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Geren, Fuentes try putting drama behind them; Balfour new A’s closer

A’s manager Bob Geren and reliever Brian Fuentes cleared the air in a pregame conversation inside Geren’s office Tuesday. Both say they’re trying to leave the drama created by Fuentes’ harsh comments Monday night behind them. Fuentes said he was frustrated that prior conversations with Geren regarding his role in the bullpen didn’t solve anything, but in retrospect, he thinks he was wrong to air it out to reporters. “I definitely meant what I said, but I went about it wrong.” Fuentes didn’t share details of the conversation, but said: “It was a positive discussion on both ends. I think we both understand how each other feel.”

Geren said he requested the meeting with Fuentes after reading Fuentes’ comments criticizing Geren’s communication with him over how he’s being used. “I gave him my thoughts, he gave me his thoughts. Everything’s good. We shook hands. Everything’s fine.”

Geren did say that he’s switching to Grant Balfour as his closer for now. Fuentes is 1-7 with a 5.06 ERA and has taken the loss in his last four appearances, entering a tie game each time. “I told Brian that until he strings a few good outings in a row that I would stick with Balfour for now,” Geren said.

I’ll have more on this in tomorrow’s paper. Here’s the lineups:

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

Angels – Izturis 2B, Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Callaspo 3B, Trumbo 1B, Conger C, Amarista LF, Bourjos CF; Haren RHP.

2

Interleague dilemma: Josh Willingham or Hideki Matsui in left field?

There’s not a whole lot to report this morning, though A’s manager Bob Geren reiterated that Hideki Matsui is unlikely to draw any outfield starts against the Giants this weekend. The A’s are in a bind when they play in a National League park with no DH available, because their two best power hitters – Matsui and Josh Willingham – only play left field. Willingham enters today’s game against Minnesota hitting .176 (3 for 17) with 10 strikeouts over his last four games. He’s out of the lineup this afternoon. Matsui hasn’t been on fire either, hitting .206 (7 for 34) over his past 10 games. But he did get two hits Wednesday and notched his first RBI in 10 games.

If Matsui has a big game today, I’d be tempted to get back in there for at least one game this weekend. Playing left field at AT&T Park isn’t nearly as tricky as playing right would be, so I don’t think he’d be much of a liability with the glove …

Let’s throw it out there: Who would you rather have in the lineup right now, Matsui or Willingham?

Here’s today’s lineups, with Coco Crisp back in the leadoff spot for the A’s after missing Wednesday’s game due to a personal matter:

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

Twins – Span CF, Plouffe SS, Kubel RF, Morneau DH, Cuddyer 1B, Valencia 3B, Young LF, Rivera C, Casilla 2B; Blackburn RHP.

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Rain continues to fall at the Coliseum, but A’s-Angels game is still on

Here’s the situation at the Coliseum … The rain is falling steadily, batting practice has been canceled on the field, but the A’s have no plans to postpone tonight’s game against the Angels. That’s what we’re hearing. The forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain by 7 p.m., dropping to 15 percent by 8 p.m. If the A’s haven’t canceled this thing by now, they’re willing to wait it out to see if they can squeeze it in, even if it means delaying the 7:05 first pitch.

Remember what it was like during rainy day recess in elementary school, when everyone was stuck in the classroom and all activity was indoors? That’s the scene right now in the A’s clubhouse. Everyone is milling around, grabbing a bite to eat and wondering if this game is going to be played. The busiest guy in the building right now? Head groundskeeper Clay Wood, who was walking the field earlier – in shorts, with rain pouring down – surveying what kind of condition the field was in. There are puddles on the warning track, and groundskeepers are sweeping water off the infield tarp. It’s not going to be ideal playing conditions even if the rain stops.

It’s bizarre to even consider a rainout for an A’s home game. The last home rainout was May 5, 1998 against the Detroit Tigers. How many will show up for this one? Monday night games usually draw poorly anyway, and you can take it to the bank that tonight’s crowd is below the season-low of 9,193 that showed up for a May 2 game against the Rangers.

The update from Bob Geren’s pregame media chat:

–Andrew Bailey is heading to Phoenix to throw in another extended spring training game Tuesday. “That’s what he felt he’d like to do. Ronny (pitching coach Ron Romanick) talked with him on where he’s at, what he’s comfortable doing,” Geren said. The other option was for Bailey to just go out on a rehab assignment with Single-A Stockton or Triple-A Sacramento. The advantage for the A’s in an extended spring game is it’s a “controlled” environment. The A’s can stop the action, manipulate innings to keep Bailey out there for four outs if they choose – the situation can be tailored to what he needs. But pitching in minor league games will be a better test for Bailey because it’s regular game conditions. That’s the next step after Tuesday. There’s still no indication of how many minor league games Bailey will need to pitch in before returning.

