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A’s `Amazing Aces’ make it back to Anaheim for a day

amazing aces    Part of the A’s marketing plan for the second half of the season is a turn-back-the-clock game Saturday Aug. 6 with the Chicago Cubs in town.

For that reason A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich brought along a copy of the Sports Illustrated cover of April 27, 1981 entitled “The Amazing A’s And Their Five Aces.’’

Pitchers Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Brian Kingman, Matt Keough and Mike Norris are pictured wearing the yellow uniform that the team frequented that season, and Vucinich wanted to show the players and coaches and manager Bob Melvin the uniform the A’s will be sporting that day.

The A’s started the 1981 season 11-0 from April 9 through the first game of a doubleheader April 19 and 17-1 through April 26, the day before the cover date. Norris and Keough would both start the season 6-0, Langford 4-1, McCatty 3-0 and the A’s even won Kingman’s first three starts with Kingman, who’d lost 20 games in 1980, going 2-0 in them.

The rotation was the heart of the BillyBall phenomenon, so dubbed in 1980 by Oakland Tribune Columnist Ralph Wiley in 1980 in describing the way manager Billy Martin had his troops playing. The A’s would go on to win the first half of a strike-shortened season in 1981, then beat the Royals in the first round of the playoffs before coming up short against the Yankees.

There’s more to the Sports Illustrated cover than that, however. Vucinich brought a copy of the cover with him on this trip to Anaheim because it was in the visiting clubhouse in Anaheim that the photo was taken. The A’s started the season with an eight-game road trip, and when they kept winning SI couldn’t wait for the team to return to Oakland to shoot the cover.

More than that, if you look closely enough, you can see that the photo was taken the visiting clubhouse before its remodel in the late 1990s in front of the locker of Frank Ciensczyk, who’d been the clubhouse manager from the time the team moved to Oakland in 1968 before retiring in 1993 and handing the reins over to Vucinich.

 

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Henderson Alvarez shut down until at least All-Star break

Henderson Alvarez has been shut down for a month to deal with the pain in his shoulder, but doctors aren't quite certain what is causing the pain.

Henderson Alvarez has been shut down for a month to deal with the pain in his shoulder, but doctors aren’t quite certain what is causing the pain.

The A’s still aren’t entirely sure what the problem is in the right shoulder of starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez, but the right-hander has been shut down for a month so the club can get a better grasp on what’s going on.

Manager Bob Melvin said he’d been told an MRI had not revealed any structural damage to the shoulder, which was first operated on last July by orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews. That being said, the two times Alvarez has built himself up to being ready to join the rotation, shoulder pain has cropped up.

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Armed and dangerous: Max Muncy’s game-saving throw

Max Muncy came up with a big throw at a big moment Friday in 7-4 win over Angels.

Max Muncy came up with a big throw at a big moment Friday in 7-4 win over Angels.

On Thursday, Max Muncy may have made it easy on A’s manager Bob Melvin to replace him on defense after he messed up a play in right field.

On Friday, the converted infielder made a pitch designed to get Melvin’s attention and perhaps keep him in close games where defense is an issue late.

With the A’s down 3-2 in the fourth inning, Melvin went to his bullpen with starter Eric Surkamp facing a situation with men on first and third and two out. Fernando Rodriguez replaced the left-hander only to be stung by a single to right by Mike Trout.

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Dillon Overton proved himself to Daniel Mengden long ago

Lefty Dillon Overton is due to make his MLB debut Saturday against the Angels.

Lefty Dillon Overton is due to make his MLB debut Saturday against the Angels.

The first time Daniel Mengden saw Dillon Overton, he had an idea the left-hander had the chance to be a impact pitcher.
Current A’s starter Mengden was a freshman at Texas A&M and Overton was a sophomore at Oklahoma when the Sooners came to College Station, Texas for a 2012 weekend series. Overton was the Aggies’ Saturday, or No. 2, starter.
“Even then, you could see he knew how to pitch,’’ Mengden said.
Mengden was on the sidelines at the time, but the A&M right-hander saw Overton throw a no-hitter for six innings.
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Stephen Vogt alters catching style to help out his pitchers

Stephen Vogt's new setup position works well for Kendall Graveman's sinker in win over Angels.

Stephen Vogt’s new setup position works well for Kendall Graveman’s sinker in win over Angels.

No one was more involved in Thursday’s 5-4 A’s win over the Angels than Stephen Vogt.

The catcher had a single and a walk, reached base on an error when a run scored and caught nine innings in a new squat he’s trying to introduce mid-season.

And he was at the plate when Angels’ pinch-hitter Jefry Marte lost control of his bat, which then hit home plate umpire Paul Emmel, who immediately fell to the ground, bleeding. He had to be helped off the field and was later take to a hospital for stitches. The Angels’ report was that Emmel was expected to be fine.

