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Healthy Liam Hendriks inheriting bigger roles with A’s

Liam Hendriks has become an integral part of A's bullpen since putting injury behind him.

Liam Hendriks has become an integral part of A’s bullpen since putting injury behind him.

There hasn’t been a more reliable arm in the Oakland bullpen the last eight weeks than Liam Hendriks.

Or as the Aussie right-hander puts it, “I’m finally pitching like the guy they traded for.”

When Oakland traded starter Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays last November to bolster the bullpen, it was the club’s first major off-season move and an indication of the esteem they had for Hendriks, who was coming off a season in Toronto where he was 5-0 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP.

So it was with some alarm that the A’s saw the first 30 games of the season implode on Hendriks, who had an 8.27 ERA, a 1.776 WHIP and a .394 opponents’ batting average in that span. Something had to be wrong, and it was. The club put Hendriks on the disabled list for six weeks with a triceps strain.

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Billy Butler making Bob Melvin, A’s take notice of production

Billy Butler keeps hammering the ball against right-handers, and it's getting him more playing time.

Billy Butler keeps hammering the ball against right-handers, and it’s getting him more playing time.

Billy Butler has seemingly come out of nowhere to be the A’s hottest hitter.

The prize free agent plucked from Kansas City two winters ago struggled in his first year with Oakland, hitting 40 points under his career batting average, just .251, with just 15 homers.

It wasn’t want he or the A’s were looking for after agreeing on a three-year, $30 million deal designed to give the A’s more right-handed oomph.

Things got so bad in the first month of this season that Butler became relegated to being a part-time player, starting against left-handed pitchers but having to check the lineup card every day to see if he might be getting a start against a right-hander.

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Henderson Alvarez willing to pitch relief, if that’s what it takes to get back on a big league mound for A’s this year

Henderson Alvarez hasn’t talked to the A’s media for a couple of months now, not because of any Trump-ish view of the media, but simply because there hasn’t been much to say.

With a month and a half left in the season, that’s changing. The right-handed starter on whom the A’s had high hopes sat down Saturday and talked to me about his optimism that despite everything, he would pitch for the A’s this season.

And if that means pitching in relief for the first time since 2011, he’s cool with that.

“I wouldn’t go against what the manager wants to do,” the Venezuelan-born Alvarez said through an interpreter. “I’ve always been a starter, but mostly I just want to contribute.”

The A’s still see Alvarez as a starter, but for the moment the club has to deal with the realities of time. The season is over in just over seven weeks. That’s plenty of time for Alvarez to build up his arm strength if he was going to throw an inning here or there out of the bullpen, but maybe not enough to build up to being a starter.

On top of that, the minor league season ends on Sept. 5, meaning he has just two weeks to get into an injury rehabilitation game before the A’s minor league affiliates call the regular season quits. He’s about ready to start throwing bullpen sessions, but gearing up that quickly seems undoable.

Still, Alvarez is getting geared up to pitch again, and that has him feeling good, because this season hasn’t gone at all the way he’d hoped. Right now, pitching in relief sounds pretty good to someone his teammates say just wants to compete.

“If it’s relief, I’d be encouraged,” Alvarez said. He’s pitched in relief seven times in the minor leagues. He has been in 92 Major League games, and all of those have been starts. “I just want to be out there.”

Oakland took a flier on the 2014 National League All-Star, signing him as a free agent last December, knowing that there was no way he would be able to pitch for the club for at least the first six weeks of the season.

Alvarez had spent the second half of the 2015 on the disabled list in Miami following July surgery on his shoulder that year. The A’s medical team checked him out and determined it was reasonable to expect Alvarez back in May or June.

And it wasn’t unreasonable. He made three injury rehabilitation assignment starts in May, but in the last of them felt discomfort and had to be shut down for three weeks. Then came two more starts in June, but in the second of those there was more discomfort and another two months was lost to recovery and slow buildup.

“It was very disappointing both times to get as close as I did,” Alvarez said. “There was no warning, but these things happen. It’s not in my control.”

“It’s definitely been a difficult season. But I never gave up. And now I’m feeling good again.”

Alvarez played catch up to 105 feet Saturday and will play up to 120 feet Sunday, after which he says he expects to start throwing bullpen sessions.

