Zobrist may yet wind up in right field for the A’s

When Ben Zobrist came to the A’s, it was with the understanding that he would be Oakland’s starting second baseman.

But Zobrist, who played in the outfield nearly as much as the infield in helping build Tampa Bay into a power, including 47 outfield starts in 2014, may be asked to put that versatility on display again as the opening day right fielder.

The A’s will almost certainly start the season with right fielder Josh Reddick on the disabled list after he came down with a right oblique strain late last week. That being the case, manager Bob Melvin is looking for options, and the versatile Zobrist is at or near the top of the list.

“I think Zobrist enjoys moving around some,’’ Melvin said. “But you never get as comfortable as possible moving positions. This team is built around depth and versatility, and he is a big part of that.’’

Zobrist has not played right field this spring, and in the day-ahead lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks, he’s listed as being the second baseman. But he carries two gloves with him at all times and it’s likely he’ll be in right field before too much longer.

There are, of course, other options. Melvin said that Mark Canha, the Rule 5 first baseman/outfielder, is one if he makes the roster. Craig Gentry, who is down to split time in center fielder with Sam Fuld, is another.

And look for first baseman Ike Davis to get some work in the outfield before too much more of the spring has passed. He could be freed to go out to right field by having current DH Billy Butler play at first base.


Hahn getting every chance to be a part of A’s rotation

workout 03-09-15 004There is no better way to sum up how important right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn is to the A’s future than to look at Monday’s starting lineup with Oakland traveling to Surprise to face the Rangers.

Under Cactus League rules teams must bring at least four starters on the road, the starting pitcher can be one of them. The A’s have only three obvious front-line players in center fielder Sam Fuld, shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Stephen Vogt.

The only way manager Bob Melvin gets to four is by including Hahn, a strong candidate for the back end of the rotation. Hahn was in the starting rotation for the San Diego Padres the second half of last season and showed himself to be enough of a commodity Oakland was willing to trade catcher Derek Norris for him this winter.

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Jim Harbaugh sees the A’s as `Jungle Lions’

A's first base coach Tye Waller, left, talks with his replacement today for a few innings, former Stanford and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now the Michigan head coach

A’s first base coach Tye Waller, left, talks with his replacement today for a few innings, former Stanford and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now the Michigan head coach

Jim Harbaugh may have given the 2015 A’s their identity Saturday, telling them in a pre-workout meeting that he thought of them as “Jungle Lions.’’

Harbaugh, the former Stanford and 49ers coach who is now heading up the football program at Michigan, explained his thinking to me after talking with the media while wearing an A’s uniform with his No. 4, threads he would need for the couple of innings he is due to coach first base later this afternoon.

“The A’s to me, the way they compete, the team, the different way they think, they are jungle lions,’’ Harbaugh said. “Zoo lions get tired of Zebra after a while and want filet mignon. Not jungle lions.’’

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News gets worse for Reddick: out 4-6 week with oblique

Josh Reddick will be shut down for two weeks to deal with a right oblique strain.

Josh Reddick will be shut down for two weeks to deal with a right oblique strain.

The news just gets worse for A’s right fielder Josh Reddick.

Two hours after manager Bob Melvin announced that Reddick was being shut down for two weeks to let a right oblique strain heal, Reddick told this newspaper that the prognosis for his return is 4-6 weeks.

“Actually, it was a worse feeling last night,’’ Reddick said. “After I got the MRI, they were telling me that it could be two months. So to hear this morning that it’s just 4-6 weeks is actually comforting, something of a relief.’’

Just not much of one. It seems unlikely in the extreme that he’ll be ready for the season opener against Texas on April 6, and at this point, just missing the first 10 or 12 games of the season would be close to the best Reddick and the A’s can hope for.

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Zito’s next game to be in relief, but another start possible

Barry Zito's next Cactus League appearance will be in relief of Sonny Gray next Tuesday.

Barry Zito’s next Cactus League appearance will be in relief of Sonny Gray next Tuesday.

Barry Zito reported to the A’s camp Friday morning with no extra residual soreness after making his first start in 18 months. However, he won’t be making another start for Oakland anytime soon.

Instead the plan is to have Zito piggyback on the start of Sonny Gray the next time out. Gray, the A’s projected opening day starter, April 6, will likely throw three innings next Tuesday against the Diamondbacks in Mesa, then have Zito follow him.

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Straily, Milone make best of rain with extended side work

Tommy Milone had to get his work in on the side after Saturday rainout.

Tommy Milone had to get his work in on the side


The rain that washed out Saturday’s Giants-A’s game at the Coliseum made for a long day for most of the A’s.

For pitchers Tommy Milone and Dan Straily, it was longer still. They were supposed to share the pitching duties against the Giants, Straily getting five innings and Milone four.

When the rain made sure that wouldn’t happen, it was off to plan B – each taking turns in the bullpen – the rain had stopped just about the time the game was called off – to get to their desired pitch count.

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Vogt takes demotion to Sacramento hard, but with grace

It was a great spring for Stephen Vogt. Right up until Saturday, when he got the word he was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

It wasn’t unexpected, even if it was undeserved. Manager Bob Melvin said it was perhaps the most difficult end-of-spring conversation he’d ever had with a player.

