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Lack of clutch performances suggest change is in the wind

A's GM Billy Beane has made to moves to tear up the roster, but it was at about this time in 2012 he did so, with great success.

A’s GM Billy Beane has made to moves to tear up the roster, but it was at about this time in 2012 he did so, with great success.

The A’s have built their entire season on statistical oddities, but none is quite as off the wall as having the worst record in the American League – 25-39 after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Angels – while having outscored their opponents.

Albert Pujols homered in the first inning off A’s starter Kendall Graveman, and that was it for this one, Oakland’s 18th loss in 22 one-run games.

When the A’s win, they often win big, as they did Thursday in a 7-0 win over the Rangers. When it comes to close games, however, the A’s have minimal success despite having outscored opponents 265-257.

Oakland has been shut out six times while A’s pitchers have thrown nine shutouts. In the losses, the A’s were one swing away from at least tying the game in five of them, the exception being a 13-0 loss to the Twins on May 6.

It’s a much different story when you look at the shutouts the A’s have thrown. Final scores in the shutouts the A’s have won have included 12-0, 10-0, 8-0, 7-0, 5-0 (twice), 4-0 (twice) and 3-0.

Scores like that are the reason the A’s have more runs scored than allowed. But a 12-0 or 10-0 victory only counts for one victory. When it’s crunch time, this team hasn’t gotten it done.

You can see that in the A’s record in one-run games, now 4-18. The last three losses have all been by one run.

Those numbers are not all about the offense, although the hitters have bogged down plenty with the game one the line. The bullpen with its 5-15 record, has contributed mightily to the one-run loss stat, as has the American League’s worst defense.

It’s just these kinds of chaotic performances that will induce a general manager to start cleaning house, although A’s GM Billy Beane has made no moves in that direction yet.

But it’s worth noting that three years and a week ago, Beane began scuttling what the A’s had in what was a disappointing season – eight games under .500 and nine games out of first place in the American League West. He did it by bringing up reliever Sean Doolittle, then outfielder-turned-first baseman Brandon Moss from Triple-A in the space of three days. Later that June they added catcher Derek Norris to the mix, called up starter A.J. Griffin for the first time and brought in first baseman Chris Carter.

As the summer wore on, catcher-turned-third baseman Josh Donaldson, pitcher Dan Straily and shortstop Stephen Drew were brought in.

The team that was at one point 13 games out of first place, turned around, kicked into gear and won the American League West.

It’s hard to see that happening this year – the winning the division part, that is. The freefall collecting of new faces, that’s easy to see.

 

3

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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Manny Ramirez likely to assume Oakland A’s DH role when suspension ends

The update from manager Bob Melvin’s morning media briefing …

Expect Manny Ramirez to be inserted as the A’s designated hitter as soon as the slugger comes off suspension. Melvin said that’s a logical assumption given Ramirez’s prolific hitting career. “He could jump out of bed in December and hit.”

Ramirez agreed to a minor league deal with Oakland on Monday and Melvin expects him in camp Friday, which is the full-squad reporting deadline. Ramirez must serve a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy, meaning he’s not eligible to play in a regular season game until May 30. Given that, Melvin said he won’t give Ramirez the majority of spring at-bats at DH, but will mix him into a rotation that will likely include Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Chris Carter and Kila Ka’aihue. Melvin added that he wouldn’t rule out giving Ramirez an occasional start in left field during the regular season.

Ramirez can play in a 10-game minor league assignment as his suspension nears an end. He’s likely to spend that period with Triple-A Sacramento, according to Melvin.

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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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Harden, Matsui and more from A’s 5-4 win over Arizona Diamondbacks

Since I didn’t blog pre-game, here’s a look at the A’s notebook for tomorrow’s paper. And a few postgame notes following the A’s 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin thought Rich Harden’s effectiveness came from him changing speeds on his fastball, which complemented his changeup and split-fingered fastball. Indeed, Harden wasn’t blowing up the radar gun (he topped out at 94 mph), but he was in control during six innings of two-run ball. Hideki Matsui said he remembered Harden dominating with his fastball when facing him in the past. “His command really stood out (Friday),” Matsui said.

–Speaking of Matsui, Melvin credited the veteran with knowing when he had an opportunity to swipe a bag. Arizona first baseman Juan Miranda was playing behind Matsui in the fourth, and Matsui easily stole second base, putting him in position to score on Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single. That was Matsui’s first steal since Sept. 12, 2007. “That was big for us,” Melvin said. “It got us on the board and got momentum back in our dugout.”

–Melvin said Chris Carter would draw another start at first base Saturday.

