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Gimenez one of those waiting for opportunity to strike

This is the week that will determine Chris Gimenez’s season.

Claimed on waivers by Oakland as the fourth man to add to what was a three-man catching rotation, Gimenez is a 31-year-old veteran who has logged creditable time with the Indians, the Mariners and the Rays.

He’s not going to make the A’s roster, which may not have room for three catchers, much less four. He’s out of options, so he can be a free agent once the A’s set up their roster and he’s not on it.

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Murphy’s move to Sacramento could be sign of the times

When Sean Murphy moved from Philadelphia to Sacramento this off-season, he was sending a message.

Murphy, 25, had lived in Philly his whole life when not playing baseball. But after going 8-8 with a 4.08 ERA for Double-A Midland in the A’s organization last year, the right-hander set his eyes on Triple-A this time around.

Hence the move to Sacramento, home of the A’s Triple-A affiliate, the RiverCats.

“I’m hoping,’’ Murphy said. “I don’t know anything beyond that.’’

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Barton forces way onto A’s roster with a good spring

The A’s lineup heading into spring training pivoted around one person – first baseman Daric Barton.

If he made the team, the lineup would structure one way. If he didn’t make the team, it would structure quite another.

Barton has had a nice spring offensively. Heading into Monday’s game in Surprise against the Rangers, he carried a .298 batting average, but with no extra-base hits. He also had nine walks and had been hit by a pitch, leading to a .486 on-base percentage, which is something the A’s value highly.

So heading into Monday’s season opener, unless the A’s pull off an unexpected switch, you can figure on Barton being at first base with last year’s first baseman, Brandon Moss, serving as the DH. (Both men are likely to be on the bench when left-handed pitchers start).

If Barton hadn’t made the team, the DH would have been catcher John Jaso, also left-handed, with Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris sharing the catching. There are those in the A’s organization who see having three catchers as a possibility at some point later this season, but not now.

This level of success is a major about-face for Barton, who was repeatedly designated for assignment last year when it seemed his career in Oakland had been played out. But injuries in the outfield and behind the plate led to Moss moving to the outfield for a while and Jaso missing the last two months, and Barton thrived.

Called up for the final week of August, Barton hit .301 the rest of the way while posting a .381 on-base percentage. He’s always been more of an on-base machine than a run producer, but over those 29 games he actually had more RBIs (13) than walks (12).

The knock on him in the past was that he was too passive at the plate, too willing to wait for walks and not going to the plate with the idea of driving in runs, but he showed new aggression last September. It’s carried over to this year.

“I came here this spring to have fun, and I’ve done that,’’ Barton said. “I’m more aggressive now. When they throw a strike, I’m swinging.’’

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Freiman, Lindblom, Leon cut, but Burns earns Bay Area trip

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

The A’s made what are likely their last roster trims in Arizona Sunday when they optioned first baseman Nate Freiman and pitchers Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon to Triple-A Sacramento.

Lindblom, who had a hitless, scoreless 4.2 innings against the Mariners Sunday before the M’s tagged him in the fifth, was in the mix in the bullpen, but with the A’s short two starting pitchers to the disabled list in Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery) and A.J. Griffin (elbow), both he and Leon will be starters for the RiverCats.

“We’re two down in the rotation,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “We need backup.’’

Lindblom served as starter and reliever in the big leagues with the Rangers last year after having been exclusively a reliever with the Dodgers and Phillies. He threw 4.2 innings without allowing a hit or a run Sunday against the Mariners before being tagged for two runs and lifted in a game the A’s lost in the bottom of the ninth, 6-4.

Lindblom said he long since learned how fruitless it was for players to play general manager, ended his spring with a 4.02 ERA and knowing that he’ll be a starter, which is what he would prefer.

Leon, too, made an impact with Melvin this spring with a 2.13 ERA in five games, including one start. The manager called him “highly impressive.’’

As for Freiman, he was a Rule 5 player last year, so the A’s had to keep him on the roster or lose him. This time around, he has options, so the club can send him down without risking losing him. And he needs more at-bats, because 2013 saw him serve almost exclusively against left-handed pitching.

“Nate needs to build up at-bats,’’ Melvin said. “Last year we needed him against left-handed pitchers, and he prepared for that. But he needs to get at-bats against right-handers and play every day.’’

Freiman hit four homers last year after having hit 42 combined in 2011 and 2012 in the minor leagues. Melvin suggests the power will return.

“The power comes when he gets more at-bats,’’ the manager said. “It’s easier to track the ball.’’

Melvin said the A’s won’t be making any more cuts before the Bay Bridge series, which means non-roster outfielder Billy Burns has opened enough eyes that he’ll be in the mix this weekend in San Francisco and Oakland.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ Melvin said of Burns having made it this far. “I don’t know that he would have through that this would have been the case for him, but he’s earned every bit of it.’’

Burns had two more hits in Peoria Sunday, has 20 hits for the spring and is averaging .313. And let’s not forget the Major League-high 10 steals the fleet Burns had. One of his two hits Sunday was a bunt to the right side that only the fastest of men could have beaten out.

