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Sogard and Posey do battle for `Face of Baseball’ Monday

OK, let’s get right to it – the MLB Network’s “The Face of Baseball’’ campaign is just hokey.

Using Twitter to pick one player on each roster to represent that franchise, then put them in a series of head-to-head fan votes is just a little over the top.

But since it’s pitting the Giants vs. the A’s, it may be time to look past that.

Monday morning fans will be asked to vote on Twitter on Eric Sogard of the A’s against Buster Posey of the Giants in the third round bracket of the competition.

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Parker seems on target for opening day start vs. Indians; Melvin taking Twitter out for a spin for the second time

UPDATED

The first starting pitchers for A’s Cactus League play starting Wednesday will be Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker.

Manager Bob Melvin told the Bay Area News Group Sunday evening he’d mistakenly swapped Milone and Parker when he was talking about his first three starters of the Cactus League season.

There was no official notice of an opening day starter from Melvin, but the fact that Parker is pitching Friday suggests that he is down to get the opening day start.

Oakland starting pitcher candidates Parker, A.J. Griffin, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, and Sonny Gray are expected to throw every fifth day to get them in order.

Doing that would, when you factor in days off March 20 and March 30, would have Parker scheduled for a March 31 start. And that’s opening day in the Coliseum against the Indians.

Milone has a chance to break into that rotation, but if he does so, it likely would have to be at the expense of Straily, who won 10 games for the A’s as a starter after being called up to stay at the end of April.

Although he’s been a starter and is getting Wednesday’s start against the Giants in Scottsdale Stadium, Chavez pitched only relief in Oakland last year and would seem destined for that role again this year.

 

–Twitter 1, Melvin 0.

Melvin joined Twitter last spring with the idea that he needed to keep abreast of the latest trends. He lasted three days. He didn’t much like what he read, finding it annoying for the most part.

But he’s back. He said Sunday he joined Twitter for a second time, this time under an alias, and for the moment, at least, will just read and won’t be posting tweets. He noted his buddy, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson joined this year and has tweeted once.

Who’s he following? A total of 29 people at this point including about 10 of his players and most of the local media involved in covering the A’s. That would include one @jhickey3.

“It’s more the players who annoy me more than anything else,’’ he said. “Some of the stuff, I don’t even want to see what they’re doing.’’

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Moss draws praise for dropping down a bunt vs.shift; Rodriguez looks good to go, but A’s won’t do it yet

The A’s wrapped up Saturday’s workouts with the pitchers heading back to Phoenix Muni and the hitters staying around for some competitive batting practice at Papago Park.

The idea was to have the hitters bat against the shift, so the teams were split on left-handed and right-handed lines.

And during one of his at-bats, Brandon Moss dropped down a nice bunt for a hit.

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Novel idea helps A’s double up on their batting practice

A's double batting cagesThe A’s were all over bench coach Chip Hale Friday in the second day of workouts at Phoenix’s Papago Park.

In a good way.

It was Hale, who runs the nuts and bolts of the A’s spring training camp,  who decided to use side-by-side batting cages on one of the back fields at Papago Park, then to set up a left-handed breaking ball machine on one and a right-handed machine on the other.

Players were able to get through twice as fast, if that was their desire, or to get twice as many swings.

Field baseman Nate Freiman was in the twice-as-much category.

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O’Flaherty glad A’s will keep him under wraps as he recovers; Cook receives good news on favorite fan in K.C.

For a guy who’s not healthy enough to pitch quite yet, Eric O’Flaherty is sure of himself.

He’s sure that he could be pitching again by late May, early June at the latest after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

And then he laughs.

“That’s why I don’t make those decisions,’’ he said.

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Moss fired up about addition of Savery to A’s bullpen; Abad won’t fret the addition of another lefty in bullpen mix

Brandon Moss was playing in the Phillies organization in 2011 when the Phils promoted a struggling hitter from Double-A to Triple-A.

The hitter was Joe Savery, a former first-round draft pick who was giving hitting a try after what Savery himself describes as “three very average years’’ as a pitcher. Savery had once thrown in the mid-90s, but when he was moved, he was hitting about 86-87 on the radar gun.

Change came after the Phillies’ Triple-A team, Lehigh Valley, found itself locked in a mid-season extra inning 2011 game when they ran out of pitchers. In desperation they turned to Savery, their 6-3, 235-pound first baseman/outfielder.

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Doolittle ahead of schedule even after calf problem; A’s pick up Savery from Phillies for bullpen depth

Monday was a good day to be Sean Doolittle.

