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A’s 4, Astros 3

Josh Reddick’s season-long slump officially ended Saturday when he backed up a three-hit game with another three-hit performance, including a game-winning single with one out in the ninth inning in a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

In collecting three of the A’s 14 hits, Reddick upped his average to .200, or more than double where he sat at the start of the three-game series against the Astros.

Sure, right fielder Reddick has put in plenty of hard work in trying to bust out of a 4 for 41 funk to start the season. But, the answer to regaining his stroke might have been as simple as stumbling across a box of his bats stashed above teammate Alberto Callaspo’s locker.

Reddick used one of those bats Friday and banged out three hits in four at-bats. So, naturally, he snagged another one of his bats from that once-hidden box Saturday and hammered three more Saturday.

“We were blaming it on that,” Reddick said of his slump before finding the stash.

Reddick started Saturday’s game 0 for 2. He finished with three straight singles, with the third one scoring Yoenis Cespedes with the decisive run.

Cespedes’ run was the only time the A’s held an advantage on the scoreboard. As he touched home, it set off a wild celebration in the middle of the infield, with Reddick somewhere in the middle.

“We often talk about guys who are in deep slumps, sometimes it only takes one game where you get a couple of hits or a couple of balls up, you start to feel a lot better about yourself,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Reddick.

It wasn’t just Reddick who made a winner out of Dan Otero and prevented starter Scott Kazmir from being saddled with his first loss of the season.

Shortstop Jed Lowrie ignited the three-run rally in the ninth with a leadoff home run. Callaspo tied the game with a run-scoring single that also enabled Cespedes to get to third.

Perhaps most impressive, Reddick’s hits Saturday were to the left side, the right side and up the middle, respectively. He now is dictating at-bats.

“It’s showing me it’s where I want to be in the box with every pitch,” Reddick said. “ … Being able to not be so pull-happy or go-the-other-way-happy shows me that I’m where I need to be and I have enough confidence in myself to do everything.”

Kazmir’s confidence hasn’t wavered from the time he signed with the A’s. He turned in his fourth straight impressive outing and kept the A’s within striking distance through eight innings of six-hit, no-walk ball.

Melvin said, “He pitched great again. He threw over 100 pitches today, basically in the same fashion we’ve seen him every time. He certainly didn’t deserve to get a loss.”

The Astros scratched out runs in the third, fourth and fifth. Meanwhile, the A’s weren’t having much success against Brett Oberholtzer and two relievers.

Yet, Kazmir said, he felt as if it was just a matter of time, as long as he kept the game close.

“Just go as deep as I can,” Kazmir said, “and as long we got it close, I feel like we got a good chance.”

 

– Center fielder Coco Crisp made it through Friday night’s game without any flare-up with his sore wrist. Yet, Melvin isn’t taking any chances with his leadoff hitter, so he gave Crisp another day off Saturday.

Melvin is worried most about Crisp’s wrist holding up well when batting right-handed – Crisp’s four at-bats Friday came from the left side.

“We’ll get into it slowly,” Melvin said. “He felt a lot better swinging right-handed (Friday) in the cage.”

Crisp entered Saturday’s game in the sixth as a pinch-hitter for Craig Gentry because the Astros went to a left-handed pitcher. He got two at-bats.

 

– A’s reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw a bullpen session at the Coliseum for the first time Saturday as he continues his rehab from an elbow injury that required surgery.

O’Flaherty isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery, anytime soon. He isn’t eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until May 29.

However, it’s possible that he will face batters when the A’s return from their next road trip, Melvin said.

Melvin watched O’Flaherty’s bullpen session. He said O’Flaherty threw some sliders and looked good.

“What he’s got to offer is pretty exciting,” Melvin said.

 

– Kazmir made it 15 times in 17 games that A’s starting pitchers allowed three runs or fewer this season. Four of those games were Kazmir outings.

 

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Crisp back in lineup atop batting order

– Lead-off hitter Coco Crisp returned to the starting lineup Friday after he was limited to pinch-hit appearances the past two games because of wrist and hamstring injuries.

 

– The recently completed nine-game road trip did nothing to change manager Bob Melvin’s opinion about his team, he said.

He watched his troops win seven of nine games, surge into first place and show that they are every bit as focused as last year’s team.

“A team that’s not afraid to play on the road, is not afraid to play in close games and, as far as our offense goes, it seems like our at-bats get better and better as the game goes along and they are fierce, competitive at-bats,” Melvin said. “And we’ve got a deep pitching staff. So, really, nothing has surprised me to this point.”

 

– Even though the A’s signed Doolittle to a long-term contract extension Friday, that doesn’t change Melvin’s approach to how he uses his bullpen.

Melvin said things are “status quo” for now, which means that Doolittle or Luke Gregerson is going to be summoned for save situations, with erstwhile closer Jim Johnson the “wild card” in the equation.

“Right now, we’re fine with this, but there’s the potential for anything,” Melvin said.

 

– There isn’t much new to report about the recovery by top prospect Addison Russell from his most recent right hamstring injury.

“It was probably a little more significant this time, a little higher up,” Melvin said. “It may take him a little bit longer than when he came back during spring training.”

Russell first hurt his hamstring in early March. He damaged the same hamstring in early April while playing in a game for Double-A Midland. He is expected to be sidelined at least until May.

 

– The A’s get familiar with most of their American League West counterparts during spring training in Arizona. However, the Astros prepare for the season in Florida, which means the A’s got their first look at the 2014 Astros on Friday.

The teams will have had their fill of each other before long, though. Friday marked the first of a three-game series and the first of seven meetings within a 10-game span.

