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Game 162 wrapup: Melvin makes sure Donaldson finishes over .300; Gray tunes up for ALDS start; Norris has smooth sailing playing first base

What’s in a number?

On Saturday, Brandon Moss got to the 30-homer level. On Sunday, Josh Donaldson was taken out of the game in part to preserve a plus-.300 batting average and Chris Young came out with his average at .200.

There’s something about round numbers that baseball likes.

Donaldson likes his .301 average, too, but he was loathe to be taken out of the game after just one plate trip.

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Game 160 wrapup: Cespedes shoulder trouble an issue for A’s; Norris homer-or-nothing in pinch; Cook getting back to form out of the bullpen

The A’s started Friday with a good idea of how they’d be structuring their starting lineup in the playoffs.

Then they played the first game of their final series with the Mariners and things changed dramatically.

The idea was that Yoenis Cespedes, who hadn’t been in left field since Sept. 13, was once again healthy, able to throw and ready to man his position. He’d play all three games in left this weekend to get himself ready for the playoffs.

That meant the resurrected Daric Barton was ready to play first base and Brandon Moss, who can play both first base and the outfield, was going to be the designated hitter. He was in Friday’s lineup as the DH, the first time all season that’s happened.

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Game 146 wrapup: It’s time to let Moss play against leftties; Donaldson likes A’s plan for success; Young soars to .201; Balfour finally back in action

Are the A’s about to play the Texas Rangers, their last competition in the American League West title fight, with one arm tied behind their back?

Maybe. The Rangers are scheduled to start two left-handed pitchers, Derek Holland on Friday and Martin Perez on Sunday, against the A’s.

Oakland generally sits lefty cleanup hitter Brandon Moss against left-handed pitchers, and the A’s have had some success doing so. Nate Freiman has had a big year against left-handed pitching at .314 with four homers and 22 RBIs, and Freiman, a right-hander, is the usual starter at first against lefties.

There are times to throw away the numbers, however, and this may be one of them. Moss is an impact player, and more now than ever. The A’s are 13-4 since Aug. 26, going from 2½ games behind Texas to 3½ games in front of the Rangers in that time.

The driving force? Brandon Moss. He’s a .356 hitter in those games with five homers and 17 RBIs, an average of an RBI per game although he’s only starter 13 of those games.

He didn’t play Thursday when the Twins threw lefty Scott Diamond at Oakland and the A’s came away just fine with an 8-2 win. But since Aug. 26, in the limited time Moss has had against lefties, he’s been much better than his .216 season average against them.

Specifically he’s 5-for-10 with two homers and five RBIs.

Moss isn’t going to ask to play against lefties. Ask him, and he’ll say that he hasn’t hit well enough to earn the right and that it’s all about the team winning and “it’s not about whether it’s hard for me to sit and watch.’’

Ask manager Bob Melvin and he’ll say he doesn’t know yet what his lineup will look like. But Moss has stood up and been counted when the A’s needed him to be The Man. A couple of swings from Moss in games Friday or Sunday could be the difference between winning and losing for Oakland.

And the A’s very much need to win to keep the Rangers at bay.

“If I play, I play,’’ Moss said. “This (platooning) is what we’ve done for two years, and it’s worked pretty well. It’s about what we have done, not about what I have done.’’

Moss was slogging along in the minor leagues last June when the A’s pulled him back to the big leagues for one last shot. Since then he’s hit 46 home runs in less than a season and a half, a figure that is tied for the 12th-best total over that stretch in the Major Leagues.

He’s immensely grateful for the chance the A’s have given him.

And that explains, at least in part, why he’s not going to push his case to play.

“When you think of where I was last year and where I am now,’’ he said, “obviously I’m very appreciative of the chance I’ve gotten. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in the team and the (front office) staff to make the right decisions.’’

That’s the company line, too.

But it’s difficult to see the A’s putting their best lineup forward against the Rangers in a series Oakland needs to win and not see Moss a part of it.

 

–Josh Donaldson says the A’s don’t have to do anything differently against the second-place Rangers this weekend to move closer to another playoff spot.

“Pitching and hitting is what it’s about,’’ the third baseman said. “We’ve done that the majority of the year, and when we have, we’ve done fine.’’

Donaldson was in the lineup at third Thursday less than 20 hours after being hit on the right hand by a pitch. He singled, walked twice and scored a run in five plate trips. Defensively, he made a pair of above-average plays, getting plenty on the throw with his injured right hand.

“At this point of the year,’’ he said, “it’s going to take a lot to get me out of the lineup. It was a little sore, which I expected, but I’m going to play.’’

 

–Chris Young, who generally plays only against left-handers, got a start against one Thursday and had a double and a triple, although both of the hits came against right-handed relievers.

The two hits got him over .200, all the way to .201, for the first time since May 25, when he was hitting .207. It’s been a tough year for Chris Young.

