6

Oakland A’s winter meetings update: Day Two

Scratch the Toronto Blue Jays off the list of potential teams targeting closer Andrew Bailey. Toronto acquired Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox and plans to plug him in at closer. I’d heard Tuesday that the A’s and Jays engaged in some pretty serious talks about Bailey.

While the buzz continues over which trades Oakland might make, there are other roster-related issues to consider. Here’s a few:

–It’s looking less and less likely that Hideki Matsui will be back in an Oakland uniform. That was the clear impression from manager Bob Melvin and GM Billy Beane in their comments Monday night. As the roster currently stands, Melvin said Chris Carter – who has terrific power but has hit .167 in 39 career big league games – might be the most logical man at DH. But you can toss a couple other first-base candidates – Brandon Allen and Kila Ka’aihue — into the mix as well. “Conceivably, we have a number of guys that can go into that role,” Beane said. “It’s a matter of one of those guys grasping the opportunity and running with it.” Melvin is a huge Matsui fan – the two have dined together twice recently in New York – but he also sounded skeptical about a Godzilla return.

–As I mentioned yesterday, the A’s are very likely to explore the free agent market for outfielders to plug in on a short-term basis. Beane said the team talked with Laynce Nix before he signed with Philadelphia.

–Regarding first base, Melvin said defensive ability would play a factor into who wins that job, given the A’s team-wide struggles with the glove last season. Is that bad news for Carter, who is hardly the slickest fielder? Melvin said he thought Carter looked more comfortable defensively toward the end of last season. But you figure if Brandon Allen – who showed good potential defensively – can hit at all in the spring and cut down on strikeouts, he might have the inside track. He offers the best combo of power and competent defense.

–Something to watch in spring training is whether new (and old) pitching coach Curt Young can help Trevor Cahill return to his All-Star form. “That’s why we targeted Curt and thought he could be an important piece for us here,” Melvin said. Young served as the A’s pitching coach from 2004-10 before spending last season in the same role with Boston.

–Melvin spoke highly of outfielders Michael Choice and Grant Green – the A’s top two hitting prospects – but he suggested that Choice (a 2010 first-round pick) could be on the faster track to the bigs. Choice hit 30 homers last season with Single-A Stockton and the initial thought was that another full season in the minors was needed. But Melvin believes there’s a chance Choice might force his way into the picture next season. “I think Michael Choice is coming along a lot quicker than people would have thought,” he said. While it might be a stretch to expect Choice to make the big league club this spring, Melvin added: “There always seems to be a couple guys that pop up in spring training that do something that you don’t expect.”

Green, the A’s 2009 first-round pick, has more professional experience under his belt, but considering he just converted from shortstop to center field midway through last season, it’s not surprising that Choice might be on the faster track as of now.

In case you missed it, check out my story from the first day of the winter meetings

4

Conor Jackson draws start in left field; Hideki Matsui gets rare rest

Here’s your pregame lowdown as the Toronto Blue Jays arrive for a four-game series at the Coliseum …

–Conor Jackson returns to the A’s lineup and he’s playing left field, with Josh Willingham serving as DH and Hideki Matsui getting a day off. So that’s one way for A’s manager Bob Melvin to work Jackson back into the lineup without removing Allen. Beyond today, we’ll see what happens, but I’d expect to see Jackson coming off the bench for the near future, at least until Allen cools off. And I think that makes the A’s an overall stronger team because Jackson’s versatility is valuable off the bench. At this point in the season, it’s all about evaluating young players to see what you have for next season, so Allen needs to stay in there.

As for Jackson’s neck soreness, he said he “feels good enough to play,” an indication that he’s still not back to 100 percent yet.

–It’s just a regular day off for Matsui, who has started 30 of the first 31 games after the All-Star break.

–The A’s placed reliever Trystan Magnuson on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation and recalled lefty Jordan Norberto. The late-inning bullpen situation is something to watch tonight, as Melvin said he was unsure of the availability of Grant Balfour, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes. Bailey has pitched two days in a row and Balfour and Fuentes have been used a lot lately too.

–Check out this story on former A’s third baseman Jack Hannahan and the birth of his son. Pretty good stuff. … Hannahan is now with the Cleveland Indians.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Willingham DH, Allen 1B, Jackson LF, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Sizemore 3B; Cahill RHP.

Jays – Escobar SS, Thames LF, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Lawrie 3B, Hill 2B, Arencibia C; Romero LHP.

