4

Conor Jackson in right field as A’s try to break through vs. Mariners

The weather is absolutely perfect in Seattle right now as the A’s take batting practice, but the temperature is sure to drop big-time as the night wears on. Still, it was nice to sit in the dugout while the A’s were hitting and not freeze. …

A’s manager Bob Geren said last night that he planned to start both Conor Jackson and Andy LaRoche tonight against Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas. But only Jackson is in there, playing right field in place of David DeJesus (who is actually hitting .346 over his past seven games). Geren said he thought about giving Cliff Pennington a day off and playing LaRoche at shortstop, but he likes the way Pennington’s swing has looked lately.

The lineups:

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Kennedy 1B, Cust DH, Saunders CF, Rodriguez SS, Gimenez C, Peguero LF, Wilson 2B; Vargas LHP.

–Andrew Bailey threw a 35-pitch bullpen session. All indications are he continues to progress well, but pitching coach Ron Romanick said Bailey will throw at least once more on the side before facing hitters.

That’s all for now …

0

LaRoche might get more time at third base

Are you still wondering what to make of this A’s team? So am I … After showing signs of life on the road, the offense was silenced last night. The A’s try to even this four-game series against Detroit tonight, with Brandon McCarthy attempting to make it three straight strong starts to begin his 2011 season.

Andy LaRoche draws his second straight start at third base, and A’s manager Bob Geren said he might give LaRoche an extended look there. Kevin Kouzmanoff is hitting just .171 in 13 games and he’s made four errors. He just looks off defensively right now. “I told him guys have ups and downs fielding and have ups and downs hitting,” Geren said. “Right now he’s having a rough time with both of them. But I have confidence he’ll break out offensively and defensively, because he’s done it in the past.”

That’s not to say there won’t be any defensive adventures with LaRoche. I asked him about that ugly sacrifice fly in the eighth inning last night, when left fielder Josh Willingham caught a fly ball in left-center, fired a throw to third and no one was there covering, which allowed a second run to score on the play. LaRoche was positioned to be the cutoff man for a throw home (there were runners on second and third to start the play).

LaRoche said he wandered away from third to be cutoff man because the runner at second was not tagging up. At any rate, there was confusion on the play, and LaRoche said a game plan is in place to better handle the situation next time. With runners on second and third and less than two outs, if there’s a fly ball to left-center, one possibility is to have first baseman Daric Barton be the cutoff man, allowing the third baseman to stay at third. As we’ve seen, the A’s are likely to be in a lot of close games this season, and they can’t afford to be giving away extra runs. …

–Michael Wuertz (strained left hamstring) is scheduled to throw one inning for Single-A Stockton on Saturday. If that goes well, he might do so again Sunday. Geren said they would wait to see how Wuertz comes out of Saturday’s outing before proceeding with his next step. The right-hander has been on the DL since April 6 …

The lineups:

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Suzuki C, LaRoche 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Tigers – Rhymes 2B, Raburn LF, Boesch RF, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Kelly CF, Inge 3B, Avila C, Santiago SS; Porcello RHP.

5

Mark Ellis sits with inner ear problem; Andy LaRoche’s tour of the A’s infield continues

It’s getaway day for the A’s in Toronto, and they want nothing more than to get away with a victory. Trevor Cahill takes the mound looking to help the A’s avoid a three-game sweep. …

Andy LaRoche remains a busy guy. He’s starting at second base today with Mark Ellis experiencing an inner ear problem. LaRoche started at shortstop Tuesday, then played third base Wednesday night. It’s sort of a continuation of what we saw in the spring, when LaRoche bounced around to all four infield spots. Interesting story from the spring: Many utility infielders will have different gloves for different spots – a smaller one for turning double plays at second base or short, and maybe a bigger one for third base. LaRoche told me during camp he prefers sticking with one glove that he’s comfortable with at all three of those positions – advice he once received from Jeff Kent.

