Game 68 wrapup: Chavez the hero could wind up being the odd man out if A’s need bullpen help

The A’s Jesse Chavez may be about ready to face up with just how cruel a sport baseball can be.

Chavez was nothing but heroic in Thursday’s 18-inning win over the Yankees, pitching the final 5.2 innings without allowing a run and retiring the final 13 batters consecutively.

He was the winning pitcher and he lowered his ERA from 2.57 to 1.83.

And there is a reasonable chance that he will get word Friday that he’s being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento.

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Game 65 wrapup: For one series, A’s have trouble getting men in scoring position; starting pitchers continue to go deep in games

The A’s are talking a good game about not being tired at the end of a 17-game stretch, but looking at this weekend’s four game series in Chicago, you have to wonder.

The A’s got just 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That’s just over three per game. That’s not enough to win with consistently.

What Oakland did do was hit home runs, six of them. Five of the six, however, were solo shots, including Coco Crisp’s homer that gave the club an early lead Sunday.

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Game 61 wrapup: Donaldson finding might doesn’t make right; Cespedes can’t enjoy multi-homer game; Moss feeling better about swing; Doolittle gets vote of confidence

There seems to be no shortage of hits in Josh Donaldson’s bat these days.
He had three more Wednesday and for the month of June is 9-for-21 (.429), getting his overall average up to .332.
What gives?
Meet the pull hitter-who-wasn’t.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever hit this well,’’ the right-handed Donaldson said. “I know that I’ve never had so many hits to right field in an entire season as I’ve had already right now.’’
Four of the nine hits for Donaldson this month are to right. Baseball-reference.com has him with 19 hits to right field already this season. In 75 games last year, just 10 went to the opposite field.
The change may be the Donaldson isn’t trying to pull the ball the way power hitters are wont to do. He’s had episodes with the A’s and in the minor leagues where he would get on a roll. Then the temptation to swing for the fences would get him off-kilter for a spell.
So far this year, at least, that hasn’t happened. It’s not that he’s become a singles hitter. With eight homers, he’s third on the A’s roster. With 18 doubles he’s tied for the team lead. He’s hitting the ball in the gap, hitting the ball hard and taking whatever happens.
And whatever happens has been pretty good.
“What is it that Josh can’t do?’’ manager Bob Melvin asked after his team finished off the Brewers 6-1 Wednesday, the team’s 16th win in 19 games. “
Melvin was particularly impressed by the first of Donaldson’s hits Wednesday, a single to right with Jed Lowrie on first base.
“He uses his head there, sees the whole field and goes to right and we’ve got guys on first and third and a chance to score a run,’’ Melvin said. “You can say he’s a little bit of a flake, and I’m not saying he’s not, but he’s very, very aware of what happens on the field.’’
One man’s flakiness is another man’s free spiriting, but however you define it, Donaldson does enjoy himself. He put on a show on MLB-TV’s Intentional Talk Tuesday, a performance that had his teammates howling.
He enjoys playing the game, and it shows – and not just on defense.
“He’s as good a defensive player at third base as there is,’’ Melvin said. “He’s done a great job for us there.’’
The one thing Donaldson will not do is come out of a game. Melvin keeps pressuring Donaldson to see if he needs a day off, so far without success.
“I talk to him about it all the time,’’ Melvin said. “He just doesn’t want to come out.’’
And so far, at least, he’s not wearing down. He seems to be warming up.

–Yoenis Cespedes hit a couple of home runs Tuesday, a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the sixth, and for most of the night it seemed like they would stand up for the win.
They didn’t. Bullpen breakdowns led to a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.
And that impacted how Cespedes thinks of his first-ever multiple-homer game in the big leagues.
“I was so happy, for almost the whole game,’’ Cespedes said Wednesday through interpreter Ariel Prieto. “Until the end of the game. I wasn’t happy at the end of the game because we lost.’’

–Brandon Moss hasn’t gotten many hits lately.
When he’s gotten them, however, they’ve had some impact.
The first baseman has three hits in his last 33 at-bats (0.91), but each of the three has been a home run. Wednesday’s homer was a monster, a first-pitch blast into the far reaches of the right field stands.
It turned a 3-1 game into a 6-1 game and kept the A’s on a roll by getting Oakland back to a season-best 11 games over .500.
And while the homers by themselves don’t suggest that he’s coming out of a slump that has him having fallen from .295 at the end of April to .225 now, the line drive shot that was caught by third baseman Juan Francisco suggested to Moss that happier days are just around the corner.
“In the first two at-bats today I felt like I’d taken a step backwards,’’ Moss said. “I can in (the clubhouse) and told myself to let it go. I’m at my best when I’m pulling the ball, but right now that’s not working.
“So I told Jed (shortstop Jed Lowrie) that I was going to swing when I saw a pitch that was in the zone. I was able to do that and hit it hard.’’
It may be a while before Moss gets a chance to see if his swing really is coming around. The A’s first three games in Chicago, at least, will be started by left-handed pitchers. That means rookie Nate Freiman, who is hitting .340 against lefties, will get those starts.
And Moss is cool with that.
“It’s a great thing we picked up Nate,’’ Moss said. “He’s been a great part of our team. And he’s done a lot of damage. Whether it’s three days a week (of playing) or seven days a week, you just want to have competitive at-bats.
And that, Moss said, defines the A’s.
“We aren’t building for (the future),’’ he said. “We’re trying to win right now. We have guys who understand that nothing is owed to us.
“It’s not owed to me because I hit a homer off a lefty today that I start against the lefty tomorrow.’’