9

Jemile Weeks, Gio Gonzalez earn honors; Willingham might play vs. Texas Rangers

Here’s the latest on another very warm day at the Coliseum …

A couple of individual awards came the A’s way Tuesday, as second baseman Jemile Weeks was named the American League’s co-Rookie of the Month along with Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned AL co-Player of the Week honors with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. It’s the sixth time an A’s player has earned Rookie of the Month, but Weeks is just the second  position player to do it. Shortstop Bobby Crosby was honored in June 2004.

It’s impressive in that this truly was Weeks’ first month in the major leagues. He’s hitting .299 with 13 runs and six stolen bases in 25 games since being called up June 7, providing a jolt of excitement immediately upon his arrival. But I’ll be interested to see what happens with him once cleanup man Josh Willingham returns from the DL. I would think Hideki Matsui goes back to the No. 3 spot, Coco Crisp returns to leadoff and Weeks might drop back down to the No. 9 spot. I think that makes for an overall stronger batting order. Where would you like to see Weeks hit once Willingham comes back? …

–Speaking of Willingham, he’s been running for the past couple days and is doing well enough that both he and manager Bob Melvin think he could return sometime during the four-game series at Texas that begins Thursday. “Cautiously optimistic” is how Melvin characterized things. Willingham said the key is how his strained Achilles responds AFTER he’s done running. That’s when he still experiences problems. “If it continues to get better, I’ll play in Texas,” he said.

–Check out this all-encompassing review of the Oakland Coliseum, courtesy of www.stadiumjourney.com. Do you agree with the points made? Disagree? Feel free to share …

The lineups:

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

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Guiterrez CF, Halman RF; Hernandez RHP.

1

Harden, Matsui and more from A’s 5-4 win over Arizona Diamondbacks

Since I didn’t blog pre-game, here’s a look at the A’s notebook for tomorrow’s paper. And a few postgame notes following the A’s 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks …

–A’s manager Bob Melvin thought Rich Harden’s effectiveness came from him changing speeds on his fastball, which complemented his changeup and split-fingered fastball. Indeed, Harden wasn’t blowing up the radar gun (he topped out at 94 mph), but he was in control during six innings of two-run ball. Hideki Matsui said he remembered Harden dominating with his fastball when facing him in the past. “His command really stood out (Friday),” Matsui said.

–Speaking of Matsui, Melvin credited the veteran with knowing when he had an opportunity to swipe a bag. Arizona first baseman Juan Miranda was playing behind Matsui in the fourth, and Matsui easily stole second base, putting him in position to score on Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single. That was Matsui’s first steal since Sept. 12, 2007. “That was big for us,” Melvin said. “It got us on the board and got momentum back in our dugout.”

–Melvin said Chris Carter would draw another start at first base Saturday.

Here’s tomorrow’s notebook …

Kirk Gibson may have been managing his first game in Oakland on Friday, but the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper obviously has fond memories of the Coliseum.

That’s where his Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the 1988 World Series title, a run that Gibson ignited with his legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.

Gibson reminisced about the abuse he took from fans in the outfield bleachers at the Coliseum during that series.

“(A’s) fans have always been very honest with opponents,” Gibson said. “In the end, I kinda got them back.”

But he added that as his playing career drew to a close with the Detroit Tigers in 1995, he actually chatted pleasantly with a few of those fans who had heckled him through the years at the Coliseum.

He recalled his favorite chant he heard from A’s fans.

“’What’s the matter with Gibson? He’s a bum!’” he said. “I’ve known that for years.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, who was playing for the Giants in 1988, was asked his memories of Gibson’s homer off Eckersley.

“I think everybody remembers where they were when it happened,” Melvin said.

And where was he?

“A bachelor party … but everybody stopped to watch it.”

–Melvin said Brandon McCarthy will come off the disabled list and start Monday against Seattle. Guillermo Moscoso, on turn to pitch then, will slide to Wednesday, and the A’s will go with a six-man rotation until a starter absolutely has to be sent down, Melvin said.

Their current rotation would unfold as follows beginning Saturday — Josh Outman-Gio Gonzalez-McCarthy-Trevor Cahill -Guillermo Moscoso-Rich Harden.

“We’ll make the decisions when we need to make them,” Melvin said. “Certainly, with the way guys have pitched, it makes for difficult decisions.”

–Catcher Kurt Suzuki, now the longest tenured Athletic after Mark Ellis was traded Thursday, moved into Ellis’ locker, which is sectioned off by a wall on one side and provides some privacy.

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich approached Suzuki to ask if he wanted to switch.

“I consider that the best locker,” Vucinich said, then added with a smile: “You can avoid the press if you want.”

