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Vogt humbled as 2014 winner of the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award

Versatile Stephen Vogt was named the 2014 winner of the A”s annual Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award on Saturday, which honors a player whose play and conduct best exemplifies the late A’s Hall of Fame pitcher.
Vogt has played four different positions for the A’s this season in addition to designated hitter and has been one of their most productive players, even though he started the season in the minor leagues. Vogt is currently hitting .300 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs and spent time at catcher, first base, left field and right field.
The Hunter award, established in 2004, is voted on by A’s players, coaches and staff.
“Obviously, it just means the world to me to have an honor like this,” Vogt said. “To have your teammates think of you in that regard is the highest honor you can have as a ballplayer. I’m so appreciative.”
Vogt said his inspirational qualities undoubtedly come from his father, who coached him from Little League through high school in his hometown of Visalia.
“My dad was a huge influence for me as far as my leadership,” he said. “With my older brother and me, it was just kind of bred in us that you don’t have to be an outspoken leader, that if you play the game hard and play it the right way, that’s leadership all by itself. So for me, it’s something I’ve always done naturally is just kind of lead by example.”
Vogt, 29, spent five seasons in the minors before finally making his major debut with Tampa. He didn’t get his first major league hit until he came to the A’s last season. He admitted a lot of people have told him his career is an inspiration to them.
“To me, it’s just my life,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it as this huge inspirational story. The way I kind of see it is if one kid looks at Stephen Vogt and says, `Wow, if that guy can play in the big leagues, I think I can,’ that’s kind of what you want. I’m a firm believer if you want something bad enough and you work hard enough for it and make enough people say `no,’ somebody’s finally going to say `yes.’ “
Vogt, who grew up a Giants fan, said his underdog hero was former outfielder Marvin Benard, a 50th round draft pick who beat the odds to play nine seasons in the majors.
Manager Bob Melvin said Vogt was a most deserving winner of the award.
“That’s terrific,” Melvin said. “I think we have several candidates for it, you certainly can’t go wrong with Stephen. I think he embodies the whole spirit of the award, such a versatile guy for us and one of those grinders who just wants to win, no matter how you do it.”

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Donaldson willing to risk it on defense to cut down run at plate

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

There are consequences to a low-output offensive streak like the one the A’s are going through that have nothing to do with run production, batting averages or working over a pitcher.

Once such showed up in the eighth inning Friday after a double and a grounder got the Phillies’ Freddy Galvis to third base with one out.

Oakland had a 3-1 lead at the time, and the club seemed very unlikely to score more. Knowing that, the A’s still didn’t pull the infield in, willing to give up a run to get an out on a ground ball.

The A’s got the ground ball when Carlos Ruiz hit a hard chopper directly to Josh Donaldson. The third baseman could have taken the easy out at first. Instead he gambled and threw to the plate where catcher Derek Norris caught the ball and slapped the tag on Galvis.

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How long will A’s be able to call Oakland, Coliseum home?

How long will the Coliseum, shown here with the adjacent Arena, be the A's home?

How long will the Coliseum, shown here with the adjacent Arena, be the A’s home?

It was exactly 60 years ago Friday that the A’s played their last game in Philadelphia.

The club, one of the original members of the American League dating back to 1901, would be start playing in Kansas City in 1955, leaving Philadelphia to the Phillies. And 13 years later the A’s would move to Oakland.

Getting to the present day, interleague play brings the Phillies to Oakland for just the third time in history.

The A’s aren’t in immediate danger of moving, but compared to the Phillies, who have been in the same city since 1883, the A’s are veritable baseball transients.

From one year to the next, you never need to wonder where the Phillies will call home. Not so with the A’s. And with just 10 games left on the A’s schedule, you have to wonder where the A’s will be playing in five or 10 years.

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A’s need to loosen up at the plate and work pitchers over

Jon Lester's arrival has seen him pitch well while the A's have struggled.

Jon Lester’s arrival has seen him pitch well while the A’s have struggled.

There are no simple answers for the Oakland A’s.

There are some simple truths, however.

One is that they need to loosen up at the plate.

Oakland hitters spent four months working the count, forcing pitchers into untenable situations, then waiting for the pitcher to wilt under pressure.

Now, it’s not like that.

“What’s going on with their hitters?’’ one Major League scout asked me Thursday. “I saw them a couple of months ago and they knew what they needed to do. Now they’re up there hacking at everything.’’

