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Nakajima creates a fan with post-game gift

Minor league infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima hopes for return to A's

Minor league infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima hopes for return to A’s

You don’t have to have a big league contract to make a big league impression.

Consider the case of A’s minor league infielder Hiro Nakajima. He played the final few innings at second base in the A’s 13-3 win over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, drawing a walk and popping out.

Once the game was over, there was the usual group of attentive kids, mostly A’s fans from the look of it, behind the dugout looking for autographs from whatever player they could.

Nakajima stripped off his batting gloves and handed him to one of the kids, no doubt creating a fan for life.

There’s no telling when A’s fans may see Nakajima in Oakland, because he’s going to start the season where he ended it last year, playing for Triple-A Sacramento.

But he looked much more confident and self-assured Wednesday, no doubt in part to his two-for-two effort in a game in Glendale Tuesday against the White Sox.

Manager Bob Melvin certainly took notice, not only with the two hits Tuesday but with the way Nakajima handled himself at third base, a relatively new position for him, against the Sox.

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Game 138 wrapup: Donaldson opens eyes around baseball; Nakajima future with A’s murky at best

When the A’s first turned to Josh Donaldson two springs ago and asked the catcher/third baseman to quit catching and concentrate on playing third base, he jumped at the chance.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but his willingness to work on his game never wavered.

Tuesday night, with an acrobatic catch against David Murphy that carried the third baseman into the space between the left field tarp and the padded retaining wall behind it, Donaldson may have given notice that his defense doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone’s.

A’s reliever Jerry Blevins was the pitcher at the time, and he was coming over to back up at third base.

“That catch should get him an invitation to the ESPYs. He’s just a guy who plays all-out all the time.’’

Jon Daniels, the Texas general manager, is in town to watch his Rangers play the now-second-place A’s. He was one of many who were blown away by the catch.

“When he first came up last year,’’ Daniels said, “he was a below-average third baseman. Now he’s one of the best.’’

The question for the A’s since late last year when it became clear that Donaldson could play third and would only get better was simple: How to rein in someone who puts his body on the line all the time.

The answer is that you can’t.

“That’s the way he plays,’’ A’s reliever Grant Balfour said. “That’s just him.’’

“He could get hurt, but he doesn’t let that stop him,’’ Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I never knew what a good athlete he was. But he’s a gamer. Big time.’’

Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp, speaking for many, looked at that play and said, “That’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen anyone make at third base.’’

 

–The A’s callups Tuesday, presumably the last ones of the season, did not include one big name.

Hiro Nakajima, the man signed out of Japan to be the A’s shortstop in place of the departed Stephen Drew, had a bad spring, was injured just before the season began, missed a month of the season, then went on an injury rehabilitation assignment.

He never returned. Nakajima had an up-and-down year with Sacramento, finishing at .283, but after a slow start he was at .320 or so and it seemed like he might be the next player promoted.

It never happened. Now the question is whether or not he will be around to finish out his two-year contract with the A’s.

A team player, he was willing to spend whatever time the organization needed proving himself at Sacramento. But after a year in the minors and with no promotion, he may decide he doesn’t want another year of this.

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Rosales recall the end for Weeks as A’s seek help?

It’s been clear for a while, but today’s move to bring back Adam Rosales shouts the message that there is no room in Oakland for Jemile Weeks.

The winter before last, Weeks was the one untouchable player on the A’s roster after a .303 rookie season at second base. But he languished through a .221 sophomore slump in 2012 and this year he isn’t ever being talked about as being in the mix by the A’s front office.

For the month of July, Weeks is hitting .357 and that’s brought his overall average up to .282, so he appears to have recaptured the offense he lost last season.

Weeks appears to see the writing on the wall. He’s split time between second base and shortstop in the infield and has voluntarily made the move to the outfield, where he’s made 11 appearances for Triple-A Sacramento. Being more versatile will only add to his appeal.

But at this point, his appeal in Oakland is minimal. It seems likely he’ll be traded sooner or later, because the A’s have fallen out of love with him.

Rosales brings some defensive skills with him, but he was a .200 hitter with four homers in 48 games with the A’s before being taken off the roster and shipped to Sacramento, where he hit .240 in six games.

If the A’s are going to chase offensive improvement with the trading deadline just a week away, it’s almost certainly going to be at second base or shortstop.

The Phillies are fading a bit in the NL East (second place, but seven games behind Atlanta), and they seem willing to at least consider letting Chase Utley go, although it’s not clear how much they’d want in return or indeed if they are going to be buyers or sellers at the deadline.

Utley, hitting .286 with 13 homers, is 34 years old and will be a free agent next year, and could be just the thing for the A’s if they could pry him loose.

