0

A long journey begins

The key number for this nine-game road trip the A’s are starting: 6,544.

That’s the total miles the team will fly from Oakland to Seattle, to Tampa, to Toronto and back home. There are off-days sandwiched around both ends of the Rays series, but that is one brutal trip given the crazy routing. Not exactly ideal for a team sporting a 18-35 road record, though I’m not sure how much the travel itself has factored into the A’s play on the road. Given how well they played on the last homestand, an obvious key is whether the A’s bats can stay hot on this three-city journey. They open up against a Seattle team that just traded two-fifths of its starting rotation in Doug Fister and Erik Bedard.

Speaking of travel, the Mariners won’t have too much sympathy for the A’s, given the grind they annually face as a result of being tucked away in the northwest corner of the country. The difference for the Mariners and, say, the teams situated way up in the Northeast is that Seattle’s division opponents are much more spread out, making for longer trips (and more often) throughout the season.

Personally, I’m just happy I remembered my passport for when we cross into Canada.

–Lefty Jordan Norberto, one of the players obtained in the Brad Ziegler trade, joined the A’s today. He knows Conor Jackson (a former teammate with Arizona), Jemile Weeks (an opponent in the minors) and Fautino De Los Santos (who grew up in a neighboring town in the Dominican Republic.). His addition gives the A’s eight relievers – four lefties and four righties – and manager Bob Melvin said he likes the flexibility that gives him for matchups. I’d expect a reliever to be sent down sometime after this series, however. Melvin acknowledged that it’s tough operating with a three-man bench, and since Toronto and Tampa Bay both play on turf, he would like to give some position players a game off to save them wear and tear. He’ll need more depth in order to do that.

–Norberto throws a fastball, slider and change-up, and he said his command has improved a little lately because he’s repeating his delivery better.

–Still no David DeJesus in the lineup, but he swung off a tee today and said his right thumb is feeling better.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Pennington SS, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B, Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 1B, Olivo C, Wells LF, Figgins 3B, Gutierrez CF, Beavan RHP.

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.

0

Jemile Weeks staying as A’s starting second baseman; Mark Ellis to be utility man

We’re in a rain delay at Citi Field. The announcement just came as rain started falling right around the time first pitch was scheduled for. No word yet on when we’ll start. Until then, here’s the pregame update …

The expected news came down that rookie Jemile Weeks will remain the A’s starting second baseman and Mark Ellis will slide into a utility infielder role. Ellis will be an option at first and third base as well as second, manager Bob Melvin said, and he could start at first as soon as Thursday.

Ellis is handling the news extremely well and saying all the right things, which isn’t surprising considering what a class act he is. “I wasn’t bracing myself,” Ellis said. “I’ve been in (Weeks’) position before. I’ve been that guy before. So I wasn’t bracing myself. But watching him play, I’m proud of him. He’s done a great job, and he’s my teammate.”

At the same time, reading between the lines, I get the feeling Ellis would welcome a trade if it meant going somewhere to be a starting second baseman. “I still see myself as playing second base every day,” Ellis said. “We’ll see what happens there as far as wherever.” Ellis said he has a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a trade to six teams, but didn’t say who they are. I’ve been told by another trustworthy source that the Giants are not one of the six teams. Even with Daric Barton going down to the minors and Conor Jackson being the regular first baseman, the A’s still have two right-handed hitting utility infielders in Ellis and Adam Rosales (Melvin said Rosales will serve as the backup shortstop and not Ellis).

Melvin commended Ellis for how well he took the news, and that Ellis took all the tension out of the conversation when the two talked.

–In other news, left fielder Josh Willingham was scheduled to test his sore Achilles’ tendon by running. That’s the main hurdle for Willingham to clear before he returns to the lineup. He’s OK hitting, he said. If Willingham can’t play Thursday, Melvin said Jackson likely would go to left field and Ellis might play first.

–As things currently stand, Melvin said he envisions Hideki Matsui getting two starts in left field against Philadelphia this weekend, though that depends a lot on Willingham’s availability.

