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Gio Gonzalez named as Oakland A’s lone All-Star

A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez was named to his first All-Star team Sunday, a testament to the transformation he’s made from an erratic young talent to a polished major leaguer.

Gonzalez, 25, was expected to be the lone Athletic chosen for the July 12 showcase, and indeed he was when American and National League rosters were revealed. Gonzalez was one of five pitchers that Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, the AL manager, hand-picked for the squad.

Fan voting determined the starters, and player votes and managers’ picks filled out the reserve players and pitchers.

“It’s awesome,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He works so hard. Everybody knew he had the talent, but to see him put it together is awesome. He deserved it, well deserved for sure.”

Gonzalez wasn’t expected to be available for comment until after the game because he’s pitching Sunday. He’s also slated to pitch Friday against Texas, which would make him available to pitch in the All-Star Game on three days’ rest.

“He’s having an outstanding year,” Washington said. “He’s a tough competitor. We face him enough. And he gives me a nasty left-hander out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez was a can’t-miss prospect when he made his big league debut in 2008, but he struggled with his command – and maturity. Once he found trouble on the mound, he had trouble not letting things snowball.

Beginning in 2010, Gonzalez showed major strides. This season, he’s been the anchor of an A’s rotation that’s been gutted by injuries. He is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA, a mark that ranks fourth among American League starters. His .216 opponents’ batting average ranks eighth in the league and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings is tied for third.

“We’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the league and he’s been our best starter so far,” A’s reliever Brad Ziegler said. “He’s just been able to bounce back from adversity better. Also, just learning to trust his fastball more. Sometimes he would fall in love with his curve ball, and when you’ve got a 94 mph fastball, that’s not always necessary.”

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Crisp sits with back soreness as A’s try to clinch winning road trip

Today feels like one of those “swing games” for the A’s, where the outcome really shapes how you look back on this road trip. A win leaves them at 5-4, which would be a nice accomplishment for a challenging nine-game trip early in the year. A 4-5 finish wouldn’t be terrible, but the A’s don’t want the momentum from their three-game winning streak to evaporate completely. Brett Anderson takes the ball after his sharp eight-inning effort last time out against the Twins …

–Coco Crisp is not in the lineup — his back is still bothering him. A’s manager Bob Geren said Crisp felt about the same as he did last night when he left the game for a pinch hitter, so he’s getting some rest. No indication right now that this is anything to be alarmed about.

Daric Barton gets his first day off, with Andy LaRoche playing first base. Barton played in 159 of 162 games last season, and I think he could benefit from a few more off-days. But is it best to sit a guy when he’s coming off a four-hit night? Geren said it was a tough call, but added that Barton’s body was in need of a break. “He could use a day.”

–A couple of relievers knocked some rust off last night. Craig Breslow made his first appearance in 10 days, and Brad Ziegler hadn’t thrown in six. That’s a tough gig for guys who’ve been off that long to enter a tight game and be sharp. Breslow, who finished the fifth in relief of Trevor Cahill, was mad at himself for walking the leadoff man in the sixth, which led to the Sox’s tying run. Overall, Geren said he was pleased with how Breslow and Ziegler looked, and that they’d be called on more frequently. With A’s starters pitching deep in games, a few relievers are bound to have long layoffs. But I wouldn’t expect Breslow to get that much inactivity moving forward. His performance is a key to this bullpen’s effectiveness, especially with Andrew Bailey and Michael Wuertz on the DL.

Wuertz, by the way, is scheduled to throw a simulated game Thursday at the Coliseum. If that goes well, he would pitch in a minor league game Saturday. So it looks like his return won’t be far off.

Enough rambling, here’s the lineups …

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

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

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A’s-Giants pregame update

Lots of nostalgia tonight at AT&T Park, as a large number of players from the Giants’ 1989 pennant-winning team is here this weekend to be honored. There was a reception just outside the park before batting practice. It’s being shown on the Jumbotron right now. Obviously, everybody looks a little older, a little heavier. But I’ve recognized pretty much everybody they’ve introduced. Rick Reuschel actually looks like he’s shed a few pounds. Let’s call him Slimmer Daddy …

A large-scale pregame ceremony will be held before tomorrow night’s game. …

As for A’s news, Kurt Suzuki is not behind the plate tonight. His left knee is bothering him after he fouled a ball off it during yesterday’s pinch-hit at-bat. There was uncertainty in the press box yesterday over where the ball struck Suzuki. At any rate, that was some day off for him, wasn’t it? … He stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, fouled a ball off his knee, then got hit by a pitch in the thigh and went to first base. It’s probably a good thing the game didn’t go into extra innings. He might not have been able to play defense … Landon Powell gets his second straight start at catcher. Bob Geren said Suzuki would be his first option as a backup. Daric Barton (who began his pro career as a catcher in St. Louis’ organization) and Jack Hannahan would be next in line. …

Geren had lots of good things to say about Brad Ziegler after yesterday’s two shutout innings. He said before today’s game that he considers Ziegler an option in the ninth inning, which probably wasn’t the case a week or two ago, though Geren never said it in so many words. That doesn’t mean Geren would shy away from using Andrew Bailey. Or Craig Breslow. He mentioned the lefty’s a possibility in a save situation …

Ryan Sweeney said he’s scheduled to try running again tomorrow. It didn’t go so well when he ran Wednesday. He’s eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, but I’m not sure if that’s in the cards or not …

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s
Cabrera SS
Kennedy 2B
Cust RF
Holliday LF
Giambi 1B
Powell C
Davis CF
Hannahan 3B
Mazzaro P

Giants
Rowand CF
Renteria SS
Winn LF
Molina C
Sandoval 1B
Uribe 3B
Schierholtz RF
Burriss 2B
Lincecum P

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Cust returns to right field

The A’s lineup has a few wrinkles in it today as they shoot for their first six-game winning streak since August 2006.