“It was really scary,’’ Vogt said of the ninth-inning Emmel injury. “I heard it and it sounded like somebody hit the ball off the end of the bat, and it was the bat hitting his head.

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Dillon Overton to be fifth rookie to make a start for A’s

Lefty Dillon Overton will make his Major League debut Saturday starting against the Angels.

Lefty Dillon Overton will make his Major League debut Saturday starting against the Angels.

Dillon Overton will be the fifth rookie to make his first Major League appearance and start for the A’s this year when he takes the ball for Oakland Saturday against the Angels.

Rookies having already made the jump are Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs and Zach Neal, although it says something about the A’s mad scramble to find starting pitching in the middle of having an entire starting rotation on the disabled list that Triggs and Neal are seen as relievers and simply got starts because the A’s needed somebody, anybody.

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A’s go with Eric Surkamp Friday; will Dillon Overton be next?

 

Eric Surkamp moves up from Saturday and will start Friday vs. Angels.

Eric Surkamp moves up from Saturday and will start Friday vs. Angels.

The A’s will move up Eric Surkamp from Saturday to Friday to start against the Angels, for the moment leaving the starting slot Saturday open.

Oakland is expected to go with rookie Dillon Overton, who is 7-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his last seven starts. The left-hander’s regular day to pitch would be Saturday, and Surkamp’s fifth day would be Friday.

Manager Bob Melvin said the club would have an official announcement after Thursday’s game.

If Overton, who is 8-4, 3.01 with 1.28 WHIP in 14 games, 13 starts, for the Sounds, he will be the fifth rookie to make his first Major League start for the A’s this season, joining Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs and Zach Neal.

Like Manaea and Mengden, Overton is one of the A’s highly touted prospects, being the second-round pick of the club in the 2013 draft. He didn’t pitch above Class A until the middle of last year, but ever since he’s been on a special trajectory.

And like Manaea and Mengden, Overton is a pitcher the A’s didn’t plan on having join them this season. He’s only had half a season at Double-A and the same at Triple-A, and at 24, perhaps could use more time working on his game.

If the A’s decide to go with Neal or recalled Jesse Hahn to make the start instead, it will be because they don’t want to have Overton up for just a start or two knowing that Rich Hill and Manaea are due off the disabled list in the next 10 days or so.

 

NOTES

–Henderson Alvarez met with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews for a second day Thursday. Twice Alvarez has been one start away from rejoining the A’s rotation, and twice shoulder problems have cropped up. Alvarez reportedly is feeling good again, but the two previous shutdowns suggest something is going on in his shoulder. “It’s a confusing situation,’’ Melvin said.

–Max Muncy got the start as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup. “We just trying to shake it up a bit right now,’’ Melvin said. “We’ve been a little stagnant offensively.’’ Muncy is hitting .250 in just 24 at-bats, but has impressed Melvin both offensively and defensively. Muncy said he spent the majority of his time at Triple-A batting second, so while this will be his first time there this year “it’s not like I have to learn a new approach.’’

–Hill will throw a bullpen Friday, then is down to throw Monday for Stockton in Modesto, after which he hopes to be back in the rotation. “I’m feeling as good as ever,’’ Hill said, his groin injury a distant memory. He still has hopes of an All-Star Game call, being that his’ 8-3 and with a 2.25 ERA. He’s tied for fifth in the league in wins and would rank third in the AL in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify. He could get three more starts before the All-Star Game, and “that would be a dream,’’ he said.

–Getting his first start with the A’s Thursday was Arismendy Alcantara, who played both infield and outfield in the minor leagues and got the start at second base a day after stealing a base as a pinch-running Wednesday. “What we saw was a blur,’’ Melvin said. “He couldn’t wait to run. We actually had a hold on him for a little bit.’’ Alcantara was 26-for-26 as the leading Pacific Coast League base stealer before getting called up.

–Right fielder Josh Reddick played in one of two Nashville games in a Thursday doubleheader and is on track to return to the A’s Monday in San Francisco.

–Jim Eppard, the minor league hitting coordinator, joined the club Thursday for the Angels series. He hasn’t seen the club since spring training, so Melvin will wait to hear what Eppard sees happening. “It’s nice to get feedback,’’ Melvin said. “He’s a guy who saw us when we left. When you are part of it each and every day, sometimes you don’t see what someone who hasn’t been here for a while.’’

 

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Sonny Gray seems to be closing in on an elusive win

Sonny Gray (center) hasn't won a game since April, but he says he's getting that winning feeling back.

Sonny Gray (center) hasn’t won a game since April, but he says he’s getting that winning feeling back.

It’s been nine starts for Sonny Gray without getting a win.

And that doesn’t include the 15 days he spent on the disabled list.

You have to go back to April 22 when Gray beat Toronto to improve to 3-1 that he last put up a win. He didn’t get the win his last time out against Texas, and he didn’t get the win Tuesday against the Brewers.

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