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Loss aside, Hammel looks like a keeper

Just a few quick notes with a short turnaround to Thursday’s afternoon game at AT&T, the last between the A’s and Giants in 2014 unless they meet in October (and you know what that would mean).

As I wrote in the game story, Jason Hammel had a tough act to follow before he even took the mound Wednesday night. First start for the A’s, and he was making it on the road against a Giants team that knows him reasonably well. But most of all, he was following up a six-game string in which Oakland starters gave up one run or less and pitched at least six innings.

That streak was destined to end, and alas, the A’s now can’t finish the season at 129-33.

But if Hammel’s start didn’t measure up to the unreal standards of the past week, he showed reasonably well. Five innings, three runs (only two earned) and he kept the A’s in the game even though, as he said, he didn’t have command of his signature slider and walked more guys (three) than he’d walked in any start since April 16. Look, it’s not an open competition for the fifth spot — yet. Let’s see what Hammel does over his next three or four starts and possibly more. Tommy Milone threw four innings in Sacramento Wednesday night and gave up one run in four innings. Drew Pomeranz could be coming off the disabled list within the week, and with a rehab start or two, he could be ready to go. But it’s Hammel’s job until he loses it, and he didn’t do anything to suggest he can’t be a very solid fourth or fifth guy after one performance. His velocity was consistently in the 93-mph range and he did battle through a very tough 37-pitch third inning and allowed just one run. He did make a bad home run pitch to Hunter Pence, but that was really his only bad mistake.

What’s remarkable is that as rosy as things have looked for the A’s, their margin for error in the A.L. West still isn’t all that great. The Angels, who have the second-best record in baseball, keep applying the pressure, winning again Wednesday and cutting the Oakland division lead back to 3 1/2 games. With 71 games to go, there should be no breathing easy. While they would seem a virtual lock for the postseason, the A’s can’t let off the pedal or they could find themselves in that unenviable one-game wild-card playoff come October.

In other words, they could use the series wrapup before they head to Seattle for a very challenging weekend series that will end the first half. Scott Kazmir against Tim Hudson, facing his old team. Should be fun.

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A’s: The ability to bounce back the signature of this club

Manager Bob Melvin has his team rebounding whenever adversity shows up.

Manager Bob Melvin has his team rebounding whenever adversity shows up.

The old saying about sports is that you’re never as good as you look when you’re going good, and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re going bad.

So what does that say about the A’s, who have played 90 games with the second-best record (57-33) of any Oakland team ever and who haven’t had much bad happen?

It seemed like bad things might be ready to descend when the A’s finished the last road trip by getting swept in Detroit, losing three games when two of the three games were there for Oakland to win.

But they came back with a six-game homestand in which they won all six games they played and allowed five runs total in the six games.

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A’s: Gentry, Crisp prove speed doesn’t take a day off

Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry combined their speed skills to run down Giants Monday.

Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry combined their speed skills to run down Giants Monday.

The focus in Oakland almost always on the offense, which has scored the most runs (444) or on the pitching, which has the second-best ERA in the majors (3.11).

The thing is, the A’s can do more. And they did more Monday in the opener against the Giants, a team they will play three more times this week.

The A’s first run came in the fifth inning off Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong, who hit Craig Gentry with a pitch. Gentry then stole second and took third as Coco Crisp dropped down a brilliant bunt down the first base line, beating it out with a speed show of his own.

“It’s a good combination when they’re both on,’’ manager bob Melvin said. “there’s the dynamic where (the pitcher) has to be quick to the plate.’’

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World Series or not, 2014 A’s creation represents Beane’s finest, boldest work

Hollywood probably isn’t paying any attention anymore, but what Billy Beane has wrought with this 2014 A’s team would make a far better movie than “Moneyball.” It shouldn’t just blow your mind how good and how complete this club is, but how many machinations Beane and his cohorts have made to make to create what Oakland has today — a team that looks like it can finally break that postseason first-round spell and at least get to the World Series, if not win it.

