled list thanks to a hamstring injury.

Danny Valencia’s next stop may be the disabled list thanks to a hamstring injury.

The A’s had to go without third baseman Danny Valencia, as expected, in the final game of their series with the Yankees Thursday after Valencia suffered a left hamstring strain Wednesday.

The question awaiting the club is whether or not Valencia will have to go on the disabled list. There was no decision before the game, but manager Bob Melvin expected to be able to announce a decision one way or another after the game.

It didn’t sound like he was expecting good news.

“Hamstrings are a tough deal,’’ Melvin said. “Hamstrings aren’t a day or two and you’re back in the lineup for the most part.’’

Valencia said he hurt himself popping up from a slide at the plate in the fourth inning Wednesday. He spent all of the pregame Thursday getting treatment on his left leg from the training crew.

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Centers of attention: Burns, Crisp and Fuld make for logjam

A quick scan of the A’s roster will tell you they have three starting center fielders.

They have the one who began the season last year as the regular, San Fuld, who was hitting .315 the first couple of weeks in a platoon with Craig Gentry before a 2-for-29 skid trimmed that average to .229 and dropped him out of the mix.

They have the one who ended the season as the regular, Billy Burns, who came up on the day Fuld reached .229, May 2, and started in center for 118 of the team’s final 138 games. He became the reliable leadoff hitter the club needed, hitting .294 in his first full season with his propensity to swing at the first pitch he saw and with the ability to beat out grounders not hit right at infielders.

And they have the one who was the center fielder for the vast bulk of the time between mid-2010 to 2014, Coco Crisp, who was a non-factor for the most part last year due to injuries to his right elbow, wrist and neck. He only played in 44 games, and he feels his .175 average was due in part to coming back too soon.

The question now is how it all shakes out in 2016, where the A’s, strapped for outfielders a year ago, have a glut.

The plan going in is that Burns is the regular but will get more rest, that Crisp could get a couple of starts a week and that Fuld will be hard-pressed to make the roster because of the aforementioned glut.

But this is Oakland, and nothing is written in stone or even mud. Burns isn’t guaranteed anything beyond nominal starter status, and he knows it. If he doesn’t hit, the A’s will look for someone who can.

“It’s different coming in now because of what happened last year,’’ Burns said. “But I am trying to take this year like last year, where I’m competing like I have to win a job. I think that’s the best way to approach it.’’

Manager Bob Melvin is well aware that a first full six-month season wore at Burns, his legs so beaten up he stole just one base in his last 23 games over the final six weeks of the season after having 25 steals in his first four months.

“He was pretty beaten up,’’ the manager said. “Getting Coco in there once or twice a week or whatever would help keep Billy healthy.’’

At this time a year ago, Melvin made the decision to move Crisp from center to left. And while Crisp took the move professionally, it never panned about because of injuries. Now the A’s have added Khris Davis to be the everyday left fielder, so center field becomes a clearer path to playing time for Crisp than left, although he will play both in addition to getting occasional DH duty.

“I’m ready to do whatever is best for the team,’’ Crisp says of his unsettled position this spring. “Hopefully they’ll view me as one of the guys who has to be in the lineup, but I’ll do what’s needed.’’

Crisp, 36, was the catalyst to three consecutive post-season appearances for Oakland, and, as Melvin is fond of saying “when Coco plays well, we play well.’’ Crisp is healthy now, has already made back-to-back starts in the first week of the Cactus League, something he wasn’t able to do in his final 19 games over the final six weeks of the 2015 season.

“There’s quite a bit of difference, based on what we saw the second half,’’ Melvin said.  “He wasn’t really even getting swings where he could drive the ball. His batting practices are significantly different. Just watch him move in the field. He had a really good jump on a ball in center field coming in on it. He looks a lot closer to the player we saw physically we saw in years past than last year.’’

Melvin says that Crisp’s willingness to go along with the some-center, some-left, some-DH plan is taking pressure off Crisp, and off the manager, who wants a healthy Crisp in the lineup, and is willing to rest him as much as necessary to get that.

