Marcus Semien’s starting streak clipped at 96 games

When the phone rang at about 11 a.m. and A’s shortstop Marcus Semien could see who was on the other end, he said he had a pretty good idea of what was going down, even before the conversation began.

Semien had started all 96 games for Oakland this year, playing all but three innings at shortstop. But the at-bats in his last couple of games hadn’t been good – 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. And his defense had slipped – five errors in his last eight games.

“When the manager calls at that time, you’ve got an idea you’re getting a day off,’’ Semien said before Friday’s game against Tampa Bay. “And my last two games haven’t been great. I played myself into a day off.’’

It’s not that Semien wanted a day off. Bob Melvin said that his shortstop “campaigned a little’’ to stay in the lineup. No worries, the manager said. “A day off might be in order,’’ but there was always the chance that Semien could get into the game as a pinch-hitter or on defense later in the game.

“It’s a grind playing shortstop every single day,’’ Melvin said. “He’s been out there every single day, and it’s looked recently like it might be time for a day.’’

Hence the late-morning telephone call.

“I take pride in playing every day, yeah,’’ Semien said. “I’ve been fortunate to be healthy enough and ready to go so far. But there have been a lot of ups and downs this year, so I guess a day off might be good.’’

What’s the difficulty level of playing every day, particularly at shortstop, where much of the infield action is centered?

“It can be taxing mentally to play every day,’’ Semien “And you have to know how to play hurt. You have to know the difference between playing hurt and being injured.’’

But not all was lost. Semien’s games-played streak continued when he entered Friday’s 13-inning 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and played the final four innings in his 97th game of the year.


–Right fielder Josh Reddick, who had batted only in the third slot during the club’s first 96 games, was in the batting order as the No. 2 hitter Friday.

Khris Davis, who had never started a game in the Major Leagues batting third, was the No. 3 man for Oakland against the Rays.

Part of the reason for that was Semien’s absence from the lineup, but most of it has to do with generating some offense. The A’s averaged 5.4 runs per game the first five games after the All-Star break, but they came into Friday with just three runs scored in the last two games, which is closer to their July norm.

The A’s came into Friday with an MLB-worst .230 batting average for the month, while their 4.12 runs per games was 23rd in the majors.

“Since the break we’ve actually been pretty good at scoring runs,’’ Melvin said. “You’re always trying to tweak things and make it better. Offensively this year we’ve been a little inconsistent.

“It does look a little different. This is the first time Red hasn’t been in the three hole. But the two spot is the new three spot, from what I understand, whether it’s (Josh) Donaldson or (Mike) Trout. I feel comfortable with him in that spot.’’



–Starter Rich Hill played catch again Friday with a protective covering on his blistered left middle finger, but there is still no date set for him to get on a mound. Melvin said the trainers say they are seeing some progress in the left-hander. There is a sense that the blister is cutting into the A’s chances of trading him before the Aug. 1 dateline, although it’s by no means disqualifying.

–Liam Hendriks hasn’t allowed a run in his last five games, covering 6.2 innings and has a 1.62 ERA and a .222 opponents’ batting average in his last 13 games. “He’s just feeling more comfortable and getting on a roll,’’ Melvin said. “He’s throwing his fastball for strikes more and his breaking ball is getting better.’’

–Reliever Zach Neal threw three scoreless innings Thursday allowing one hit and no walks. The rookie has thrown 18.2 innings this year without allowing a walk, which the A’s stats crew says is the most innings pitched to start a career without walking a batter since at least 1913.



Josh Donaldson has spread his wings since leaving the A’s; History Channel spotlights him in `The Vikings’ in August

Josh Donaldson hasn't stopped hitting since moving to the Blue Jays, and he's a part-time actor, too.

Josh Donaldson hasn’t stopped hitting since moving to the Blue Jays, and he’s a part-time actor, too.

Josh Donaldson felt almost at home in the Coliseum before Friday’s A’s-Blue Jays game.

Sitting on the couch of equipment manager Steve Vucinich, the third baseman caught up with members of the organization with which he rose to national prominence in 2012-14.

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With Jed Lowrie ailing, A’s Tyler Ladendorf gets start at 2B

Tyler Ladendorf makes his start in the big leagues this season at second base for A's Sunday.

Tyler Ladendorf makes his start in the big leagues this season at second base for A’s Sunday.

Tyler Ladendorf hasn’t played more than a couple of innings at second base since last year.

