5

Coco Crisp joins disabled list, Michael Taylor back with A’s

We have some morning A’s news, though it’s not so unexpected …

Coco Crisp was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a lingering inner ear infection, and outfielder Michael Taylor was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento. I’ll be interested to see how much playing time Taylor gets, and what he does with it. His numbers for Sacramento so far have been impressive, and a scout told me Taylor has looked like an improved player from recent seasons. Might Taylor get a start in left field tonight? The Rays are throwing lefty David Price, so if Bob Melvin wants to get as many right-handed bats in the lineup as possible, he could throw Taylor in left and put Jonny Gomes at DH. Or maybe Gomes plays left because the ex-Ray is used to handling the outfield at Tropicana Field.

We’ll see if Cliff Pennington or Brandon Inge fills in as the No. 2 hitter with Crisp out. Pennington has gotten off to a slow start, so the A’s need him to start hitting more if he sees time near the top of the lineup.

I’ll post a bit later from the ballpark …

0

Emerald City rematch for Bartolo Colon and Felix Hernandez

Greetings from the press box at Safeco Field, the only location in the majors where it’s cold enough to hang meat …

So the A’s and Mariners engage in yet another “opening night.” First there was the regular-season opener in Tokyo, then the A’s home opener last week, and now the Mariners’ home opener to begin this three-game series. Word is that a sellout crowd is expected tonight, as Bartolo Colon and Felix Hernandez square off for the second time in less than a week. This is the third start of the season for each pitcher, and they’ve faced the same opponent every time. That is N-U-T-T-Y, any way you slice it.

Josh Reddick and Cliff Pennington are back in the A’s lineup after leaving Wednesday’s game with minor injuries, so it’s a pretty standard Oakland starting nine …

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

Mariners: Figgins LF, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Seager 3B, Montero DH, Saunders CF, Olivo C, Ryan SS; Hernandez RHP.

A’s manager Bob Melvin is still mum on his starting pitcher for Tuesday, the first day the A’s need a fifth starter. Things point toward Tyson Ross getting the call though. He had a pretty good outing Thursday for Triple-A Sacramento, going five innings and allowing three runs on five hits. Most importantly, he didn’t walk anybody, and commanding the strike zone is the biggest key for Ross as far as the A’s brass is concerned. He would be on turn to pitch Tuesday, and that’s a big key here. Jarrod Parker also has been solid in two starts for the River Cats (3.00 ERA, 10 Ks, 2 BB in 12 IP), but Melvin’s comments suggest Ross is the guy. “I think over the course of the season all of those guys are still in play,” Melvin said, presumably lumping Brad Peacock into the mix as well. “I think scheduling, for this turn, may factor into it.”

–I’m being dramatic, it’s not really that cold here at Safeco. I’m sure writers in Minnesota have it much worse this time of year. But they lull you into a false sense of security here, leaving the windows closed and then throwing them open shortly before the game starts. The roof is open tonight, and it’s windy. Time to channel my inner Candlestick toughness. …

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 …

19

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?

1

Coco Crisp sits again, status unknown for Thursday

Checking in from Toronto, where the hot topic of the day is whether the Blue Jays are stealing signs from the center field seats during home games. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke at a news conference vehemently denying any of the allegations that came out of an ESPN The Magazine story on the subject. His opening statement: “This whole thing is stupid. It’s unbelievabvle that we’re sitting here to even talk about this. … All I’ll say is there’s zero truth to this.”

It was pretty entertaining to listen to him go on …

–As for A’s news, Coco Crisp (strained right calf) is out of the lineup again, with Ryan Sweeney playing center field and Cliff Pennington hitting second in the order. Manager Bob Melvin said Crisp was scheduled for baseball activity before the game to test his calf. He’s not sure about whether Crisp will be ready to play in Thursday’s road trip finale. “I’m always hopeful, but I’m not even gonna handicap it,” Melvin said. “If he does feel it some, I would be reluctant to play him.”

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney CF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Jays — Davis LF, Escobar SS, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Hill 2B, Arencibia C, Lawrie 3B; Alvarez RHP.

2

Cliff Pennington doing much better, targeting possible Friday return

The news looks much better regarding A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington, who was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy last night. Pennington woke up feeling much better today, and said he can close his left eye and blink. He likely won’t play until Friday’s series opener at Tampa Bay, at the earliest. But both he and manager Bob Melvin were breathing a sigh of relief. Bell’s palsy is a nerve condition that causes partial facial paralysis, and Pennington left last night’s game with numbness on the left side of his face.

“I can blink, I can close,” Pennington said. “I’m still numb, but it’s night and day from yesterday. I’m going to do everything normal (as far as baseball activity). I’m going to keep going like normal, except I’m not playing.”

Because he was having trouble keeping his left eye closed last night, he put trainer’s tape over his eye so he could sleep. “I was so tired from stress that I slept great,” he said.

–To provide depth on the bench, the A’s recalled infielder Adam Rosales from Triple-A and designated reliever Jerry Blevins for assignment. Again, this DFA is procedural for Blevins because he has more than three years’ service time in the majors. He has to pass through optional waivers before being sent down. He is still on the 40-man roster and won’t be going anywhere.

Your lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Willingham DH, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Suzuki C, Sogard SS, Sizemore 3B; Harden RHP.