It wasn’t just that Vogt hit .364 with three homers and a dozen RBIs. It was that he’s developed a bond with the A’s pitching staff, he is genuinely liked by A’s teammates and he was a major part of the Oakland success the second half of 2013.

But the decision to go with two left-handed hitting first basemen, Brandon Moss and Daric Barton, meant the squeeze for roster space was on. Vogt, part of a three-man catching rotation last year, was odd man out when the A’s went with two catchers, John Jaso and Derek Norris, leaving Vogt to start in Sacramento.

And he took it hard. He badly wanted to be in Oakland, to the point where “you never want to believe it will happen until it happens,’’ he said.

Melvin took it hard, too.

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Murphy’s move to Sacramento could be sign of the times

When Sean Murphy moved from Philadelphia to Sacramento this off-season, he was sending a message.

Murphy, 25, had lived in Philly his whole life when not playing baseball. But after going 8-8 with a 4.08 ERA for Double-A Midland in the A’s organization last year, the right-hander set his eyes on Triple-A this time around.

Hence the move to Sacramento, home of the A’s Triple-A affiliate, the RiverCats.

“I’m hoping,’’ Murphy said. “I don’t know anything beyond that.’’

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Barton forces way onto A’s roster with a good spring

The A’s lineup heading into spring training pivoted around one person – first baseman Daric Barton.

If he made the team, the lineup would structure one way. If he didn’t make the team, it would structure quite another.

Barton has had a nice spring offensively. Heading into Monday’s game in Surprise against the Rangers, he carried a .298 batting average, but with no extra-base hits. He also had nine walks and had been hit by a pitch, leading to a .486 on-base percentage, which is something the A’s value highly.

So heading into Monday’s season opener, unless the A’s pull off an unexpected switch, you can figure on Barton being at first base with last year’s first baseman, Brandon Moss, serving as the DH. (Both men are likely to be on the bench when left-handed pitchers start).

If Barton hadn’t made the team, the DH would have been catcher John Jaso, also left-handed, with Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris sharing the catching. There are those in the A’s organization who see having three catchers as a possibility at some point later this season, but not now.

This level of success is a major about-face for Barton, who was repeatedly designated for assignment last year when it seemed his career in Oakland had been played out. But injuries in the outfield and behind the plate led to Moss moving to the outfield for a while and Jaso missing the last two months, and Barton thrived.

Called up for the final week of August, Barton hit .301 the rest of the way while posting a .381 on-base percentage. He’s always been more of an on-base machine than a run producer, but over those 29 games he actually had more RBIs (13) than walks (12).

The knock on him in the past was that he was too passive at the plate, too willing to wait for walks and not going to the plate with the idea of driving in runs, but he showed new aggression last September. It’s carried over to this year.

“I came here this spring to have fun, and I’ve done that,’’ Barton said. “I’m more aggressive now. When they throw a strike, I’m swinging.’’


Freiman, Lindblom, Leon cut, but Burns earns Bay Area trip

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

The A’s made what are likely their last roster trims in Arizona Sunday when they optioned first baseman Nate Freiman and pitchers Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon to Triple-A Sacramento.

Lindblom, who had a hitless, scoreless 4.2 innings against the Mariners Sunday before the M’s tagged him in the fifth, was in the mix in the bullpen, but with the A’s short two starting pitchers to the disabled list in Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery) and A.J. Griffin (elbow), both he and Leon will be starters for the RiverCats.

“We’re two down in the rotation,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “We need backup.’’

Lindblom served as starter and reliever in the big leagues with the Rangers last year after having been exclusively a reliever with the Dodgers and Phillies. He threw 4.2 innings without allowing a hit or a run Sunday against the Mariners before being tagged for two runs and lifted in a game the A’s lost in the bottom of the ninth, 6-4.

Lindblom said he long since learned how fruitless it was for players to play general manager, ended his spring with a 4.02 ERA and knowing that he’ll be a starter, which is what he would prefer.

Leon, too, made an impact with Melvin this spring with a 2.13 ERA in five games, including one start. The manager called him “highly impressive.’’

As for Freiman, he was a Rule 5 player last year, so the A’s had to keep him on the roster or lose him. This time around, he has options, so the club can send him down without risking losing him. And he needs more at-bats, because 2013 saw him serve almost exclusively against left-handed pitching.

“Nate needs to build up at-bats,’’ Melvin said. “Last year we needed him against left-handed pitchers, and he prepared for that. But he needs to get at-bats against right-handers and play every day.’’

Freiman hit four homers last year after having hit 42 combined in 2011 and 2012 in the minor leagues. Melvin suggests the power will return.

“The power comes when he gets more at-bats,’’ the manager said. “It’s easier to track the ball.’’

Melvin said the A’s won’t be making any more cuts before the Bay Bridge series, which means non-roster outfielder Billy Burns has opened enough eyes that he’ll be in the mix this weekend in San Francisco and Oakland.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ Melvin said of Burns having made it this far. “I don’t know that he would have through that this would have been the case for him, but he’s earned every bit of it.’’

Burns had two more hits in Peoria Sunday, has 20 hits for the spring and is averaging .313. And let’s not forget the Major League-high 10 steals the fleet Burns had. One of his two hits Sunday was a bunt to the right side that only the fastest of men could have beaten out.