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A’s getting most mileage from their catchers in the AL

Derek Norris (above) and John Jaso have given A's most muscle from catching position.

Derek Norris (above) and John Jaso have given A’s most muscle from catching position.

Sometimes the A’s hear words of praise for their willingness to use a platoon. Just as often the words are of scorn.

Oakland has made the platoon thing work, however, particularly at catcher where John Jaso and Derek Norris have formed a 1-2 punch that has helped the A’s put together an offense that has scored 187 runs (heading into Monday), the second-best total in the American League.

It’s no stretch to say that the A’s have gotten more mileage from their catchers than any team in the American League. Together Jaso and Norris have combined for a .338 average, a .419 on-base percentage, a .507 slugging percentage and a .927 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

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3-0, D-No powers A’s over Gio

Derek Norris blasted a pair of 3-0 count, three-run home runs off former A's All-Star Gio Gonzalez in Sunday's 9-1 win. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Derek Norris blasted a pair of 3-0 count, three-run home runs off former A’s All-Star Gio Gonzalez in Sunday’s 9-1 win. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

I’m going to keep this pretty short and sweet since we had a nice easy game and I’m going to try to get home in time to enjoy the rest of Mothers’ Day.

Most of the talk of the day can be found in the game story, which is posted here and should be updated shortly. This was all about Derek Norris’ domination of Gio Gonzalez, the player for which he was once traded.

That December 2011 deal in which the A’s sent away their All-Star Gonzalez netted Tommy Milone and Derek Norris along with Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. Considering the events of this weekend, including Milone’s eight innings of shutout ball in a win Friday, that trade looks pretty good right now.

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Is more playing time in Derek Norris future?

Derek Norris is on a 13-for-27 tear in his last nine games.

Derek Norris is on a 13-for-27 tear in his last nine games.

Is it time for Derek Norris to get more playing time?

If it’s not now, it never will be. The catcher doubled in his first two at-bats Tuesday, driving in three runs while leading the A’s offense to a 9-3 win over Texas.

He’s 13-for-27 over his last nine games and with four consecutive multiple-hit games, he has eight hits in his last 13 at-bats.

The thing is, Norris is a right-hander and as such gets to play against left-handed starting pitching such as Martin Perez of the Rangers, who came into  Tuesday as the American League’s ERA leader.

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Barton convinced ninth inning call wouldn’t be altered

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call wouldn't be reversed.

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call Monday against Angels wouldn’t be reversed.

Daric Barton couldn’t see the play at first base in the ninth inning.

He could feel it, though, and that was good enough for him.

Moments after John Jaso’s homer put the A’s in position to score a 3-2 win over the Angels, Oakland reliever Luke Gregerson came out of the bullpen and got two quick ground balls.

The first one was routine. The second was bobbled at second base by Nick Punto, who quickly regrouped and fired a throw to Barton. Umpire Chris Segal called base runner Howie Kendrick out, and the Angels howled.

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Jim Johnson taken out of the closer’s role for now

To the surprise of almost no one, the A’s are taking the closer’s role away from Jim Johnson for the time being.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Thursday morning that he would use a number of other relievers – Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero – in that role while the club focuses on helping Johnson find his 50-save stuff of the last two seasons.

For the third time in five appearances Wednesday Johnson struggled with his control to the point where he couldn’t hold the 4-2 lead he was given in the ninth inning. He faced five batters, got just one out, and had to be replaced by Otero, who allowed a sacrifice fly but otherwise pitched well enough to get the win when Derek Norris homered in the 11th inning.

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Donaldson, Perkins ninth-inning scuffle is pretty shortlived; Otero appreciates Melvin’s faith in him to finish up

Josh Donaldson thought he’d hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning Wednesday, only to watch it go foul.

When he subsequently struck out, he flipped his bat away and was suddenly confronted by Twins’ lefty reliever Glen Perkins, pointed an index finger at him and saying some things Donaldson didn’t much care to hear.

So as such things go in baseball, both benches emptied. No real damage was done, several of the Twins, including coach Paul Molitor and infielders Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe, got between the two at-odds parties.

“He struck me out on a pretty good pitch,’’ Donaldson said. “I flipped the bat and then I heard him barking. He was dropping some (expletives).’’

Donaldson said he didn’t feel that he’d disrespected Perkins, and Perkins mostly seemed content to go with the no-harm, no-foul defense and move on, although he wasn’t happy about the way Donaldson stood near the plate and watched his foul homer.

“I’m up there trying to win a game for my team,’’ Donaldson said. “He’s trying to win a game for his team. Juices are flowing.’’

 

–Dan Otero has saved games in the minor leagues.

And he’s not saved games in the minor leagues, too, so he knows a little about what closer Jim Johnson is going through.

With the A’s holding a 4-2 lead in the ninth, Johnson gave up one run and loaded the bases with one out. Otero took over, allowed a sacrifice fly that let the tying run come home, then hung on for the win by pitching 2.2 scoreless innings.