He was in the starting lineup for the A’s series finale in Toronto Sunday and neither he nor the A’s seemed at all concerned with the man who had been Nashville’s starting center fielder moving to the infield.

Ladendorf was drafted as a shortstop, and for much of his minor league career he’s been a second baseman, although the last couple of seasons have seen him make a transition to the outfield. When he made his big league debut last year, it was as a second baseman.

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Melvin likes the way Venditte finished up for A’s

Pat Venditte got a major thumbs-up from manager Bob Melvin after his three perfect innings Saturday.

Pat Venditte got a major thumbs-up from manager Bob Melvin after his three perfect innings Saturday.

Pat Venditte said he wasn’t willing to say that Saturday three perfect innings of relief was it for his 2015 season in which he became the first full-time switch pitcher in baseball history.

He held out hope that he would be available for Sunday’s season finale with the Mariners.

A’s manager Bob Melvin saw it a little differently. The manager seems content that in picking up his second big league win, Venditte had perfectly punctuated his rise from obscurity in the minor leagues to big league reliever.

“As a confidence factor for him, having an outing like that to end the season goes a long way,’’ Melvin said. “It’s a little feather in his cap to end the season like he did.’’

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Nolin to step in for A’s after time spent learning from Zito

Lefty Sean Nolin has waited a long time, but he gets his first start with A's Sunday vs. Mariners.

Lefty Sean Nolin has waited a long time, but he gets his first start with A’s Sunday vs. Mariners.

Sean Nolin never thought his debut with the A’s would take this long, but finally the left-hander is due to start against Seattle Sunday.

He missed most of spring training while recovering from sports hernia surgery, didn’t get off the disabled list until mid-May, and has slowly been building up strength and stamina to the point where the A’s are hopeful they will see 90 pitches out of him in his debut.

“It’s definitely been a struggle,’’ Nolin said. “I had the surgery so late. It’s definitely been a long year getting everything corrected. But it’s been better in the last month. If I’m not 100 percent, I’m 95 percent. I’m right there.

Nolin, acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade with Toronto, had some mid-season shoulder tightness that landed him on the disabled list a second time, but he said his shoulder was just sore for a bit, and that the time off gave him time to get his leg strength back.

Along the way he had the time to watch fellow lefty Barry Zito pitch at Nashville. When he wasn’t doing that, Nolin sat and picked Zito’s brain, gleaning all that he could from the mind of the 2002 Cy Young Award winner.

Nolin’s curve and changeup are better, in large part because of the time he’s spent with Zito. He’s said he’s always had a slow curve, but now it’s picked up break and velocity.

“Awesome to have him around,’’ he said. “All through middle school I’d watch him on ESPN every morning before school, so that was a treat. He’s a down-to-earth guy for his status. He’s helped with the baseball life, how to act, too, stuff like that.’’


–Catcher Stephen Vogt was scratched just before the start of Friday’s game, but he delivered a pinch-hit single in the seventh and caught the last two innings, throwing out a runner trying to steal second.

Not bad for someone with an aching elbow.

“BP didn’t go well,’’ Vogt said for being scratched. He was willing to play, but manager Bob Melvin decided that it was better to give him a start off with the A’s down to face right-handed pitching the next three days.

Vogt said Saturday he’s feeling good to go, and the A’s can use him. He comes into Saturday with nine hits in his last 15 at-bats, a .600 average.



–Sean Doolittle has pitched hitless, scoreless baseball his last two outings, and manager Bob Melvin says the left-hander could be back in the mix for closer, a job that has belonged of late to lefty Drew Pomeranz. The manager said he’d be willing to use Doolittle, on the DL for all but one game until two weeks ago, on back-to-back days, but doesn’t think he’s ready for three games in succession.

–Rookie Ryan Dull is working his way into consideration for the ninth inning, too, Melvin said. Dull went through the Angels’ Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols on Wednesday, then the Mariners’ Robinson Cano, Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo Friday. “He’s got a nice mix of pitches, he spots the ball well and he looks like he belongs out there,’’ Melvin said. “He’s making a name for himself.’’

–The A’s say first baseman Ike Davis won’t be back in the A’s clubhouse this season. He’s at home in Arizona doing rehab work after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.

–Manager Bob Melvin said Sam Fuld (back) is getting closer to playing and could be back on the field sometime during the Astros’ series that starts Monday.



Donaldson says Beane doesn’t need forgiveness for trade; Zobrist continues to wait, watch as trade deadline nears

Josh Donaldson is in a different uniform as he returns to Coliseum for the first time since last September.

