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A’s: Latest trend in clubhouse: Going to the jungle

I went to the jungle Friday.

I had no idea of what was going on when I walked into the A’s clubhouse shortly after it opened at 3:30 p.m. ET and heard multiple players yelling “I went to the jungle!’’

The phrase was new to me in a baseball sense, well in most any sense, really, so I asked the nearest player I could find, infielder Nick Punto, what was going on.

He said he wouldn’t let me write about it unless I did it. That’s a challenge writers can get from the players in a baseball clubhouse from time to time. I pursued it.

It seems that on Wednesday in New York, leadoff man Coco Crisp brought a small vial of hot sauce. A few of the players rubbed some on their gums before the A’s-Mets game. Second baseman Eric Sogard was one of the first, and when some of the stragglers came over to join in, Sogard coined a phrase.

“I told them, `Welcome to the jungle.’ ’’ Sogard said.

It caught on. Immediately the practice became “Going to the jungle.’’

The A’s then went out and scored six runs in the first two innings. In baseball, everything that happens has a certain level of causality, so the hot sauce was back Friday.

The challenge, Punto said, was to put a dollop on the tip of my index finger, then rub it over my gums.

Me, I’m just dumb enough to do that. Punto said later he didn’t think I would. He was wrong.

Let me say here and now that there was some pain involved. Not an unbearable amount, but it’s safe to say the practice isn’t for everyone.

Crisp wasn’t around to see me do it, but word got out quickly. A fist-bump ensued.

He explained that he has three small bottles of intense hot sauce. This was the mild one. It registers, he said at 300,000 on the Scoville Chile Flame Scale. Your average Jalapeno comes in at about 2,500-5000. A sweet bell pepper goes at 0-100. So 300,000 is way, way over what most people are used to. These intense sauces are mostly used in small amounts to

Crisp’s other two are Scoville listed at 5 million and 9 million.

I don’t think I’ll be trying those.

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A’s: Doolittle’s numbers say it all; he should be an All-Star

A's closer Sean Doolittle is on a roll that should land him in the All-Star Game.

A’s closer Sean Doolittle is on a roll that should land him in the All-Star Game.

At his current rate of production, there doesn’t seem much that A’s closer Sean Doolittle can’t do.

If you’d like to do something Doolittle can’t or won’t do, just dwell on his statistics for a bit.

–He’s 11-for-12 in save opportunities.

–He has not allowed a run in his last 23 games, a total of 25.1 innings. It’s the longest active streak in the American League and fourth-best streak in A’s history.

–He’s walked 1 and struck out 53. No pitcher since 1900 had struck out 45 before issuing a second walk.

–He’s faced 64 batters since May 60 and has retired 60 of them, allowing three hits and one walk.

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A’s: Reddick’s arm, glove will continue to keep him in lineup

Josh Reddick's defensive contributions continue to mount.

Josh Reddick’s defensive contributions continue to mount.

Periodically A’s watchers will wonder out loud why Josh Reddick is in the Oakland lineup when he’s healthy, almost without exception.

It usually happens when Reddick is the middle of a cold offensive spell. That’s not the case right now, because he’s played just two games in the last three weeks after coming off the disabled list. There hasn’t been enough time to be hot or cold.

Wednesday night was a case in point of why he plays so much. Reddick’s arm, always a weapon, saved at least one run and kept Oakland starter Brad Mills in control of the game. More than that, Reddick made a couple of stellar catches.

He opened the third inning making manager Bob Melvin’s heart race a little by going into the stands in foul territory to make a highlight-reel scoop behind a fan. Melvin saw Reddick’s 2013 season impacted by a play against the wall in Houston, and he just got the right fielder off the disabled list Tuesday. He’d like to keep him around for a while.

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A’s bullpen brings Star Wars Darth Vadar’s helmet into fold

Will the force be with the A's bullpen and it's Darth Vader helmet?

Will the force be with the A’s bullpen and it’s Darth Vader helmet?

If the A’s bullpen was looking for an identity, it may have found it with a little help from George Lucas, Darth Vader and Co.

Sitting in the clubhouse Tuesday was a full-sized green-and-gold helmet worn by villain deluxe Vader in the Star Wars franchise.

Speaking for the bullpen, A’s closer Sean Doolittle said “it’s going with us everywhere.’’

The helmet originally caught the eye of reliever Evan Scribner in spring training who saw an A’s fan carrying it. Scribner asked what it would take to get one, and eventually he and the fan worked out a deal.

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Doolittle’s at-bat is a “let down,” Norris says he feels fine but will adjust his positioning behind the plate

A's closer Sean Doolittle didn't pitch Sunday, but did get his first big league at bat. (Staff photo/Jane Tyska).

A’s closer Sean Doolittle didn’t pitch Sunday, but did get his first big league at bat. (Staff photo/Jane Tyska).

