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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.’’

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A’s pregame update — Sunday

A few pregame tidbits as the A’s finish what must feel like a very loooong first half …

–After his big homer last night, Rajai Davis gets a start in right field. Extended punishment for Ryan Sweeney for not running out a pop-up? Bob Geren wouldn’t say that. He said he wanted to get as many right-handed bats as possible in the lineup against Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields. Righties actually fare better against Shields and his nasty change-up than lefties (rh’s hitting .280 compared to .262 for lh’s). Nomar Garciaparra gets a start at first base, with switch-hitting Landon Powell catching. Kurt Suzuki is the DH. Jack Cust, who struck out four times last night, sits as he’s 2-for-15 against Shields.

–Geren had planned to play Garciaparra at first today over Giambi all along, but Geren said Giambi should be available to pinch-hit with his bruised right elbow.

–With the A’s coming out of the All-Star break with 28 straight games, Geren said Powell will have to spell Suzuki more often, and he wanted to squeeze in a start for him before the break so he wasn’t too rusty when the A’s return to the field.

–Someone who deserved mention from last night’s game — reliever Michael Wuertz. He struck out the side in his one inning of work and has 20 strikeouts in his past 10 2/3 innings (8 games). His 50 strikeouts are tied for second among AL relievers. The league leader, of course, is his All-Star teammate, Andrew Bailey (59).

–Geren listed his rotation coming out of the break. Dallas Braden will start the opener of a four-game home series against the Angels on Thursday. He’ll be followed by Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez. Geren said he wanted to try to maximize the rest for his young starters. Braden is going on regular four days’ rest, but Geren said that’s OK because the lefty just had a 10-day layoff.

The lineups:

A’s
Kennedy 3B
Cabrera SS
Hairston CF
Holliday LF
Garciaparra 1B
Suzuki DH
Powell C
Davis RF
Ellis 2B

Anderson LHP

Rays
Upton CF
Aybar 2B
Longoria 3B
Pena 1B
Zobrist RF
Burrell DH
Bartlett SS
Kapler LF
Hernandez C

Shields RHP