–Dallas Braden’s shoulder surgery has been rescheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. He was originally supposed to have the operation today, but his flight to New York was canceled Sunday.

–Rich Harden, on the 60-day DL with a side muscle injury, is doing strengthening exercises but still not throwing. He’s nowhere close to returning yet.

–Geren talked about Michael Wuertz’s dominant form lately out of the bullpen. The guy has given up just one hit in eight appearances since coming off the DL for a hamstring injury. You’ll notice he’s starting to be used more in late-inning situations, and Geren considers him another right-handed setup option, filling the same role as Grant Balfour when Balfour isn’t available. Until Bailey returns, Wuertz’s effectiveness is even more important for the ‘pen. I’ll have more on Wuertz in tomorrow’s paper. …

Tonight’s lineups (assuming there’s baseball)

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

Angels – Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Izturis 2B, Hunter RF, Kendrick LF, Callaspo 3B, Trumbo 1B, Wilson C, Bourjos CF; Pineiro RHP.

0

A’s-Rangers makeup date set; Sweeney starts again, Matsui sits

It’s a gloomy afternoon at the Coliseum, as the A’s try to even the series with a White Sox team that’s suddenly playing very good ball. On to the news …

–The A’s and Texas Rangers will make up Wednesday’s rainout on July 7 in Arlington. That was scheduled to be an off-day leading into an Oakland-Texas series, but now the teams will just play a four-game series.

–Ryan Sweeney is swinging a hot bat, and it’s earning him some playing time. He’s back in left field for the A’s for a second straight day, hitting third. Josh Willingham is serving as DH, which pushes Hideki Matsui to the bench. It’s an encouraging sign for the A’s that Sweeney is forcing his way into the lineup, and it reflects well on the outfield depth that Bob Geren talked up during spring training. But it’s also a statement on Matsui’s struggles. He’s started just three of the A’s past six games and is hitting .236. Today is just the third time he hasn’t started against a right-handed pitcher. “It’s just kind of a thing where I wanted to get Sweeney in there because he’s swinging so well,” Geren said. “We’ll look at what happens today, but more than likely, (Matsui) will be back in there tomorrow.”

–Andrew Bailey threw 18 pitches in an extended spring game in Arizona. Geren said he recorded four outs and allowed one bloop hit. More importantly, Bailey was in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball and used all of his pitches. He’ll be re-evaluated in Oakland on Sunday, and if all goes well, he might begin a true rehab assignment.

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Sweeney LF, Willingham DH, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennignton SS; Ross RHP.

White Sox – Pierre LF, Ramirez SS, Dunn DH, Konerko 1B, Quentin RF, Rios CF, Castro C, Beckham 2B, Morel 3B; Floyd RHP.

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Does getaway day success bode well for A’s?

The A’s are 9-4 in day games and 8-2 in the last game of a series. So are good things in store for Oakland in this afternoon’s series finale against the Royals? They need to rebound after last night’s deflating loss. Tyson Ross takes the hill coming off strong starts in his previous two outings. … It’s a warm afternoon in Kansas City, but there’s a pretty strong breeze blowing, so I’d think the heat shouldn’t be too much of a factor.

–Hideki Matsui is sitting against Royals lefty Jeff Francis, and reading through the lines during Bob Geren’s pregame media session, Matsui could sit Monday as well. Geren said he’d stack his lineup with right-handed hitters against Texas lefty C.J. Wilson. Matsui is hitting .275 against right-handers, .171 vs. lefties. Last night, his two doubles were one of the few offensive bright spots for the A’s. But they both came with the bases empty.

–Kevin Kouzmanoff is starting at third for the second straight day. He’s 9 for 20 w/two homers against Francis. “When you’re trying to get somebody going, there’s nothing better than doing it with a guy he’s had success against in the past,” Geren said.

–Conor Jackson is back in the lineup at left field, with Josh Willingham the DH. I didn’t mention it in this morning’s stories, but Jackson’s left shoulder apparently was bothering him more than he let on after his collision at first base Friday night. Geren said after that game that he was planning to give Jackson a day off Saturday anyway, but it sounds as if Jackson needed a day to recover. “We’re very fortunate it wasn’t anything more serious,” Geren said.

–You’ll see lots of A’s players swinging pink bats today to raise awareness for breast cancer on Mother’s Day. And pitcher Brandon McCarthy will be wearing pink cleats. McCarthy is the only Athletic who wears Under Armour cleats, the official cleat of Major League Baseball. According to A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich, only players contracted with Under Armour can wear the pink cleats. Too bad McCarthy isn’t pitching today. It’s an interesting look …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson LF, Willingham DH, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

Royals – Getz 2B, Cabrera DH, Gordon LF, Francoeur RF, Hosmer 1B, Betemit 3B, Maier CF, Pena C, Escobar SS; Francis LHP.