 

– Here’s the A’s batting order for Friday night’s game against the Astros, the first of a three-game set at the Coliseum:

CF Coco Crisp

SS Jed Lowrie

3B Josh Donaldson

1B Brandon Moss

LF Yoenis Cespedes

DH Alberto Callaspo

C John Jaso

RF Josh Reddick

2B Eric Sogard

P Sonny Gray

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Doolittle takes blame for ninth inning, but isn’t bummed

Sean Doolittle loves A's ability to win as a team

Sean Doolittle loves A’s ability to win as a team

Sean Doolittle has never had great success in closing games, although the sample size (11 games) is so small as to be irrelevant.

He had a chance to lock down his fifth career Tuesday night when he was handed a 9-7 lead, but he was taken down by a Kole Calhoun double and a Mike Trout homer.

Doolittle blamed no one but himself.

“That was a thigh-high fastball over the middle of the plate,’’ Doolittle said, indicating that Trout could not have asked for a better location. And when you put the leadoff guy on, you’re just asking for it.’’

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Don’t worry, Fuld isn’t going anywhere … at least he’d better not be

The A’s waded through the opening homestand to a 3-3 upside finish. The final game, which looked like it was going south badly over the first three innings, picked up with a Brandon Moss three-run homer, three hits from Eric Sogard, a long opposite field homer from Yoenis Cespedes, a gutty turnaround from Sonny Gray and a save by Jim Johnson. They sent a crowd of over 32,000 home happy, which is always a good thing.

Oh yes, and they also got two electric plays from 32-year-old utility outfielder Sam Fuld, playing in place of struggling Josh Reddick in right field. Fuld gunned down Seattle’s Abraham Almonte with a throw that even Reddick would have been proud of, an on-target seed that beat Almonte to the bag by at least 10 feet. Then later in the game, he robbed Logan Morrison with a full layout catch that is sure to make all the highlight reels.

Even though he also got thrown out taking too wide of a turn on a single, Fuld had a pretty good week offensively, too, for a player who hit .199 last year. He had a couple of triples, hit .308 and also posted a .357 on-base percentage. The A’s couldn’t have asked for much more from their backup outfielder. Bob Melvin loves the guy.
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As long as you’re a little off, it might as well be to a frighteningly good Felix Hernandez

John Jaso knows all about Felix Hernandez. He’s had the best seat in the house — right behind home plate — for many of his most dominating performances, including King Felix’s perfect game on Aug. 15, 2012. But as good as that game was, Jaso said Hernandez might have been even better against the A’s on Saturday, particularly over the first seven innings.

Jaso said he and Hernandez gave each other a head nod before the former’s first at-bat, but afterward, the pitcher showed him no mercy. The two converged at first base when the pitcher covered first base on a slow roller.

“I ran down the line and he was like, `What are you doing over here?’ ” Jaso recounted. “I just told him he was nasty today.”

Hernandez, who was my pick to win the Cy Young this year, doesn’t get as much recognition as Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, but when he’s on, he can be as overwhelming as any pitcher in baseball. Early in the game, he had thrown 27 pitches, 24 for strikes. I honestly thought in the third inning we might be seeing a no-hitter on this day. So did manager Bob Melvin, who managed Hernandez at a very young age.

“For seven innings, that may the best we’ve ever seen him,” Melvin said.
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Doubleheader wrap: Johnson should get it figured out, but it needs to happen in a hurry

After a very long 13-hour day at the ballpark, a very short blog post.

You can give Jim Johnson credit for one thing after his disastrous opening series with the A’s. The new closer isn’t afraid to face the music for a bad effort, whether it be a torrent of boos or a probing media horde wanting to know how a guy who saved 50 games last year suddenly looks like he’s lucky when he gets an out.

Johnson, who didn’t have a great spring, is off to an even worse start in the regular season. As he admitted himself after Wednesday night’s three-run blow-up when he was entrusted with a 4-3 lead in the ninth, the A’s should be 3-0 and they’re 1-2 primarily because of him. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the fact is Oakland has been exceedingly fortunate with closers over the last several years, so to see Johnson blow games in his first two appearances is a bit shocking.

And the fans, what few of them showed for this latest disaster, don’t like it one bit. They started booing after Johnson gave up a leadoff hit to start the inning, and it only got louder as the inning progressed. It’s tough enough to blow a couple of games, but Johnson’s predecessor, Grant Balfour, was an extremely popular guy and his rage act won over the fans.
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PREGAME NOTES: Michael Taylor likely on the trade block for A’s

A’s outfielder Michael Taylor has enjoyed a productive spring training, but time appears to be running out on his tenure in Oakland. The 28-year-old Stanford product is out of options and there’s not a spot on the A’s Opening Day roster for him.

Manager Bob Melvin indicated a trade could be likely for Taylor.

“You never know how it plays out here but he’s created this situation for him,” Melvin said of Taylor. “I know other teams are looking at him and watching him pretty hard. It’s a credit to him that he played so relaxed this spring and put up the numbers that he did. Regardless what happens, I feel that he’ll end up in a good situation for him.”

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Gimenez one of those waiting for opportunity to strike

This is the week that will determine Chris Gimenez’s season.

Claimed on waivers by Oakland as the fourth man to add to what was a three-man catching rotation, Gimenez is a 31-year-old veteran who has logged creditable time with the Indians, the Mariners and the Rays.

He’s not going to make the A’s roster, which may not have room for three catchers, much less four. He’s out of options, so he can be a free agent once the A’s set up their roster and he’s not on it.

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