–Right fielder David DeJesus’ throwing error Thursday snapped his 301-game errorless streak, which was the longest among active major league outfielders.

2

Interleague dilemma: Josh Willingham or Hideki Matsui in left field?

There’s not a whole lot to report this morning, though A’s manager Bob Geren reiterated that Hideki Matsui is unlikely to draw any outfield starts against the Giants this weekend. The A’s are in a bind when they play in a National League park with no DH available, because their two best power hitters – Matsui and Josh Willingham – only play left field. Willingham enters today’s game against Minnesota hitting .176 (3 for 17) with 10 strikeouts over his last four games. He’s out of the lineup this afternoon. Matsui hasn’t been on fire either, hitting .206 (7 for 34) over his past 10 games. But he did get two hits Wednesday and notched his first RBI in 10 games.

If Matsui has a big game today, I’d be tempted to get back in there for at least one game this weekend. Playing left field at AT&T Park isn’t nearly as tricky as playing right would be, so I don’t think he’d be much of a liability with the glove …

Let’s throw it out there: Who would you rather have in the lineup right now, Matsui or Willingham?

Here’s today’s lineups, with Coco Crisp back in the leadoff spot for the A’s after missing Wednesday’s game due to a personal matter:

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

Twins – Span CF, Plouffe SS, Kubel RF, Morneau DH, Cuddyer 1B, Valencia 3B, Young LF, Rivera C, Casilla 2B; Blackburn RHP.

0

A’s-Rangers makeup date set; Sweeney starts again, Matsui sits

It’s a gloomy afternoon at the Coliseum, as the A’s try to even the series with a White Sox team that’s suddenly playing very good ball. On to the news …

–The A’s and Texas Rangers will make up Wednesday’s rainout on July 7 in Arlington. That was scheduled to be an off-day leading into an Oakland-Texas series, but now the teams will just play a four-game series.

–Ryan Sweeney is swinging a hot bat, and it’s earning him some playing time. He’s back in left field for the A’s for a second straight day, hitting third. Josh Willingham is serving as DH, which pushes Hideki Matsui to the bench. It’s an encouraging sign for the A’s that Sweeney is forcing his way into the lineup, and it reflects well on the outfield depth that Bob Geren talked up during spring training. But it’s also a statement on Matsui’s struggles. He’s started just three of the A’s past six games and is hitting .236. Today is just the third time he hasn’t started against a right-handed pitcher. “It’s just kind of a thing where I wanted to get Sweeney in there because he’s swinging so well,” Geren said. “We’ll look at what happens today, but more than likely, (Matsui) will be back in there tomorrow.”

–Andrew Bailey threw 18 pitches in an extended spring game in Arizona. Geren said he recorded four outs and allowed one bloop hit. More importantly, Bailey was in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball and used all of his pitches. He’ll be re-evaluated in Oakland on Sunday, and if all goes well, he might begin a true rehab assignment.

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Sweeney LF, Willingham DH, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennignton SS; Ross RHP.

White Sox – Pierre LF, Ramirez SS, Dunn DH, Konerko 1B, Quentin RF, Rios CF, Castro C, Beckham 2B, Morel 3B; Floyd RHP.

0

Does getaway day success bode well for A’s?

The A’s are 9-4 in day games and 8-2 in the last game of a series. So are good things in store for Oakland in this afternoon’s series finale against the Royals? They need to rebound after last night’s deflating loss. Tyson Ross takes the hill coming off strong starts in his previous two outings. … It’s a warm afternoon in Kansas City, but there’s a pretty strong breeze blowing, so I’d think the heat shouldn’t be too much of a factor.

–Hideki Matsui is sitting against Royals lefty Jeff Francis, and reading through the lines during Bob Geren’s pregame media session, Matsui could sit Monday as well. Geren said he’d stack his lineup with right-handed hitters against Texas lefty C.J. Wilson. Matsui is hitting .275 against right-handers, .171 vs. lefties. Last night, his two doubles were one of the few offensive bright spots for the A’s. But they both came with the bases empty.

–Kevin Kouzmanoff is starting at third for the second straight day. He’s 9 for 20 w/two homers against Francis. “When you’re trying to get somebody going, there’s nothing better than doing it with a guy he’s had success against in the past,” Geren said.

–Conor Jackson is back in the lineup at left field, with Josh Willingham the DH. I didn’t mention it in this morning’s stories, but Jackson’s left shoulder apparently was bothering him more than he let on after his collision at first base Friday night. Geren said after that game that he was planning to give Jackson a day off Saturday anyway, but it sounds as if Jackson needed a day to recover. “We’re very fortunate it wasn’t anything more serious,” Geren said.