“To be able to play some left, some center, and obviously he has a propensity to DH too, which guys who have been everyday players have a tough time with,’’ Melvin said. “I think it’s key for him to be able to do it. He was all for it from Day 1.’’

That seems to leave Fuld as the man on the bubble. The club is committed to four outfielders – Josh Reddick, Burns, Crisp and Davis, and unlike past year, may not be able to take a fifth. The A’s could conceivably make room for Fuld, who started Wednesday’s game against the White Sox in center, by going with just five infielders, but that would almost certainly come at the expense of a job for Eric Sogard, who stands to be the backup shortstop, or Mark Canha, who can play left, right or first and who is coming off a big rookie year.

Fuld says “all I can do is go out and play’’ this spring in his bid for a job, and he’s more than done that. Wednesday he had three hits against the White Sox and Friday he came back with a homer, a triple and four RBIs against the Reds. Coming into this week he has a .313 average to go along with a .450 on-base percentage, numbers sure to get and hold the A’s interest.

Melvin really would like to keep the versatile defender, saying “we really value Sam here. He’s plus-plus at all three positions.’’ And Fuld wants to keep playing with the A’s.

“It’s not like I haven’t been through this before,’’ Fuld said. “It’s a little bit of blow when they go out and get someone who could take away playing time and job security. I just have to go out and play.’’

NOTES

–The A’s added right-handed pitcher Andrew Triggs, claiming the reliever off waivers from the Orioles Sunday. Triggs, who had a 1.03 ERA at Double-A last year, gets the roster spot vacated by Jarrod Parker (fractured elbow) going on the disabled list. As the A’s already have a full schedule for pitchers in Cactus League games, he likely starts out in the minor league camp when he arrives, probably Wednesday with the A’s have a day off Tuesday.

–The first round of roster trims came down Sunday. Infielders Renato Nunez and Rangel Ravelo were optioned to Triple-A Nashville and right-handed starter Raul Alcantara was optioned to Double-A Midland. Lefty relievers Dillon Overton and Daniel Coulombe, right-handers Ryan Doolittle, Chris Smith and Taylor Thompson, catcher Beau Taylor and infielders Richie Martin and Josh Rodriguez were reassigned to the minor league camp. That leaves the A’s with 51 players in camp, including 23 pitchers, six catchers, 14 infielders and eight outfielders.

–Oakland was down 3-0 in the ninth inning Sunday against the Cubs when the A’s rose up to beat up on closer Hector Rondon for three runs, including RBI hits from Franklin Barreto and Tyler Ladendorf and a game-tying sacrifice fly from Matt Olson. Oakland and Chicago settled for a 3-3 tie.

–Rickey Henderson arrived in camp Sunday. He’s scheduled to be with the club for eight days as a base-running, outfield and motivational coach.

–The As had their first full house of the spring at Hohokam Stadium Sunday against the Cubs, 10,040, and are expecting another sellout Monday night against the Giants.

–Starter Jesse Hahn said after his first start he was too tight going in. This time around he said he was too loose, describing his warmup before giving up two runs in the first as “lazy.’’ “I felt good, but I think I had lazy routine today. I did a bad job of that. I did a good job of settling down, but I need to make adjustments.’’

 

 

 

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Beane likes the possibilities in A’s position player prospects

Matt Olson is part of one of the most promising classes of A's position players in more than a decade.

Matt Olson is part of one of the most promising classes of A’s position players in more than a decade.

After a long drive down from the Bay Area Saturday, Billy Beane dropped by the A’s workout Sunday at Fitch Park and looked every bit like someone who liked what he was seeing.

Asked about the group of young position player prospects who may well be on the cusp of breaking through in Oakland – third baseman Matt Olson, shortstop Franklin Barreto, first baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Rangel Ravelo, second baseman Joey Wendel and third baseman/first baseman Renato Nunez – a broad smile ensued.

Manager Bob Melvin had talked Saturday about that group, saying it was the best he’d seen since he’d joined the organization mid-2011.

Beane, who is closing in on two decades at the help of the A’s, first as general manager and now as executive vice president, was able to pinpoint a comparable group.

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