Here’s tomorrow’s notebook …

Kirk Gibson may have been managing his first game in Oakland on Friday, but the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper obviously has fond memories of the Coliseum.

That’s where his Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the 1988 World Series title, a run that Gibson ignited with his legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.

Gibson reminisced about the abuse he took from fans in the outfield bleachers at the Coliseum during that series.

“(A’s) fans have always been very honest with opponents,” Gibson said. “In the end, I kinda got them back.”

But he added that as his playing career drew to a close with the Detroit Tigers in 1995, he actually chatted pleasantly with a few of those fans who had heckled him through the years at the Coliseum.

He recalled his favorite chant he heard from A’s fans.

“’What’s the matter with Gibson? He’s a bum!’” he said. “I’ve known that for years.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, who was playing for the Giants in 1988, was asked his memories of Gibson’s homer off Eckersley.

“I think everybody remembers where they were when it happened,” Melvin said.

And where was he?

“A bachelor party … but everybody stopped to watch it.”

–Melvin said Brandon McCarthy will come off the disabled list and start Monday against Seattle. Guillermo Moscoso, on turn to pitch then, will slide to Wednesday, and the A’s will go with a six-man rotation until a starter absolutely has to be sent down, Melvin said.

Their current rotation would unfold as follows beginning Saturday — Josh Outman-Gio Gonzalez-McCarthy-Trevor Cahill -Guillermo Moscoso-Rich Harden.

“We’ll make the decisions when we need to make them,” Melvin said. “Certainly, with the way guys have pitched, it makes for difficult decisions.”

–Catcher Kurt Suzuki, now the longest tenured Athletic after Mark Ellis was traded Thursday, moved into Ellis’ locker, which is sectioned off by a wall on one side and provides some privacy.

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich approached Suzuki to ask if he wanted to switch.

“I consider that the best locker,” Vucinich said, then added with a smile: “You can avoid the press if you want.”

–Right fielder David DeJesus’ throwing error Thursday snapped his 301-game errorless streak, which was the longest among active major league outfielders.

1

Chris Carter’s potential playing time, and a Grant Balfour injury update

Trevor Cahill takes the hill tonight looking to help the A’s snap a three-game losing streak. He matches up against Cole Hamels, one of the tougher left-handers in the game. Hideki Matsui is the only natural lefty hitter in the lineup against Hamels.

The starting nine(s):

A’s – Weeks 2B, Ellis 1B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Jackson RF, Sizemore 3B, Suzuki C, Rosales SS, Cahill RHP.

Phillies – Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Victorino CF, Ibanez LF, Brown RF, Ruiz C, Hamels LHP.

–Cliff Pennington gets a regularly scheduled day off, with Mark Ellis getting his second start at first base and batting second for a day.

–A’s manager Bob Melvin said he’ll try to get Chris Carter a DH start on the next homestand, preferably against a left-hander. With these final two games in a National League park, Melvin prefers Carter as a pinch-hit option. Why hasn’t Carter drawn a start yet if the A’s are struggling so much offensively? Remember that he’s still an unknown quantity to Melvin, who hasn’t had time to get familiar with the farm system. So far, in his only look at Carter, Melvin has seen him butcher a catchable pop-up, and that’s probably fresh in Melvin’s mind. Still, Carter has to get a couple starts – somewhere in the lineup – before he gets sent down. Otherwise it was pointless to promote him.

–Reliever Grant Balfour is dealing with a sore oblique. That left him unavailable last night, according to Melvin, and he might be sidelined tonight as well. One pitcher that Melvin says he will definitely try to work in is Andrew Bailey, who has gone a full week since his last appearance. “I have to get him in the game today,” Melvin said.

–Brandon McCarthy will next pitch Tuesday for Triple-A Sacramento and Rich Harden is pitching tonight for Sacramento and he’ll go again Thursday. Melvin said it’s possible that each pitcher is activated from the DL following those starts. So projecting it out, McCarthy could rejoin the A’s rotation July 3 against Arizona (in that scenario, he would take Graham Godfrey’s place). Harden’s potential return would fall on Cahill’s turn, so if the A’s see Harden joining the rotation, they’ll have to shuffle things somehow.

–Josh Outman takes the ball tomorrow in the series finale against the Phillies, the team that traded him to Oakland in July 2008 in a deal that sent Joe Blanton to Philadelphia. Outman was pitching for Double-A Reading (Pa.) at the time and said he hardly knows anybody in the current Phillies lineup. But he has some unique memories about pitching in Reading, an industrial town that supports their minor league club very well. Occasionally, the team played 9 a.m. games that were tailored for factory workers who were just finishing the graveyard shift.