On the other end of the spectrum, if the A’s want to just bring in a solid defensive player at shortstop and move Jed Lowrie to full-time duty at second base, they could probably get Seattle’s Brendan Ryan for very little now that Ryan has become a backup in the Pacific Northwest.

The A’s have one more option at Triple-A in Hiro Nakajima, but his situation isn’t all that much better than Weeks’. Nakajima is riding a 14-game hitting streak (20-for-56, .357) through Tuesday, the longest such streak for a Sacramento player this season.

But while he’s brought his average up 19 points to .286 since July 4, he didn’t seem to be in the conversation either when the decision to bring Rosales up was made

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Game 78 wrapup: Straily sent down as A’s consider options; Jaso pinch-hits, catches, still feels pain; Melvin alters pinch-hitting strategy

Dan Straily was caught off guard Sunday afternoon when he was summoned into a quick meeting with A’s manager Bob Melvin after a 6-3 loss to Seattle.

Straily, who has been in the Oakland rotation since a stress fracture in Brett Anderson’s right foot put the opening day starter on the disabled list, was given the word. He was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento, at least for a short time.

Oakland has a day off Monday, another Thursday and a third next Monday. With all that extra time, the A’s will not need to employ a fifth starter until July 6. So the A’s will bring up a fresh face, although the club said no decision has been made yet on who might get the call.

Since the bullpen will be, theoretically at least, rested with two days off in four days, it’s unlikely to be a reliever. It won’t be a starter, since there’s no need. So it almost certainly will be a position player. The A’s are a little short at catcher and at middle infielder, so the likely choices would be catcher Luke Montz or one of two infielders, either Andy Parrino or Hiro Nakajima.

The A’s aren’t getting much production out of catcher Derek Norris (.188) or part-time shortstop Adam Rosales (.195). Montz is hitting .265 with some power and did an adequate job as third catcher when he was up earlier. And Nakajima, who had a big hot streak to get up to .320 for Sacramento, fell down to the low .270s before rebounding to .279 entering Sunday.

As for Straily, he may be the man who gets the call when the A’s need a fifth starter again, but as both he and manager Bob Melvin said, there are no guarantees.

“There’s nothing promised,’’ Melvin said. “Do we want it to be Dan? Absolutely. But we don’t want him going do there with no sense of urgency.’’

For his part, Straily took the demotion in stride as much as was possible.

“With all these days off, it was either this or be the long man in the bullpen,’’ he said. “I have the confidence I’ll be back. There’s no reason to get down. This isn’t the desired (move).

“But I have to go down and make sure I’m still first on the list. Just like every other time I’ve gone down.’’

 

–John Jaso enter Sunday’s game as a pinch-hitter after having missed three consecutive starts with a nasty abrasion on the palm of his left hand.

Did he come back too early? Jaso seemed to think he did.

“I took some swings off a tee, and it felt OK,’’ Jaso said. “(But in the game) I took a swing and it still hurt.’’

The A’s are hoping that a day off Monday will leave Jaso good to go Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Jaso was involved on one of the key plays in the game in the 10th inning when he couldn’t block a pitch in the dirt that had the Mariners’ Mike Zunino struck out. Zunino wound up getting to first base safely on the wild pitch from Grant Balfour and the Mariners went on to win on a three-run homer by Kendrys Morales.

“I rushed the throw a little, and I didn’t have to,’’ Jaso said. “And that cost us there. If I’d slowed down and collected myself, I would have had him.’’

–Melvin likes to use as few players when making a move as possible.

He went against that philosophy in the ninth inning when he used first baseman Nate Freiman to hit for second baseman Eric Sogard with a man on first base and one out.

In the past he would have used Adam Rosales, who could then have come in to play second base for Sogard. Instead, Freiman was used (he flew out) and Rosales came in to play defense, leaving only Chris Young available on the bench.

It turned out to be not a huge deal, but it could have been if the Mariners and A’s had gone past the 10th inning.

Rosales is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts as a pinch-hitter and it may be that Melvin is running out of time waiting for Rosales to contribute in that situation. The shortstop/second baseman is hitting just .195 overall, but take away those 11 at-bats and he’s hitting a marginally more respectable .214

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Game 66 wrapup: Cespedes, Crisp injuries worrisome; Doolittle springs speed trap on Yankees; Nakajima getting closer

The A’s have won 19 of their last 24, they are tied for first place in the American League West and they’ve beaten the Yankees three times in four tries this year.

So things are going well.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain amount of uneasiness facing the club as it prepares for the second game of the Yankee series Wednesday.

Much of their success of late has been with the outfield finally intact again. Much of their struggles occurred when the outfielders were hurt, and now there’s a chance that injury might be a problem again.

Yoenis Cespedes came up limping after running out a first-inning grounder and eventually came out of the game in the third inning.