Mariners — Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 3B, Olivo C, Smoak 1B, Wells LF, Gutierrez CF; Hernandez RHP.

3

Update on Cliff Pennington’s condition, and other notes from A’s 8-4 loss to Mariners

A quick postgame recap of the A’s 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners. I figure many of you will get the early-edition story in your papers, and it won’t include the postgame news …

–Shortstop Cliff Pennington left the game in the bottom of the sixth and was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a nerve condition that causes temporary facial paralysis. He said he began having problems closing his left eye Sunday night, and the condition worsened Monday to the point he had to come out of the game.

Scary stuff, obviously. Scanning some online articles, it appears Bell’s Palsy can last a couple days, a couple weeks or even longer. Sometimes it’s just a one-time occurence for people and never surfaces again. Pennington had never experienced any problems of this sort before Sunday night.

He is on medication right now and is listed as day to day. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on the DL. This isn’t a condition you want to take lightly, or attempt to play baseball with until you know it’s under control. Plus, the A’s only have a three-man bench right now, and that’s really two when you consider that David DeJesus is still unavailable because of right thumb soreness (manager Bob Melvin hopes to have him back Wednesday).

A reporter who was in the A’s clubhouse afterward said he had a bout with Bell’s Palsy about 30 years ago. It affected him for about six weeks, then symptoms disappeared and he’s never experienced it again. That’s just one person’s experience.

Pennington said “it feels like you went to the dentist and the whole side of your face is numb.”

You have to hope this is a temporary thing …

–As for the on-field news, the A’s did not start this nine-game road trip off on a good note. That bases-loaded, no-out situation in the first, when they came away with no runs, looked an awful lot like their pre-All Star break offensive form.

But perhaps more concerning for the A’s was Trevor Cahill’s outing. He went just four-plus innings, allowed 12 hits and was charged with seven runs. Cahill just hasn’t been able to string together several good outings in a row since his 6-0 start. “We know he’s an elite pitcher, he’s just having trouble running two or three starts together (to build on),” Melvin said.

It’s worth noting that not everything was hit hard off Cahill. And his defense let him down at times. But he was constantly putting runners on base, and when you do that, there’s no margin for error.

–With a double and home run Monday, nine of Kurt Suzuki’s last 12 hits are for extra bases.

That’s all for now …

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 …

4

Conor Jackson in right field as A’s try to break through vs. Mariners

The weather is absolutely perfect in Seattle right now as the A’s take batting practice, but the temperature is sure to drop big-time as the night wears on. Still, it was nice to sit in the dugout while the A’s were hitting and not freeze. …

A’s manager Bob Geren said last night that he planned to start both Conor Jackson and Andy LaRoche tonight against Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas. But only Jackson is in there, playing right field in place of David DeJesus (who is actually hitting .346 over his past seven games). Geren said he thought about giving Cliff Pennington a day off and playing LaRoche at shortstop, but he likes the way Pennington’s swing has looked lately.

The lineups:

A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Kennedy 1B, Cust DH, Saunders CF, Rodriguez SS, Gimenez C, Peguero LF, Wilson 2B; Vargas LHP.

–Andrew Bailey threw a 35-pitch bullpen session. All indications are he continues to progress well, but pitching coach Ron Romanick said Bailey will throw at least once more on the side before facing hitters.

That’s all for now …

1

Random items on an odd day in A’s land

It just ain’t right. … Today’s A’s-White Sox game starts at 4:05 p.m. local time, and the odd start just throws the daily routine off completely. The A’s clubhouse opened at 11 a.m., players stretched at noon and then took batting practice before they make the long drive to Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Everything is pushed back about three hours from what it’s been for the past four-plus weeks — not really a day game, not really a night game. It’s baseball no-man’s land today. But enough with the drama …

–Today’s lineup against the White Sox looks familiar:

Crisp CF; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Suzuki C; Ellis 2B; Kouzmanoff 3B; Pennington SS; Cramer LHP (with Outman to follow) …

–Manager Bob Geren says he’ll tinker with his lineup, but this is the third time we’ve seen this look (and second day in a row) when Geren has penciled in an ‘A’ lineup. So he likes something about it. The top five hitters are no surprise. As for the 6-8 hitters, Geren says they could be interchangeable. I had Kouzmanoff pegged as the possible No. 6 guy, but Geren said there’s justification to hit him eighth. “You need power down in the lineup too. I’m not saying he’s going to hit there. I fully expect him to rebound in his second year in the league. If the spring is any indication, his swing looks great. He could definitely climb up in the order depending on how he does.” Kouzmanoff is hitting .387 with one homer and seven RBIs in 12 games.

–Lefties Bobby Cramer and Josh Outman both take the hill tonight, and it’s an important outing for both. Cramer is squarely in the 5th starter discussion and needs to keep up with Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross. Outman, who has struggled, really needs to turn things around quickly.

–Keep an eye on the backup infielder situation. Geren said Adam Rosales is recovering as expected from his right foot injury, but from talking to Rosales yesterday, I know he was hoping to be further along by now. Tough to say whether he’ll return by May 1 as the A’s hope. Andy LaRoche is hitting .324, but he’s very unproven as a shortstop. And Steve Tolleson and Eric Sogard have each missed some time and haven’t distinguished themselves yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s sign someone with shortstop experience to back up Cliff Pennington.

That’s all for now …