Josh Donaldson is in a different uniform as he returns to Coliseum for the first time since last September.

When he got the news in early November that Oakland had traded him to Toronto, Josh Donaldson said he needed “two or three weeks before it really registered.’’

While the third baseman was getting used to life north of the border, he said it never crossed his mind to blame Billy Beane for his changed circumstances, the A’s general manager being the man who had engineered the trade.

“It was never a matter of having to forgive Billy for that.’’ Donaldson said. “I loved playing here and I thought we had the core of a competitive team for a long time. But I never thought in terms of needing to forgive him.

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A’s run production seems better than it really is

The A's have scored in big bunches at times, but for the first 83 games, the timing hasn't been what the A's could have hoped.

The A’s have scored in big bunches at times, but for the first 83 games, the timing hasn’t been what they could have hoped.

Baseball is a game of numbers, and there are some exceptionally strange numbers being carried around by the A’s this season.

Oakland’s 6-20 record in one-run games is at the top of the list and has gotten much ink, or what passes for ink in a digital age.

What about the other end of the equation? What about the blowouts? When Oakland lost by four runs, 9-5, to Seattle Friday, it was the ninth time the A’s had lost by four or more runs.

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Lack of clutch performances suggest change is in the wind

A's GM Billy Beane has made to moves to tear up the roster, but it was at about this time in 2012 he did so, with great success.

A’s GM Billy Beane has made to moves to tear up the roster, but it was at about this time in 2012 he did so, with great success.

The A’s have built their entire season on statistical oddities, but none is quite as off the wall as having the worst record in the American League – 25-39 after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Angels – while having outscored their opponents.

Albert Pujols homered in the first inning off A’s starter Kendall Graveman, and that was it for this one, Oakland’s 18th loss in 22 one-run games.

When the A’s win, they often win big, as they did Thursday in a 7-0 win over the Rangers. When it comes to close games, however, the A’s have minimal success despite having outscored opponents 265-257.

Oakland has been shut out six times while A’s pitchers have thrown nine shutouts. In the losses, the A’s were one swing away from at least tying the game in five of them, the exception being a 13-0 loss to the Twins on May 6.

It’s a much different story when you look at the shutouts the A’s have thrown. Final scores in the shutouts the A’s have won have included 12-0, 10-0, 8-0, 7-0, 5-0 (twice), 4-0 (twice) and 3-0.

Scores like that are the reason the A’s have more runs scored than allowed. But a 12-0 or 10-0 victory only counts for one victory. When it’s crunch time, this team hasn’t gotten it done.

You can see that in the A’s record in one-run games, now 4-18. The last three losses have all been by one run.

Those numbers are not all about the offense, although the hitters have bogged down plenty with the game one the line. The bullpen with its 5-15 record, has contributed mightily to the one-run loss stat, as has the American League’s worst defense.

It’s just these kinds of chaotic performances that will induce a general manager to start cleaning house, although A’s GM Billy Beane has made no moves in that direction yet.

But it’s worth noting that three years and a week ago, Beane began scuttling what the A’s had in what was a disappointing season – eight games under .500 and nine games out of first place in the American League West. He did it by bringing up reliever Sean Doolittle, then outfielder-turned-first baseman Brandon Moss from Triple-A in the space of three days. Later that June they added catcher Derek Norris to the mix, called up starter A.J. Griffin for the first time and brought in first baseman Chris Carter.

As the summer wore on, catcher-turned-third baseman Josh Donaldson, pitcher Dan Straily and shortstop Stephen Drew were brought in.

The team that was at one point 13 games out of first place, turned around, kicked into gear and won the American League West.

It’s hard to see that happening this year – the winning the division part, that is. The freefall collecting of new faces, that’s easy to see.



Samardzija happy to be with White Sox, but a little disappointed A’s didn’t keep roster together for 2015

Jeff Samardzija says A's would have been a force in 2015 if the team had been held together.

Jeff Samardzija says A’s would have been a force in 2015 if the team had been held together.

Jeff Samardzija came back to the Coliseum as a member of the Chicago White Sox Friday, his first visit since the 2014 season ended with Samardzija due to pitch Game 1 of the American League Division Series for the A’s, a game that never happened.

With Oakland holding a 7-3 lead in the eighth inning and an 8-7 lead in the 12th inning in Kansas City, the A’s couldn’t hold off the Royals in the Wild Card game. That ended Oakland’s season.