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Coco Crisp out of the lineup again, A’s say it’s precautionary

It’s a perfect afternoon for baseball at the Coliseum. I have no idea what kind of crowd will show up today, a rare non-holiday Monday afternoon game. But it’s a potentially big game for the A’s no matter how many people witness it. Taking a four-game series from Texas, the AL West favorites, would provide a healthy dose of momentum. And that could be helpful considering the surprising Cleveland Indians – with a majors-best 19-8 record – roll into town Tuesday for a three-game series.

–After a big game yesterday, Coco Crisp is back out of the lineup. A’s manager Bob Geren said the team is treating Crisp’s sore quadriceps carefully. “We’re just being cautious with him,” Geren said. “We’re monitoring how the game goes. He had high exertion yesterday with a lot of running, and we have to be cautious.” With a night game tomorrow following today’s day game, Geren said the thinking was that Crisp could get a bit of extra rest and be ready for Tuesday’s series opener with Cleveland. Crisp played down the situation. “I’m perfectly fine,” he told me. “It’s just a day off. I’m not quite 100 percent.” Geren added that Crisp was available off the bench if needed.

Does it concern you that Crisp is sitting again? Judging by how he played yesterday, the leg can’t be bothering him too much. If occasional rest now is going to help him be ready to play regularly for the long haul, it’s probably a smart idea.

–David DeJesus is playing center field in place of Crisp, with Conor Jackson getting another start in right. I asked Geren if he considered playing Ryan Sweeney in center since DeJesus has struggled a bit hitting. Geren said Sweeney would get some playing time soon with the A’s facing a string of right-handed starters coming up.

–Other injury updates: Andrew Bailey will pitch to hitters for the first time Wednesday, and Dallas Braden played catch this morning, but we didn’t get a report on him yet.

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

Rangers – Andrus SS, Moreland 1B, Young 2B, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Murphy LF, Davis 3B, Teagarden C, Borbon CF; Holland LHP.

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Andrew Bailey’s return is still down the road; Coco Crisp back in A’s lineup

Here’s the pregame lowdown from the Coliseum, as the A’s try to rebound from Saturday’s shellacking …

–As you’ve noticed, the news has been vague on closer Andrew Bailey ever since he’s been on the disabled list. It remains that way, though we got a little more detail today. Bailey threw another bullpen session this morning, and if he comes out of it OK, he’ll throw a batting practice session in a few days, possibly Wednesday. Manager Bob Geren said Bailey likely would throw a simulated game after that, and then the A’s would decide when he begins a minor league rehab assignment. How many outings would he need to be ready to join the major league club? “I don’t really know how many appearances I’ll need before pitching in the big leagues, but I’d say a few since I really didn’t have a spring training,” Bailey said. It’s easy to forget that Bailey pitched in just two exhibitions before suffering his forearm strain.

Long story short, it’s going to be at least two weeks before Bailey rejoins the A’s bullpen. So it’s up to Brian Fuentes and the other relievers to hold down the fort until then. Going hand in hand with that, the A’s would really benefit from their starters continuing to pitch deep in games. Entering today, Oakland’s starters were tied for fourth in the majors in innings pitched (172 2/3).

–Coco Crisp returns to the leadoff spot after missing three games with tightness in his left quadriceps. David DeJesus is sitting against left-hander Matt Harrison and DH Hideki Matsui was dropped to the sixth spot. Andy LaRoche, despite a shaky day defensively Saturday at second base, gets a start at third in place of Kevin Kouzmanoff.

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Suzuki C, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, LaRoche 3B, Pennington SS; Gonzalez LHP.

Rangers – Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Young DH, Beltre 3B, Cruz LF, Napoli 1B, Murphy CF, Torrealba C, Moreland RF; Harrison LHP.

0

It’s baseball in the shadows today at Angel Stadium

We’ve got a wacky 4:05 start time as the A’s try to avoid the sweep in Anaheim. As if A’s hitters needed anything else going against them. Now they get to face Dan Haren as the shadows are moving over Angel Stadium. The twilight hours are always tough on hitters. “It’s not going to be good out here today,” A’s second baseman Mark Ellis said. Not that he was looking to use the shadows as an excuse. Ellis has been struggling as much as any Athletic – he’s hitless in his last 16 at-bats – and he acknowledged that he and his teammates have to turn things around quickly.

Coco Crisp (left quad) and Josh Willingham (back) are both out of the lineup, though Willingham took some swings today and said he could have played if absolutely necessary. With a day off Thursday, the A’s want to maximize his rest so he comes back ready to go against Texas on Friday. “I still felt it but it’s a lot better,” Willingham said. “Hopefully I’ll play Friday.”

