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A’s: Lester addition forces Tigers to play catchup

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Deny them what you will, the Oakland A’s aren’t boring.

They could have settled for just having made the Independence Day trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but in the final six hours before the trade deadline they went out and completely rebuilt their roster.

At that point, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander said Oakland made the trade because of the A’s had to come through Detroit in the post-season.

But after the A’s moved Yoenis Cespedes from left field and shipped him to Boston in exchange for All-Star starter Jon Lester and platoon left fielder Jonny Gomes, it seemed like the Tigers were playing catch up with the A’s when Detroit made a three-team deal for the other big name starting pitcher out there, David Price.

With it being obvious there was no room at the inn for Tommy Milone in the A’s rotation near term, they traded the minor league starter to the Twins for center fielder Sam Fuld.

The moves spoke about the A’s on several levels.

One. They didn’t believe they could re-sign Cespedes to a long-term contract when his four-year deal ran out after next year.

Two. They didn’t see Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez as giving them their best chance to win in a post-season start.

Three. Center field is a problem. Coco Crisp has trouble staying in the lineup ever since running into a pole holding up the Coliseum outfield fence and suffered whiplash. And Craig Gentry has a broken right hand that will keep him out two more weeks at a minimum.

Four. There is no time like the present. The A’s are playing to go to the World Series this season. Next season will have to take care of itself.

Things could change, but Lester seems to be a two-month purchase. He gives the A’s something that, with all their pitching, they didn’t have – experience pitching in the World Series. He was 2-0 in the series last year with a 0.59 and 4-1 in the three rounds of the playoffs overall and his career ERA in the playoffs is 2.11.

The A’s have the best record in baseball four months into the season, but that gets you nothing, particularly when the team with the second-best record in the majors is in your division. Because of that, general manager Billy Beane keeps pushing forward.

Since Jan. 1, Beane has added a left-handed reliever who has been one of the best in the game, Eric O’Flaherty; added a right-handed hitting first baseman in Kyle Blanks, claimed lefty pitcher Jeff Francis from the Reds, traded for left-handed starter Brad Mills, traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then traded for Lester and Gomes and reacquired Fuld.

That nine additions this year already, and even with Blanks injured and Francis no longer around, as A’s co-owner Lew Wolff told me Thursday, “there’s time yet.’’

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Will A’s wait for O’Flaherty’s arrival for changes in bullpen?

Jim Johnson had another tough day coming out of the A's bullpen Saturday.

Jim Johnson had another tough day coming out of the A’s bullpen Saturday.

On Friday, Eric O’Flaherty threw an inning of scoreless baseball for Stockton in the California League.

On Saturday, Jim Johnson came in with a man on for Oakland in Baltimore and gave up a two-run homer on his second pitch.

What do those two events have in common?

The A’s are willing to give up on Johnson, who has not come close to being the pitcher he was with the Orioles when he had back-to-back 50-save seasons. It’s not like that was eons ago, either, it was in 2012 and 2013. It’s just 2014 (3-2 with a 6.46 ERA) that has been a problem.

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Johnson’s woes notwithstanding, help on way for A’s pen

Jim Johnson hasn't had close to the results he'd hoped for in coming to Oakland.

Jim Johnson hasn’t had close to the results he’d hoped for in coming to Oakland.

The A’s are one-third of the way through the 162-game season, and after 54 games, they have no idea what’s up with Jim Johnson.

The right-hander, a 50-saves man the last two seasons with the Orioles, has not found it in Oakland. His sinker isn’t sinking, and the flurry of ground balls that used to get him out of trouble are finding their way to the outfield in unprecedented numbers.

The A’s bullpen was supposed to be the bedrock of the club. Instead it has been the Achilles’ heel. Johnson (3-2, 6.55) is the most glaring problem, but he’s not the only issue. Luke Gregerson has good overall numbers (1-1, 2.70) but eight of the 13 base runners he’s inherited have scored.

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Drew Pomeranz tentatively slated to start Game 2

pomeranzDrew Pomeranz is slated to start Game 2 of the A’s double header on Wednesday, provided that he’s not needed in relief in the first game.  If Pomeranz is called on in the twin bill opener, A’s manager Bob Melvin said rookie Arnold Leo will make his major league debut.

The A’s and Mariners are playing twice Wednesday as a makeup for the April 4 game that was cancelled due to poor field conditions when a bad weather report led to the grounds crew not placing the tarp on the infield.

Melvin said he expects to have all of his relievers available Wednesday, although “some guys who threw a little more may be targeted for the night game.”

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O’Flaherty glad A’s will keep him under wraps as he recovers; Cook receives good news on favorite fan in K.C.

For a guy who’s not healthy enough to pitch quite yet, Eric O’Flaherty is sure of himself.

He’s sure that he could be pitching again by late May, early June at the latest after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

And then he laughs.

“That’s why I don’t make those decisions,’’ he said.

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Moss fired up about addition of Savery to A’s bullpen; Abad won’t fret the addition of another lefty in bullpen mix

Brandon Moss was playing in the Phillies organization in 2011 when the Phils promoted a struggling hitter from Double-A to Triple-A.

The hitter was Joe Savery, a former first-round draft pick who was giving hitting a try after what Savery himself describes as “three very average years’’ as a pitcher. Savery had once thrown in the mid-90s, but when he was moved, he was hitting about 86-87 on the radar gun.