Ellis’ inner ear problem is causing him some dizziness but it’s not thought to be vertigo, he said. He felt it a bit during Wednesday’s game (can you imagine backpedaling on a shallow fly to right field if you were dizzy?). Ellis said it was tough sleeping last night, but he gradually felt his ear popping, which relieved some pressure. “I’m not looking forward to the flight (to Minnesota),” he said. Manager Bob Geren said the team was weighing whether it was safe to have Ellis fly today, but driving to Minnesota is not a practical option – too far. The upshot: Ellis won’t play in his 1,000th career game until Friday at the earliest.

Conor Jackson draws a start in right field with David DeJesus getting the day off against Toronto left-hander Ricky Romero. Hideki Matsui is hitting sixth, and Geren said he’ll likely drop DeJesus or Matsui to the No. 6 spot against lefties most games.

A’s: Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Kouzmanoff 3B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, LaRoche 2B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Jays: Davis CF, Nix 3B, Lind 1B, Hill 2B, Rivera RF, Encarnacion DH, Snider LF, Arencibia C, McDonald SS; Romero LHP.

0

Andy LaRoche, Bobby Cramer make A’s roster; Tyson Ross, Eric Sogard sent down

A quick rundown on the A’s final roster cuts (so much for my predictions from this morning!)

–Andy LaRoche was kept as the utility infielder over Eric Sogard. Score that a mild upset as Sogard is the stronger defensive player and was already on the 40-man roster. Obviously, the A’s feel LaRoche is adequate enough with the glove to get by whenever he’s called upon. But this move was all about LaRoche’s potential impact with the bat. He hit .333 this spring and led the team in homers (4) and RBIs (13). Adam Rosales, the projected backup infielder before he suffered a foot injury, was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for LaRoche.

–Bobby Cramer was kept as the final reliever over Tyson Ross. That’s despite a rough bottom of the ninth today in a 2-1 loss to the Giants, when Cramer had a throwing error that contributed to the Giants’ winning two-run rally. That gives the A’s four lefties in their seven-man bullpen. Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Cramer and Brian Fuentes join right-handers Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz and Brad Ziegler (Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day DL as expected). This was a surprising call to me. I like the idea of Ross getting Triple-A seasoning as a starter, and I think that’s best for his future. But I still thought his relief experience from last year would trump any potential benefit of keeping Cramer. It’s a great story for Cramer, who was playing in the Mexican League at this point last year and has never been on an Opening Day roster. He said that he was told to be ready for any relief role — one innings, two innings or long relief. A’s manager Bob Geren classified Cramer as predominantly a long man.

–Landon Powell was kept as the backup catcher over Josh Donaldson, which was no surprise …

More in tomorrow morning’s A’s notebook …

1

Random items on an odd day in A’s land

It just ain’t right. … Today’s A’s-White Sox game starts at 4:05 p.m. local time, and the odd start just throws the daily routine off completely. The A’s clubhouse opened at 11 a.m., players stretched at noon and then took batting practice before they make the long drive to Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Everything is pushed back about three hours from what it’s been for the past four-plus weeks — not really a day game, not really a night game. It’s baseball no-man’s land today. But enough with the drama …

–Today’s lineup against the White Sox looks familiar:

Crisp CF; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Suzuki C; Ellis 2B; Kouzmanoff 3B; Pennington SS; Cramer LHP (with Outman to follow) …

–Manager Bob Geren says he’ll tinker with his lineup, but this is the third time we’ve seen this look (and second day in a row) when Geren has penciled in an ‘A’ lineup. So he likes something about it. The top five hitters are no surprise. As for the 6-8 hitters, Geren says they could be interchangeable. I had Kouzmanoff pegged as the possible No. 6 guy, but Geren said there’s justification to hit him eighth. “You need power down in the lineup too. I’m not saying he’s going to hit there. I fully expect him to rebound in his second year in the league. If the spring is any indication, his swing looks great. He could definitely climb up in the order depending on how he does.” Kouzmanoff is hitting .387 with one homer and seven RBIs in 12 games.

–Lefties Bobby Cramer and Josh Outman both take the hill tonight, and it’s an important outing for both. Cramer is squarely in the 5th starter discussion and needs to keep up with Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross. Outman, who has struggled, really needs to turn things around quickly.