–Reliever Sean Doolittle, who was told in a sitdown with Melvin early Wednesday that the club would be sticking with Doolittle as the lefty setup man, was happy to hear that.
He was even happier to go over video of his last three performances and come up with a reason for his recent troubles. After allowing just two runs in 23 games, he’s allowed seven runs in the last three games, including blowing a 3-0 lead Tuesday that led to speculation Melvin might find a different role for him.
“Watching the video I see I’m flying open with my hips (during his delivery),’’ Doolittle said. “We did some mechanical work and maybe I’ve got it worked out.’’
Doolittle was gratified by the support he felt leaving Melvin’s office after their meeting early in the day.
“It’s good to know that I’ll stay in the same role,’’ Doolittle said. “But most of all it’s good to know that he’s in my corner.’’
Doolittle didn’t pitch in Wednesday’s win over the Brewers, but expect to see him at his old post in the seventh or eighth inning, as needed, in a four-game set in Chicago. He will have lots of friends and family in U.S. Cellular Field, and he can’t wait.
“A lot of my support system is going to be there,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to that and looking forward to getting out there again.’’
–Hideki Okajima continues to wear an iceberg-sized wrap on his left forearm after games. It’s so big that the left-hander has to eat the post-game meal with just his right hand.
Even so, he’s close to being ready to pitch and, in a pinch, could have pitched for the A’s Wednesday, two days after taking a line drive off his left forearm.
“I really wanted to give him a couple of days off,’’ Melvin said. The manager had a spot that would have been ideal for the lefty in the eighth inning, but with Okajima not quite himself, Melvin had Ryan Cook pitch the eighth instead.
“I think he’ll be ready to go (Thursday in Chicago),’’ the manager said.


Game 59 wrapup: Reddick lucky bad-look skid not worse; Milone runs bases with aplomb; Okajima the new Popeye; Crisp’s roll continues with four hits

Josh Reddick thought he was settling in four a routine try at a sliding catch. Instead he left a skid mark suitable for Grand Prix racing.

Reddick admitted the ball hit by Carlos Gomez of the Brewers was going to be tough to catch, but he didn’t expect to wind up “a foot deep in the earth’s core.’’

It turns out that Miller Park was a recent host to a Kenny Chesney concert, after which part of the outfield grass had to be replaced by sod. It apparently didn’t have enough time to firm up.

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Game 45 wrapup: Donaldson has no fear in throwing body around; Okajima returns in style; Cook changes nothing to close a game

Josh Donaldson went diving over the tarp in foul territory behind third base in what turned out to be a futile pursuit of a ninth inning foul ball that, if caught, would have ended Sunday’s game.

The batter, Mike Moustakas, grounded out to end it a few moments later, but Donaldson said he had no regrets about throwing his body out in pursuit of the foul pop fly.

“It was the last out,’’ he said. “Of course I’m going to go for it there.’’

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Game 43 wrapup: Melvin’s against-the-book move; Doolittle doing a lot; Okajima back in MLB again

If you want an unsung hero for Friday’s 2-1 Oakland win over Kansas City, look for the man who made out the lineup.

Manager Bob Melvin did something Friday he hadn’t done all season. He had Adam Rosales, who generally starts only against left-handed pitching, start “because I liked the right-handed matchup there’’ against K.C.’s James Shields.

And it was Rosales who hit the tie-breaking solo homer off Shields in the eighth inning that gave the A’s the win in the first of a three-game set.

Rosales did have some stat cred against Shields. He’d only faced him five times, but he’d had two hits, both of them doubles. Eric Sogard, who had only three at-bats and no hits against Shields, normally starts against right-handers, but Melvin went with the numbers, including the fact that Sogard was hitting .178 in his last 20 games.

It won’t necessarily happen again, but Melvin is perfectly comfortable going against the lefty-righty book if circumstances suggest it.

“It’s not something I’ll be doing,’’ he said when asked if he would play Rosales at short against right-handers with regularity. “But in this instance, with Rosey’s two doubles off Shields, that made a difference.’’

