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Postgame thoughts as A’s notch their sixth straight victory

Here’s a few odds and ends that didn’t all make it into my story for tomorrow’s paper. …

–How much should we pay attention to Cactus League winning streaks? Not a whole lot. But the A’s notched their sixth victory in a row with Thursday’s 11-7 win over Texas, and manager Bob Melvin thinks there’s something to be said for it. The A’s are 10-3-1, tied with Seattle for the best mark in the Cactus League heading into the Mariners’ game Thursday night. “We have a lot of new guys, and winning is important, whether it’s an intrasquad game or a spring training game,” Melvin said. “If we were 2-12, I’d probably be talking differently. But it does matter. It really does.”

Right now, I think fans should be more enthused about the hot hitting of Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington. Weeks, who is batting .419 and homered from both sides of the plate Thursday, is an obvious key in the leadoff spot. I’ve had Pennington pegged as the No. 9 hitter in my projected batting order. But the guy is hitting .464 right now (4 for 4 on Thursday). If he keeps this up, might Melvin be inclined to hit him higher in the order? I still like him hitting ninth, a speedy guy who can turn the lineup over and get Weeks some at-bats with runners on base.

Where would you like to see Pennington hit?

–Melvin applied some sugar-coating on Brad Peacock’s poor start Thursday — 2 1/3 innings, 5 runs, 3 walks. But Peacock was understandably disappointed in himself. He walked two men in the first and then allowed a three-run double to Nelson Cruz on a 1-2 pitch. “I was missing spots,” Peacock said. “I can’t walk guys.” He’s had two shaky outings sandwiched around one good outing. Right now, it’s tough to see him nailing down a rotation spot. If I were choosing winners today for the three open rotation spots, I’d go Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker and Tyson Ross. “He’s going through a little bit of a tough time,” Melvin said of Peacock. “He hasn’t had the greatest draws either with lineups. The results aren’t what he wants to see right now. The stuff’s still good.”

–The first base job is looking like a two-man battle between Brandon Allen and Kila Ka’aihue. That’s what I gleaned from Melvin’s comments Thursday morning when asked about Chris Carter’s spring camp. Carter is hitting .263 with no homers and one RBI. That average is actually better than Ka’aihue’s .211 mark, though Ka’aihue has one homer. But it’s clear, judging how playing time is being doled out, that Carter doesn’t appear to be in the big league plans. Melvin remarked recently that Carter’s at-bats were better in early exhibitions than they have been lately. He has seven strikeouts in 19 at-bats overall.

“We were looking to try to see if his at-bats were better at the big league level. That’s really the only thing that’s been missing,” Melvin said. “He’s ended up feeling comfortable at every level, but (not) at the big league level at this point.”

Interestingly — and surprisingly — Melvin does not count Daric Barton out of the competition. Barton has been slowed all spring by complications as he comes back from shoulder surgery. His throwing has been limited, but he is tentatively set to play defense for the first time Saturday. Melvin does acknowlege, however, that a stint in extended spring training is possible for Barton.

The smart money remains on Allen to be the A’s opening day first baseman …

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Manny Ramirez will DH in A’s exhibition opener Friday

The morning recap as the A’s take infield and prepare for this afternoon’s intrasquad game …

Manny Ramirez will be the designated hitter Friday when the A’s open Cactus League play against the Seattle Mariners. But manager Bob Melvin cautioned not to read too much into Friday’s lineup, backing off somewhat from his statement Wednesday that the starting nine in the exhibition opener might look a lot like his lineup for the March 28 regular season opener. The A’s have several starting spots up grabs, including first base, third base and DH. The look of the outfield is also undecided, with Yoenis Cespedes factoring heavily in that picture when he reports to camp.

Ramirez can’t even play in the regular season until he serves a 50-game suspension. Melvin said earlier in camp that he will rotate hitters through the DH spot. Ramirez will draw starts so he can shake off rust. But figure that Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, Jonny Gomes, Kila Ka’aihue and Seth Smith will also see DH time as the A’s must identify someone for that spot to begin the regular season.

Allen, Carter and Ka’aihue are also competing for the first base job along with Daric Barton. Barton, who is recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder, had a cortisone shot recently and is getting a couple day off from baseball activity. He isn’t expected to be ready to play defense until later this month. Does that put him behind in the first base battle? Melvin says no. “We know what to expect for him,” Melvin said. “We need to get him healthy.”

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Speculating on the A’s potential lineup

Just for kicks, here’s my guess at the A’s Opening Day batting order w/the current roster (I’m including Coco Crisp, though his signing hasn’t been announced yet):

1. Weeks 2B
2. Sizemore 3B
3. Crisp CF
4. Allen 1B
5. Suzuki C
6. Reddick RF
7. Carter DH
8. Taylor/Cowgill LF
9. Pennington SS

I initially penciled in Crisp as the No. 2 hitter behind Weeks because it just seemed a natural fit. But I see him as the A’s most complete hitter as things stand, so I slotted him third, where a team’s best hitter usually bats. I’m hesitant putting Allen at cleanup considering his inexperience, but given the A’s current makeup, he offers some of the best run-producing potential. I could see him and Suzuki flip-flopping, though Suzuki is not an ideal cleanup man either. I have no idea where Reddick fits best, but I put him sixth to get a little left-right-left variation going in the 4-5-6 spots.