–Keep an eye on the backup infielder situation. Geren said Adam Rosales is recovering as expected from his right foot injury, but from talking to Rosales yesterday, I know he was hoping to be further along by now. Tough to say whether he’ll return by May 1 as the A’s hope. Andy LaRoche is hitting .324, but he’s very unproven as a shortstop. And Steve Tolleson and Eric Sogard have each missed some time and haven’t distinguished themselves yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s sign someone with shortstop experience to back up Cliff Pennington.

That’s all for now …

0

Competition is on for A’s backup infielder spot

Position players continue to trickle into A’s camp. I saw Conor Jackson and second base prospect Adrian Cardenas this morning. Word is that Hideki Matsui will be here Saturday, but I’m not sure if he’ll be addressing the media then or wait until Sunday, which is the reporting deadline.

Adam Rosales will wear a walking boot on his right foot for two more weeks, so he won’t be hitting the field any time soon. That means there’s open competition for the backup infielder spot, and the ability to play shortstop is key for whoever claims it. Among the candidates manager Bob Geren touched on this morning:

Steve Tolleson: I’d put this guy as the front runner. He got his feet wet with 25 games in the majors last season and did a capable job. Tolleson spent more time at shortstop than any other position last season at Triple-A Sacramento, but he can also play third base, second base and left field.

Eric Sogard: The A’s like this Arizona State alum, especially for his bat. He’s also the only one of the backup infield candidates who’s already on the 40-man roster, but Geren said that wouldn’t be a factor. “The best guys will be on the team.” Sogard is more of a second baseman, though the A’s have exposed him to shortstop.

Andy LaRoche: The most intriguing name, just because he was such a highly touted prospect for the Dodgers. LaRoche didn’t pan out with the Pirates over the past two-plus seasons, and he’s never played shortstop in his professional career (third base is his main position). But Geren said LaRoche, Sogard and Tolleson will get most of the innings at short until starter Cliff Pennington is ready. Pennington is being brought along slowly after offseason surgery on his left shoulder.

Josh Horton: A’s farm director Keith Lieppman has raved to me in the past about Horton, a 2007 second-round pick. Geren identified Horton as the strongest defensive shortstop of all the candidates based on reports he’s gotten. He said he hasn’t seen Horton much in person.

Grant Green: Finally, the name you were waiting for, right? The 2009 first-round pick enjoyed a fine offensive year with Single-A Stockton in 2010 but still has a long way to go defensively. Since Green was drafted, there’s been speculation about him moving to third base or second base. For now, he’s a shortstop. “He’s still a ways away,” Geren said. Green is expected to begin the season at Double-A Midland, and the A’s consider Double-A a good measuring stick for how close a prospect is to being big-league ready.

1

A’s sign Andy LaRoche, trade Mortensen to Rockies

Joe Stiglich is off this week, so just wanted to pass along the news that the A’s have signed free-agent third baseman Andy LaRoche to a minor-league contract on Monday. Also, pitcher Clayton Mortensen was dealt to Colorado for minor league pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth.

From the A’s release:

The Oakland A’s traded right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen to the Colorado Rockies for minor league right-handed pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth, the club announced today. The A’s also agreed to terms with third baseman Andy LaRoche on a minor league contract and have invited him to spring training.

Mortensen was designated for assigned last Tuesday when the A’s signed right-handed pitcher Grant Balfour. He made one start with Oakland in 2010 and had a no decision while posting a 4.50 ERA. Mortensen spent the balance of the season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 13-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 26 starts.

Hollingsworth spent most of the season at Single-A Modesto where he was 12-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 25 games, all starts. He tied for the California League lead in wins, ranked second in ERA, third in strikeouts (153) and innings pitched (160.1) and fourth in opponents batting average (.260). The 23-year old right-hander also went 0-0 with a 9.58 ERA in two starts with Double-A Tulsa. Hollingsworth was originally selected by Colorado in the 4th round of the 2008 draft. He will report to the A’s minor league camp this spring.

La Roche batted .206 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 102 games with Pittsburgh last year. He started 52 games at third base, four at second base and two at first base. The 27-year old right-handed hitter made his Major League debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007 and is a .224 career hitter with 22 home runs and 108 in 363 games over four seasons.