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Athletics limitless foibles at the plate ruining their season

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn't good enough for a win.

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn’t good enough for a win.

If there isn’t a theoretical limit to the number of times the A’s can tell themselves they’re in good shape just because the American League Wild Card standings say they are, there should be.

By imploding in the ninth inning Wednesday, Oakland fell into a tie with the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card derby, both teams at 83-68, two games up in the race over the 81-70 Seattle Mariners.

It’s technically true that the A’s can make their way in to the playoff by following the old Al Davis dictum, “Just Win, Baby.’’

The trouble is, they seem to have no remembrance of how to win, or even how to hit. Time and again in the last couple of weeks they’ve gotten brilliant starting pitching and have lost because the offense hasn’t made an appearance or because the defense had regressed to high school levels.

Already this month:

–Jon Lester gives up two runs (seven hits, no walks) in eight innings and loses 2-1 (Sept. 3)

–Jeff Samardzija throws scoreless ball for seven innings, turns a 1-0 lead over to the bullpen and Luke Gregerson gives up two runs in the eighth (Sept. 10).

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Pomeranz being asked to bring best after excess idle time

It will be more than three weeks between starts for Drew Pomeranz Saturday.

It will be more than three weeks between starts for Drew Pomeranz Saturday.

It will be 24 days between starts for Drew Pomeranz when he pitches for the A’s Saturday against the Phillies and 18 days since he’s pitched in any game at all.

That’s far from optimum in a profession that prizes regular work. But Pomeranz, who serves as the A’s extra starter when he’s not pitching in long relief, has taken steps to make sure he will take his A Game out against Philadelphia.

He threw 40 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, facing a number of the A’s hitters in a workout he said “I’ll think of as a start.’’

“it was good to get a bunch of the guys out there and pitch to them,’’ he said. “you face hitters, you treat it as a real game and get back into the habit of starting

That being the case, his next start will be five days later, and “I’ll be ready,’’ he said.

Manager Bob Melvin seems to have little doubt about that.

“It’s an acquired taste to pitch out of the bullpen then go into the rotation knowing you’re expected to throw a certain amount of pitches,’’ Melvin said. “He’s done it numerous times for us this year and has had success doing it.

“So if there’s anybody that you feel confident in in that type of role, it’s him.’’

Pomeranz came out of the bullpen in May to make back-to-back starts of five innings against the Red Sox and the White Sox, not allowing a run in either start. On Aug. 26 he came up from Triple-A Sacramento and contributed 5.1 innings allowing one run, not earned.

He’s faced the Phillies twice while pitching for the Colorado Rockies, both starts and both in 2012. He pitched well in Philadelphia (four innings, one run), but he got knocked around some in Colorado, five innings, five runs.

But as he points out, it’s a little easier to pitch in Oakland than in the light air of Denver.

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Just when the A’s look like they’d snapped out of their funk, they deliver another disturbing dud

Derek Norris and Scott Kazmir clearly had issues with each other that carried on in the clubhouse after the game.

I’m with Bob Melvin. I don’t get it. The A’s looked like they’d turned the corner and gained some momentum with two huge weekend wins over the Mariners in Seattle. Then they even got a day off Monday to savor it and reload mentally and physically.

Maybe they thought the Texas Rangers would come into town and just roll over for them, or that they could play without a sense of urgency and still have no problem with the lowly visitors, who came to Oakland with baseball’s worst record at 57-92. Instead, it was Texas that showed the zest and grit, and the A’s simply didn’t look ready to play. They lost 6-3, never led, got outhit 12-6, 4-10 Nick Tepesch outpitched Scott Kazmir, the A’s had two physical errors, one big mental one, three wild pitches and managed just one hit over the the final 11 batters.

Charles Woodson, you want to chime in here? What Woodson said about the Raiders on Sunday pretty much could have been applied to the A’s Tuesday night. They, er, stunk.

You get a strong sense that the A’s are really such lovey bunch right now, either. Kazmir and catcher Derek Norris were still having discussions in the clubhouse after the game about some sort of pitch selection disagreement. Kazmir wouldn’t reveal the details, that it was something between him and his battery mate. Nobody seemed too happy with shortstop Jed Lowrie after a horrible fifth-inning overthrow and a lapse in heads-up when, after getting an out at second on a perfect throw from Josh Reddick, he allowed Texas baserunner Rougned Odor to steam around third base and score. Lowrie was claiming afterward that nobody communicated with him that Odor was heading home and wound up making a desperate throw way too late. So who’s that on? Lowrie or other infielders to yell something? Probably both.