Coco Crisp didn’t come out of the game at all, but in addition to the usual mound of ice he had strapped to his left hamstring after the game, he had a smaller bag wrapped around his right ankle.

Manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday would be the first time the club could make any kind of clear statement on just how serious Cespedes’ injury is. And while the manager doesn’t believe Crisp’s injury is serious, Crisp’s legs are crucial to his playing at a high level.

History says that the club can’t be without Cespedes or Crisp for long and compete at its best level. The A’s are now 34-17 (a .667 winning percentage) when Cespedes is in the starting lineup this season and 5-10 (.333) when he’s not.

The percentages are exactly the same for Crisp, although the numbers are different – 32 wins against 16 losses.

That’s not to say that Cespedes or Crisp played definite roles in each of the games the A’s won while they were starting. It is to say that the A’s generally play to a higher level when Cespedes and Crisp can help guide the way.

So when there will be some slightly unnerving moments Wednesday while the A’s wait to see how their outfielders check out.

 

–Sean Doolittle has not had things easy lately.

Until Tuesday night. Asked to hold a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning, he did as requested, throwing a 1-2-3 inning of relief.

He struck out the Yankees Chris Stewart to end the inning, and that at-bat may be one that serves as a turning point for Doolittle, who’d allowed 10 runs in his previous five appearances.

“He was fouling the ball off,’’ Doolittle said, “but there was something in the way he was fouling the ball off. He was late on my pitches. I really felt good.

“I was able to slow (the Yankees) down and speed them up. That maybe something I hadn’t been doing enough.’’

 

–Hiro Nakajima’s numbers have fallen off a bit at Triple-A Sacramento, but if anything, manager Bob Melvin was more effusive about the shortstop Tuesday than he’s been lately.

“He was at around .320 and now he’s just under .300,’’ the manager said. Nakajima came into Tuesday with a .292 average. “He’s been doing well.’’

The manager was particularly pleased with the way Nakajima was adapting to playing some second base and some third base. He was strictly a shortstop when playing in Japan.

“He’s been very open to playing different positions,’’ Melvin said. “He wants to contribute. And the way he’s been playing, who knows? It could be any time.’’

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Cespedes would welcome a trip to Home Run Derby

Has this road trip been an audition for the Home Run Derby for Yoenis Cespedes?

Strictly speaking, no. But Cespedes’ two homers Wednesday and two more homers Friday may well serve the purpose.

Make no mistake. Cespedes would welcome the chance to head to New York during the break for the Home Run Derby in Citi Field.

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Hot streak from A’s helping keep Hiro in minors

What, exactly, does it take to get to the big leagues with the Oakland A’s?

In the case of Hiro Nakajima, more of what he’s been doing of late. Maybe a lot more.

With two more hits, including his second home run Sunday in Tacoma for Triple-A Sacramento, Nakajima is on a roll that has seen his average get to new heights at .322. He came into Monday with a seven-game streak in which he’s 15-for-33 (.455).

That’s good, even if it’s not enough to get him to the majors right now.

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Game 32 wrapup: Cespedes sends mom a signal; Donaldson HR no guess; Montz contributes a blast

It’s not sign language, but it might as well be.

After circling the bases on his fifth-inning two-run homer, the A’s Yoenis Cespedes stuck out his two index fingers, pointed them at the crowd behind the third base dugout and alternately waggled them up and down.

This series, for the first time, Cespedes had his mother in the stands. She and some other family members had been in St. Petersburg for a series with the Rays late last month, but Cespedes was hurt and didn’t play in the series.

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Chris Young returns to Oakland for injury rehab

The A’s sent Chris Young back to Oakland so the outfielder, currently on the 15-day disabled list, can join the rest of the group working with rehab coordinator Brian Schulman.
Young (left quad) becomes the third player to have been disabled in Monday’s 19-inning, six-hour, 32-minute win over the Angels to be in the Bay Area while the team is in the early stages of a 10-game, three-city road trip through New York, Cleveland and Seattle.
Left-handed starter Brett Anderson (sprained right ankle) and center fielder Coco Crisp (left hamstring strain) never left Oakland to come on the trip.
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Young becomes third A’s player to land on DL as a result of 19-inning win over Angels Monday

In retrospect it’s become increasingly important that the A’s won Monday’s 19-inning, six-hour, 32-minute marathon against the Angels in Oakland, because the negative repercussions from that game just keep mounting.

Outfielder Chris Young is the third player on the team to have suffered an injury in that game that necessitated a trip to the disabled list, Young’s left quad keeping him from running full out.

Already, the A’s had lost pitcher Brett Anderson to a sprained right foot (admittedly, he was already hurting before his 5.1 innings of one-run relief) and center fielder Coco Crisp, who strained his left hamstring while running up the third base line.

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