4

Yoenis Cespedes set for A’s debut, but what’s it mean for rest of outfield?

If you’re eager to see Yoenis Cespedes in a legitimate big league ballgame, so is A’s manager Bob Melvin. “We know less about him than we do anyone else in camp,” Melvin told reporters Saturday morning. Cespedes will play center field today in his Cactus League debut. He’ll bat second just so he can possibly squeeze in three at-bats before coming out of the game, Melvin said. The highly touted Cuban outfielder will DH on Sunday, but beyond that, Melvin wasn’t offering much about his outfield plans. If the A’s play Cespedes in center field – the spot where he’s most comfortable – that means uprooting incumbent Coco Crisp and likely moving him to left field (with Josh Reddick in right). But Melvin wasn’t tipping his hand on where Crisp will play once he and Cespedes are starting in the same outfield.

“I just wanna see what (Cespedes) has to offer in center field here for a few games before I go down that road,” Melvin said.

We can glean from that that Crisp is likely to play some left field in the coming week as the A’s evaluate Cespedes in center. It’s a delicate issue, and I’m not surprised Melvin is playing it close to the vest right now. There’s one theory that says Crisp is a proven veteran who has earned his stripes in center and deserves to stay there unless he’s clearly out-played at the spot. The other school of thought says Cespedes already has enough to cope with coming to a new country and adjusting to the majors, so let him play where he’s most at ease. And let’s not forget which of those two is getting $36 million. The A’s want to get the most out of that deal, so they’ll slot Cespedes where they think he’s most likely to succeed. The only thing I know for sure: All parties involved will soon grow tired of being asked questions about this. But it’s a hot storyline and it’s not going away, so we’ll keep hammering away at it.

–Melvin gets his first look at Bartolo Colon today. Colon pitched in Mesa on Monday in a split-squad game while Melvin stayed back to watch the game in Phoenix. I’d expect Colon to work four innings or so if all goes well, much like Brandon McCarthy did Friday, since Colon will pitch the A’s second regular season game March 29.

–Last but not least, here’s today’s lineups:

A’s: Pennington SS, Cespedes CF, Smith LF, Ramirez DH, Reddick RF, Suzuki C, Allen 1B, Donaldson 3B, Rosales 2B; Colon RHP.

Reds: Phillips 2B, Valdez SS, Heisey RF, Ludwick LF, Francisco 3B, Frazier 1B, Jones CF, Cozart DH, Hanigan C; Cueto RHP.

1

Scott Sizemore’s MRI gets pushed back to Monday

There’s still no further word on third baseman Scott Sizemore’s knee injury. The MRI that was originally thought to take place Saturday won’t happen until Monday, according to manager Bob Melvin. “It’s just tough to find a place where you know you’re going to find a good image,” Melvin said. The A’s want Sizemore to see a specialist rather than get an MRI at a hospital, which sometimes doesn’t provide as good of a read on an injury. Melvin talked with Sizemore on Saturday night. “He’s a little down, but we’re holding out hope for good news. If ever there was a time to have that happen, it’s early in camp so there’s time to recover.”

Not a whole lot else to report this morning. Outfield prospect Jermaine Mitchell, a player the A’s are high on but who is coming off knee surgery, told me earlier in camp that he’s full strength with no restrictions. But Melvin says he expects Mitchell to miss the first week of exhibitions.

Melvin added that he might name his opening day starter “in a couple days,” and it’s assumed that Brandon McCarthy will take that honor. If McCarthy were to pitch one of the A’s first two Cactus League games — Friday or Saturday against the Mariners — he would be on a nice pattern to start the March 28 opener in Tokyo, also against Seattle. That’s assuming he starts every fifth day in Cactus League play.

3

Brandon McCarthy throws first bullpen session; rotation candidate Tom Milone impresses

Likely opening day starter Brandon McCarthy was among the A’s pitchers throwing bullpen sessions Sunday during the team’s first workout of the season. McCarthy said he felt good — nothing extraordinary in his mind — and added that he should be ready in plenty of time should he get the call for the opening day start March 28 against the Mariners in Tokyo. A’s manager Bob Melvin has hinted strongly that McCarthy will pitch that game.

Newcomers Tom Milone, Brad Peacock and Ryan Cook also threw from the mound, as did 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray. Catcher Kurt Suzuki was particularly impressed with Milone, who along with Peacock is competing for a rotation spot. “For the first day of camp, to start spotting up like he was today is pretty impressive,” Suzuki said.

The left-handed Milone is no flame thrower — his strength is his ability to locate his fastball, cutter, curve and changeup. Suzuki said Milone has a terrific changeup, describing it as “Dallas-like,” in reference to fellow A’s lefty Dallas Braden.