Jason Giambi is at DH, not surprising since he often DH’s in a day game after a night game. His right lower calf also is bothering him, so the rest can do him well from that standpoint. Jack Cust returns to right field for the first time since the back spasms kicked in last week in Texas. He told me his back tightens up after a couple of at-bats, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting him greatly. With lefty Rich Hill on the mound for Baltimore, right-handed hitting Gregorio Petit gets a start at third base, just his third in nine games since being recalled from the minors.

The lineups:
A’s — Cabrera SS; Kennedy 2B; Cust RF; Holliday LF; Giambi DH; Suzuki C; Crosby 1B; Davis CF; Petit 3B; Mazzaro P.
O’s — Jones CF; Reimold LF; Markakis RF;Scott DH; Mora 3B; Salazar 1B; Wieters C; Wigginton 2B; Andino SS; Hill P.

I didn’t dive real deep into Trevor Cahill’s outing last night, or Bob Geren’s rationale for pulling him after 91 pitches. I was pretty surprised that he wasn’t allowed to go longer. To shed some light on things, Geren said he went to the bullpen because Cahill gave up two hits to start the seventh, and that he wanted Brad Ziegler’s ability to get a ground ball. I was still scratching my head, and not just in hindsight because Ziegler got roughed up. These young pitchers need to be given the opportunity to work their way out of jams late in games, especially when they’re working w/a big lead. I think there’s a lot more confidence to be gained when leaving a game after completing an inning, as opposed to being pulled in the middle of one. There are times when your starter needs the hook, and leaving him in one batter too long can be disastrous. Last night wasn’t one of those times.

That’s all for now …

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White Sox 6, A’s 2

The spotlight in tomorrow’s game will be on the A’s rotation, with Vin Mazzaro making his big league debut. But tonight’s loss showed how much the A’s bullpen is a concern these days. Santiago Casilla struggled again, giving up Jim Thome’s three-run HR that broke a 2-2 tie, and we’re starting to see the same pattern we saw last year. Casilla seems to struggle to regain his form once he comes back from an injury.

I think Sunday’s game in Texas showed how little faith Bob Geren has in his late-inning relievers other than Andrew Bailey. He brought in Bailey with one out in the eighth, even though the situation called for a ground-ball specialist such as Brad Ziegler. Ziegler hasn’t been in top form lately, and neither have Casilla or Russ Springer. But I have to say, I’m not a fan of bringing in Bailey, who’s obviously the closer, during the eighth inning so often. The A’s need to find a way to save him for the ninth. He’s got the build of a workhorse kind of pitcher, but no reliever can pitch one-plus innings on a regular basis and remain fresh.

Funny how things change. Remember when the A’s bullpen was the best in the majors???

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Good news — and bad — for A’s

The A’s have put together their first three-game win streak of the season with tonight’s come-from-behind 4-3 win over Seattle. But in the process, they’ve likely lost Nomar Garciaparra to the DL again. He was a late scratch today when his right calf acted up again, and being that the injury has resurfaced twice since he came back from his first DL stint Friday, I’d say it’s a pretty likely conclusion.

On the bright side for the A’s, they got a game-winning hit from Jason Giambi with the bases loaded, after he failed in the same situation in the first inning. Dallas Braden turned in a solid seven innings and was finally rewarded with some run support, not to mention his first victory since April 30.

But maybe the biggest development tonight: A bounce-back effort from closer-at-the-moment Andrew Bailey. The rookie was back to being dominant with a 1-2-3 ninth that included two strikeouts on high 90′s fastballs (if the stadium radar gun is to be believed). It was an important night for Bailey after he blew leads in each of his two previous outings. But remember, Bob Geren still isn’t officially naming him as closer (wink, wink).

Actually, I still think Brad Ziegler will get his number called in the ninth depending on the situation …

12:35 game tomorrow with Trevor Cahill going against Erik Bedard …

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Cunningham sent down to make room for Breslow

It’s a pretty odd situation today with a 4:08 p.m. start (East Coast time) for the A’s-Rays series finale. Not really a day game, not really a night game. …

The A’s just announced that outfielder Aaron Cunningham was optioned to Triple-A to make room for new reliever Craig Breslow, who arrived today. This was a surprise to me, as I figured another reliever would go down. This gives the A’s an eight-man bullpen — highly unusual — but with Russ Springer’s status iffy after he hurt his forearm last night, I guess they felt like they had to play it safe. Bob Geren spoke w/reporters before this news came down.