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Chili has no worries Cespedes will be a force for A’s in 2014

Yoenis Cespedes is in quest of the perfect hybrid swing

Yoenis Cespedes is in quest of the perfect hybrid swing

(UPDATE POSTGAME)

 

A’s batting coach Chili Davis spent his usual Sunday morning in the batting cage working with eight or 10 of the club’s hitters, whoever wandered by over the course of 90 minutes.

One of those was, as is almost always the case, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Davis had Cespedes hit off a tee, then tee off on some underhand flips from Davis behind a screen.

After Cespedes, who has spent the spring trying to turn a long swing into a short one, was done and things were dying down, Davis turned to me and asked, “Why is everyone so concerned about Cespedes?’’

I said a .130 spring batting average will do that, and Davis just shook his head.

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Gray will start opener with Kazmir, Chavez, Straily, Milone also in rotation; Cook, Rodriguez, Gentry start season on DL

Sonny Gray is the last  man standing in drive to start opener for the A's

Sonny Gray is the last man standing in drive to start opener for the A’s

Sonny Gray got the job that just about everyone but Sonny Gray expected him to get when A’s manager Bob Melvin named him the opening day starter.

Gray will be followed in the rotation by Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.

The opening day start was expected originally to go to Jarrod Parker, but the competition opened up when it was learned that Parker will miss the season and undergo tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery.

Even with Parker, Gray was considered a contender for the opening day assignment by manager Bob Melvin, who isn’t afraid of putting the 24-year-old in the spotlight.

Last year in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner Bartolo Colon, and while the A’s lost that game, it wasn’t because Gray didn’t pitch well.

“He’s very quickly become one of those guys,’’ Melvin said of Gray, who was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA after his promotion to the big leagues last year and then pitched eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the playoffs against Detroit before taking the 3-0 loss in Game 5.

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Vogt continues to fight for a job that may not be there

It's been a hot spring for A's catcher Stephen Vogt

It’s been a hot spring for A’s Stephen Vogt

It doesn’t seem possible that there have been many players fight harder for a job than the A’s Stephen Vogt, especially when considering there doesn’t seem there’s a job available.

We’re a week away from the A’s having to finalize their roster, and it seems there is no way the club can work it to carry three catchers. And since the other two catchers don’t have options, it seems the A’s will opt to send Vogt to Triple-A Sacramento, keeping lefty John Jaso and right-hander Derek Norris to platoon at the big league level.

Vogt keeps putting pressure on the decision makers. He hit a homer foul with a man on base in the third inning, then came back later in the at-bat to hit the ball out again, this time in fair territory.

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Gray pleased to be able to mostly pitch around A’s errors

Sonny Gray came to the A’s as someone with an intricate knowledge of the strike zone.

He’s going to strike out a few, as was the case Friday in a 3-0 loss to the Giants in Scottsdale when he fanned seven in 5.2 innings and walked just one.

He could use a little more help from his defense when he doesn’t register the K. Three times A’s infielder butchered plays, one each by shortstop Jed Lowrie, second baseman Nick Punto and first baseman Brandon Moss.

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Freiman wears his loss to Burns in black and orange

Nate Freiman as Marge Simpson, 2013

Nate Freiman as Marge Simpson, 2013

Billy Burns is a true believer, Nate Freiman a true disbeliever.

That’s at least when the subject of the NCAA basketball tournament is involved. The alma maters of each played Friday morning, and Burns’ Mercer stunned Freiman’s Duke.

And stunned Freiman himself. He not only didn’t believe black-and-orange clad Mercer would beat the Blue Devils, one of the most storied teams in NCAA history, he didn’t believe they’d stay close.

So the two bet their team’s colors, Freiman giving the points. The loser had to wear the other team’s colors during workouts Friday afternoon before the A’s left Phoenix to pay a call on the Giants in Scottsdale.

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Nakajima creates a fan with post-game gift

Minor league infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima hopes for return to A's

Minor league infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima hopes for return to A’s

You don’t have to have a big league contract to make a big league impression.

Consider the case of A’s minor league infielder Hiro Nakajima. He played the final few innings at second base in the A’s 13-3 win over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, drawing a walk and popping out.

Once the game was over, there was the usual group of attentive kids, mostly A’s fans from the look of it, behind the dugout looking for autographs from whatever player they could.

Nakajima stripped off his batting gloves and handed him to one of the kids, no doubt creating a fan for life.

There’s no telling when A’s fans may see Nakajima in Oakland, because he’s going to start the season where he ended it last year, playing for Triple-A Sacramento.

But he looked much more confident and self-assured Wednesday, no doubt in part to his two-for-two effort in a game in Glendale Tuesday against the White Sox.

Manager Bob Melvin certainly took notice, not only with the two hits Tuesday but with the way Nakajima handled himself at third base, a relatively new position for him, against the Sox.

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