And if you think injuries are costing the A’s now, Samardzija said losing catcher Geovany Soto, now a teammate with the White Sox, in the second inning and center fielder Coco Crisp late in the game cost the A’s a trip to the World Series.

“If we win that game, there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to the Series,’’ Samardzija said. “The momentum going to the winner of that game was something else.’’

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A’s look at Viciedo after taking Hassan in waiver claim; Butler/Reddick team wins Friday’s situational hitting trophy; Crisp enters ditigal age with Coco’s Fro Patrol app for iPhone

A's Billy Butler, left, and Josh Reddick walk off the field with winning trophy from today's situational hitting competition (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

A’s Billy Butler, left, and Josh Reddick walk off the field with winning trophy from today’s situational hitting competition (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

It seems that the A’s are in the market for a little more pop in the person of outfielder/third baseman Dayan Viciedo.

That’s the word from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, two days after the Chicago White Sox signed infielder Gordon Beckham and designated Viciedo for assignment. Chicago has 10 days to trade or release Viciedo.

Going after Viciedo makes a bit of sense from the A’s point of view. He hit 21 homers for the Sox last year and 25 three years ago. Oakland is in a bit of a power vacuum with the losses over the last seven months of Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.

Vicideo, a right-handed hitter, could fill in as the left fielder over the current pairing of Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry, but the A’s defense would take a hit. And the offense would, too, because Viciedo doesn’t walk much and his .294 on-base percentage over the last three years offsets the 60 homers he’s hit in that spell.

But he is young, just 25, so he seems to have some upside the A’s find appealing. The Blue Jays reportedly also have some interest.

Earlier in the day Oakland did make a roster claim, adding outfielder Alex Hassan from the Orioles and put Griffin on the 60-day disabled list to make room.

The A’s had claimed Hassan from the Red Sox on Nov. 17, but lost him to a claim from Baltimore about a week later.

Hassan, who made his big league debut with the Sox last year by going 1-for-8, hit .287 with a .378 on-base percentage at Triple-A last year. He also had a .326 slugging percentage.


–The A’s had an atypical day Friday, skipping batters vs. pitchers and closing out with a situational hitting.

The win went to a team led by Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, the winners walking off Field 1 at Fitch Park with a trophy of sorts – a coffee maker and an MC Hammer bobblehead cobbled together by minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks.

Butler put the trophy above his locker after the workout.

“We struggled in situational hitting last year,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. He said that Ike Davis was “perfect when I saw him,’’ and added that Butler, Reddick, Fuld and Gentry all had good days.

“That’s something I can do,’’ Davis said. “You give up some outs, and that hurts your batting average, but it’s OK as long as it helps the team.’’


–Coco Crisp took a step into the digital world Thursday night, launching a game app for iPhones call Coco’s Fro Patrol.

The idea is to catch as many fly balls in the outfield as possible while dodging obstacles including gum and trash cans.

He got 150-plus viewers overnight, including former A’s first baseman Daric Barton, who ranks third on the early leaderboard. Crisp is first; his mother ranked fifth early in the day Friday.

“I could have launched it last year, but I wanted to make it as perfect as possible,’’ Crisp said. The concept was his, although he needed the help of web designers to get the program off the ground. “I know there will be some people who will find little faults with it, but it’s starting in a good place.’’

The game is free, although there is the possibility of expenditures depending on how fast and how deep into the game a player wants to get. The player gets one free “umpire’’ per day, while more can be purchased.

Crisp is a longtime gamer who has been trying to pick up college-level programing classes the last couple of years.

Some of his A’s teammates, who learned about the launch Thursday and Friday, were experimenting with it Friday morning.


–Saturday and Sunday see the A’s scheduled for back-to-back intrasquad games, but there is a good chance of rain, particularly on Sunday.

–Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Raul Alcantara threw bullpen sessions Friday while the rest of the staff took the day off from bullpens. All three seemed to come through the process well, although Griffin has a bruise on his left (non-throwing wrist).

–Jason Pridie, the only non-roster outfielder in camp before Hassan was claimed Friday, figures to get plenty of spring starts with the A’s looking to have Coco Crisp ease slowly into playing shape. Oakland figures Crisp only needs a couple of nine-inning games to be ready for the season. Also likely to get outfield time are infielders Tyler Ladendorf, Alden Carrithers, Matt Olson and Andy Parrino.

–The A’s signed a new four-year radio deal with 95. FM The Game that will see the A’s games broadcast there through the 2018 season. The A’s have been on 95.7 since 2011.