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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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Game 5 start in ALCS vs. Tigers put Gray in line for opener

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 March 31.

Nothing is official, but the A’s have an opening day starting pitcher.

His name is Sonny Gray.

The 24-year-old, with just 10 big league starts to his name, was being considered for the job all along, but it seemed likely the call would go to Jarrod Parker or, perhaps, newcomer Scott Kazmir.

Parker is out for the season with the news that he needs a second Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow and forearm.

As for Kazmir, he was scratched from his start Monday because of triceps pain. He was pain-free Tuesday and wanted to pitch, but the A’s have decided that he’ll throw a bullpen session, probably Wednesday, then return to the starting rotation Saturday.

That rules him out for the opener, because to get to March 31 against the Indians, he’d either have to pitch on long rest or on short rest. The A’s aren’t going to have him do that for the sake of one game, so that leaves Gray to pitch the opener and Kazmir to follow him in Game 2 against Cleveland, the team for which he pitched last year.

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A’s approve of Griffin taking charge of his pitching future

A.J. Griffin is going back to an old friend - his changeup

A.J. Griffin is going back to an old friend – his changeup

Managers and pitching coaches would much rather have a young pitcher come to them and say “I need to develop a pitch’’ than have to suggest that kind of move themselves.

The idea is that if the prompting is internally generated, the pitcher is more likely to do the little things that go into the making of a pitch.

So the A’s are happy that starter A.J. Griffin has decided he would rather go back to throwing his changeup, a pitch he used to master, while ditching the cutter he’s thrown with mixed success since picking it up in 2011.

“What it says to me is that the player knows his strengths and weaknesses,’’ Oakland manager Bob Melvin said, “and he wants to work on his weaknesses. You want to see that in all your guys.’’

Melvin’s pitching coach, Curt Young, said that Griffin is on the same quest every other young starting pitcher (Griffin is 26) is on.

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A’s should come out ahead in `swap’ of closers

In the current baseball market place, it seems as if the Orioles got a relative bargain today when they locked in Grant Balfour, who’d been the A’s closer most of the last two seasons.

Baltimore’s opening for Balfour came after they’d traded their 50-saves closer of the last two seasons, Jim Johnson, to the A’s in the week leading up to the Winter Meetings.

So who comes out ahead here? The A’s have to pay Johnson more (he’s likely worth in the $10 million range in salary arbitration) for less – he’s a free agent after this year. The Orioles have Balfour locked in for two years for less – just $14 million.

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Kazmir seems a good addition to A’s rotation

kazmir

It’s true that the A’s are taking something of a risk in signing Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal worth $22 million, but you have to like their thinking.

Yes, this deal, which won’t be official until Kazmir passes his physical exam, means that Bartolo Colon won’t be back after winning 18 games as an All-Star in 2013. Colon is 40, however, meaning he’s not in the long-term plans no matter what team he’s with.

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Melvin considering Gray over Colon for Game 5

UPDATED at 6:35 p.m. PT

Is there a case to be made for Sonny Gray as the Game 5 starter if the A’s and Tigers wind up getting there?

A’s manager Bob Melvin has to make that call in the next 48 hours after an 8-6 loss to Detroit forced the American League Division Series to a decisive fifth game Thursday.

Before the game, the A’s were going with Game 1 starter Bartolo Colon in Game 5. Colon, the loser in a 3-2 game, may be replaced by Gray, who threw eight shutout innings against the Tigers in Game 2.

Asked after Tuesday’s game in Comerica Park, Melvin said “I haven’t decided yet,” when ask about his Game 5 starter. The Tigers have. By using Max Scherzer in relief to get the win Tuesday, Detroit committed to Justin Verlander, who threw a shutout at the A’s in Game 5 in Oakland last year.

Gray last pitched on Thursday, as did Verlander in a game the A’s won 1-0 after both men were out of the game. Both men would be going on their every-fifth day turn if they are matched up again.

Colon, the A’s 18-game winner who pitched reasonably well but lost Game 1 in the Coliseum, would be pitching with extra rest, which isn’t that big a deal.

What is a big deal is that the Tigers, who have seen Colon over the years, have a book on him. They know what he throws. Colon can beat them, but he hasn’t this year. The A’s are 1-2 in games Colon has pitched against the Tigers this year.