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Sean Doolittle heading out on injury rehab assignment

Sean Doolittle is heading out on an injury rehab assignment and could be back on next homestand.

Sean Doolittle is heading out on an injury rehab assignment and could be back on next homestand.

Sean Doolittle could be back with the A’s when they return from a seven-game road trip to Texas and Chicago that starts Monday.

The Oakland lefty, who hasn’t pitched since June 25, is being sent out on an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Nashville. Manager Bob Melvin said the plan calls for Doolittle to throw as many as three times in the week he’s gone, beginning with an inning on Monday.

Doolittle threw 20 pitches to hitters Friday and came off the mound feeling good about the state of his shoulder.

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Khris Davis continues to hit like a big kid in Little League

Khris Davis hasn't found hitting homers a hindrance in the Coliseum.

Khris Davis hasn’t found hitting homers a hindrance in the Coliseum.

While searching to come up with an apt description of Khris Davis, A’s left fielder Coco Crisp went back to basics.

“This park can be a little humbling,” Crisp said. “For him, he makes it like he’s one of those big kids in the Little League World Series. That’s what it feels like when you see that guy hit a home run.”

Davis’ first-inning homer would have been semi-normal for a left-handed hitter. He delivered a fly ball that hugged the right field line, refused to bend into foul territory and carried out for his 28th bomb of the season, a new career high.

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Sonny Gray starts strengthening exercises; no throwing yet

Sonny Gray remains optimistic he'll pitch for A's again this year, but for now, he's just starting strengthening exercises on his right forearm.

Sonny Gray remains optimistic he’ll pitch for A’s again this year, but for now, he’s just starting strengthening exercises on his right forearm.

Starter Sonny Gray remains hopeful that he will be back on the mound for the A’s as a starter in September, but progress is coming along more slowly than he would like.

There is still inflammation in his right forearm, and as long as that’s the case he won’t be able to throw a baseball even to play catch on the side.

Gray did, however, stars a series of shoulder-strengthening exercises on Friday while waiting for the inflammation to subside.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Gray said. “But I’m still hoping I’ll be back out there again this year. That’s the plan.”

Manager Bob Melvin said replacing Gray isn’t done easily.

“He’s shown that he’s one of the elite pitchers in the league,” Melvin said. “He’s had a little bit of a tough time this season, but I don’t think that deters from how we feel about him and about how the rest of the league looks at him.”

Gray’s absence due to injury has led the A’s to scramble for starting pitching. When the club turned to Sean Manaea to start Friday’s series-opener against Seattle it brought an end a string of eight consecutive games with different starting pitchers – Jesse Hahn, Dillon Overton, Gray, Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Zach Neal, Ross Detwiler and Andrew Triggs.

That’s two thirds of the 12 different starters the A’s have used this year – Rich Hill, Daniel Mengden, Eric Surkamp and Chris Bassitt being the others.

And there may be more when August turns into September. Hahn is due off the disabled list in a week or so, but manager Bob Melvin named three minor leaguers Friday who were candidates to get a start in Seattle before the year is over – Mengden, Jharel Cotton and Raul Alcantara.

Cotton came within one out of a perfect game his last time out in just his second start since joining the organization as part of the deal that sent Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1. And Alcantara, who started the season at Double-A Midland (5-6, 4.80) has blossomed since joining Triple-A Nashville (3-0, 0.70 in four starts).

“We don’t want to see that again,” Melvin said of the A’s setting an Oakland record by having used different starters in eight straight games. “We’re probably status quo with the rotation the next time around. Then we’ll see when Jesse comes back. We still have Mengden, Cotton, Alcantara; they may be a little big later in coming.”

 

–Sean Doolittle threw a 20-pitch bullpen to hitters Tyler Ladendorf and Max Muncy Friday afternoon and could so be pitching in a game after having been on the disabled list since June with a left shoulder strain.

Doolittle threw all his pitches and came out of it fine, Melvin said.

The plan for the left-handed reliever is to either throw another set again hitters or have him head out on an injury rehabilitation assignment. That will depend on how he feels when he reports to the Coliseum Saturday.

Melvin said the A’s have been trying to be cautious with Doolittle, who began the year as the closer but who has been on the disabled list since June 25 and who has missed about seven weeks’ worth of games.