–One man who’s still the odd man out of playing time — David DeJesus. With Jackson playing first, that relieves a bit of the outfield logjam. But you saw how Ryan Sweeney played last night — four hits and a sliding catch in right-center. It’s hard to take that guy out of the lineup right now. DeJesus, like Ellis, is taking his situation very well. “To hang my head and be miserable, the season is way too long to be like that every day,” DeJesus said.

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

Mets — Reyes SS, Turner 3B, Beltran RF, Bay LF, Hairston CF, Paulino C, Duda 1B, Tejada 2B, Dickey RHP.

2

Conor Jackson gets another start at first base for A’s; Kevin Kouzmanoff back at third

It’s early May, and the Royals are 17-14 and in second place in the AL Central. That has people talking in Kansas City after this franchise has struggled for so long. But the real buzz as the A’s begin a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium is the major league debut of Royals top prospect Eric Hosmer. The left-handed hitting first baseman wasn’t supposed to reach the bigs until later this season. But he mashed at Triple-A and the Royals believe he’s ready. Hosmer, 21, was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. He’s the crown jewel from Kansas City’s loaded farm system, and it should be entertaining to watch him take his hacks against lefty Gio Gonzalez.

The A’s could use some exciting new blood in their batting order. For now, Oakland fans will have to settle for tonight’s intriguing lineup. Conor Jackson draws his second start in three games at first base in place of Daric Barton. Ryan Sweeney’s five-hit game Thursday buys him a start in left field, with Josh Willingham sitting. Andy LaRoche spells Cliff Pennington at shortstop and Kevin Kouzmanoff returns to third base after riding the bench for five games. A’s manager Bob Geren says no one is out of the lineup for health reasons. “Everybody’s healthy. That’s why I’m continuing to mix guys in to keep everybody healthy and everybody fresh,” Geren said.

I don’t read too much into Willingham sitting, but it’s interesting to see Jackson getting another start at first base, particularly against a right-hander. Geren is looking for ways to keep Jackson’s bat in the lineup, and Barton is hitting .204 with six RBIs in 31 games. If Jackson keeps hitting, might he get more time at first? Right now, I like him in the No. 3 spot with David DeJesus batting second.

–A team spokesman said there was no more news on Dallas Braden, so we can assume he has yet to get that second opinion on his injured shoulder.

–It’s a big night for DeJesus, who returns to Kansas City for the first time after spending the previous seven-plus seasons with the Royals. He held a pregame press conference but then had no idea how to find his way from the interview room to the visitor’s dugout. He never spent much time on the visitor’s side of this stadium until tonight …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, LaRoche SS, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Royals – Aviles 2B, Cabrera CF, Gordon LF, Butler DH, Francoeur RF, Hosmer 1B, Betemit 3B, Treanor C, Escobar SS; O’Sullivan RHP.

0

Coco Crisp out of the lineup again, A’s say it’s precautionary

It’s a perfect afternoon for baseball at the Coliseum. I have no idea what kind of crowd will show up today, a rare non-holiday Monday afternoon game. But it’s a potentially big game for the A’s no matter how many people witness it. Taking a four-game series from Texas, the AL West favorites, would provide a healthy dose of momentum. And that could be helpful considering the surprising Cleveland Indians – with a majors-best 19-8 record – roll into town Tuesday for a three-game series.

–After a big game yesterday, Coco Crisp is back out of the lineup. A’s manager Bob Geren said the team is treating Crisp’s sore quadriceps carefully. “We’re just being cautious with him,” Geren said. “We’re monitoring how the game goes. He had high exertion yesterday with a lot of running, and we have to be cautious.” With a night game tomorrow following today’s day game, Geren said the thinking was that Crisp could get a bit of extra rest and be ready for Tuesday’s series opener with Cleveland. Crisp played down the situation. “I’m perfectly fine,” he told me. “It’s just a day off. I’m not quite 100 percent.” Geren added that Crisp was available off the bench if needed.

Does it concern you that Crisp is sitting again? Judging by how he played yesterday, the leg can’t be bothering him too much. If occasional rest now is going to help him be ready to play regularly for the long haul, it’s probably a smart idea.