Make that two doubles and a homer.


–One reason the A’s were able to track down the Rangers in 2012 was the performance of a previously unheralded bullpen.

It’s not as unheralded this time around, but the performances from the likes of Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour have been every bit as good as they were last year. Or better.

Doolittle improved to 3-0 with one scoreless inning, the eighth, Friday against K.C., and Balfour closed out his seventh save by getting the Royals in order, cutting through the 3-4-5 spot in Kansas City’s batting order.

Doolittle, a lefty, has a 1.00 ERA. Balfour, the right-handed closer, is down to 1.65. And when you throw in right-hander Ryan Cook’s 1.93, Oakland has eighth- and ninth-inning performance worth of note.

“In that situation in the eighth or ninth, that game is yours,’’ Doolittle said. “you’ve got to go out there feeling invincible. I’m just trying to keep it simple and not giving the hitter room to get comfortable.’’

Melvin admits his job is made easier knowing he can count on his club dominating the game if it’s close in the eighth or later.

“That’s one of the strengths of the club, when it’s late in the game and we’re in position (to win),’’ he said. “Doolittle is throwing lights-out. It’s tough for anybody to put a good swing against him.

“Today it all fell together, getting the homers late, then getting Doolittle and Balfour out there in that spot.’’


–For four seasons and a portion of a fifth, Hideki Okajima pitched in the big leagues, and he loved every minute of it.

But the Red Sox let him pitch most of the 2011 season in Triple-A Pawtucket, then the Yankees let him go in the spring of 2012, after which he pitched for Soft Bank in Japan.

Now he’s back in the Major Leagues, called up Friday when the A’s released right-handed reliever Chris Resop, who’d struggled the last three weeks.

“I was hoping to make it back to the Major Leagues,’’ Okajima said through interpreter Jason Eda. “I’m very excited to get back here. I was surprised when they told me I was coming up, but to come back from Japan (in 2012) to the United States is a good feeling.’’

Okajima’s catcher for much of his time at Triple-A was Luke Montz, and Montz gave the move a solid thumb’s up.

“Just before I got called up, he pitched in back-to-back games for the first time,’’ Montz said. “He saved them both. He got to where he was throwing his changeup, and they hitters, they just were not seeing that pitch. He was fun to catch.’’

The move made sense for a couple of reasons. One, Okajima’s changeup and curve had been dominant pitches for him at Triple-A after he’d ironed out some kinks. Two, his contract said that if he wasn’t called up by June 1, he’d have the right to declare free agency, so if there was ever a time to give him a try, it was now.

“He’s been throwing really well,’’ Melvin said. “We’ve been having to be careful with (lefties) Doolittle and (Jerry) Blevins, but we’d been using them a lot. Adding a third left-hander makes a lot of sense, all things considered.’’


Okajima’s sound shoulder a boon for A’s bullpen

PHOENIX – Hideki Okajima is sound of mind and shoulder and ready to pitch for the Oakland Athletics.

That must come as something of a surprise to the New York Yankees.

It was at about this time a year ago that the Yankees, who had invited former Boston Red Sox short reliever Okajima to spring training, sent him packing, saying that he’d failed his physical exam.

The Yankees found the left-hander’s shoulder ailing, and he headed back to Japan, wondering if his big league career was over.

“I wondered `Is this it for the Major Leagues?’ ’’ Okajima, talking through an interpreter, said Tuesday on arriving at Oakland’s Phoenix Municipal Stadium home.

He caught on with Softbank in Japan and put together a stellar year – a 0.96 ERA in 56 games and 47.2 innings pitching mostly situational relief. And he did it all with the shoulder the Yankees had deemed dicey.

“I was very surprised to be told I’d failed the physical,’’ Okajima said. “I was able to go to Softbank and have a good year, but I always wanted to return to the Major Leagues.’’

As of Tuesday morning, he’s made the first step. He passed his physical, signed a minor league deal and dressed to take part in the first spring training session for A’s pitchers and catchers.

“The shoulder is fine,’’ he said. “I pitched with no problem (in Japan). I won’t throw off a mound today, but I’m on a regular schedule.’’

Manager Bob Melvin already was well-stocked with left-handed relievers in Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, Pedro Figueroa, Travis Blackley and Jordan Norberto. But he’s enthused by the addition of Okajima, who is battle-tested in the post-season.

“I’m excited talking about the depth this move gives,’’ Melvin said. “His numbers in Japan were off the chart. He’s 37, but he doesn’t appear to have a 37-year-old’s body. And now our depth on the left-hand side is very strong.’’

A’s outfielder Coco Crisp, who was with the Red Sox for Okajima’s first two seasons back in 2007 and 2008, is a big fan.

“I saw what he did then, and he was outstanding,’’ Crisp said. “You have to like his arm.’’

Unless, apparently, you are the Yankees.