Melvin, who took over the club from Bob Geren last June, is in his first spring with the A’s. Early impression: The man is everywhere. Melvin shifted all around the six pitching mounds at the team’s practice facility, getting a look at as many pitchers as he could. A short time later, he was back at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, wandering the infield as position players took batting practice. The A’s have a condensed spring to prepare for their early season opener, and Oakland has more new faces than usual after making several offseason trades. Melvin is trying to familiarize himself with the entire roster. “I’ll look up some bio stuff (on different players) and try to have a conversation on a personal level, and I think that makes them more comfortable,” he said.

There were overcast skies in the morning, but that cleared up and the A’s first workout took place on a sunny afternoon fit for a postcard.

3

Jose Canseco dreams; Bartolo Colon signs; FanFest information and other A’s news

I’m coming at you late in the day with this, but here’s a roundup of A’s-related items as we creep closer to spring training …

–If you didn’t catch this story on our website, I talked to Jose Canseco today. The man still dreams of returning to the major leagues, and he thinks he could help the A’s at DH. More than anything, he just wants a big league team to give him a tryout. I’ll say this: He came across very sincere in his ambition. I’m just not sure how much demand there is for a 47-year-old who hasn’t played in the majors since 2001.

–The A’s made it official today, signing right-hander Bartolo Colon to a one-year, $2 million contract. So that makes three spots filled in the rotation – Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden (assuming he’s healthy) and Colon. But how does the back of the rotation materialize? That’s what I’m interested to see in spring training. A couple of those young newcomers are definitely going to come into play, depending on whether Tyson Ross grabs the reins on a starting job. I definitely think the A’s needed to sign a veteran starter, but can we expect Colon, 38, to duplicate what he did with the Yankees last year? And remember, he struggled in the second half.

The A’s have yet to announce the Jonny Gomes signing, but that will come any time now, perhaps as early as Wednesday.

–The lowdown on Sunday’s FanFest at Oracle Arena: It runs from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for kids 14 and under. You can buy them at the A’s Ticket Services Office or online at oaklandathletics.com/fanfest. Parking is free … Which players will be there? Practically the entire roster, including Jemile Weeks, Coco Crisp, Dallas Braden, Kurt Suzuki, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy. Manager Bob Melvin and his coaching staff will be on hand, along with former A’s greats Gene Tenace, Vida Blue and Joe Rudi. Scott Hatteberg and David Justice – who found themselves back in the spotlight thanks to “Moneyball” — will also attend. I’m told GM Billy Beane will not be in town Sunday, but assistant GM David Forst will take part in the fan Q & A session.

The most intriguing FanFest attraction: The chance to meet one-on-one with A’s co-owner and managing partner Lew Wolff “to discuss a variety of topics in an intimate setting,” according to a team release. I’d like to be a fly on the wall for some of these conversations. Wolff has taken substantial heat from fans in recent years for a number of reasons, so I’m somewhat surprised he’s making himself available. Fans can sign up to meet Wolff at the information booth on the plaza located between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena from 9-10:30 a.m.

–“Moneyball” scored big when Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday, landing nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brad Pitt) and Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) among other awards. Adding a touch of Vegas to the Hollywood proceedings, bookmaker Jimmy Shapiro placed odds at 30-1 for “Moneyball” to win Best Picture (“The Artist,” at 2-7 odds, is the favorite) and 10-1 on Pitt to win Best Actor.

–Lastly, the A’s signed 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Yairo Munoz for a $280,000 bonus, according to the Dominican Prospect League website. Munoz’s defensive skills are said to be his strongpoint, along with above-average speed. It’s tough to project how any of these international prospects will develop when they’re signed at such a young age. Will the A’s ever get a return on the $4.2 million they invested in Dominican right-hander Michael Ynoa, 20, who is coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery? The A’s are pouring lots of money into their international scouting and player development, thinking they can get a jump on teams that are focusing their big spending at the major league level …

17

Catching up on a quiet (so far) A’s offseason

Hello everybody … long time, no blog.

I’ve been doubling up lately with Cal football coverage and that’s taken the lion’s share of my time. But “Inside the A’s” has been neglected long enough, so I wanted to drop in. Not that there’s been a ton of A’s news to report anyway this offseason. By now you’ve caught the drift that the A’s won’t be as aggressive going after players as they were last winter (unless those acquisitions come in the form of prospects via trade). You might have seen this story from ESPN’s Buster Olney regarding the A’s being sellers, largely because their stadium situation remains unsettled. If the A’s get approval to build a ballpark in San Jose, we know that GM Billy Beane plans to rebuild with younger players, hoping to have a nucleus ready to blossom when that ballpark opens for business. If they were to be denied, it’s possible they might open the checkbook a little more. And what if the issue continues to drag through the winter with no word from MLB? The indications I’ve gotten are that the A’s won’t spend aggressively as long as they remain in limbo.