The left-handed A’s reliever came in having been pain-free for three days in the wake of suffering a right calf strain Tuesday. Then he went on the mound and threw as if he’d never missed any time at all.

He showed good velocity, if not pin-point command.

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O’Flaherty’s call from A’s came at just the right time; Alcantara’s star on the rise; Gray works over the catchers; Ynoa makes it all look so easy

The call that brought Eric O’Flaherty to the Oakland A’s couldn’t have come at a better time.

He was in the middle of rehabbing his left arm after Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery and was trying to figure out where he should go as a free agent.

Then came the news that his mother-in-law, Holly Gualco, had some serious medical issues. Being close to their Washington State home would be ideal.

“The A’s contacted us late,’’ O’Flaherty said Sunday at the A’s spring training camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “But the day we got the news about my mother-in-law was the same day they called.

“I’d told my agents that even though I was probably only going pitch half a season this year (after recovering fully from the surgery), I wanted to pitch for a contender. And with Oakland being the second-closest team to our home, that became a big bonus for us.

“My wife (Heather) is going to spend a lot of time flying to Washington this year. If we were on the East Coast, it would be difficult. Being in the Bay Area makes it much easier on her. And pitching for the A’s, well you can’t pitch for a more competitive team.’’

 

–When the A’s traded reliever Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox in 2011, in return they got Josh Reddick, who has been their right fielder the last two seasons.

At the same time, Oakland insisted on getting right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara in the deal. No Alcantara, no trade.

Alcantara threw for the first time this spring Sunday, delighting manager Bob Melvin and drawing some nice comparisons from longtime A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman.

“I look at him and he reminds me a lot of Jose Rijo with the stuff he throws, minus the slider,’’ Lieppman said.

Rijo pitched for the A’s (without much use of the slider) from 1985-87, then pitched for the Reds (with ever-increasing use of the slider) from 1988-95, including the 1990 World Series when he crushed the A’s with two wins, allowing one run in 15.1 innings for Cincinnati.

Lieppman said that Alcantara, who throws hard, will need to work on his secondary pitches.

“But the thing is he has the tools,’’ the four-decade member of the A’s organization said. “I can see him at Double-A this year and then we’ll see what happens.

Alcantara went 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA at low Class-A Beloit last year, then moved up to high Class-A Stockton where he went 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA. Through it all, he struck out 100 more than he walked, 124-24.

“The ball jumps out of his hand,’’ Melvin said after watching Alcantara throw for the first time this spring Sunday. “It’s just about controlling all the pitches and throwing the ball over the plate. We’re excited about having him. We expect big things out of him.’’

 

–Melvin, a former catcher himself, said that A’s starter Sonny Gray is one of the more difficult draws a catcher can get, especially early in the spring.

“He’s one of the more difficult guys to catch because his fastball movement is really inconsistent,’’ Melvin said. “It will cut one time, it will sink one time.

“You see catchers dropping a lot of balls, especially early in camp. Especially until you’ve caught him a few times. He’s got a very unique fastball. He’s got very late movement to it and very rarely is it straight.’’

 

–Michael Ynoa seems bigger than his 6-foot-7.

And his fastball seems bigger than most, too.

The A’s prospect threw for the first time on schedule Sunday. Last year he was supposed to open up with the A’s in the spring, but a case of the chicken pox got the better of him.

Now he’s healthy, and the A’s like what they are seeing from the Dominican prospect to whom they paid a whopping $4.25 million in 2008 when he was still in his teens. He’s just 22 now.

“That’s just easy, easy. It looks like he’s not working hard,’’ Melvin said after watching Ynoa throw. “I don’t know that he’s sweating. The ball just jumps out of his hand.

“With him it’s all about health and utilizing a secondary pitch because very rarely do you see a guy throw what appears to throw that easy and that hard. There’s a reason he got the type of money he did at the time. Now it’s all about keeping him healthy.’’Alcantara

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Humber perfect no more, but hopes to help A’s; Melvin likes what he sees from Scribner, Lindblom, and Nieve; and notes

If you were in Safeco Field on April 21, 2012, you may have thought, as Philip Humber did, that he had it all going.

Humber, then starting for the White Sox, threw a perfect game against Seattle in his second start of the season

“I thought, `Is this really happening?’ ’’ Humber said. “Then I thought I can continue to dominate in this league.’’

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Longtime A’s manager La Russa makes Hall of Fame along with Braves’ Cox, Yankees’ Torre

Tony La Russa, the engineer behind the A’s rise to prominence in the late 1980s and 1990s, is heading to Cooperstown.