Change came after the Phillies’ Triple-A team, Lehigh Valley, found itself locked in a mid-season extra inning 2011 game when they ran out of pitchers. In desperation they turned to Savery, their 6-3, 235-pound first baseman/outfielder.

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Doolittle ahead of schedule even after calf problem; A’s pick up Savery from Phillies for bullpen depth

Monday was a good day to be Sean Doolittle.

The left-handed A’s reliever came in having been pain-free for three days in the wake of suffering a right calf strain Tuesday. Then he went on the mound and threw as if he’d never missed any time at all.

He showed good velocity, if not pin-point command.

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O’Flaherty’s call from A’s came at just the right time; Alcantara’s star on the rise; Gray works over the catchers; Ynoa makes it all look so easy

The call that brought Eric O’Flaherty to the Oakland A’s couldn’t have come at a better time.

He was in the middle of rehabbing his left arm after Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery and was trying to figure out where he should go as a free agent.

Then came the news that his mother-in-law, Holly Gualco, had some serious medical issues. Being close to their Washington State home would be ideal.

“The A’s contacted us late,’’ O’Flaherty said Sunday at the A’s spring training camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “But the day we got the news about my mother-in-law was the same day they called.

“I’d told my agents that even though I was probably only going pitch half a season this year (after recovering fully from the surgery), I wanted to pitch for a contender. And with Oakland being the second-closest team to our home, that became a big bonus for us.

“My wife (Heather) is going to spend a lot of time flying to Washington this year. If we were on the East Coast, it would be difficult. Being in the Bay Area makes it much easier on her. And pitching for the A’s, well you can’t pitch for a more competitive team.’’

 

–When the A’s traded reliever Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox in 2011, in return they got Josh Reddick, who has been their right fielder the last two seasons.

At the same time, Oakland insisted on getting right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara in the deal. No Alcantara, no trade.

Alcantara threw for the first time this spring Sunday, delighting manager Bob Melvin and drawing some nice comparisons from longtime A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman.

“I look at him and he reminds me a lot of Jose Rijo with the stuff he throws, minus the slider,’’ Lieppman said.

Rijo pitched for the A’s (without much use of the slider) from 1985-87, then pitched for the Reds (with ever-increasing use of the slider) from 1988-95, including the 1990 World Series when he crushed the A’s with two wins, allowing one run in 15.1 innings for Cincinnati.

Lieppman said that Alcantara, who throws hard, will need to work on his secondary pitches.

“But the thing is he has the tools,’’ the four-decade member of the A’s organization said. “I can see him at Double-A this year and then we’ll see what happens.

Alcantara went 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA at low Class-A Beloit last year, then moved up to high Class-A Stockton where he went 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA. Through it all, he struck out 100 more than he walked, 124-24.

“The ball jumps out of his hand,’’ Melvin said after watching Alcantara throw for the first time this spring Sunday. “It’s just about controlling all the pitches and throwing the ball over the plate. We’re excited about having him. We expect big things out of him.’’

 

–Melvin, a former catcher himself, said that A’s starter Sonny Gray is one of the more difficult draws a catcher can get, especially early in the spring.

“He’s one of the more difficult guys to catch because his fastball movement is really inconsistent,’’ Melvin said. “It will cut one time, it will sink one time.

“You see catchers dropping a lot of balls, especially early in camp. Especially until you’ve caught him a few times. He’s got a very unique fastball. He’s got very late movement to it and very rarely is it straight.’’

 

–Michael Ynoa seems bigger than his 6-foot-7.

And his fastball seems bigger than most, too.

The A’s prospect threw for the first time on schedule Sunday. Last year he was supposed to open up with the A’s in the spring, but a case of the chicken pox got the better of him.

Now he’s healthy, and the A’s like what they are seeing from the Dominican prospect to whom they paid a whopping $4.25 million in 2008 when he was still in his teens. He’s just 22 now.

“That’s just easy, easy. It looks like he’s not working hard,’’ Melvin said after watching Ynoa throw. “I don’t know that he’s sweating. The ball just jumps out of his hand.

“With him it’s all about health and utilizing a secondary pitch because very rarely do you see a guy throw what appears to throw that easy and that hard. There’s a reason he got the type of money he did at the time. Now it’s all about keeping him healthy.’’Alcantara

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A’s impress new closer Johnson with off-season moves

The A’s became very comfortable knowing that Grant Balfour was their closer the last few years.

Their comfort level figures to be as good or better this time around, even with Balfour gone.

Jim Johnson, who has saved 50 games in each of the last two seasons for the Orioles, is the A’s new closer. He was in Oakland Friday in preparation for Saturday’s FanFest at the Coliseum and Arena, and he said he’s excited that spring training starts next weekend.

“Once the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to go,’’ Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to this opportunity.’’

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Melvin sees this A’s bullpen as his best yet

Bob Melvin ended the 2013 season with a bullpen he believed was the best he’d ever had at his disposal.

The relievers A’s manager Melvin called on last season went 24-18 with a 3.22 earned run average. The bullpen was the backbone of a second consecutive American League West title. The relievers won or saved 70 of the A’s 96 wins.

Now with spring training’s start drawing close, the manager says the Oakland bullpen for 2014 could be his best ever.

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