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Early exit from roster for Leon a tough one for Melvin

The need for a slew of arms behind them with back-to-back split-squad games Friday and Saturday over, the A’s made their first roster cuts of the spring Sunday morning, sending out five players, all pitchers.

Right-hander Arnold Leon, who was up briefly with the A’s in 2014 but didn’t pitch, was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. Right-hander Raul Alcantara, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was optioned to Double-A Midland. And right-hander Angel Castro and lefties Jim Fuller and Rudy Owens were reassigned to minor league camp.

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Looking forward, Reddick points toward Bay Bridge Series

His swing will last test of Josh Reddick's injured right oblique; Bay Bridge Series may be the testing grounds.

His swing will last test of Josh Reddick’s injured right oblique; Bay Bridge Series may be the testing grounds.

No one is looking forward more to Oakland and San Francisco returning to Northern California than Josh Reddick.

When the A’s and Giants, who met Saturday in Mesa in a Cactus League game, head north for the Bay Bridge Series April 2-4 that signals the imminent start of the regular season, Reddick could be playing for a spot on the A’s opening night roster.

Reddick came down with a right oblique strain after his first spring game, and with it came the prognosis of 4-to-6 weeks needed to return to health. Reddick did stretching with the A’s early in the day and then made some throws from 60 feet, his first throwing since being sidelined.

He hasn’t been given a time to start to swing a bat yet, and that will determine if he can make it back. If not, he likely starts the season on the disabled list.

“It felt good today, but being able to swing will be the real test,’’ Reddick said. “I know the timetable, but I’m hoping to be back in there for the opener (which will come about the 4½-week mark).

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Parker being cautious, but his arm continues to feel strong

Jarrod Parker is feeling good, even as he makes sure not to rush his comeback from a second Tommy John surgery.

Jarrod Parker is feeling good, even as he makes sure not to rush his comeback from a second Tommy John surgery.

This is the second time around Tommy John surgery for Jarrod Parker, so he knows enough to be cautious.

Even so, the A’s right-hander can’t help but feel optimistic about the way his spring has gone. He threw to live hitters Friday for the first time and his arm continues to be pain-free.

Parker isn’t down to join the A’s rotation until mid-season.

“It went really well,’’ Parker said. “Everything is good.’’

Having been down this road before with coming back from Tommy John surgery, however, he’s not prone to rush things, no matter how good his arm feels. He threw just 20 pitches against hitters. None of his live bullpens have seen him throw more than about 45 pitches.

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Billy Butler has a grand time with his ex-Royals mates, then makes them pay

Billy Butler mashes a two-run double against his old team, the Royals.

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Billy Butler admits he still feels the tug of the Kansas City blue, and the pull was particularly strong Friday when the A’s met the Royals for the first time in Cactus League play.

“I’ve got a lot of friends over there, and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing on the other side,” Butler said. “This game brings you together and bonds you, and what we accomplished last year, that stuff stays with you for life.”

Butler received a huge ovation from Royals fans when he came to bat with runners on first and third and one out in the first inning. He then gave A’s fans in attendance something to cheer about when he pulverized the second pitch he saw past fleet center fielder Lorenzo Cain for a two-run double.

“I told Cain I was going to burn him,” said Butler, who also had a fielding highlight at first base when he alertly tagged out Brett Eibner stepping inside the baseline toward second base following a single.

Butler spent time in the Kansas City clubhouse once the A’s arrived at the ballpark, even sitting on his old locker stool. The Royals also poked some fun at their former DH. Someone posted a bogus notice on an information board denoting “Billy Butler Tribute at 12:20.” Talkative outfielder Jarrod Dyson asked Butler if he’d like to step on a scale for old times’ sake.

“I think they would have mad if I didn’t go over to see them,” said Butler, who was lifted after two solid at-bats. “I had to let Dyson have his way with me for a little while.”

The A’s will visit Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during the second week of the regular season and Butler believes that will be a lot more emotional.