“I feel like I’ve been swinging well,’’ Young said. “Today some balls found some holes. It’s not about the numbers anymore, not at this point of the season.

“It’s about winning games, just winning games. Our season depends on that.’’

 

–Grant Balfour, talking before Thursday’s game, said “we aren’t there yet’’ when asked if it was possible he was getting too much time off. Balfour hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 before throwing the ninth inning Thursday.

After the game the Oakland closer was talking as if the long layoff, his tired arm notwithstanding, was perhaps a little too long.

“I felt good,’’ he said. “But you do need to be out there more consistently to have your command. But it went OK, and I’m ready to go.’’

And he’s looking forward to the three games this weekend against the Rangers.

“I don’t think about three games,’’ he said. “I just think about the next game. Tomorrow is the most important day for us.

“We’ve played well to put ourselves in good position going in. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it.’’

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Game 123 wrapup: Milone not thinking too much about job status; Donaldson RBI swing on way back; Otero continues to push for more signficant time

No one knows better than Tommy Milone that his spot in the Oakland rotation comes with no guarantees.

Pitch well in the season’s final six weeks and he can figure he’ll keep getting the ball every five days.

Pitch poorly and the A’s have options. Brett Anderson, the A’s opening day starter, is on an injury rehabilitation assignment and is being groomed to return as a starter after a stretch in which the A’s thought the club might be best served with Anderson joining the bullpen.

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Game 117 wrapup: Straily’s best game shows up up north; Moss dismisses his double but he likes A’s rally; Is it time for Mustache Gang, Part II?

No one had to sketch out the situation for Dan Straily.

The A’s bullpen was hurting from overwork and closer Grant Balfour was going to need a day off.

Straily needed to get deep into the game for the A’s to have a decent chance to win.

The right-hander had not even made it to the fifth inning in any of his previous three starts, but this time was different.

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Game 98 wrapup: Sogard trying to make a case for staying the course; bunt, double steal open up offense a bit and Moss discovers left field

After spending two days generating virtually no offense, the A’s were in a whatever-it-takes mode Sunday against the Angels.

That included the second homer of the month from Eric Sogard, who’d come into July homerless in over a year. It included three hits to left field from dead pull hitter Brandon Moss. It included a double steal from Josh Reddick and Chris Young. And it included a sacrifice bunt from Coco Crisp that turned into a hit and more.

Sogard, who’d broken a drought with a homer in Kansas City on July 7, said he was trying to move Young from second to third by hitting behind him in the third inning. He did that, and more, elevating a pitch from Jerome Williams enough to settle it into the first few rows of the bleachers near the foul pole.

“I just wanted to hit behind the runner,’’ Sogard said. “We’d been having some trouble scoring runs. I got a fastball inside and I was able to get it up a little.’’

With the trade deadline coming up, there are suggestions that the A’s might look to upgrade at second base, a position currently shared by Sogard, the left-hander, and the right-handed Grant Green. Sogard would like to make a case for staying the course.

His homer, single and two runs scored will help, although he’s just 11-for-47 (.234) in his last 18 games. However, seven of the 11 hits are for extra bases – five doubles and two homers.

 

–In the fifth, Sogard opened with an infield single to shortstop. With third baseman Alberto Callaspo playing about even with the base, Crisp decided on his own to drop a bunt down.

He did that. Callaspo charged, fielded the ball and threw it where first baseman Mark Trumbo had no chance to catch it. Sogard scored and Crisp wound up at third, from where he would score on the second of three Moss singles.

“I wasn’t bunting for a hit,’’ Crisp said. “I mean I was, but I was more focused on getting the ball down and moving the runner over. That was the important part of getting the ball down.’’

Manager Bob Melvin called the bunt, and Callaspo’s throwing error that made it 3-0, “the key part of the game.’’

“It’s not usual that Coco will be up there where the third baseman isn’t in,’’ the manager said. “But he wasn’t as close, and Coco went out and made something happen.’’

 

–That same kind of thought process and effort was behind the double steal by Reddick and Young. The A’s had a four-run lead in the sixth before Reddick singled and Young walked on four pitches, forcing Williams out of the game in favor of Garrett Richards. Sogard struck out, then with Crisp at the plate, Reddick lit out for third and Young for second.

Catcher Chris Iannetta threw wildly past third, giving Reddick a chance to bounce up and race home. Young would score on another Angels’ throwing error later in the inning.

“When the opportunity is there, we’ll push it,’’ Melvin said. “When you’re not swinging great is a good time to push it.’’

 

–Moss hadn’t been swinging great, and he hadn’t been swinging pretty either, so he decided to do something about that Sunday.

“I’ve been in the cage a lot, and I’m still searching for it,’’ Moss said. “This morning I said to somebody I was just going to go up and try to swing pretty. At least that way I’ll look better up there. Maybe I won’t look silly.