Otero was in position to be replaced himself when he put two men on base with one out in the 11th after Derek Norris’ three-run homer in the top of the inning had given the A’s back the lead.

But with men on first and third, two out and Twins’ All-Star Joe Mauer at the plate, manager Bob Melvin decided against going to Fernando Abad, his lefty in the bullpen. Instead, he let Otero pitch to Mauer. Which he did, carefully, ultimately giving him an intentional walk to load the bases.

Trevor Plouffe then lined out to end the game.

“I knew they had a chance to bring in a lefty (to face the left-handed Mauer),’’ Otero said. “I could tell they had the confidence in me to get the job done. It was all about making good pitches. I expanded the strike zone, and if I walked him, that was OK. You don’t want their best player to beat you.’’

There’s no telling yet if the A’s are going to give Johnson some time pitching somewhere other than the ninth inning. If they do, Otero would have to be one of the fill-in candidates.

Melvin wouldn’t go there, but he was unstinting in his praise of Otero, even in the face of the Mauer challenge.

“It was a decision with Mauer to bring in Abad,’’ he said. “But Otero’s been so good, he’s closed games before. That’s how good we feel about Dan Otero.’’

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Vogt takes demotion to Sacramento hard, but with grace

It was a great spring for Stephen Vogt. Right up until Saturday, when he got the word he was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

It wasn’t unexpected, even if it was undeserved. Manager Bob Melvin said it was perhaps the most difficult end-of-spring conversation he’d ever had with a player.

It wasn’t just that Vogt hit .364 with three homers and a dozen RBIs. It was that he’s developed a bond with the A’s pitching staff, he is genuinely liked by A’s teammates and he was a major part of the Oakland success the second half of 2013.

But the decision to go with two left-handed hitting first basemen, Brandon Moss and Daric Barton, meant the squeeze for roster space was on. Vogt, part of a three-man catching rotation last year, was odd man out when the A’s went with two catchers, John Jaso and Derek Norris, leaving Vogt to start in Sacramento.

And he took it hard. He badly wanted to be in Oakland, to the point where “you never want to believe it will happen until it happens,’’ he said.

Melvin took it hard, too.

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Gimenez one of those waiting for opportunity to strike

This is the week that will determine Chris Gimenez’s season.

Claimed on waivers by Oakland as the fourth man to add to what was a three-man catching rotation, Gimenez is a 31-year-old veteran who has logged creditable time with the Indians, the Mariners and the Rays.

He’s not going to make the A’s roster, which may not have room for three catchers, much less four. He’s out of options, so he can be a free agent once the A’s set up their roster and he’s not on it.

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Barton forces way onto A’s roster with a good spring

The A’s lineup heading into spring training pivoted around one person – first baseman Daric Barton.

If he made the team, the lineup would structure one way. If he didn’t make the team, it would structure quite another.

Barton has had a nice spring offensively. Heading into Monday’s game in Surprise against the Rangers, he carried a .298 batting average, but with no extra-base hits. He also had nine walks and had been hit by a pitch, leading to a .486 on-base percentage, which is something the A’s value highly.

So heading into Monday’s season opener, unless the A’s pull off an unexpected switch, you can figure on Barton being at first base with last year’s first baseman, Brandon Moss, serving as the DH. (Both men are likely to be on the bench when left-handed pitchers start).

If Barton hadn’t made the team, the DH would have been catcher John Jaso, also left-handed, with Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris sharing the catching. There are those in the A’s organization who see having three catchers as a possibility at some point later this season, but not now.

This level of success is a major about-face for Barton, who was repeatedly designated for assignment last year when it seemed his career in Oakland had been played out. But injuries in the outfield and behind the plate led to Moss moving to the outfield for a while and Jaso missing the last two months, and Barton thrived.

Called up for the final week of August, Barton hit .301 the rest of the way while posting a .381 on-base percentage. He’s always been more of an on-base machine than a run producer, but over those 29 games he actually had more RBIs (13) than walks (12).

The knock on him in the past was that he was too passive at the plate, too willing to wait for walks and not going to the plate with the idea of driving in runs, but he showed new aggression last September. It’s carried over to this year.

“I came here this spring to have fun, and I’ve done that,’’ Barton said. “I’m more aggressive now. When they throw a strike, I’m swinging.’’

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Vogt continues to fight for a job that may not be there

It's been a hot spring for A's catcher Stephen Vogt

It’s been a hot spring for A’s Stephen Vogt

It doesn’t seem possible that there have been many players fight harder for a job than the A’s Stephen Vogt, especially when considering there doesn’t seem there’s a job available.

We’re a week away from the A’s having to finalize their roster, and it seems there is no way the club can work it to carry three catchers. And since the other two catchers don’t have options, it seems the A’s will opt to send Vogt to Triple-A Sacramento, keeping lefty John Jaso and right-hander Derek Norris to platoon at the big league level.

Vogt keeps putting pressure on the decision makers. He hit a homer foul with a man on base in the third inning, then came back later in the at-bat to hit the ball out again, this time in fair territory.

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