“Spring training’s one thing, but in April when we go there, that’ll be the tough one,” he said. “I spent my whole career there. I did a lot of stuff in the community. Just being in the organization for so long, I have a lot of friends in the city that I’ve met. And it’ll just be weird going over to the other dugout.”
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Kazmir’s spring training debut coincides with Ferrell’s, but pitcher revels in the spirit of it

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If it wasn’t tough enough for Scott Kazmir to wait a week to make his first spring training start with the A’s, he had to do it Thursday with comedian Will Ferrell playing behind him at shortstop.

Kazmir was held back from making his first Cactus League appearance, as was fellow starter Sonny Gray, because of the load both pitchers had during the 2014 season. Kazmir threw 190 1/3 innings, the most he’s thrown since 2007, and the club wants to take it slow this spring with the starters who worked the most last season.

Hence, it just happened that Kazmir finally got the nod on the day Ferrell was filming for his HBO special about playing all nine positions in one day for 10 different teams, shuttling from park to park over the course of the day.

Kazmir pitched a scoreless first inning with Ferrell playing behind him but admitted it was a challenge to his concentration. He wound up throwing 2 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, two walks and striking out four. He threw 48 pitches, but none were more challenging than those first innings one with Ferrell chattering behind him.

“That was tough,” he said. “Pretty much all I wanted to do was turn around and see what he was doing. I heard him pretty much every pitch. But it was awesome, it was cool to have him back there.”
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Will Ferrell’s a comic hit in long morning session with A’s

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Trailed by an army of production officials from HBO and Major League Baseball, comic actor Will Ferrell invaded Oakland Athletics spring training camp for nearly five hours Thursday as part of his film day-long odyssey to play every baseball position with 10 different teams around the Cactus League.

It was every bit the circus it was expected to be and then some. Ferrell arrived promptly at 8 a.m. to do the bulk of shooting for a forthcoming HBO special entitled “Ferrell Takes The Field” and told gathered media, “Can’t talk now. I’m in Beast Mode.” He didn’t stop for the next several hours prior to initiating an ambitious playing schedule in five Cactus League games, moving from park to park around the Phoenix area by helicopter.

He spent more time with the A’s in Mesa than any other place. He worked the clubhouse and met players, stretched with the team and had a long conversation with Bert “Campy” Campaneris, who Ferrell has said he’s honoring on the 50th anniversary of the former A’s shortstop great playing all nine positions in a major-league game in 1965.
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Moss not bitter about breakup of 2014 A’s, believes they would have made World Series by beating K.C.

MESA, Ariz. – Brandon Moss’ first two at-bats against his former A’s teammates went pretty much like the last couple he had with Oakland — a pair of crush jobs most mortal men aren’t capable of delivering.

The first traveled well above the 410-foot marker in center field at Hokokam Stadium, and without the high hitters’ backdrop that knocked the ball back into play, Moss would have been an epic homer. He had to settle for an epic triple, but then he did homer in his next at-bat — against tough lefty Fernando Abad, no less.

In short, Moss delivered a pretty loud message – the A’s just might miss this guy who slammed 76 home runs for them over the past three seasons. That total doesn’t count the two he launched in last year’s American League wild-card game against Kansas City that should have pushed Oakland deeper into the playoffs but didn’t.

That sobering fact still burns a bit in Moss’ belly, even though he is plenty happy to be a new member of the Cleveland Indians this spring.

“I honestly felt if we’d gotten through that game, we were going to the World Series,” said Moss. “I honestly believed that. The way we were going to match up against all the teams that were there, I just felt like we were better. It was just a matter of getting through that game. But we didn’t.”

When the A’s lost 9-8 to the Royals in 12 innings, it also represented the end of an era for a team in which Moss not only established himself as a major league slugger but played on a team that went to the postseason three straight seasons. But with the A’s never really getting very far once they got there, he thought a breakup might happen.