This batting order wouldn’t exactly make pitchers run the other way, no matter how you arrange it. I expect the A’s to add another hitter or two through free agency, though I’m not sure how much more formidable they will make the offense.

Give me some feedback. What adjustments would you make?

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Aftermath of the Conor Jackson trade

Here’s a quick take on the Conor Jackson trade …

It was no shocker to see him dealt. The emergence of Brandon Allen had pushed Jackson into a minor role. But the bigger impact is the playing time this might open up for September call-ups. There’s one less player now vying for playing time at first base/outfield. As I’ve written before, the rest of this season should be about evaluating young players who might be part of the future moving forward. Not just Allen and Jemile Weeks, but also a guy like Michael Taylor. I realize Taylor hasn’t destroyed Triple-A pitching, but I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten a look yet with the big club. There’s a better opportunity to get him up here with Jackson out of the picture. Chris Carter? It’s going to be trickier to find him playing time in the majors given how impressive Allen has been at first. Carter could get DH at-bats, but if the A’s are entertaining any thoughts of re-signing Hideki Matsui (I’ve gotten no indication one way or another), they probably wouldn’t want to take the veteran out of the lineup.

Bottom line, it’s still unclear whether Taylor, 25, and Carter, 24, are factors for this team in 2012, and that’s a problem. At this point, you need to give these guys extended playing time in the big leagues or assume they’re not part of the plans moving forward.

–One last thought on the Jackson trade. It’s tough to see him go from a beat writer’s standpoint. He was definitely one of the team’s best quotes, a guy who would give an intelligent take on whatever question you threw at him. The Red Sox press corps is in for a pleasant surprise …

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Conor Jackson draws start in left field; Hideki Matsui gets rare rest

Here’s your pregame lowdown as the Toronto Blue Jays arrive for a four-game series at the Coliseum …

–Conor Jackson returns to the A’s lineup and he’s playing left field, with Josh Willingham serving as DH and Hideki Matsui getting a day off. So that’s one way for A’s manager Bob Melvin to work Jackson back into the lineup without removing Allen. Beyond today, we’ll see what happens, but I’d expect to see Jackson coming off the bench for the near future, at least until Allen cools off. And I think that makes the A’s an overall stronger team because Jackson’s versatility is valuable off the bench. At this point in the season, it’s all about evaluating young players to see what you have for next season, so Allen needs to stay in there.

As for Jackson’s neck soreness, he said he “feels good enough to play,” an indication that he’s still not back to 100 percent yet.

–It’s just a regular day off for Matsui, who has started 30 of the first 31 games after the All-Star break.

–The A’s placed reliever Trystan Magnuson on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation and recalled lefty Jordan Norberto. The late-inning bullpen situation is something to watch tonight, as Melvin said he was unsure of the availability of Grant Balfour, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes. Bailey has pitched two days in a row and Balfour and Fuentes have been used a lot lately too.

–Check out this story on former A’s third baseman Jack Hannahan and the birth of his son. Pretty good stuff. … Hannahan is now with the Cleveland Indians.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Willingham DH, Allen 1B, Jackson LF, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Sizemore 3B; Cahill RHP.

Jays – Escobar SS, Thames LF, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Lawrie 3B, Hill 2B, Arencibia C; Romero LHP.

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Should A’s play the vets or the youngsters?

Some breaking news we just received: Conor Jackson was scratched from the A’s lineup with neck tightness, so Brandon Allen draws another start at first base. Manager Bob Melvin talked before the game about his first base situation, and the decision between playing Jackson and Allen. Jackson is hitting .313 since the All-Star break, and Melvin thinks that warrants him remaining in the lineup on a somewhat regular basis. So this isn’t a platoon situation at this point. But it does bring up an issue the A’s will face — how do they balance the playing time between veterans and young players who are brought up in the remaining weeks? You figure Michael Taylor and probably Chris Carter will be up in September, and with the A’s entire starting outfield heading for free agency, it stands to reason the younger players should be getting their share of at-bats.

Thoughts? Are you ready for young players like Allen to start getting the majority of starts, or would you stick with veterans who might give the A’s a chance to finish with a better record?

–Coco Crisp is back in the lineup after missing six games with a strained right calf. The A’s will take any lift they can get as they try to stop a seven-game losing streak to the Texas Rangers. Melvin said beating the Rangers is “a hurdle” the A’s need to clear, much like beating the Yankees, learning to win on the road, etc.

–Melvin said he’s confident Brandon McCarthy (right knee contusion) will make his next start Wednesday against Baltimore. But the real test comes tomorrow, when McCarthy is scheduled to throw his regular side session. That will be the big indicator of whether he’s ready.

–The A’s are exploring every avenue for improving their defense, Melvin said. That includes watching video of the good defense they’ve played in the past — “positive reinforcement,” as Melvin puts it. Clearly, the team thinks there’s more that goes into improving things than just taking extra grounders before the game. But I’m hearing there will also be a pitcher’s fielding practice soon, perhaps Monday. That would seem in order, given how much the pitchers have hurt themselves with errors.

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Sizemore 3B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Allen 1B, Pennington SS; Harden RHP.

Rangers — KInsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton CF, Young 3B, Cruz RF, Napoli C, Moreland 1B, Torrealba DH, Murphy LF; Harrison LHP.