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Hill, `Steve’ do a number on Mariner hitters Saturday

Rich Hill had his fastball and curve working in sync Saturday vs. Mariners.

Rich Hill had his fastball and curve working in sync Saturday vs. Mariners.

About the only thing wrong Rich Hill did that was off-base Saturday was to refer to his catcher as “Steve.’’

Stephen Vogt can let most things slide, including this, in all likelihood, but he really, really prefers to be called Stephen.

Even so, if Hill is going to go out every five days and throw six innings allowing one run, the left-hander could probably get away with calling his catcher Stephanie.

Well, maybe not. But Hill gave the A’s pitching corps a much-needed boost with six innings in which he walked one and struck out 10. His final K, of the Mariners’ Chris Iannetta in the sixth inning, was his 500th career strikeout.

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Despite Hahn challenge, Surkamp will remain in rotation

Eric Surkamp will continue as an A's starter.

Eric Surkamp will continue as an A’s starter.

Eric Surkamp wasn’t all that impressed by his first start with the A’s Friday, going just 4.1 innings and getting no decision in a 3-2 Oakland win in Safeco Field.

If he’d gone on the internet, the left-hander would have seen that the man he beat out for the fifth spot in the A’s starting rotation, righty Jesse Hahn, pitching at about the same time, threw six scoreless innings in a start for Triple-A Nashville.

Still, there seems to be no reason for undo concern on Surkamp’s part. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he liked what he’s seen from Surkamp so far, and as long as that’s the case, Surkamp will be fine. But Melvin had a long chat with Nashville skipper Steve Scarsone, and the report he got on Hahn was very encouraging.

“He said he threw the ball well, he gave up two hits, and he said the sinker was better as the game went along and he was really impressed by his performance,’’ Melvin said in recalling the conversation with Scarsone. “It was an encouraging first outing for Jesse.’’

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Rodriguez’s big fifth inning sets up later A’s heroics; Reddick glad to have gotten first homer out of the way

Although he got neither win nor save, Fernando Rodriguez got the two biggest outs of the game Friday in Seattle.

Although he got neither win nor save, Fernando Rodriguez got the two biggest outs of the game Friday in Seattle.

The way baseball is, the way the media is and the way fans are, most of what will be written about and talked about the Oakland bullpen this year will fall on Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.

And for legitimate reasons – they pitch the final two innings, and the final two innings is often where a game is won or lost.

On Friday, the game was decided, to a large degree, anyway, in the fifth inning. Manager Bob Melvin went to the pen for Fernando Rodriguez with one out and men on first and third after the second of two Jed Lowrie errors had put starter Eric Surkamp in a bind. The manager had just a very few words for Rodriguez.

“He told me to keep the ball and we’d get me a double play,’’ Rodriguez said. It couldn’t have played out much better. The infield was in a severe shift with cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz at the plate. Rodriguez kept the ball down. Cruz slashed a grounder to shortstop Marcus Semien. The double play was on.

As a whole, the Oakland bullpen threw 4.2 innings of scoreless ball Friday. As a group, the relievers will attest the 1.2 innings turned in by Rodriguez midgame were the hardest to come by.

“I did that role last year,’’ Ryan Madson said. He began the season in Kansas City pitching in middle relief, although by season’s end he was pitching at the end of the game for the World Series champions. “It can be easy to overlook. But what he did tonight was not easy.’’

Surkamp said the double play grounder that Rodriguez got was “the big moment in the game, at least up to’’ Chris Coghlan’s homer to win it in the ninth.

“If the Mariners could have snuck one more run there, it would have been tough for us,’’ Surkamp said. “But when we turned that double play, we changed the game’s momentum.’’

The bullpen had another surprise. Melvin had closer Sean Doolittle throw the eighth inning and his usual eighth-inning man, Madson, pitch the ninth. The idea was to have Doolittle, a lefty, face the two most potent lefties in the Seattle lineup, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

They were due up in the eighth inning and Melvin said Doolittle told him he knew he’d be pitching the eighth because of the matchups. And it worked. Cano, who’d homered four times in his first three games, hit a routine fly to left and Seager popped out to center.