“We’ve been pretty conservation with him for obvious reasons,” Melvin said of the staff ace. “He’s a big part of what we do here. We want to make sure he comes back strong. So we’re not pushing the envelope too quickly.

“Knock wood. Everything looked really good today. The ball came out of his hand nicely and he was able to throw all of his pitches.”

 

NOTES

–Hahn (right shoulder strain) is down to throw a bullpen session Saturday. If all goes well, he’ll head out after that for an injury rehabilitation assignment and could be back with the A’s by next weekend or shortly thereafter.

–Second baseman Jed Lowrie, on the disabled list with a bunion on his left foot that has him walking gingerly will be seeing yet another specialist about what to do next. He’s talked with the A’s doctors and one outside specialist so far and has gotten conflicting information on what to do next. He’d like to avoid season-ending surgery.

–The Mariners originally planned on starting lefty Ariel Miranda Friday, but he pitched in relief in a 15-inning game Tuesday, so the club called up right-hander Joe Wieland to make his third big league start. The first two were with the Dodgers, both last season.

–Lefty reliever Patrick Schuster, put on waivers earlier in the week by Oakland, was claimed Friday by the Phillies.

 

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Don’t look now, but Billy Butler’s no average hitter

Billy Butler is looking for more playing time worthy of his recent surge of hits.

Billy Butler is looking for more playing time worthy of his recent surge of hits.

It’s easy enough to think of Billy Butler as an afterthought in the Oakland lineup.

He doesn’t play every day. He seldom plays defense. For much of the year, he didn’t hit.

The most that could be said about Butler is that he made a lot of money. He signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Oakland before last season as a free agent.

It didn’t look like much of a deal last year when he hit just .251 with 15 homers. And when he got off to a .242 start through the first three months of the 2016 season, it seemed as if the .240-.250 range was his new home.

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Jesse Hahn feeling `great,’ says DL stint should be brief

Jesse Hahn should be back in A's rotation when his DL time is up on Aug. 20 or shortly thereafter.

Jesse Hahn should be back in A’s rotation when his DL time is up on Aug. 20 or shortly thereafter.

Jesse Hahn’s stay on the disabled list won’t be a long one.

The A’s starter is eligible to come off the DL on Aug. 20, and between now and then he’ll make one injury rehabilitation start as a tuneup for his right shoulder.

“I feel 100 percent, I’m ready,’’ Hahn said Thursday before heading out to throw on flat ground before the series finale against the Orioles. “I feel great.”

The plan is for the right-hander, currently diagnosed as having a right shoulder strain, to follow up Thursday’s session with a full bullpen

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Relay play pays huge dividends for A’s in 1-0 win

Max Muncy turned in a relay play that helped save the day for the A's in the first inning Wednesday.

Max Muncy turned in a relay play that helped save the day for the A’s in the first inning Wednesday.

It was the kind of play you’d expect established veterans to have a chance of making. The tight fielder gets quickly to the ball, throws to the second baseman, who relays the throw to the plate for the out.

Except for the “established veterans’’ part, the A’s first inning was scripted just like that. The right fielder was Danny Valencia, who has spent most of his season as Oakland’s starting third baseman. Then there was Max Muncy, who’d been trying to learn to play third base when the A’s need for a second baseman came up.

And the catcher was Bruce Maxwell, the backup who gets only occasionally opportunities to play behind starter Stephen Vogt.

For all their inexperience at their positions Wednesday, those three pulled off the play that saved the A’s in a 1-0 win over the Orioles.

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Jharel Cotton makes a name for himself in Oakland, long distance, no less with run at a perfect game

It took, Bob Melvin said, “about five seconds’’ once the manager had gotten to his office after Tuesday’s win over the Orioles to hear about Jharel Cotton.

The right-handed Cotton was one of three pitchers picked up from the Dodgers in the trade of Josh Reddick and Rich Hill, and the A’s had considered bringing him up to start this week against the Orioles.

They didn’t, and all he did instead was come within one out of a perfect game for Triple-A Nashville against Round Rock. The Express’s Daniel Bernier tripled with two out in the ninth of Cotton’s 3-0 win, becoming the only man to reach base.

Did that performance help Cotton’s case to be called up soon?

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