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Norris gives up on home runs, but the hits are coming back

Derek Norris's home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

Derek Norris’s home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

A’s catcher Derek Norris was winged by a foul ball Tuesday and needed a few moments to shake it off, but he said afterward he was fine.

He also announced he’s no longer trying to hit home runs. He’s hit 10 this year, but none in his last 99 plate appearances.

His average had been sliding a bit as he got up in the desire to go deep. Since his last home run on Aug. 9, he’s averaged just .217 and his overall mark has slid from .299 to .277 entering play Wednesday.

“I’ve been swinging on `E’,’’ Norris said of his month-long homer drought. “I’m going to leave that to the other guys.’’

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Lester’s 8th inning effort vs. Viciedo doesn’t go unnoticed

Jon Lester came up big in the eighth inning Tuesday for the A's.

Jon Lester came up big in the eighth inning Tuesday for the A’s.

Even in blowout wins, there tend to be moments where the game is on the line.

For Jon Lester, that moment was in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

The A’s had just scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to take a 6-2 lead that should have been comfortable. But a walk and a single had Lester looking at Dayan Viciedo in the batter’s box where one swing could make the game close.

And Viciedo had given Chicago its first run when he’d homered an inning earlier.

“It was a big moment in the game, and I think he knew it,’’ catcher Derek Norris said of Lester. “He reached back and blew a couple of fastballs by him.’’

Norris said those were two of the hardest balls thrown by Lester, who threw 119 pitches in his eight innings.

“That was impressive the way he reached back right there. He really wanted it.’’

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A’s aren’t same as three months ago, but they need to be

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A's lately

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A’s lately

The A’s could get Coco Crisp and John Jaso back this weekend and Sean Doolittle back early next week.

When they do, the A’s will start looking a little more like themselves.

This team is not the team it was at the end of June.

Back then they were trotting out a three-catcher platoon, with Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt all major contributors. Yoenis Cespedes was in left field. Brandon Moss was at first base.

Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Brad Mills were all in the starting rotation.

With such a drastic makeover, it’s small wonder that the A’s aren’t playing like they did in April, May and June.

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A’s: Norris’s homer swing keeps showing up with men on

Derek Norris's power number skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris’s power numbers skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris doesn’t expect to hit home runs in the kinds of numbers that Josh Donaldson or Brandon Moss might put up.

He does expect that his home runs will have an impact. Time and again, they have, including Saturday when he capped a 9-4 A’s win over the Twins with a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

The score when he hit it was 6-2, and the extra three runs that made the differential seven runs was vitally important to the A’s in cruising home in this one.

It was the seventh time this year he’s hit a home run with at least two men on base. Three-run homers and grand slams are game-changers, and Norris has those locked in.

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A’s: Verlander’s velocity dropoff not slowing him down

So what does Wednesday’s clash between the A’s and Detroit starter Justin Verlander mean if the A’s and the Tigers meet again in the post-season?

A third consecutive meeting is a reasonable possibility. After all, Oakland and Detroit lead their respective divisions now, and it’s not clear that either has a sufficiently powerful divisional opponent to change that between now and October.

Last August the A’s hit Verlander. Last October, he dominated them.

Verlander isn’t the same now as then. Even with Wednesday’s win, he’s only 7-7 with a 4.71 ERA. Scouts say he doesn’t throw as hard. The A’s reached him for nine hits and were on the verge of knocking him out of the game, but he persevered.

And Oakland hitters say they’d expect no less in a rematch, reduced velocity or not.

“It’s definitely weird seeing him pitch in the upper 80s and low 90s,’’ A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “I’m used to the guy who reaches back and all of a sudden it’s 97 at your hands. But that is the transitions guys have to make as they get older. You see guys like (the Giants’ Tim) Lincecum doing the same thing.

“Verlander still throws the ball well. He keeps you off-balance. He mixes his pitches. He still pitches. He’s going to be tough.’’

A’s batting coach Chili Davis said the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Verlander, who just eight months ago struck out 10 A’s batters in eight innings in as dominating a Game 5 as Oakland ever wants to see thrown at it.

There was none of that Wednesday, just a solid six-inning performance that, coupled with A’s pitching breakdowns, did in Oakland.

“He’s become more finesse than power,’’ Davis said. “When he came into the majors, he was known as a power pitcher. He still has a good arm – he just didn’t pitch the same way (Wednesday).’’

How does a power pitcher make the change? In a two-decade career, Davis saw plenty who did, and he’s seeing it in Verlander. The right-hander is only 31, but he’s thrown the most pitches by far of any pitcher in the big leagues the last few years.

“He throws sliders to righties, changes and curves to lefties, shows the fastball up, tries to get strikes on the outer part of the plate, gets two strikes every once in a while and tries to surprise you inside,’’ Davis said. “And that’s pretty much what I saw today,” Davis said. “Hitters know he can get his fastball to 97. But are they strikes? Numbers will say his fastball is 91 to 97, but he doesn’t pitch at 97. He pitches 88-to-93, and if I’m a hitter, that’s what I’m looking for.