Lost in the shuffle of last night’s exciting finish: Brad Ziegler’s first save opportunity since April 25. But how many will he get in the coming games? Geren reiterated before the game that he’s not naming an official closer, and that he’ll choose his ninth-inning man based on matchups. He added: “I told (Ziegler) I could use him at any time of the game. Bailey could take (the ninth), or he could take it, based on the matchup.”

Bailey had thrown two innings on Tuesday, which made Ziegler the only logical choice to close last night.

Jason Giambi is at DH today. “He was in need of staying off the field,” Geren said. “DH is the most he could do for me today.” Once Nomar Garciaparra returns, maybe Giambi can get a full day off. He could use one, as he enters today hitting .198, the second lowest batting average in the American League.

A’s lineup:
Cabrera SS; Suzuki C; Cust RF; Holliday LF; Giambi DH; Kennedy 2B; Sweeney CF; Crosby 1B; Hannahan 3B; Braden P.

Rays lineup:
Upton CF; Crawford LF; Longoria 3B; Pena 1B; Bartlett SS; Aybar DH; Iwamura 2B; Kapler RF; Navarro C; Garza P.

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A’s 4, Rays 1

Quite the change of pace tonight, as the A’s locked into a pitcher’s duel that went extra innings before they scored four in the top of the 11th.

Impressive at-bat from Matt Holliday in the 11th, battling back from an 0-2 count, working it full and then blasting a three-run homer to break a scoreless tie. Funny note from the postgame clubhouse session: Manager Bob Geren said second baseman Adam Kennedy told him he had a feeling Holliday might go deep …

Andrew Bailey continues to impress, wouldn’t you say? That was another big test he passed in the eighth, striking out Evan Longoria with runners on the corners, then blowing it by Jason Bartlett w/the bases loaded. More ammunition for Geren to consider him in the closer’s role, especially with Brad Ziegler still not bringing his best stuff. Ziegler told me in Detroit that he still isn’t feeling like himself on the mound after recovering from the flu and an asthma attack. He thinks his velocity is OK, but that his stuff doesn’t quite feel right.

And let’s say Bailey did start getting save opportunities. I still don’t think that would mean Ziegler is out of the role for the season. Ziegler is a pretty steady dude, and I think he could bounce between a closer and setup role pretty seamlessly …

Catch up w/you tomorrow …

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A’s 9, Rangers 4

Pretty good day for the A’s offense obviously, and boy, was it needed.

After shaking up the top of the order today and scoring nine runs, I don’t see why Bob Geren would change things tomorrow. Sure, Orlando Cabrera went 0-for-5 hitting leadoff, but Kurt Suzuki had three hits in the No. 2 spot and help set the table for the heart of the lineup.

But the way I see it, the A’s can tinker w/the top of the lineup all they want. It’s the guys anchoring the middle — Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday and Jack Cust — who have to produce. They did that today, and you saw the results.

–Putting just a tiny damper on the victory was Brad Ziegler’s shaky ninth inning. He entered with a 9-1 lead and left with it 9-4 after getting just one out. Andrew Bailey came in to slam the door. In Ziegler’s defense, an error by Cabrera opened the door to the rally.

But it makes you wonder if Bailey will start getting some of the save opportunities over Ziegler. Geren has dropped hints that Bailey could be in line for some closer’s duty. I don’t think Ziegler’s done enough to lose his handle on the job, but Bailey definitely has more of the classic closer-like stuff, a little like Joey Devine.

–Toronto rolls into town for three games this weekend, followed by Kansas City for two. To the A’s benefit, they’ll avoid seeing both Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke.

Check in w/you tomorrow …

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Ziegler’s back; Sunday pregame update

There’s a few clouds over head, but the roof is open at Safeco Field leading up to this afternoon’s series finale between the A’s and Mariners. Not a whole lot to report from the A’s clubhouse, but closer Brad Ziegler is back w/the team. He’s unlikely to pitch today, but Ziegler said he wanted to play catch and hopefully be ready tomorrow night against the Angels. Bob Geren echoed that thought.

Ziegler had been battling the flu since Wednesday, and though it wasn’t stomach flu-like stuff, he didn’t eat much and estimates he lost about 8 pounds. He did say he was a little worried considering how much the swine flu has dominated headlines, as were the A’s. They ran his symptoms by doctors, but it was more precautionary, according to Ziegler. “There were some symptoms of (the swine flu) I never experienced. But with something new that you haven’t heard of, you never know.”

Michael Wuertz and Russ Springer are the logical options in a save situation today.

–A bit of a different look w/the A’s lineup, with Kurt Suzuki at DH and Landon Powell catching.

Here’s the full lineup behind Josh Outman, making his first start in 16 days:

Sweeney CF
Cabrera SS
Giambi 1B
Holliday LF
Cust RF
Suzuki DH
Crosby 3B
Petit 2B
Powell C

And for Seattle …

Ichiro RF
Lopez 2B
Sweeney DH
Beltre 3B
Branyan 1B
Balentien LF
Johjima C
Gutierrez CF
Betancourt SS

Jakubauskas P.