OK, that game was just plain weird. It had all the looks of a ho-hum loss most of the day. Tommy Milone’s struggles against the Boston Red Sox continues and Jon Lester was pitching a gem. The Red Sox were going to avoid the four-game sweep and the A’s would still be satisfied with taking three of four.

Then…all of a sudden the game is tied. The eighth-inning rally started so harmlessly with an HBP and then a walk. Then back-to-back-to-back singles suddenly made it a game. You can read the game story here, but this had so much more that I had to cut.

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Gray gets pushed back, Melvin wants to see Colon run and Coco sits on gnome day

Jimmy Durkin in for John Hickey on getaway day as the A’s try to complete the sweep of the Red Sox before heading to New York.

Sonny Gray will get pushed back four days and make his next start Saturday against the Miami Marlins.  (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Sonny Gray will get pushed back four days and make his next start Saturday against the Miami Marlins. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

The biggest news today is that the A’s will push Sonny Gray’s next start back four days to give their young ace some extra rest. Instead of starting Tuesday against the New York Mets, Gray will go Saturday against the Miami Marlins.

“Just giving Sonny a little bit of a break,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said in explaining the decision.

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A’s: Cespedes fills in, nails Crisp with pie in face

The As pride themselves on their versatility and depth. 

Yoenis Cespedes is all smiles after delivery celebratory pie to Coco Crisp Saturday

Yoenis Cespedes is all smiles after delivering celebratory pie to Coco Crisp Saturday

It has seldom been tested more than after Coco Crisp’s game-winning single to beat the Red Sox 2-1 in 10 innings Saturday.

The Oakland tradition after a walkoff it is a ceremonial whipped cream pie in the face during the post-game television interview. It’s been going on for a few years now, with right fielder Josh Reddick doing the honors for the most part.

If Reddick is unavailable, or if he’s the man who’s delivered the game-winner, then Crisp takes over. On Saturday, Reddick was off on an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Sacramento. And Crisp delivered the hit.

So there was a void.

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A’s: Norris injury appears minor, but he may need some time

Derek Norris may need a day or two off after getting winged by a foul tip Friday, but X-rays revealed no break.

Derek Norris may need a day or two off after getting winged by a foul tip Friday, but X-rays revealed no break.

Friday evening produced a win for the A’s, but they also seem to have dodged a bullet regarding catcher Derek Norris.

He’s been hit repeatedly by bats on backswings this month and has been able to soldier through.

He was winged by a foul tip in the sixth inning. Manager Bob Melvin and the training staff checked him out, but Norris convinced them he was good to go. However when the seventh inning began, Norris had been replaced by Stephen Vogt.

“I didn’t want to come out; I never want to come out,’’ Norris said. “But when I came back to the dugout, it really tightened up on me. And it got to the point where I didn’t want to risk me messing up.

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Bullpen finally rounding into shape, which is going to make A’s that much tougher to beat

Thursday night at the Coliseum was pretty much another chapter in the Scott Kazmir first-half roll (9-2), and the lefthander’s latest gem is detailed in full in the game story here.

But the real development of the A's in recent weeks has been the stabilization of the bullpen after a shaky first two months. Suddenly, the roles are rounding into shape and Oakland is making it even tougher on opponents as they start to close down on leads in the late innings.

Sean Doolittle settling into the closer's role was the first step. The A's really needed that ninth-inning stopper, and Doolittle has so far been up to the task and then some. But now the A's are also building an effective bridge to the ninth.

Luke Gregerson got off to a slow start with the A's but of late he's become a lockdown eighth inning guy. Adding another 1-2-3 eighth Thursday night in which he struck out pinch-hitters Daniel Nava and David Ortiz in succession and then got a routine grounder to second by Boston leadoff man Brock Holt, Gregerson now has 12 consecutive scoreless appearances during which he has thrown 13 2/3 innings, allowed just six hits and three walks and struck out 17. Opposing hitters are just 6 for 45 (.133) over that span.
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Quite an achievement for the A’s to have baseball’s best record near halfway point

The A’s are not likely to stop to applaud themselves after just 72 games, but by all rights, they should. Who would have expected a team that lost two-fifths of its starting rotation at the outset of the season to have the best record in baseball nine games shy of the midway point?

Think of all the other things that haven’t gone so swimmingly. Jim Johnson, for instance, and the bullpen as a whole early on. Dan Straily, a rotation mainstay last year, has spent most of the season in the minors. Remember how horribly Josh Reddick started the year, and then came the Josh Donaldson slump. Jed Lowrie still hasn’t hit a hot streak all year and he’s currently hitting just .222. Ryan Cook still hasn’t found his old self yet, and we have yet to see Kevin O’Flaherty. Eric Sogard, despite playing consistently on defense, is hitting .199.
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