Only in the minors …

10

Josh Willingham placed on DL; Chris Carter called up, but for how long?

Chris Carter showed up in the A’s clubhouse this morning, bleary-eyed from a redeye flight from Phoenix but back for a surprise stint with the big club. The A’s placed Josh Willingham on the DL, retroactive to June 18, and called up Carter to take his roster spot. Don’t get too used to seeing him in green and gold. Manager Bob Melvin didn’t say much specifically about Carter, but he hinted that Carter may just be up for the short-term until Willingham returns. Willingham is eligible to come off the DL on July 3, and he said he’s confident he’ll be ready by then.

How much playing time will there be for Carter, the A’s No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America? He’s played strictly first base for Triple-A Sacramento since coming off the DL on June 13 for a thumb injury, and Carter said he definitely feels more comfortable there than left field. “There’s nothing to press about” when playing first, he said this morning. But Conor Jackson has been swinging the bat well, and Melvin has him tapped as the regular first baseman for now (Mark Ellis is starting at first today with Jackson playing left field). I’m not sure the A’s would start Carter in the outfield right now considering how shaky he looked there last year during his big-league stint.

One interesting point Melvin made is that he’s considering giving Hideki Matsui time in left field after the A’s return to American League play after this road trip, and that could provide an opportunity for Carter to get DH at-bats. It’s sort of an awkward time for Carter to get called up. We always think of this guy in the context of him being an up-and-coming power bat that can help revive a sluggish offense. But the A’s have been playing good baseball lately – still not hitting a ton, but looking better – and it’s tough to identify an obvious role for Carter.

As for Willingham, he said his running didn’t go well Wednesday, which is why he became the A’s 11th DL transaction of the season. Willingham doesn’t consider the injury serious, but it’s also the latest in a string of injuries that have hampered him in recent seasons. You have to wonder how his health history will influence teams that view him as a trade target. And from the A’s perspective, I wonder how much they’re taking that into account as they weigh whether to offer Willingham a long-term extension.

–How would you like to be David DeJesus right now? The guy is obviously lost in the shuffle among outfielders (granted, his performance hasn’t demanded he be in there). And now that he’s finally playing today, he gets to face Mets lefty Chris Capuano. DeJesus is 7 for 56 (.125) against lefties this season, the lowest average in the American League against lefties.

–Injury updates: Brandon McCarthy is pitching today for Single-A Stockton in his first rehab start. Rich Harden will make a second start Saturday for Triple-A Sacramento, and Tyson Ross will throw a simulated game Saturday in Phoenix.

Today’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Jackson LF, Sizemore 3B, Ellis 1B, DeJesus RF, Powell C, Godfrey RHP.

Mets – Reyes SS, Turner 2B, Beltran RF, Murphy 3B, Pagan CF, Bay LF, Duda 1B, Thole C, Capuano LHP.

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A few vets, lots of prospects on display in Friday intrasquad game; some thoughts on the outfield

There wasn’t a whole lot of news coming out of A’s camp this morning, but here’s a brief rundown:

–Kurt Suzuki is behind the plate for one side in today’s intrasquad game after he got yesterday off. Center fielder Coco Crisp, right fielder David DeJesus and shortstop Cliff Pennington are also in the lineup, though Pennington won’t hit as his left shoulder is still recovering from surgery. Lots of top prospects are playing: Chris Carter (playing first, though the A’s still consider him mainly an outfielder right now), second baseman Jemile Weeks, catcher Max Stassi, left fielder Michael Taylor and shortstop Grant Green.

–Ryan Sweeney is at DH today but he’s still not playing in the field. Manager Bob Geren offered March 7 as the date Sweeney might make his exhibition debut as he comes back from right knee surgery, and Geren believes that is plenty of time to have Sweeney ready for the regular season.

–Geren talked about his outfield rotation and who might play where. Notably, he likes DeJesus as his main choice to play center when Crisp needs a day off. I envision Crisp getting a substantial amount of rest this season as the A’s try to keep him healthy. A writer who has covered DeJesus extensively told me that he’s an underrated defensive player, but that he’s lost a bit of range and therefore isn’t ideal in center anymore. I’ll be interested to see what kind of ground he still covers. I could also see Sweeney drawing the occasional start in center to spell Crisp, especially against right-handers. Conor Jackson will see time in left and right field this spring, Geren said, but Jackson is playing first base in today’s intrasquad game. He’s a backup option at first when Barton isn’t playing.

–Reliever Michael Wuertz will resume throwing Saturday or Sunday, according to Geren.