Olney wrote that he could see the A’s trading starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and closer Andrew Bailey. Of the two, I see Bailey as the stronger possibility to go. If the A’s don’t see themselves contending in 2012, then a dominant closer becomes less of a necessity. And Bailey could fetch a nice haul given he’s just 27 and under team control for the next three seasons. A front-of-the-rotation starter such as Gonzalez is more of a foundation piece and much tougher for a team to replace. Having said that, if a team knocks Beane’s socks off with an offer for Gonzalez, I think he would certainly pull the trigger. The Marlins are looking for starting pitching as they move into their new ballpark in Miami, and this report out of Florida says they’re eyeing Gonzalez, who is from the Miami area and would be a great addition from a baseball and marketing standpoint. The question is whether the Marlins (or any team) have the pieces to pry Gonzalez away.

Here’s some key dates to keep an eye on:

Nov. 23: This is the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to a Type “A” or “B” free agent in order to get compensation should that player sign elsewhere. The A’s have decisions to make on outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Willingham is a Type A, meaning the A’s stand to get a first-round pick and a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) should he be offered arbitration and sign elsewhere. DeJesus is Type B, meaning the A’s would get a sandwich pick if he’s offered arb and signs elsewhere. The risk for teams, of course, is that a player unexpectedly accepts arbitration, and the team is stuck paying a large salary to a player it didn’t expect to have around. I see no such risk with Willingham. He’s likely to land a multi-year deal somewhere and would seemingly want to keep his options open. DeJesus might be more willing to accept arbitration, so unless the A’s feel good about him returning, they have a decision on whether to offer it. Sometimes a team and player will reach a gentleman’s agreement that the player won’t accept arbitration if offered. I’m not sure if that’s being discussed with DeJesus.

Dec. 5-8: The four-day event known as the winter meetings, where reporters bump into each other as they walk with noses buried in cell phones, monitoring Twitter. The A’s are often subject of rumors at the meetings, but usually this period is a time for them to lay the groundwork for future moves. Now that I’ve said that, they’re bound to pull a blockbuster there. Just you watch …

Dec. 12: The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. It’s an important day because any arb-eligible player not offered a contract is cut loose and becomes a free agent. The A’s have 10 players eligible for arbitration – Gonzalez, Bailey, relievers Craig Breslow and Joey Devine, starters Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy, first baseman Daric Barton, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, infielder Adam Rosales and catcher Landon Powell. Beane said at his season-ending press conference he expects all will be tendered contracts, but we won’t know until deadline day.

7

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.

4

C.J. Wilson’s comments catch A’s attention

We’re 3 for 3 on open-roof days here at the Rogers Center. Blue sky and sunshine, so it should be good baseball weather. …

The comments from Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, in which he bashed the Coliseum and A’s fans, should make for an interesting game Friday night. Wilson will pitch the opener of a three-game series against Brandon McCarthy, his former Rangers teammate. Check out Wilson’s comments if you haven’t seen them yet. “He said kind of what he wanted to say,” McCarthy said. “The people that should be angry should be the fans. They can choose to respond how they want.” Here’s Kurt Suzuki’s take on Wilson, a free agent after the season who says he would never play for the A’s: “He’s a good pitcher and he’s probably going to make a lot of money soon. We don’t have a stadium like the Rangers or Yankees, but we’re fortunate to play for the Oakland A’s and we’re proud of it.”

–Center fielder Coco Crisp is not playing today, and manager Bob Melvin is unsure of Crisp’s availability for the Rangers series. But he said the team will hold off until after the weekend to decide if Crisp will go on the DL for his strained right calf. “I think we’re prepared to go through the Texas series,” Melvin said. “We’re reluctant to DL him because he’s such an important cog.” But Melvin also said a calf injury is a big deal for a player such as Crisp, whose speed is so important to his game.

–Scott Sizemore makes a surprise appearance in the leadoff spot with Jemile Weeks getting a day off. Melvin likes Sizemore’s on-base percentage and he thinks Sizemore is swinging the bat a little better lately. Adam Rosales is playing second base. “We want to keep (Weeks) healthy,” Melvin said. “It looks to me like he’s wearing down some.”

–Michael Wuertz, on the DL with right thumb tendinitis, won’t throw until Monday, and Melvin says it’s likely that Wuertz wouldn’t return until September.

Today’s lineups:
A’s – Sizemore 3B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sweeney CF, Rosales 2B; Moscoso RHP.