“I kind of flipped eight, nine because of the lefties,’’ Melvin said. “But for tonight, Fernando was the star.  He’s the one coming it with traffic out there. And that’s the toughest role.

“The farther you go in the game obviously, you see the guys who are considered your stars as far as the bullpen goes, but for me that guy who comes in with guys on base and picks up the starter, he probably has the toughest job.’’

 

–When Josh Reddick got into the A’s lineup last year, the season was already a week old. He’d been held back because of injuries, and almost immediately he started feeling the pinch. He wanted to go deep and get that first home run out of the way.

It didn’t happen for about a week after his return, and Oakland’s season was 12 days old before Reddick would go deep for the first of 20 times.

On Friday he hammered his first homer in Game 5. It came as a relief.

“It’s always good to get that first one,’’ he said. “The last thing you want to do is to be thinking about when it might come.’’

 

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Ken Griffey Jr. goes from opening vs. A’s Dave Stewart in 1989 with double to a date in Cooperstown this summer

Ken Griffey Jr. debuted in 1989 vs. the A's; now he's headed to Cooperstown this summer.

Ken Griffey Jr. debuted in 1989 vs. the A’s; now he’s headed to Cooperstown this summer.

It was no surprise that Ken Griffey Jr. threw out the first pitch before Seattle’s home opener against the A’s Friday night.

Griffey, after all, is the quintessential Mariner and in January was voted into the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers, and he’ll be formally inducted this summer in Cooperstown.

It was just coincidence that the A’s were in town, but it was against Oakland, in the coliseum, that Griffey had his first Major League opening day back on April 3, 1989.

His first at-bat was against Dave Stewart, at that point in the middle of four consecutive 20-win seasons for Oakland. Griffey crushed a double in his first at-bat.

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Gray cures the One-Run Loss Flu in delayed first start

Sonny Gray finally beat the bug that knocked him out of his Opening Day start and made up for lost time against the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night.

Not coincidentally, the A’s also recovered from the One-Run Loss Flu. With Gray allowing just three hits over seven innings and striking out five, Oakland made a meager offensive output stand up in a 2-1 victory over the Sox after two disheartening defeats by a run to open the season.

The A’s ran into a tough pitching customer themselves at the Coliseum in Chicago’s latest left-handed starter, Carlos Rodon (0-1), but Rodon was outpaced by Gray, who other than some slight command rustiness (four walks), only really allowed one hard-hit ball that ultimately became the visitors’ only run.
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Frazier HR haunts A’s in a couple of ways after 5-4 loss

Starter Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley have differing views on Todd Frazier's key homer in loss to Chicago Tuesday.

Starter Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley have differing views on Todd Frazier’s key homer in loss to Chicago Tuesday.

Tuesday’s game was decided by Jimmy Rollins’ solo homer in the ninth inning.

But if the A’s could have avoided the three-run bomb off the bat of Chicago’s Todd Frazier in the fifth, that would have done the job, too.

The thing is, the A’s could have avoided it, and and a 5-4 loss, in a couple of ways.

The first would have been not to allow Frazier to get to the plate. That could have been accomplished on a slow Rollins’ grounder to second base. Jed Lowrie fielded the ball and seemed to think he had a play on the runner, Adam Eaton, going from first to second.

Lowrie made the throw, but he didn’t have a play. Eaton was safe, and so was Rollins, beating a return throw from shortstop Marcus Semien.

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Gray feeling better after bout of what he believes was flu; he’ll start Wednesday; Kendall Graveman fighting flu now

Sonny Gray (center) is feeling better after missing Monday's opening day start with what was probably a 24-hour flu bug. He'll start Wednesday for A's.

Sonny Gray (center) is feeling better after missing Monday’s opening day start with what was probably a 24-hour flu bug. He’ll start Wednesday for A’s.

