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A’s: Second base upgrades in short supply

Before Friday’s game with the Rangers, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he didn’t see Oakland in a position where it had to trade for a second baseman for the stretch run.

Having acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 4, Melvin said, was good enough and the club could make do with at second. Eric Sogard has picked this week to up his game a little, and Alberto Callaspo is due off DL Sunday.

And that may be just as well, because the pool of available candidates seems to be evaporating. Six weeks ago, it seemed a sure bet the Rays would trade Ben Zobrist. Then Tampa went on a surge.

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A’s day off comes at a good time and in a good place

Coco Crisp gets to celebrate a family birthday on the off-day Thursday.

Coco Crisp gets to celebrate a family birthday on the off-day Thursday.

There are few things the A’s like more than playing in Anaheim, then having a day off before playing again in Oakland.

Many of the A’s have homes or family in Southern California, and they use the off-day to visit family and friends, something that’s hard to do in the course of the season.

The timing this week is great for Coco Crisp. The center fielder will stay in Southern California and will celebrate a family birthday Thursday.

Things were not quite as convenient for infielder Alberto Callaspo, whose wife is about to give birth … in Florida.

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Tough roster move faces A’s before Tuesday in New York

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday's game in New York.

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday’s game in New York.

As May turned to June, the A’s found themselves closer to the roster they thought they might have in April.

Sunday’s recall of catcher Stephen Vogt gives the club three catchers, meaning manager Bob Melvin can play two of them on any given day (one of them as the designated hitter) and still have the ability to pinch-run.

That’s the way things worked for much of the middle of the 2013 season before injuries got in the way.

More than that, having a three-catcher ensemble means Melvin doesn’t have to fret about the scenario of having to either give up the designated hitter or have third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former catcher, get back behind the plate.

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Callaspo would rather be in the field, but he’s a force as DH

Alberto Callaspo getting used to DH role

Alberto Callaspo getting used to DH role

Alberto Callaspo made his fifth start as the A’s designated hitter Saturday in Safeco Field.

To say that’s a bid odd completely understates the case. Callaspo came into the season with 869 career big league games played, and in only 11 of them had he been the DH.

And the A’s knew who their DH was going to be – Brandon Moss, unless he was playing first base and the other first baseman, Daric Barton, got the call.

But Barton hasn’t hit, just two hits in 20 at-bats (.100), and so a one-game experiment last week that had Callaspo filling in at DH has turned into a full-time job, at least for the moment.

As manager Bob Melvin says, “right now, he’s our best hitter.’’

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Callaspo’s bat says he should be playing much more

Alberto Callaspo hasn’t been starting every day for the A’s.

Based on the way he’s hitting, he should be.

Manager Bob Melvin said as much Monday when Callaspo had two more hits, including an RBI double, and raised his batting average to .444.

“Callaspo is a guy I need to get in there more often,’’ Melvin said. To this point the A’s have played seven games and Callaspo has only started three of them. But he’s hit, including getting the A’s first home of the season.

Callaspo feels much the same way, but as he’s quick to point out, he’s not the one who makes those decisions.

“I’d like to play (every day),’’ Callaspo said. “I’m trying to do my best to show them. I’m given them my best at-bats. I want to be out there.’’

Callaspo was the DH Monday with Brandon Moss at first base and Daric Barton on the bench. When the season starter Barton was supposed to be at first and Moss at DH, but Barton is off to a 1-for-14 start (.071) that is costing him playing.

“I want to be out there seven days (a week),’’ Callaspo said. “but it doesn’t depend on me. We’ll have to see what happens.’’

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A day of firsts goes well for Callaspo on the A’s infield

Alberto Callaspo is wearing a new glove for A's these days

Alberto Callaspo is wearing a new glove for A’s these days

Alberto Callaspo is just 5-foot-9, about a foot shorter than Oakland’s tallest first baseman, Nate Freiman.

The A’s reminded him of that Friday.

When they took the field for drills, there was a bucket of baseballs, about two feet deep, with a Callaspo jersey wrapped around it.

Callaspo smiled, then went about his day, which included for the first time in his life playing five innings at first base. He caught five throws, none of them with difficulty.

“It was easy today, let’s see what happens,’’ he said, acknowledging that it will get more difficult as he warms to the new position.

Because Callaspo presents a much different target than the run-of-the-mill first baseman, A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said “ the infielders are going to have to keep our throws down.’’

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Head’s up – Mr. Head-first joins the A’s

The A’s may be the early favorites to win the head-first-slide title in the American League in 2014.

That’s because they signed Nick Punto Wednesday. He’s 36-year-old utility infielder who is revered around baseball for his willingness to go head-first into any base – including first base – in an effort to help his team.