–You’ll see lots of A’s players swinging pink bats today to raise awareness for breast cancer on Mother’s Day. And pitcher Brandon McCarthy will be wearing pink cleats. McCarthy is the only Athletic who wears Under Armour cleats, the official cleat of Major League Baseball. According to A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich, only players contracted with Under Armour can wear the pink cleats. Too bad McCarthy isn’t pitching today. It’s an interesting look …

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

Royals – Getz 2B, Cabrera DH, Gordon LF, Francoeur RF, Hosmer 1B, Betemit 3B, Maier CF, Pena C, Escobar SS; Francis LHP.

0

All-AL West road trip provides an early test

It’s only April, but any road trip made up solely of AL West foes is important for the A’s. They begin a four-game series against the Mariners tonight, and then play three against the Los Angeles Angels, who found themselves alone in first place beginning play today. “It’s an early run through the division, but you want to fare well,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “It seems year to year that whoever does best in the division ends up winning.”

Not that you would care much about this, but Safeco Field might have the coldest press box in the American League. It’s just big and spacious and there’s not a lot of warmth, so you have to game-plan with what you wear in here. I brought a heavy jacket, but I try to hold off on wearing it until the later innings. Once you put your jacket on, it’s your last line of defense. When you start freezing in your jacket, forget about it. So I try to tough it out as long as I can. Grrrr ….

The A’s draw a hard assignment tonight against Felix Hernandez, who is 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA at home against the A’s in eight career starts (62 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings). He also threw a five-hitter to beat them opening night at the Coliseum. But the A’s counter with Brandon McCarthy, who has been a real pleasant surprise for Oakland at the back of the rotation. It’s a quality pitching matchup to start this road trip …

Hideki Matsui is out of the lineup, with Josh Willingham serving as DH and Conor Jackson getting a start in left field. Matsui is a .207 career hitter against Hernandez with one homer in 29 at-bats. Jackson is hitless in three at-bats against King Felix.

Michael Wuertz will pitch again for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday. Wuertz gave up three runs on three hits with two walks in one inning against Reno on Wednesday. “Hopefully he’ll pitch more efficiently,” Geren said. “He hasn’t been sharp yet.” So the five lefties remain in the A’s bullpen …

The lineups, with Daric Barton just announced as a late scratch (no reason given).

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

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Figgins 3B, Kennedy 1B, Cust DH, Saunders CF, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Ryan SS, Wilson 2B; Hernandez RHP.

0

Perfect weather for A’s-Twins series opener

I thought I was pretty wise to jam my suitcase full of warm clothing for this nine-game road trip to cold weather cities. It’s turned out to be a picturesque afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis – sunshine and blue skies for the A’s-Twins series opener. We’ve got a 3:10 p.m. start (local time), and it will cool off once the sun goes down. But the temperature is supposed to reach the mid-70’s by Sunday (though a heavy chance of rain). Today is the Twins’ home opener, so this place will be packed …

–It’s the standard lineup for the A’s against right-hander Carl Pavano:

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

Twins: Span CF, Mauer C, Morneau 1B, Young LF, Cuddyer RF, Thome DH, Valencia 3B, Hughes 2B, Casilla SS; Pavano RHP.

–Ryan Sweeney’s playing time has been minimal so far – he’s appeared in just three games off the bench and gotten just two at-bats. But manager Bob Geren says he plans to get Sweeney a start very soon for either Coco Crisp or Josh Willingham. Geren has said he looks forward to working all of his outfielders into the playing rotation to keep everyone fresh. When Crisp sits, I’d expect we’ll see David DeJesus shift to center and Sweeney get the start in right. At least that’s what Geren said he had planned during the spring. But Sweeney’s innings will be tough to come by barring an injury. With Conor Jackson playing well, he’ll be the first option to make a spot start in the outfield, particularly against lefties.

–The Japanese media was looking forward to covering the first game between Hideki Matsui and new Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who made the jump from Japan in the offseason. But Nishioka suffered a broken leg Thursday and was put on the DL, so that storyline is on hold. Nishioka had been hitting second, so with him out, Joe Mauer is in the No. 2 spot today. He’d been hitting third. …

–It’s crucial for the A’s that starter Brett Anderson comes out sharp today. The crowd will be jacked up, and Anderson can temper that by throwing strikes and keeping runners off base. In case you’re interested, nobody in Minnesota’s lineup has much history against Anderson or any numbers to suggest an advantage or disadvantage on either side …

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.