Let’s just start with the rotation. Somehow, a club that lost Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin on Day 1 to season-ending injuries, AND lost Bartolo Colon to free agency, AND lost Brett Anderson in trade, AND wound up sending Dan Straily to the minors early on somehow comes out better on the other end by Beane beating the competition to Scott Kazmir, and now Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammels, to go along with Sonny Gray and 3-4 guys who can ably fill the fifth spot (Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz and Brad Mills). Really, that’s a shell game success story unlike I’ve seen in years with any baseball rotation reclamation.
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A’s addition of Samardzija, Hammel is a preemptive strike

There are some hidden depths to the A’s trade with the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

One of which is that it is a preemptive strike at the rest of Major League Baseball’s contending teams, almost all of which believe they need more starting pitching.

The Yankees do. The Orioles do. The Blue Jays do. And the list is long.

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O’Flaherty added to roster, Francis designated for assignment

The A’s reinstated left-handed pitcher Eric O’Flaherty to the active roster Thursday after a lengthy stint on the disabled list.

O’Flaherty was signed this offseason, while he was in the midst of recovering from surgery on his left elbow. To that end, the A’s placed him on the 60-day disabled list at the end of spring training.

He last pitched in a game May 17, 2013, as a member of the Atlanta Braves. He said he is eager to make his A’s debut.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” O’Flaherty said before Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. “It’s a big day. It feels like opening day.”

The A’s designated left-handed reliever Jeff Francis for assignment to make room for O’Flaherty on the roster. Francis had a 6.08 ERA in nine games for Oakland this season. He posted an 0-1 record and pitched 13 1/3 innings overall.

O’Flaherty, 29, is expected to replace Francis as a late-inning reliever and set-up man for closer Sean Doolittle. He is in his ninth season in the majors but first with the A’s.

For now, though, manager Bob Melvin said he intends to ease O’Flaherty back into the flow of things after such a long layoff.

“I’d like to get him in some games before we get him pitching in the seventh or eighth inning with two on,” Melvin said. “Having said that, you never know how the game’s going to play out. He’s ready for just about anything.”

O’Flaherty enjoyed sustained success for the Braves the past five seasons, and he gained a reputation as a pitcher that could get out right-handed and left-handed hitters on a consistent basis.

Adding a pitcher of O’Flaherty’s caliber to the bullpen midseason gives the A’s a nice little jolt, Melvin said. O’Flaherty said he’s just looking to carve out a niche.

“It’s cool to join a team this good and a bullpen this deep, where there’s not going to be too much pressure on me to really shoulder too much of a load,” O’Flaherty said. “I can just kind of get in where I fit in and help any way I can.”

 

 

 

– Melvin said third Josh Donaldson is out of the starting lineup for a second straight day because of back stiffness.

Donaldson’s availability off the bench depends upon how well he feels after taking batting practice, Melvin said.

 

– Yoenis Cespedes (hamstring) is back in left field tonight after being the designated hitter Wednesday.

 

– Right fielder Josh Reddick (right knee) was scheduled to get in some cardio work Thursday for the first time since he was placed on the disabled list, Melvin said. Reddick still hasn’t been cleared for baseball-specific drills.

 

– The A’s are in the midst of a daunting stretch in which they play teams leading their respective divisions.

They just finished playing the Detroit Tigers, who lead the American League Central. Tonight begins a four-game series against the Blue Jays, who sit atop the AL East. Next up are the Giants, who entered play Thursday in first in the National League West.

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A’s: Verlander’s velocity dropoff not slowing him down

So what does Wednesday’s clash between the A’s and Detroit starter Justin Verlander mean if the A’s and the Tigers meet again in the post-season?

A third consecutive meeting is a reasonable possibility. After all, Oakland and Detroit lead their respective divisions now, and it’s not clear that either has a sufficiently powerful divisional opponent to change that between now and October.

Last August the A’s hit Verlander. Last October, he dominated them.

Verlander isn’t the same now as then. Even with Wednesday’s win, he’s only 7-7 with a 4.71 ERA. Scouts say he doesn’t throw as hard. The A’s reached him for nine hits and were on the verge of knocking him out of the game, but he persevered.

And Oakland hitters say they’d expect no less in a rematch, reduced velocity or not.

“It’s definitely weird seeing him pitch in the upper 80s and low 90s,’’ A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “I’m used to the guy who reaches back and all of a sudden it’s 97 at your hands. But that is the transitions guys have to make as they get older. You see guys like (the Giants’ Tim) Lincecum doing the same thing.

“Verlander still throws the ball well. He keeps you off-balance. He mixes his pitches. He still pitches. He’s going to be tough.’’

