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Vogt takes demotion to Sacramento hard, but with grace

It was a great spring for Stephen Vogt. Right up until Saturday, when he got the word he was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

It wasn’t unexpected, even if it was undeserved. Manager Bob Melvin said it was perhaps the most difficult end-of-spring conversation he’d ever had with a player.

It wasn’t just that Vogt hit .364 with three homers and a dozen RBIs. It was that he’s developed a bond with the A’s pitching staff, he is genuinely liked by A’s teammates and he was a major part of the Oakland success the second half of 2013.

But the decision to go with two left-handed hitting first basemen, Brandon Moss and Daric Barton, meant the squeeze for roster space was on. Vogt, part of a three-man catching rotation last year, was odd man out when the A’s went with two catchers, John Jaso and Derek Norris, leaving Vogt to start in Sacramento.

And he took it hard. He badly wanted to be in Oakland, to the point where “you never want to believe it will happen until it happens,’’ he said.

Melvin took it hard, too.

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Murphy’s move to Sacramento could be sign of the times

When Sean Murphy moved from Philadelphia to Sacramento this off-season, he was sending a message.

Murphy, 25, had lived in Philly his whole life when not playing baseball. But after going 8-8 with a 4.08 ERA for Double-A Midland in the A’s organization last year, the right-hander set his eyes on Triple-A this time around.

Hence the move to Sacramento, home of the A’s Triple-A affiliate, the RiverCats.

“I’m hoping,’’ Murphy said. “I don’t know anything beyond that.’’

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Freiman, Lindblom, Leon cut, but Burns earns Bay Area trip

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

The A’s made what are likely their last roster trims in Arizona Sunday when they optioned first baseman Nate Freiman and pitchers Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon to Triple-A Sacramento.

Lindblom, who had a hitless, scoreless 4.2 innings against the Mariners Sunday before the M’s tagged him in the fifth, was in the mix in the bullpen, but with the A’s short two starting pitchers to the disabled list in Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery) and A.J. Griffin (elbow), both he and Leon will be starters for the RiverCats.

“We’re two down in the rotation,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “We need backup.’’

Lindblom served as starter and reliever in the big leagues with the Rangers last year after having been exclusively a reliever with the Dodgers and Phillies. He threw 4.2 innings without allowing a hit or a run Sunday against the Mariners before being tagged for two runs and lifted in a game the A’s lost in the bottom of the ninth, 6-4.

Lindblom said he long since learned how fruitless it was for players to play general manager, ended his spring with a 4.02 ERA and knowing that he’ll be a starter, which is what he would prefer.

Leon, too, made an impact with Melvin this spring with a 2.13 ERA in five games, including one start. The manager called him “highly impressive.’’

As for Freiman, he was a Rule 5 player last year, so the A’s had to keep him on the roster or lose him. This time around, he has options, so the club can send him down without risking losing him. And he needs more at-bats, because 2013 saw him serve almost exclusively against left-handed pitching.

“Nate needs to build up at-bats,’’ Melvin said. “Last year we needed him against left-handed pitchers, and he prepared for that. But he needs to get at-bats against right-handers and play every day.’’

Freiman hit four homers last year after having hit 42 combined in 2011 and 2012 in the minor leagues. Melvin suggests the power will return.

“The power comes when he gets more at-bats,’’ the manager said. “It’s easier to track the ball.’’

Melvin said the A’s won’t be making any more cuts before the Bay Bridge series, which means non-roster outfielder Billy Burns has opened enough eyes that he’ll be in the mix this weekend in San Francisco and Oakland.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ Melvin said of Burns having made it this far. “I don’t know that he would have through that this would have been the case for him, but he’s earned every bit of it.’’

Burns had two more hits in Peoria Sunday, has 20 hits for the spring and is averaging .313. And let’s not forget the Major League-high 10 steals the fleet Burns had. One of his two hits Sunday was a bunt to the right side that only the fastest of men could have beaten out.

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Chili has no worries Cespedes will be a force for A’s in 2014

Yoenis Cespedes is in quest of the perfect hybrid swing

Yoenis Cespedes is in quest of the perfect hybrid swing

(UPDATE POSTGAME)

 

A’s batting coach Chili Davis spent his usual Sunday morning in the batting cage working with eight or 10 of the club’s hitters, whoever wandered by over the course of 90 minutes.