–David DeJesus is playing center field in place of Crisp, with Conor Jackson getting another start in right. I asked Geren if he considered playing Ryan Sweeney in center since DeJesus has struggled a bit hitting. Geren said Sweeney would get some playing time soon with the A’s facing a string of right-handed starters coming up.

–Other injury updates: Andrew Bailey will pitch to hitters for the first time Wednesday, and Dallas Braden played catch this morning, but we didn’t get a report on him yet.

The lineups:
A’s – Ellis 2B, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, DeJesus CF, LaRoche 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Rangers – Andrus SS, Moreland 1B, Young 2B, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Murphy LF, Davis 3B, Teagarden C, Borbon CF; Holland LHP.

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 …

2

Geren searching for right offensive formula

Here are the lineups for Game 2 of A’s-Mariners from Safeco Field:

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

M’s – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Bradley LF, Cust DH, Kennedy 1B, Olivo C, Langerhans CF, Ryan SS, Wilson 2B; Pineda RHP.

It’s the sixth time the A’s have gone with their opening day lineup, and it’s the only one that Bob Geren has used more than once. Overall, the A’s have used 14 different lineups over the first 19 games. Right now, Geren would go with any combo that offered the promise of scoring more runs. He says the A’s are trying anything to jumpstart things offensively, including giving the green light on 3-0 counts more often. “We’re trying to build on what we do well and exploit every different way to score runs,” Geren said.

–The stat that says all you need to know: David DeJesus has the highest batting average of any A’s regular. … and he’s hitting just .250.

–First baseman Daric Barton said he still has some flu-like symptoms but feels good enough to play.

That’s all for now …

0

Reminiscing on Little League day; Dallas Braden to see doctor

It’s Little League day at the Coliseum, so there was a trail of kids making their way past the A’s dugout high-fiving Gio Gonzalez and Bobby Cramer this morning. … I have vivid memories of attending Little League day as an 8-year-old, wearing my uniform and making a lap around the field before the game. Rickey Henderson was playing left field. This was Rickey’s first stint in Oakland, when he wore No. 35. My earliest memories of going to A’s games are seeing Henderson in left field, Dwayne Murphy in center and Tony Armas in right. In Toronto recently, I got to interview Murphy, who’s now the Blue Jays hitting coach, about Rajai Davis. That was cool … Friends ask me if I get star-struck interviewing major league players. For me, it’s more the current crop of coaches around the majors that I get a thrill out of talking to. Because the guys coaching now were the ones I idolized as players when I was growing up. … Anyway, everybody’s gotta take the trip down memory lane now and then, right?

–Dallas Braden is not a happy camper right now regarding his stiff shoulder. He had very little to offer on the injury this morning. “Still sore, stiff, hurts. I’m not gonna throw.” Asked if he was holding out hope of making his next start, Braden just shook his head no. A’s manager Bob Geren said Braden would get checked by a team doctor later today, so maybe we’ll get more information after the game. Geren isn’t speculating yet on whether Braden will miss any time. And with Monday’s day off, the A’s can push Braden’s start back several days if they wish. But on first impression, it sure doesn’t seem like good news for Braden based on his demeanor. Might Tyson Ross or Bobby Cramer be in line for a stint in the rotation?

–Coco Crisp is not in the lineup. With no game Monday, the A’s want to try to give him two straight days off to rest his back. But Geren said Crisp is available if needed off the bench. David DeJesus is playing center field with Conor Jackson in right. Geren said he was considering giving Ryan Sweeney a start, but Sweeney’s hamstring tightened up as he legged out a triple last night. He’s also available if needed, but Geren didn’t want him starting.

–Somewhat lost in the shuffle with the A’s terrific starting pitching so far: The fact that Trevor Cahill has not been very sharp. He’s failed to complete five innings in two of his first three starts, so we’ll see how he fares this afternoon. Tigers starter Brad Penny is facing the A’s for just the third time in his career. He’s allowed 15 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings this season.

The lineups:

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

Tigers – Rhymes 2B, Jackson CF, Boesch DH, Cabrera 1B, Raburn LF, Kelly 3B, Peralta SS, Avila C, Wells RF; Penny RHP.