He got no decisions in the two games he pitched against them in the regular season, one win and one loss. The A’s won the first game in 12 innings in the Coliseum in April after Colon allowed three runs in seven innings. The Tigers scored a walkoff win against Grant Balfour on Aug. 29 after Colon had allowed one run in five innings and left with a 6-1 lead.

Gray has only pitched once against the Tigers, but it was a true eye-opener, an eight-inning, four-hit, two-walk, no-run effort in which he, too, didn’t get the win. After Balfour pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday in Oakland, the A’s got a walkoff win on Stephen Vogt’s bases-loaded single in the ninth.

Afterward the Tigers were full of praise for Gray, who has pitched well in 10 of his 11 starts since his promotion from Triple-A Sacramento.

The Vanderbilt product seems destined to be a star. What the A’s have to decide now is if they want to double down on Gray in this series.

One major byproduct would mean that Colon would get the Game 1 start against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, where the series will start if Boston comes out of the other ALDS on top, rather than Gray, who has never pitched here.

A’s manager Bob Melvin, in having Gray pitch Game 2 against the Tigers, made a big case for how Gray has pitched well in big games in the Coliseum.

This move would support that.

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Colon relaxes by tormenting Moss; Tigers go with Scherzer, but Verlander still possible for Game 5

I was standing in the A’s clubhouse Thursday when Bartolo Colon tapped me on the right shoulder, put his right index finger to his lips in the universal sign for “don’t make a sound,’’ then said quietly, “Watch this.’’

Colon moved toward a hard-foam black roller players use to stretch out their backs, a light but solid cylinder with a diameter of about 10 inches. It doesn’t weight much, but it is strong, and it’s one of Colon’s favorite pieces of mayhem.

He picked it up, pointed at Brandon Moss, sitting in a chair watching the Cardinals-Pirates game and flashed a grin of delight. He raised the roller above his head, then slammed it into the table in the center of the clubhouse. It sounded like a truck crashed through the wall.

Moss jumped about from here to Jupiter.

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Game 162 wrapup: Melvin makes sure Donaldson finishes over .300; Gray tunes up for ALDS start; Norris has smooth sailing playing first base

What’s in a number?

On Saturday, Brandon Moss got to the 30-homer level. On Sunday, Josh Donaldson was taken out of the game in part to preserve a plus-.300 batting average and Chris Young came out with his average at .200.

There’s something about round numbers that baseball likes.

Donaldson likes his .301 average, too, but he was loathe to be taken out of the game after just one plate trip.

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Game 161 wrapup: Moss gets to 30-homer mark in platoon role; Colon will finish second in ERA title

Brandon Moss didn’t think he’d be hitting 30 homers, so it’s a reasonable assumption that not too many others did.

But there Moss was in the seventh inning of what would likely be his final start of the season, crushing a line drive to right field that somehow carried over the wall for Moss’s 30th homer of the season.

“I thought `no chance’ when he hit that ball,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought it might short-hop the fence. But he got it out.’’

The homer was all the more remarkable in that the A’s platoon Moss, so that he only plays about three-quarters of the time. When Josh Reddick hit 32 to lead the A’s last year, he did it in 611 at-bats.

Moss did it in 444.

“I don’t care if I did it in 100 at-bats or 700 at-bats,’’ Moss said. “Thirty homers is 30 homers. It’s a nice round number.’’

Third baseman Josh Donaldson said Moss showed his ability to hit many homers in few at-bats last year when he played with the Mariners for about 60 percent of the season and hit 21 homers in 265 at-bats, a better percentage even than this year.

Pitcher Jarrod Parker, who has been on the plus end of plenty of Moss homers, said it was an “awesome’’ performance.

“He’s one of the hardest workers in baseball,’’ Parker said of Moss. “He’s always coming up with the big home run. I can’t wait to see him (in the playoffs).’’

 

–Bartolo Colon won’t win his ERA title after all.

The 40-year-old A’s starting pitcher came into the weekend fractionally ahead of the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez for the American League ERA lead, both at 2.64 but with Colon a tad better.

On Friday Colon allowed two run in six innings and finished the year at 2.65. Sanchez pitched for Detroit Saturday in Miami and didn’t allow a run in five innings before leaving the game, giving him the title at 2.57.

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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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