“Yeah – the head-first slide,’’ A’s assistant general manager David Forst said laughingly Wednesday. “We’ll probably lead the league in head-firsts at first base. Actually I’d like him to do it a little bit less.’’

When he heard that, Punto chuckled.

“Diving into first base, that’s definitely not something I think about when I hit a ball,’’ Punto said from his Southern California home Wednesday. “But it’s part of the way I play.’’

Punto is one of those hard-charging players who tends to maximize his talents playing the game. He’s 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds and he doesn’t have a lot of power – just two homers last year – and it took him until the fifth of his 13 big league seasons to get more than a quick look.

He’s a career .248 hitter who averaged .255 last year with Los Angeles and who begins more games on the bench than he does in the starting lineup. But between his ability to give his team above-average defense at three positions – second, third and short – and his ability to switch-hit, he has managed to play in two-thirds of his team’s games the last decade.

“But the fact that Nick can play shortstop, third and second is a real plus. As far as where he fits in, there is a long time to get that figured out.’’

There seems to be a reasonable chance that Punto will free the A’s up to trade Alberto Callaspo, who is another switch-hitting infielder, but one whose defense isn’t as good and who doesn’t play shortstop. The A’s picked up Callaspo from the Angels at the trade deadline, and he turned out to be a valuable part of the lineup, although his defense at both second base and third wasn’t the best.

More than anything, however, the A’s picked up Punto because he is one of those players who has a tendency to make a good team better. He did it with the Dodgers last year, he did it for years with the Twins, and he won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011.

And for Punto, he sees some of that ring potential in the A’s.

“This is a team that fits the way I play,’’ Punto said. “I won a World Series with the Cardinals, and now I’m trying to find a way to win another one. You watch this team from the other side and they play hard, they play right, and they have good young pitching and a terrific manager.

“Bob Melvin being a great manager was a huge influence in my wanting to come here. His teams always play so hard; you have to love watching them play. Watching on TV and again in the playoffs this year, I saw those young pitchers. They have young, talented arms. I’m hoping to add what I have to that clubhouse.’’

Part of what he adds is in the clubhouse as a player others rally around. He’s called “Shredder’’ for his habit of celebrating ninth-inning and extra-inning wins by tearing the jersey off that day’s hero, shredding it.

Will that be brought to Oakland? Well, maybe. With a contract that brings him $2.75 million for this coming year, plus a $250,000 buyout if his option for 2015 isn’t picked up, the man who calls himself “@ShredderPunto’’ on Twitter just might be able to keep on doing it.

“The shredding, that’s never a planned thing,’’ Punto said. “And every time I do it, it can cost me a little. Those shredded jerseys are $150 a pop.’’

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Game 160 wrapup: Cespedes shoulder trouble an issue for A’s; Norris homer-or-nothing in pinch; Cook getting back to form out of the bullpen

The A’s started Friday with a good idea of how they’d be structuring their starting lineup in the playoffs.

Then they played the first game of their final series with the Mariners and things changed dramatically.

The idea was that Yoenis Cespedes, who hadn’t been in left field since Sept. 13, was once again healthy, able to throw and ready to man his position. He’d play all three games in left this weekend to get himself ready for the playoffs.

That meant the resurrected Daric Barton was ready to play first base and Brandon Moss, who can play both first base and the outfield, was going to be the designated hitter. He was in Friday’s lineup as the DH, the first time all season that’s happened.

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Game 156 wrapup: Beane says depth crucial to A’s West title; Crisp surprises himself with 20-20 output; This celebration means more to Sogard

The fact that the A’s were able to clinch the American League West title on Sunday, the final home date of the regular season, worked out well for Billy Beane.

Securing the title meant the A’s general manager could stay at home and not join the team Monday in Anaheim for a possible clinching party there. Beane isn’t much for road trips these days.

As it was, Beane stayed mostly out of the clubhouse celebration Sunday and was uncontaminated by the sprays of champagne and beer that coated most of the rest of the members of his organization.

He was with his twins, Brayden and Tinsley, when I caught up with him far from the madding crowd.

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Game 123 wrapup: Milone not thinking too much about job status; Donaldson RBI swing on way back; Otero continues to push for more signficant time

No one knows better than Tommy Milone that his spot in the Oakland rotation comes with no guarantees.

Pitch well in the season’s final six weeks and he can figure he’ll keep getting the ball every five days.

Pitch poorly and the A’s have options. Brett Anderson, the A’s opening day starter, is on an injury rehabilitation assignment and is being groomed to return as a starter after a stretch in which the A’s thought the club might be best served with Anderson joining the bullpen.

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