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

6

More on McCarthy, Ross and the A’s bullpen situation

Checking in from AT&T Park, where the outlook for the A’s sure looks different than it did just a day ago …

–Brandon McCarthy said he knew in the three or four days leading up to Wednesday’s start that his shoulder wasn’t feeling right. But he knew he could get through the start, so the plan was to get his shoulder checked by a doctor Thursday morning, which he did. That appointment showed what appears to be a stress reaction – the precursor to a fracture. McCarthy is hopeful of being able to throw again within a two-week period, but he says it will depend on how he feels. Last year, he had a similar injury and tried pitching through it. He eventually missed an extra 1 ½ months because of that, and he hopes by shutting it down now, he’s nipping the problem in the bud. “It’s either stop it at the beginning and try to catch it early, or play it out until you have to stop and possibly miss more of the season,” McCarthy said. The big question: By pitching Wednesday, did McCarthy make his shoulder worse? He said he doesn’t believe that to be the case, and that the pain while pitching in games is bearable. It’s the discomfort between starts, and not being able to work out, that’s most difficult.

–As for Tyson Ross, his MRI today showed he’s got a Grade 2 oblique strain in his left side, which is considered moderate on a scale of 1-3. He said he was told he could be pitching in games again in about two weeks, but obviously it’s a very fluid situation. “You’ve got to stay on top of these things, it’s easy to re-injure it. You’ve got to let it heal and take your time,” Ross said.

Overall, the early prognosis for both McCarthy and Ross could have been worse. But anyone who’s followed the A’s in recent seasons knows that their injuries tend to linger, and setbacks occur. So there’s no clear indication when the A’s will get their two starters back. The A’s will need to call up starters for Monday and Tuesday against the Angels, and manager Bob Geren confirmed that Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso are two pitchers at Triple-A being considered.

–On the flip side of that bad news, reliever Joey Devine is back in the majors after missing the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons recovering from elbow surgery. He’s thrilled to be back, understandably. “It’s been a long while,” Devine said. “It feels good, feels like things are starting to come together. It feels like all the time and patience is starting to pay off.” And he’s still beaming from the birth of his son, Mason Joseph, on April 11. Geren said he’s happy with his late-inning relievers right now, but that Devine could be an option in the late innings if he proves effective. You can bet that Devine will start getting the call in the eighth and ninth innings if he has a couple of good outings right away. With Andrew Bailey still sidelined, you can’t waste an arm like Devine’s strictly in middle relief situations. Oakland’s bullpen has shown vulnerability and was in need of some new blood.

–Another reliever called up today, Fautino De Los Santos, is making his first appearance in the big leagues. He also has made the long road back from “Tommy John” elbow surgery, like Devine, and his fastball has been touching 99 miles per hour. Watching him figures to be like watching Henry Rodriguez, where you’re checking the radar gun every time the ball pops the catcher’s mitt. De Los Santos, speaking through a translator, says he also throws a slider, sinker and changeup.

Finally, tonight’s lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Giants – Torres CF, Sanchez 2B, Huff 1B, Posey C, Schierholtz RF, Ross LF, Fontenot SS, Tejada 3B, Vogelsong RHP.

0

Josh Outman sent down, 5th starter battle officially down to three

****Here’s the lowdown on the A’s news of the morning …

Left-hander Josh Outman, who appeared a top candidate to be the fifth starter when spring training started, was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento along with right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who also merited consideration for the spot early on.

This news doesn’t surprise considering how Outman has struggled to this point. The guy hadn’t pitched since June 2009 as he faced a long road back from “Tommy John” surgery. Still, Outman entered the spring healthy, and the A’s brass talked highly of his chances. But Outman has been frank that it might take a while for him to find his form.

“I had a feeling it was going to be like this,” Outman said this morning. “I haven’t competed as well as the other guys competing for the fifth starter spot.” A’s manager Bob Geren said Outman just needs innings at Triple-A to continue shaking rust off. “He’s been improving, he just needs to keep on that track to be ready to pitch at this level. I told him I’ve been through a lot of things in this game, but I’ve never missed 18 months.”

This leaves Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer fighting to be the fifth starter. As things are shaping up, McCarthy is emerging as the favorite, especially if he pitches well in today’s start against the Giants. Geren said that all three pitchers have a chance to make the roster “in one capacity or another.” That means any of the three could make the team as a long reliever, even Ross, who the A’s have said they’d like to keep as a starter.

–Split-squad action today:

A’s vs. Diamondbacks at home:
Crisp CF; Suzuki C; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Kouzmanoff 3B; Jackson 1B; Sogard SS; Taylor RF; Timmons 2B; Braden LHP.

A’s at Giants:
Pennington SS; Ellis 2B; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Carter LF; Sweeney DH; LaRoche 3B; Donaldson C; Carson CF; McCarthy RHP.

–Ryan Sweeney had not been cleared to play two days in a row yet on his surgically repaired right knee, but Geren said he’d pinch-run for Sweeney if he gets on base in his third or fourth at-bat. And he’s not playing defense, so it’s a light day.

–Joey Devine (right biceps) said he had no lingering effects from a 35-pitch bullpen session Saturday. He could face minor league hitters in a day or two …