A’s batting coach Chili Davis said the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Verlander, who just eight months ago struck out 10 A’s batters in eight innings in as dominating a Game 5 as Oakland ever wants to see thrown at it.

There was none of that Wednesday, just a solid six-inning performance that, coupled with A’s pitching breakdowns, did in Oakland.

“He’s become more finesse than power,’’ Davis said. “When he came into the majors, he was known as a power pitcher. He still has a good arm – he just didn’t pitch the same way (Wednesday).’’

How does a power pitcher make the change? In a two-decade career, Davis saw plenty who did, and he’s seeing it in Verlander. The right-hander is only 31, but he’s thrown the most pitches by far of any pitcher in the big leagues the last few years.

“He throws sliders to righties, changes and curves to lefties, shows the fastball up, tries to get strikes on the outer part of the plate, gets two strikes every once in a while and tries to surprise you inside,’’ Davis said. “And that’s pretty much what I saw today,” Davis said. “Hitters know he can get his fastball to 97. But are they strikes? Numbers will say his fastball is 91 to 97, but he doesn’t pitch at 97. He pitches 88-to-93, and if I’m a hitter, that’s what I’m looking for.

“I think he can keep winning games. The fastball is going to move; it’s not going to be straight. You might see the curve a little more often. As pitchers evolve, they’re learning new pitches, they’re learning hitters. He’s going to mix it up a lot more now. I’m not saying that’s bad. He’s still a presence on the mound, and guys have to respect his ability to get you out. He’s just evolving into a certain type of pitcher.’’

Brandon Moss’s day Wednesday might suggest that Verlander can be had, at least a little. Moss was 11-for-18 career against Verlander – 11 strikeouts, that is. On Wednesday he homered, singled and doubled while Verlander was on the mound, although the single was just a blooper that fell in left field where no defender was guarding against him.

Moss said it was wrong to dismiss Verlander’s potential impact. He looked back to last August, when Verlander’s power seemed to be on the wane a bit, again to last October, when the man who throws bullets reappeared.

“When he gets guys on base, he can dial it up to 97,’’ Moss said. “He’s a finesse pitcher with a power package.

“For most top-line starters, there’s a regular-season version and there’s a playoff version. We know that about him. He’s done well against us in the regular season, but in the playoffs, he’s going to be dominant.’’

It will be time for the A’s to step up their game.

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A’s: Mills giving club a chance to win as fifth starter

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A's rotation

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A’s rotation

For someone who was toiling until the last couple of weeks in the minor leagues, Brad Mills looks like the Major Leagues are somewhere he could prosper.

After a four-inning, 94-pitch start against the Red Sox after the A’s picked him up from the Brewers, the left-hander has come back with starts of 6.1 and 6-plus innings in which he’s allowed three runs each time.

The numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but when you pitch for the team that generates more runs than anyone, that’s at least enough to keep a guy competitive.

And the A’s are more than impressed by what Mills has done.

“He’s done a great job,’’ right fielder Brandon Moss said. “He pitched into the seventh, he gave us another good performance.

“But at some point we have to score a run for him, and we just didn’t do that.’’

Manager Bob Melvin came away impressed once again by Mills, who retired the first eight men he faced, striking out four of them, and only seemed troubled by cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez, whose double in the fourth set up the first run and whose two-run homer in the sixth locked the game away for Detroit.

“He gives up three runs to a team like this, and one of them’s on a ground ball and another’s on a homer,’’ Melvin said. “Really, the only bad pitch he made was the homer. But when you give up three and you don’t get anything …

“It’s a pretty well-pitched game by him. We just couldn’t help him out.’’

For his part, Mills seems to be settling in, although he second-guessed a couple of the pitches he threw, in particular the Martinez homer.

“I felt like I came out throwing strikes, making them swing,’’ Mills said. “There were a couple of pitches I’d like back. The homer was a changeup first pitch. I couldn’t locate it like I wanted.’’

He said the fact that Rick Porcello was putting the A’s away inning after inning didn’t impact his job.

“I don’t worry about what their guy is doing,’’ Mills said. “I’ve got a job to do. That doesn’t change what I’m trying to do, which is going out and trying to get strike one.

“The last two games I’ve gone out and given the team a chance to win. That’s my job, so I feel like the last two have been good.’’