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A’s: Starters Gray, Kazmir and Chavez earn extra time off

Sonny Gray will get extra time off thanks to the All-Star break, as will Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.

Sonny Gray will get extra time off thanks to the All-Star break, as will Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.

The A’s have asked much of their starting pitchers in the first half.

Between then, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez have averaged 119 innings per man in the first half, during which they’ve gone 28-12 with a combined 2.77 ERA.

They are using a rejiggered rotation after the All-Star break to maximize the amount of time each will get off. To do that, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young have gone with newly acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to handle the first two games after the All-Star break Friday and Saturday against the Orioles in Oakland.

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A’s: Unicorn mask latest bit of oddity in Oakland clubhouse

Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A's unicorn backpack earlier this season.

Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A’s unicorn backpack earlier this season.

It’s really true that you can never tell what you’ll see upon walking into the Oakland A’s clubhouse.

It could be players challenging themselves to coat their gums with nuclear hot sauce.

It could be a full sized Darth Vader helmet painted in the A’s Green and Gold gracing the center of the room.

Or it could be players taking turns wearing a large white unicorn mask.

Saturday pregame, it was the unicorn’s turn.

To be clear, the A’s have had a unicorn with them for a couple of years now. The backpack that the relievers fill with sunflower seeds, candy and nuts for the couple of hours they will spend in the bullpen has a unicorn on the back of it.

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Vogt has a dream couple of days at the park of his youthful dream, while Donaldson realizes own dream

Josh Donaldson whacked his 20th homer Thursday and also was named to the A.L. Home Run Derby squad.

Growing up in Visalia, Stephen Vogt was a big Giants fan. So were his parents. They even had season tickets at AT&T Park, so to hit a home run on Wednesday night and then drive in three runs with a pair of two-out singles Thursday in the A’s 6-1 victory left him feeling a bit high.

Vogt has been on a high for awhile, pretty much since his recall. He’s hitting .367, for crying out loud. During his current 10-game hitting streak, he’s hitting .457, and .412 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Bob Melvin has to have him in the lineup right now somewhere — right field, catcher, and now first base. He played some third base in college, so maybe second? Could he turn the DP?

But to do what he’s done at AT&T the past two days has been the highlight of his return to the majors.
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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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