Sonny Gray now doubts it was food poisoning that kept him from a third consecutive Opening Night start Monday. He’s willing to put the blame on a 24-hour flu.

One thing the A’s right-hander does know is that either way he’d just as soon not spend any more time in hospitals getting IV fluids pumped into him.

Gray, who will now start Game 3 of the season against the White Sox Wednesday, would have been willing to pitch regardless, but he said Tuesday in retrospect it was the right call for him to be skipped.

“It’s just one game of 162,’’ he said. “It was upsetting not to start, it really sucked, but there’s nothing you can do about it.’’

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Bullpen holds up its share of the load in opener Monday

Sean Doolittle was back throwing almost as hard as ever in the A's opener Monday.

Sean Doolittle was back throwing almost as hard as ever in the A’s opener Monday.

No area got more off-season attention for the A’s than the Oakland bullpen, and the results were promising on opening night.

The A’s only got 3.2 inning from emergency starter Rich Hill with Sonny Gray out with food poisoning, but the pen more than picked up the slack, contributing 5.1 scoreless innings that would have given the A’s a win if Oakland’s offense had been able to score in any of the final six innings.

“It would have been easy for them to cave,’’ catcher Stephen Vogt said of relievers Fernando Rodriguez, Ryan Dull, John Axford, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. “But they got after it and gave us a chance to win.’’

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Gray has outside chance to go Tuesday after missing opener; Doubront gets second opinion on left elbow injury Monday

Sonny Gray has an outside chance to start Tuesday after missing Monday's opener with food poisoning. Rich Hill got the call Monday vs. the White Sox.

Sonny Gray has an outside chance to start Tuesday after missing Monday’s opener with food poisoning. Rich Hill got the call Monday vs. the White Sox.

The A’s will go with their understudy, Rich Hill, for scheduled opening day starter Sonny Gray Monday night against the Chicago White Sox after Gray came down with food poisoning.

Gray, who has started the last two openers for the A’s, has been through a similar issue in the past, missing about a week midseason 2015 after coming down with salmonella poisoning. This doesn’t seem to be nearly of that level, although he needed three liters of IV fluids and anti-vomiting medicines Monday morning in a visit to an East Bay hospital.

Trainer Nick Paparesta and manager Bob Melvin both said that if Gray feels up to it, he could start Game 2 on Tuesday. More likely, however, would see the club moving Chris Bassitt up a day, leaving Gray to go Wednesday. Because of Sunday’s day off, Hill and Bassitt would be pitching on their fifth day, which is standard.

“I think there’s an outside chance that he could be ready to pitch tomorrow,’’ Paparesta said. “The smartest thing is to err on the side of caution here. You don’t want to send someone out there with an empty stomach who hasn’t been able to keep anything down for 24 hours and expect him to perform. And obviously fatigue is the precursor to potential further injury.’’

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Food poisoning sidelines Sonny Gray; Rich Hill to start opener

Scheduled opening day starter Sonny Gray has been scratched after coming down with food poisoning. Rich Hill starts in his place.

Scheduled opening day starter Sonny Gray has been scratched after coming down with food poisoning. Rich Hill starts in his place.

The A’s will go with their understudy, Rich Hill, instead of scheduled opening day starter Sonny Gray Monday night against the Chicago White Sox after Gray came down with food poisoning.

Gray, who has started the last two openers for the A’s, has been through a similar issue in the past, missing about a week midseason 2015 after coming down with salmonella poisoning.

Hill, 36, has never started an opener but becomes the A’s 10th different opening day starter in the last 11 seasons. He will be the fourth-oldest pitcher to start an opener for the A’s behind Tom Candiotti in 1998, Dave Stewart in 1995 and Bob Welch in 1993.

The A’s signed Hill in the offseason, enticed by a four-start stint with the Boston Red Sox in which he was 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA after reinventing his delivery. His numbers this spring, 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA, weren’t good, but he left his last start with no runs allowed, although two of the runners he’d put on base did come around to score.

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