In any case, it was an ugly loss at a very bad time of the season, one of Oakland’s worst during this most disillusioning second half. Kazmir was gone after 4 1/3, clearly unnerved by the plays not being made behind him and whatever issues he was having with Norris, who also had a bad throwing error trying to cut down a bases stealer.

The sad thing is that the A’s could have gained a game against Kansas City in the wild-card race with a win. And they could have kept Seattle three games back of them. Instead, the Royals are a game behind and the Mariners two with 12 games left to play. The schedule still favors Oakland, but not if they play like this against a challenged team like Texas.

As Kazmir said afterward, “That was a game that just doesn’t happen in September when you’re in a race to make the playoffs,” said Kazmir. “You just don’t play like that, that’s just the way it is, all the way, top to bottom. To be honest, I’ve never seen anything like that at the major-league level.”

Pretty strong stuff following a very weak performance.

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Norris gives up four steals; says he’s not in pain throwing

Dan Otero said A's pitchers need to give catcher Derek Norris more help with defending stolen base game.

Dan Otero said A’s pitchers need to give catcher Derek Norris more help with defending stolen base game.

The A’s had many good things going their way Sunday, but defensing the running game wasn’t one of them.

The Mariners stole four bases, the most against the A’s this year. All of them came with starter Jon Lester and catcher Derek Norris the Oakland battery.

Norris’s throws were all over the place, prompting speculation that the back problems he had earlier in the year might have returned.

Norris said that wasn’t the case, that he was fine.

“Am I in pain? No,’’ he said.

Would he say so if he were?

“No,’’ he said.

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A’s win in game started by Felix could have repercussions

Felix Hernandez wasn't enough for Mariners as A's win in 10 innings, 3-2

Felix Hernandez wasn’t enough for Mariners as A’s win in 10 innings, 3-2

The A’s aren’t going to see Felix Hernandez again this season.

But this post-season? Well there’s an excellent chance they’ll see King Felix in the Wild Card game Sept. 30. The A’s and the Mariners and whichever American League Central second-place team (the Tigers or the Royals) stand as the likeliest candidates to earn Wild Card berths.

If it’s the A’s and the Mariners, there’s a good chance that Hernandez will take the mound for Seattle if he doesn’t have to pitch Seattle into the playoffs on the final day of the season Sept. 28.

For the A’s, the recent memory of having won a game that Hernandez started will be a counterbalance to the 4-0 record Hernandez has against Oakland this season and his 19-7 overall record against the A’s.

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Lester ready to throw as if it will be last game he’ll pitch

Jon Lester says he wants to pitch every game as if it's his last.

Jon Lester says he wants to pitch every game as if it’s his last.

Jon Lester, who pitches Sunday in the series finale against the Mariners, has been through the final weeks of a pennant race with the Red Sox more than many of his A’s teammates have.

And he says his start in a must-win game for the A’s against the Mariners in Safeco Field will reflect that level of experience.

Simply put, he approaches the game “as if will be the last game I’ll ever pitch.’’

It’s not that Lester wants to be buried in pennant race pressure. It’s that the 31-year-old lefty wants to eliminate the pressure by making himself as prepared as possible for the start.

That includes his physical work the last few days on the sidelines and the mental work of studying the charts and the video of the Mariners so that he can go into the start assured that he’s done everything he can to be ready.

“I don’t like to add more pressure than is already there,’’ he said Saturday afternoon. “And it’s a little different for me. I only get out there once every five days. I would have loved to be a player and be out there every day, but I didn’t have to the talent for that. So I go out and do what I can.

“It helps that I’m pitching for a team like this that is doing what it can to win every day. The results aren’t always what you like; they haven’t been for the last few weeks. But I go out there knowing that the (team’s) effort is always going to be there.’’

Lester said as bad as things have been with the A’s having lost 22 of the last 31 games, one way to measure the team’s effort is that “we’re in almost every game we’ve played.’’

“I can’t remember the last time we played a game where we didn’t have a chance to win at the end,’’ he said. “Like last night, we had the tying run on first base with no one out against one of the best closers in the game (Fernando Rodney). He got us, but not before we worked him hard, really made him struggle.

“It was another case of being one at-bat or one inning pitched away. There have been a lot of those, but as long as we’re right there, we’re doing what we can and now we just need to get that one hit or make that one pitch.’’