“I didn’t make much of it, but I could kind of see it coming,” he said. “We were losing some guys (to free agency), guys were getting more expensive, and some of us were hurt. So there were questions on the production and what it was going to be like the next year even though we were going to be more expensive. So I don’t think I really ever questioned it. I just took it for what it was and ran with it. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Moss was traded to Cleveland on Dec. 8, 2014, for minor league infielder Joey Wendle. Arbitration eligible, he settled for $6.1 with the Indians, and he expects to fulfill the same role he did in Oakland — a little first base, a little outfield, a little DH, and a lot of long-ball hitting.

The Moss trade, just part of a bigger Oakland overhaul, was a quiet end to an impressive run. He was an All-Star last year but a hip condition that troubled him all season and resulted in a horrific second half – a .173 average and just four homers and 15 RBIs after hitting 21 homers with 66 RBIs before the break. And when Moss’ offensive numbers plummeted, particularly following the Yoenis Cespedes trade, so did Oakland’s.

“It started to be where I couldn’t hit on the front side anymore and I tried to figure out ways to combat that and I started hitting away from the front side,” Moss said. “That’s why even when I hit a ball and barrel it, it didn’t go anywhere. I get my power driving through my front side. I was one of those situations where what do you do? Do you play through it because you’d been playing so well? Or do you end the season right there?”

Moss elected to play even though he struggled, and just before the playoff game, received a cortisone shot he thought would get him through a deep playoff run. When he hit the two homers against Kansas City, it seemed like a sound strategy.

“I couldn’t even feel my hip, and I should have gotten that earlier,” he said. “But I was afraid to get that sooner because it’d wear off as we were progressing through the playoffs.”

Moss had offseason surgery to repair the problem and says he now feels great. And despite the bitter outcome in the playoffs, Moss definitely wasn’t bitter about his departure from Oakland, even though he called the Coliseum a hitter’s “graveyard” he won’t miss.

“Obviously, I’m more than appreciative of my time in Oakland,” he said. “I wouldn’t be standing here without it. But I understand that it’s part of it, and I’m happy I got traded to a place that there’s a great group of guys and a good team and the opportunity to be in a similar situation as I was the past three years. Anytime you get traded, you can wind up in some places that aren’t the best situation. but I don’t think I could have ended up in a better one than over here.”

Moss said he will always reflect on Oakland’s three-year run fondly, even with the short-circuited ending in Kansas City.

“Win or lose, that was the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “I’ve never played in a baseball game that was that much fun, that there was that emotion. And I’ve never been that un-disappointed after we lost the game. We literally gave it everything they had. Guys were playing hurt. D-No (Derek Norris) was hurt, J.D. (Josh Donaldson) was hurt, Redd (Josh Reddick) was hurt. Coco (Crisp) had a broken neck, basically. Jed (Lowrie) had a broken finger. (Stephen) Vogt was playing with a broken foot.

“So to accomplish what we did as a team when we were on balance, I was proud of us. We were all proud of each other.”

–Carl Steward

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Gray over-amped in spring debut but stuff is there, Zito keeps teasing for a spot somewhere

In a numerical quirk, both Sonny Gray and Barry Zito emerged from their spring training outings in Mesa on Tuesday with 7.71 ERAs. Beyond that, their respective future paths couldn’t be more different to predict.

For Gray, an inconsistent first outing means nothing. He’s the A’s ace and will surely be starting on Opening Night against Texas on April 6. Already held out a week and with his infant son Gunnar in the park attending his first baseball game, the 25-year-old A’s ace admitted he was simply emotionally over-heated while allowing five hits and two runs in 2 1/3 innings.

As for Zito, the latest chapter of his comeback bid to make the A’s rotation was harder to project going forward. Following up Gray to start the fourth inning, Zito opened with two dazzling shutout innings in which he allowed just one scratch single. But in his third frame of work, the veteran left-hander allowed two runs on a walk and two hits, including a long home run to Arizona’s Jake Lamb and a ringing Cody Ross double in a 6-5 Oakland victory.

If nothing else, Zito sustained the intrigue that if he can’t make it with the A’s, he’s very likely going to make it with somebody. At 36, he clearly can still pitch, and at least for his first two innings against the Diamondbacks, his command looked better than it did before he took the entire 2014 season off.