La Russa was one of three men, all managers, elevated to Hall of Fame status Monday morning from a field of a dozen candidates from the expansion era (1973-present). La Russa was voted in unanimously, as were longtime Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who did most of his winning while at the helm of the New York Yankees.

The last time all three were active at the same time was 2010, the year that Cox and Torre called it a career. La Russa retired after the 2011 season with 2,728 wins, third on the all-time list. Cox finished fourth with 2,504 wins and Torre fifth with 2,323.

It was the golden era of managers, and before the 2010 season, I sat with all three to talk about their careers and the careers of their peers.

In the final week of the 2009 season La Russa passed legendary Giants manager John McGraw to have managed the second-most games in history, 4,772. He will never catch the No. 1 manager in terms of both wins and games, Connie Mack, for the simple purpose that La Russa doesn’t own his team as Mack did with the A’s, a team he managed for 53 years.

What La Russa, a self-described fan of managers, does own is the perspective to talk knowledgably about the best traits of the other three.

“Bobby is very bright about baseball games and situations and is very sound in running a game and has great ideas,’’ La Russa said. “I got to see him a lot for the first time when I came over here (to St. Louis and the National League) in 1996. He’s just a classy person and very professional. He knows why he’s on the field – he’s there to win and to accomplish that with a lack of bull. He doesn’t put his team in bad situations, and he competes like a maniac.

“Joe had great credentials as a player. And he has a personality that was created for managing in New York. He was able to hold his own with George (Steinbrenner) and while he had a lot of good players, he was the equal of his star players, earning their trust and their respect. Those are two of the best assets a manager can have.

“Joe always has had the knack of handling wins and losses the right way. The Yankees’ best case scenario is always the World Series. When they don’t get there, it is not a good year. That’s hard to deal with, but Joe always did. The other thing about his Yankee teams is that from the outside the focus is on all the money they spent on their roster. You were not going to be happy losing to them, but they didn’t insult you. They beat you, that’s all. And his Dodger teams were the same way.’’

What was it exactly that made these three special?

“For me, it’s the passion that you need to have to keep doing the job year after year,’’ Torre said. “It’s the one thing we all have in common. You talk about walking away from it, but it’s been such an important part of all our lives.

“I remember after I’d been with New York three or four years I said I wasn’t going to be doing this past the age of 60. Well, I’m pushing 70 now, and I’m contemplating another year after this one. You never know how long the passion will last.’’

La Russa said “the basis of managing is that they are paying you to for your best judgment. Sometimes it means going by the book. A lot of the time it doesn’t.’’

Over the years, managers have found “the book,’’ whatever it is, has changed. All the newest members of the Hall of Fame say that managing at the end of their careers had quantum differences from when they started.

“Managing is different now,’’ La Russa said. “You don’t have the same control of players you used to. It’s harder to keep their attention. The players all have their other people, and those other people are telling them what they should do. And from that point, doing this is not as much fun as it used to be.

“On the other hand, I’ve been lucky. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now, and the number of guys I’ve had who I dislike is incredibly small. That makes this job so much easier day to day.’’

Torre has seen the change, too, but like the others doesn’t run from it.

“For me, the change is the challenge,’’ Torre said. “When I was still playing, a manager could threaten a player. You can’t do that now. There’s no more, `Do this because I told you to.’ Now you have to have a reason that you can make them understand.

“Tony’s right when he talks about having the players’ attention.  Part of what makes this job doable is the players paying attention to you. You have to be aware of having that attention and respect.

“Either way, you have to use different words to basically say the same things, because the things you believe and the way you want your team to play is not going to change that much. When it comes right down to it, success adds credibility to what you do. I know that I get a lot more attention after becoming the Yankee manager and winning than I got before.’’

Winning is something the Cooperstown Class of 2013 specialized in. And yes, they are venerated for that by other managers and by players for that trait.

“We all want to win,’’ Cox said. “We all want to be able to look back and say our teams all played to win. There are reasons our (win totals) are up there. We’ve agonized over pitching changes and lineups for a long time.

“The philosophy I’ve always had is that you don’t always have great players, but whatever happens, keep playing hard. I really believe in that, and I want my players to believe in it, too.’’

And winning has no shortage of benefits.

“One thing we have after doing this all these years is some personal immunity,’’ La Russa said. “If what you’ve deemed to be the best move doesn’t work out, where’s your regret? You made the right call. You know that. It just didn’t work.

“If a call you make doesn’t work out, you can say it was a bad idea and go on to the next situation. The only chance for success you have in this game it to do whatever you think is right.’’

Those three did, and on Monday they got their sport’s ultimate reward.