Crisp made himself scarce around the clubhouse before batting practice. Chatting with reporters about his injuries is not among Crisp’s favorite activities. So we’ll go with what manager Bob Geren told us: Crisp remains day-to-day and is unavailable in any capacity Wednesday. But Geren said the disabled list is not being considered.

Catcher Josh Donaldson was called up to take Kurt Suzuki’s roster spot. Donaldson was happy to get the promotion from Triple-A Sacramento but knows it will be short-lived. Suzuki’s wife had induced labor this morning so Suzuki is on paternity leave. But it seems possible that he could return Friday (no word yet on the birth of his baby). I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but Donaldson is a dead-on Bill Clinton sound-alike. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were talking to the former President. Donaldson just needs to get that hand gesture down that Clinton used to do during his speeches. If Donaldson dyes his hair gray, he could have a second career, like Kevin Kline in “Dave.”

The lineups:

A’s – DeJesus RF, Barton 1B, Jackson LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Sweeney CF, Powell C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

Angels – Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 1B, Conger C, Bourjos CF, Amarista 2B; Haren RHP.

1

Struggling Barton gets a day off

Daric Barton is out of the lineup tonight, which manager Bob Geren is calling a mental and physical day off. I talked to Barton this afternoon, and he wishes he was in there. He likes hitting in Anaheim. He’s a Southern California guy and would prefer to play when the A’s are here. But he also said he understands why Geren sat him considering his hitting struggles. Barton is 2 for 30 (.067) over his past nine games. If you watched the game last night, you saw him blow his top when he was called out on that close 6-3 putout, a play that landed Angels shortstop Erick Aybar on the ESPN highlights. That wasn’t the only play that had Barton steamed. He thought a ball he hit down the left-field line in his second at-bat landed fair, but it was called foul. “If I go 2 for 4, I’m probably in the lineup tonight,” he said.

It’s a long season, and the bad calls probably even out with the favorable calls over 162 games, so there’s only so much stock to be put in that. The A’s had Barton out taking extra swings before batting practice today. Conor Jackson draws the start at first in his place.

–Josh Willingham is not playing. He’s still got some stiffness after tweaking a back muscle last night and leaving the game. Sounds like he won’t be available in any capacity, but the injury is considered minor.

–Without coming out and directly saying it, Geren gave indication the A’s would call up a catcher to fill Kurt Suzuki’s roster spot when Suzuki leaves Wednesday on paternity leave. Willingham’s injury would seem to assure a catcher is called up since Willingham would normally be the A’s emergency catcher. Consider Josh Donaldson the likely choice to be promoted, as I wrote a couple days ago. …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Angels – Aybar SS, Abreu DH, Hunter RF, Wells LF, Callaspo 3B, Kendrick 1B, Conger C, Bourjos CF, Amarista 2B; Chatwood RHP.

1

Baseball under the roof (sort of)

It’s raining in Seattle today but the roof is closed at Safeco Field, which provides a weird dynamic. The roof does not enclose the entire stadium. There are huge gaps of open air, so the cold weather sweeps through the stadium even when there’s “indoor” baseball being played. If you’re ever looking to plan a road trip to watch the A’s, I highly recommend Seattle as your destination. It’s a great city to navigate on foot, and Safeco Field is considered among the major leagues’ best stadiums, for good reason. Just remember to bundle up when you get here …

–Pretty standard lineup for the A’s today, with the exception of Landon Powell catching instead of Kurt Suzuki. It was a planned day off for Suzuki, who hasn’t left the team yet for the birth of his baby.

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Powell C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Anderson LHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Figgins 3B, Bradley LF, Olivo C, Kennedy 1B, Ryan SS, Saunders CF, Wilson 2B, Langerhans RF; Fister RHP.

–Michael Wuertz could rejoin the A’s bullpen for the upcoming three-game series with the Angels. He threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts Saturday night for Triple-A Sacramento, his best rehab outing yet. Manager Bob Geren said Wuertz would get checked by the training staff in Oakland today, and that would help determine when he gets activated. The A’s need this guy in the ‘pen. They’ve got just two right-handers right now, and though Grant Balfour and Brad Ziegler are both throwing well, a little more righty-lefty balance would be nice.

–Did you like the A’s aggressiveness on the bases last night? They stole three bases as part of their 12-hit attack, and I’d expect them to continue pressing the action with the running game. Geren says he’s looking to pull all strings to get the offense rolling consistently. He still looks for favorable pitcher/catcher matchups that allow for stealing, but I think the A’s need to error on the side of aggression right now. Of course, if they hit as they did Saturday night, the running game isn’t nearly as vital …