“I think he can keep winning games. The fastball is going to move; it’s not going to be straight. You might see the curve a little more often. As pitchers evolve, they’re learning new pitches, they’re learning hitters. He’s going to mix it up a lot more now. I’m not saying that’s bad. He’s still a presence on the mound, and guys have to respect his ability to get you out. He’s just evolving into a certain type of pitcher.’’

Brandon Moss’s day Wednesday might suggest that Verlander can be had, at least a little. Moss was 11-for-18 career against Verlander – 11 strikeouts, that is. On Wednesday he homered, singled and doubled while Verlander was on the mound, although the single was just a blooper that fell in left field where no defender was guarding against him.

Moss said it was wrong to dismiss Verlander’s potential impact. He looked back to last August, when Verlander’s power seemed to be on the wane a bit, again to last October, when the man who throws bullets reappeared.

“When he gets guys on base, he can dial it up to 97,’’ Moss said. “He’s a finesse pitcher with a power package.

“For most top-line starters, there’s a regular-season version and there’s a playoff version. We know that about him. He’s done well against us in the regular season, but in the playoffs, he’s going to be dominant.’’

It will be time for the A’s to step up their game.

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A’s: Norris injury appears minor, but he may need some time

Derek Norris may need a day or two off after getting winged by a foul tip Friday, but X-rays revealed no break.

Derek Norris may need a day or two off after getting winged by a foul tip Friday, but X-rays revealed no break.

Friday evening produced a win for the A’s, but they also seem to have dodged a bullet regarding catcher Derek Norris.

He’s been hit repeatedly by bats on backswings this month and has been able to soldier through.

He was winged by a foul tip in the sixth inning. Manager Bob Melvin and the training staff checked him out, but Norris convinced them he was good to go. However when the seventh inning began, Norris had been replaced by Stephen Vogt.

“I didn’t want to come out; I never want to come out,’’ Norris said. “But when I came back to the dugout, it really tightened up on me. And it got to the point where I didn’t want to risk me messing up.

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A’s three-headed catching corps continues to dominate

Derek Norris has been a major part of A's three-headed catching corps.

Derek Norris has been a major part of A’s three-headed catching corps.

The only way for the A’s to get more out of their catchers than they do is to play them all at the same time.

So that’s what they’re doing.

By the time Tuesday night was over, A’s catchers John Jaso, Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris combined to go 7-for-8 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs in the A’s 10-6 win over the Rangers.

It’s been like that a lot for the A’s, who have seen all three catchers come on strong lately.

Vogt had three singles and two RBIs, is hitting .359 for the year and has a six-game hitting streak going.

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Moss a first baseman, but still armed and able in outfield

After catching a strong throw from Brandon Moss, Derek Norris tagged Orioles Nick Markasis at plate to extend Friday's game to 11th inning, when A's won, 4-3

After catching a strong throw from Brandon Moss, Derek Norris tagged Orioles Nick Markasis at plate to extend Friday’s game to 11th inning, when A’s won, 4-3

On the All-Star ballot, Brandon Moss is listed as a designated hitter.

On the A’s lineup card most days, Moss is listed as a first baseman.

So it’s easy to forget that Moss began his baseball life as an outfielder.

The Baltimore Orioles won’t soon forget, not after Friday night, when Moss threw a bullet from right field to the plate, enabling Derek Norris to tag out the sliding Nick Markakis, thereby denying the Orioles a 10th inning win.

The A’s went on to win the game 4-3 in the 11th, when Moss, as he does from time to time, struck out.

“I’m not a great outfielder as far as range and stuff,’’ Moss said. “But people don’t remember that I have a real good arm. That’s really my only defensive tool, but I’ve always had a real good arm. And when you don’t play the outfield a lot, and you play first base, people don’t remember.’’

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Tough roster move faces A’s before Tuesday in New York

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday's game in New York.

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday’s game in New York.

As May turned to June, the A’s found themselves closer to the roster they thought they might have in April.

Sunday’s recall of catcher Stephen Vogt gives the club three catchers, meaning manager Bob Melvin can play two of them on any given day (one of them as the designated hitter) and still have the ability to pinch-run.

That’s the way things worked for much of the middle of the 2013 season before injuries got in the way.

More than that, having a three-catcher ensemble means Melvin doesn’t have to fret about the scenario of having to either give up the designated hitter or have third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former catcher, get back behind the plate.

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Vogt family heads in different directions with callup news

Stephen Vogt and his family were excited with the news the A's were recalling him.

Stephen Vogt and his family were excited with the news the A’s were recalling him.

Stephen Vogt’s Sunday night was all planned out. The Sacramento River Cats were playing in Fresno, about 30 miles from where he great up.

With Sacramento and Fresno scheduled to play a 2 p.m. game, he was going to have a big dinner with a large group of friends and family.

So it wasn’t surprising after Saturday’s game that has grandmother said, “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow night.’’

What was surprising was Vogt’s answer.

“I had to tell her, `no, you won’t,’’ Vogt said. He’d just gotten the news that he was being called up by the A’s. Oakland was desperately short of left-handed sock with Brandon Moss (calf) and Josh Reddick (knee) unable to play until at least Tuesday, and Vogt was the club’s best option.

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