One of those was, as is almost always the case, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Davis had Cespedes hit off a tee, then tee off on some underhand flips from Davis behind a screen.

After Cespedes, who has spent the spring trying to turn a long swing into a short one, was done and things were dying down, Davis turned to me and asked, “Why is everyone so concerned about Cespedes?’’

I said a .130 spring batting average will do that, and Davis just shook his head.

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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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Vogt continues to fight for a job that may not be there

It's been a hot spring for A's catcher Stephen Vogt

It’s been a hot spring for A’s Stephen Vogt

It doesn’t seem possible that there have been many players fight harder for a job than the A’s Stephen Vogt, especially when considering there doesn’t seem there’s a job available.

We’re a week away from the A’s having to finalize their roster, and it seems there is no way the club can work it to carry three catchers. And since the other two catchers don’t have options, it seems the A’s will opt to send Vogt to Triple-A Sacramento, keeping lefty John Jaso and right-hander Derek Norris to platoon at the big league level.

Vogt keeps putting pressure on the decision makers. He hit a homer foul with a man on base in the third inning, then came back later in the at-bat to hit the ball out again, this time in fair territory.

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Gray pleased to be able to mostly pitch around A’s errors

Sonny Gray came to the A’s as someone with an intricate knowledge of the strike zone.

He’s going to strike out a few, as was the case Friday in a 3-0 loss to the Giants in Scottsdale when he fanned seven in 5.2 innings and walked just one.

He could use a little more help from his defense when he doesn’t register the K. Three times A’s infielder butchered plays, one each by shortstop Jed Lowrie, second baseman Nick Punto and first baseman Brandon Moss.

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It’s no stretch to say Pomeranz making big impression

Drew Pomeranz is firing bullets for the A's these days.

Drew Pomeranz is firing bullets for the A’s these days.

Drew Pomeranz may not make the A’s pitching staff to start the season.

But it’s no stretch to say that he could do so, especially after his last two games, five innings of relief in which he’s struck out eight and allowed one hit. Three scoreless innings Wednesday gave him the win in the A’s 13-3 blowout of the Indians in Goodyear, Ariz.

And it’s his stretch that he credits with helping him get command of his 95-mph fastball and breaking pitches, all of which have looked dynamic in the last few days.

“I’m just here trying to pitch well,’’ Pomeranz said. “Lots of strikes.’’

He’s done that, opening eyes with both his fastball and his breaking pitches, all of which have been basically unhittable the last few days.

He came to the A’s as the big prize in the trade of left-handed starter Brett Anderson to the Rockies over the winter. When the A’s made the deal they were perhaps thinking of future potential, but Pomeranz’s time could be closer than you’d think.

“I wanted to simplify things for myself,’’ he said in explaining why he now throws exclusively from the stretch rather than going through a full windup.

“I did it at the end of last year (with the Rockies) and it seemed to work for me,’’ Pomeranz said. “And I’ve found that the simpler I can make it, the easier it is to pitch.’’

Pomeranz is making decision making tough on manager Bob Melvin, who’d’ been thinking that Pomeranz might be a good fit as the first starter recalled from Triple-A Sacramento. Now, the A’s have to consider if Pomeranz is instead the A’s best fit as the long man in the bullpen and spot starter.

“As long as he’s throwing the ball over the plate,’’ the manager said, “he’ll be fine.’’

The manager was impressed that Pomeranz went two innings the last time out and three innings this time. And the fact that he’s been dominating hasn’t hurt.

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Moss says Cespedes’s average is not a cause for concern

Brandon Moss is batting cleanup Wednesday, but he still has high hopes for regular cleanup man Yoenis Cespedes

Brandon Moss is batting cleanup today, but he has high hopes for regular cleanup man Yoenis Cespedes

Brandon Moss is the A’s cleanup hitter today against the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear, Ariz.

It’s one of a handful of times that Moss has hit cleanup this spring.

“I’ve done it before on days when (Yoenis) Cespedes hasn’t been in the lineup,’’ Moss said.

Today, Cespedes is in the lineup.

Manager Bob Melvin says there’s no reason to read too much into the lineup. He said he just wanted to have a left-handed bat between two right-handed hitters, Josh Donaldson and Cespedes. The implication was that Cespedes’ .128 average this spring had nothing to do with the move.

And Moss said that Cespedes’ average shouldn’t be a matter of great concern.

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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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