“I felt pretty good today, I just lost a little focus on a couple of hitters in that third inning,” Zito said. “I don’t know about velocity, but my location felt pretty good. I was down, riding it in on their hands, missing barrels. That’s what you want – weak contact, whether it’s in the air or on the ground.”

Leading off his third inning, however, Zito hung a big looping curve to Lamb, who pummeled it over the right field fence. After walking Cuban rookie Yasmany Tomas, he then got a pitch up in the zone to Ross, who drilled it into the right-center gap. Zito recovered, however, to retire Danny Dorn on a short fly to left and then got Oscar Hernandez on a slow bouncer to second to end his 45-pitch outing on a positive note.

So what now for Zito? Manager Bob Melvin has so many rotation candidates to look at, he wasn’t sure when he will take the mound again. But there’s little question the A’s will continue to take more looks after Tuesday. And perhaps other clubs in search of pitching will be paying close attention, too.
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Crisp scheduled for MRI today on throwing elbow; Gray, Zito pitch today

Outfielder Coco Crisp will have an MRI today on his strained right lower triceps injury near his right elbow after X-rays proved inconclusive. Results are expected on Wednesday, and while this doesn’t seem to be a serious injury, manager Bob Melvin said, “Anything’s possible.”

Crisp, who came out of Monday’s game complaining of elbow soreness, seemed to be in good spirits when he came to the ballpark Tuesday morning and wasn’t wearing any kind of protective wrap for the injury. So stay tuned on the latest Crisp malady.

Elsewhere, Sonny Gray makes his first game appearance of the spring today and will approximately 40 pitches. Barry Zito will follow up with roughly 45 pitches. With all of the starter candidates pitching so well, it remains to be seen what Zito’s odds will be of making the rotation. Pitching well may be a bit more important to him than some of the other candidates.

“He knew coming in that the odds were a little longer than maybe some of the guys we traded for,” said Melvin. “That’s where performance for him comes into play. You never know where it’s going to go as far as injuries, too. And then with as many guys we want to see start games against first lineups, it’s tough to get consistent starts for him. But if you pitch well, you have a chance. We didn’t bring him in just to bring him in. We brought him in because the potential is there to possibly make the team.”

Melvin said versatile Ben Zobrist would make his first start in right field on Wednesday. He’s at second base today. Stephen Vogt will go five innings behind the plate on Wednesday after making his 2015 debut behind the plate with three innings on Monday. Vogt said his foot feels pretty much 100 percent but he’ll continue to wear a protective steel plate in his shoe for much of the first half of the season.

Jarrod Parker was scheduled for another full bullpen session, and if it goes well, Melvin said he could have some news on Parker’s next step. Melvin also noted that he’s still holding out hope that Josh Reddick (oblique strain) could be ready for Opening Day.

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Zobrist may yet wind up in right field for the A’s

When Ben Zobrist came to the A’s, it was with the understanding that he would be Oakland’s starting second baseman.

But Zobrist, who played in the outfield nearly as much as the infield in helping build Tampa Bay into a power, including 47 outfield starts in 2014, may be asked to put that versatility on display again as the opening day right fielder.

The A’s will almost certainly start the season with right fielder Josh Reddick on the disabled list after he came down with a right oblique strain late last week. That being the case, manager Bob Melvin is looking for options, and the versatile Zobrist is at or near the top of the list.

“I think Zobrist enjoys moving around some,’’ Melvin said. “But you never get as comfortable as possible moving positions. This team is built around depth and versatility, and he is a big part of that.’’

Zobrist has not played right field this spring, and in the day-ahead lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks, he’s listed as being the second baseman. But he carries two gloves with him at all times and it’s likely he’ll be in right field before too much longer.

There are, of course, other options. Melvin said that Mark Canha, the Rule 5 first baseman/outfielder, is one if he makes the roster. Craig Gentry, who is down to split time in center fielder with Sam Fuld, is another.

And look for first baseman Ike Davis to get some work in the outfield before too much more of the spring has passed. He could be freed to go out to right field by having current DH Billy Butler play at first base.