5

Mark Ellis sits with inner ear problem; Andy LaRoche’s tour of the A’s infield continues

It’s getaway day for the A’s in Toronto, and they want nothing more than to get away with a victory. Trevor Cahill takes the mound looking to help the A’s avoid a three-game sweep. …

Andy LaRoche remains a busy guy. He’s starting at second base today with Mark Ellis experiencing an inner ear problem. LaRoche started at shortstop Tuesday, then played third base Wednesday night. It’s sort of a continuation of what we saw in the spring, when LaRoche bounced around to all four infield spots. Interesting story from the spring: Many utility infielders will have different gloves for different spots – a smaller one for turning double plays at second base or short, and maybe a bigger one for third base. LaRoche told me during camp he prefers sticking with one glove that he’s comfortable with at all three of those positions – advice he once received from Jeff Kent.

Ellis’ inner ear problem is causing him some dizziness but it’s not thought to be vertigo, he said. He felt it a bit during Wednesday’s game (can you imagine backpedaling on a shallow fly to right field if you were dizzy?). Ellis said it was tough sleeping last night, but he gradually felt his ear popping, which relieved some pressure. “I’m not looking forward to the flight (to Minnesota),” he said. Manager Bob Geren said the team was weighing whether it was safe to have Ellis fly today, but driving to Minnesota is not a practical option – too far. The upshot: Ellis won’t play in his 1,000th career game until Friday at the earliest.

Conor Jackson draws a start in right field with David DeJesus getting the day off against Toronto left-hander Ricky Romero. Hideki Matsui is hitting sixth, and Geren said he’ll likely drop DeJesus or Matsui to the No. 6 spot against lefties most games.

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

Jays: Davis CF, Nix 3B, Lind 1B, Hill 2B, Rivera RF, Encarnacion DH, Snider LF, Arencibia C, McDonald SS; Romero LHP.

0

Rangers (at least some of them) face A’s in first spring matchup

The Texas Rangers roll into town today to play their first exhibition against the A’s, but it won’t be a real accurate representation of the squad the A’s will see in the regular season. Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre (who’s hurt) are not making the trip. But ace C.J. Wilson is on the mound.

The lineups:

A’s:
DeJesus RF
Suzuki C
Jackson 1B
Matsui DH
Kouzmanoff 3B
Carson CF
Carter LF
Tolleson SS
Weeks 2B

Braden LHP.

Rangers:
Borbon CF
German 2B
Moreland 1B
Barden DH
Davis 3B
Teagarden C
Deeds RF
Engel Beltre LF
Andres Blanco SS

Wilson LHP

–A’s manager Bob Geren said he sees David DeJesus as a good leadoff candidate when Coco Crisp doesn’t play. DeJesus has lots of experience atop the order from his time with the Royals. Mark Ellis and Cliff Pennington could also fill the role, according to Geren, but DeJesus is the most natural fit.

–Under-the-radar Athletic who is having a nice camp so far: Matt Carson. He homered yesterday and made a great catch slamming into the right field wall against the Brewers. He’s getting a start in center today.

–Outfielder Ryan Sweeney thinks about three weeks is needed for him to get his timing at the plate and be ready for the regular season. He’s scheduled to play in his first game Wednesday – he’s been brought along slowly while he recovers from knee surgery – and that would give him three weeks before the April 1 opener. “In batting practice, everything feels great. It’s just the timing in games,” he said. Sweeney was scheduled to face Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow this morning in batting practice. He said he’s been shagging flies and his knee feels good.

–Reliever Joey Devine reached the 92-93 mph range in his last outing Wednesday, and Geren said his slider was sharp too. That’s a good sign for the A’s, obviously, and if Devine continues to round into form in Cactus League games, one of the seven bullpen spots surely is his. Speaking of relievers, Michael Wuertz threw 30 pitches yesterday off the mound and his shoulder came out of it fine. He’ll throw off the mound at least one more time before facing hitters. “He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t need 10 to 12 outings,” Geren said. “It could be five or six and he’ll be ready to go.”

–Rich Harden (side muscle injury) played catch at 80 feet today, but there’s no word on when he’ll get back on the mound.