“If I’m going to hit .230, I might as well look good doing it. I was just trying to take good, fluid swings and stayed through some balls instead of trying to do too much, trying to hit a home run on every pitch. I’m not trying to take away my power, but holy crap, at a certain point, you have to do something.’’

Moss said that he’d never had three opposite-field hits in a game and, together with a second-inning pop to shortstop, he’d never hit the ball to the left side four times “in a game in my life. Not ever.’’

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Game 78 wrapup: Straily sent down as A’s consider options; Jaso pinch-hits, catches, still feels pain; Melvin alters pinch-hitting strategy

Dan Straily was caught off guard Sunday afternoon when he was summoned into a quick meeting with A’s manager Bob Melvin after a 6-3 loss to Seattle.

Straily, who has been in the Oakland rotation since a stress fracture in Brett Anderson’s right foot put the opening day starter on the disabled list, was given the word. He was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento, at least for a short time.

Oakland has a day off Monday, another Thursday and a third next Monday. With all that extra time, the A’s will not need to employ a fifth starter until July 6. So the A’s will bring up a fresh face, although the club said no decision has been made yet on who might get the call.

Since the bullpen will be, theoretically at least, rested with two days off in four days, it’s unlikely to be a reliever. It won’t be a starter, since there’s no need. So it almost certainly will be a position player. The A’s are a little short at catcher and at middle infielder, so the likely choices would be catcher Luke Montz or one of two infielders, either Andy Parrino or Hiro Nakajima.

The A’s aren’t getting much production out of catcher Derek Norris (.188) or part-time shortstop Adam Rosales (.195). Montz is hitting .265 with some power and did an adequate job as third catcher when he was up earlier. And Nakajima, who had a big hot streak to get up to .320 for Sacramento, fell down to the low .270s before rebounding to .279 entering Sunday.

As for Straily, he may be the man who gets the call when the A’s need a fifth starter again, but as both he and manager Bob Melvin said, there are no guarantees.

“There’s nothing promised,’’ Melvin said. “Do we want it to be Dan? Absolutely. But we don’t want him going do there with no sense of urgency.’’

For his part, Straily took the demotion in stride as much as was possible.

“With all these days off, it was either this or be the long man in the bullpen,’’ he said. “I have the confidence I’ll be back. There’s no reason to get down. This isn’t the desired (move).

“But I have to go down and make sure I’m still first on the list. Just like every other time I’ve gone down.’’

 

–John Jaso enter Sunday’s game as a pinch-hitter after having missed three consecutive starts with a nasty abrasion on the palm of his left hand.

Did he come back too early? Jaso seemed to think he did.

“I took some swings off a tee, and it felt OK,’’ Jaso said. “(But in the game) I took a swing and it still hurt.’’

The A’s are hoping that a day off Monday will leave Jaso good to go Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Jaso was involved on one of the key plays in the game in the 10th inning when he couldn’t block a pitch in the dirt that had the Mariners’ Mike Zunino struck out. Zunino wound up getting to first base safely on the wild pitch from Grant Balfour and the Mariners went on to win on a three-run homer by Kendrys Morales.

“I rushed the throw a little, and I didn’t have to,’’ Jaso said. “And that cost us there. If I’d slowed down and collected myself, I would have had him.’’

–Melvin likes to use as few players when making a move as possible.

He went against that philosophy in the ninth inning when he used first baseman Nate Freiman to hit for second baseman Eric Sogard with a man on first base and one out.

In the past he would have used Adam Rosales, who could then have come in to play second base for Sogard. Instead, Freiman was used (he flew out) and Rosales came in to play defense, leaving only Chris Young available on the bench.

It turned out to be not a huge deal, but it could have been if the Mariners and A’s had gone past the 10th inning.

Rosales is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts as a pinch-hitter and it may be that Melvin is running out of time waiting for Rosales to contribute in that situation. The shortstop/second baseman is hitting just .195 overall, but take away those 11 at-bats and he’s hitting a marginally more respectable .214

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Game 68 wrapup: Freiman please to share a bit of Young’s big day; Jaso on `Dino’s curse’

Much of the focus around Chris Young’s three-hit, one-walk night Friday was on the home run he hit.

And it was a monster, 419 feet to left field.

But it was his third-inning double that was at least as interesting. As he cruised into second base, he raised both of his fists to cranium level and pumped them in the direction of the A’s dugout.

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Chris Young has Melvin’s backing through struggles

It’s been a tough year so far for Chris Young, but the A’s outfielder still has the solid support of Oakland manager Bob Melvin.

Young, who normally starts against left-handed pitching, was out of the lineup Saturday because of illness. He was feeling better, and he was back in the lineup Sunday as the designated hitter.

Young comes into the day with a .177 average, five home runs and 22 RBIs. Along the way he’s spent 2½ weeks on the disabled list with a quad injury and floundered when at the plate.

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