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A’s lineup will have opening day feel in Friday’s exhibition opener

A’s manager Bob Melvin said spring camp is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day, so the Cactus League schedule is probably arriving just in time. The A’s play their exhibition opener Friday against the Seattle Mariners in Phoenix, and Melvin said he expects to play what’s close to an Opening Day lineup. Put an asterisk next to that, as the A’s still don’t know who their first baseman or DH will be, or how their outfield will shake out. Point is, Melvin wants to see his regulars in a game environment. That means most starters probably won’t be playing in Thursday’s intrasquad game, which begins around noon (AZ time) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Catchers Landon Powell and Anthony Recker, and infielders Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales are among those who will see action in the intrasquad game, according to Melvin. I’m interested to see a few guys pitch Thursday, including 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray, first baseman-turned-pitcher Sean Doolittle and bullpen candidate Ryan Cook.

–Dallas Braden is doing well in his comeback from shoulder surgery, but Melvin said he still needs to be cautious with the lefty. The timetable remains “anywhere from late April to May 1,” in Melvin’s words.

17

Catching up on a quiet (so far) A’s offseason

Hello everybody … long time, no blog.

I’ve been doubling up lately with Cal football coverage and that’s taken the lion’s share of my time. But “Inside the A’s” has been neglected long enough, so I wanted to drop in. Not that there’s been a ton of A’s news to report anyway this offseason. By now you’ve caught the drift that the A’s won’t be as aggressive going after players as they were last winter (unless those acquisitions come in the form of prospects via trade). You might have seen this story from ESPN’s Buster Olney regarding the A’s being sellers, largely because their stadium situation remains unsettled. If the A’s get approval to build a ballpark in San Jose, we know that GM Billy Beane plans to rebuild with younger players, hoping to have a nucleus ready to blossom when that ballpark opens for business. If they were to be denied, it’s possible they might open the checkbook a little more. And what if the issue continues to drag through the winter with no word from MLB? The indications I’ve gotten are that the A’s won’t spend aggressively as long as they remain in limbo.

Olney wrote that he could see the A’s trading starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and closer Andrew Bailey. Of the two, I see Bailey as the stronger possibility to go. If the A’s don’t see themselves contending in 2012, then a dominant closer becomes less of a necessity. And Bailey could fetch a nice haul given he’s just 27 and under team control for the next three seasons. A front-of-the-rotation starter such as Gonzalez is more of a foundation piece and much tougher for a team to replace. Having said that, if a team knocks Beane’s socks off with an offer for Gonzalez, I think he would certainly pull the trigger. The Marlins are looking for starting pitching as they move into their new ballpark in Miami, and this report out of Florida says they’re eyeing Gonzalez, who is from the Miami area and would be a great addition from a baseball and marketing standpoint. The question is whether the Marlins (or any team) have the pieces to pry Gonzalez away.

Here’s some key dates to keep an eye on:

Nov. 23: This is the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to a Type “A” or “B” free agent in order to get compensation should that player sign elsewhere. The A’s have decisions to make on outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Willingham is a Type A, meaning the A’s stand to get a first-round pick and a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) should he be offered arbitration and sign elsewhere. DeJesus is Type B, meaning the A’s would get a sandwich pick if he’s offered arb and signs elsewhere. The risk for teams, of course, is that a player unexpectedly accepts arbitration, and the team is stuck paying a large salary to a player it didn’t expect to have around. I see no such risk with Willingham. He’s likely to land a multi-year deal somewhere and would seemingly want to keep his options open. DeJesus might be more willing to accept arbitration, so unless the A’s feel good about him returning, they have a decision on whether to offer it. Sometimes a team and player will reach a gentleman’s agreement that the player won’t accept arbitration if offered. I’m not sure if that’s being discussed with DeJesus.

Dec. 5-8: The four-day event known as the winter meetings, where reporters bump into each other as they walk with noses buried in cell phones, monitoring Twitter. The A’s are often subject of rumors at the meetings, but usually this period is a time for them to lay the groundwork for future moves. Now that I’ve said that, they’re bound to pull a blockbuster there. Just you watch …

Dec. 12: The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. It’s an important day because any arb-eligible player not offered a contract is cut loose and becomes a free agent. The A’s have 10 players eligible for arbitration – Gonzalez, Bailey, relievers Craig Breslow and Joey Devine, starters Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy, first baseman Daric Barton, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, infielder Adam Rosales and catcher Landon Powell. Beane said at his season-ending press conference he expects all will be tendered contracts, but we won’t know until deadline day.

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A’s aiming for .500 on interleague road trip

It’s game six of the A’s six-game interleague road trip. If they finish this journey 3-3, it would be quite an accomplishment considering they would have beaten Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in doing so.

–There’s nothing particularly essential to report from the A’s pregame scene. Pretty standard lineup, other than Landon Powell starting behind the plate in place of Kurt Suzuki. That’s the typical day-game-after-night-game scenario, and Oakland manager Bob Melvin pointed out that Suzuki has caught some long games in hot weather on this trip. But I’d expect to continue seeing more of Powell, especially if Suzuki continues to struggle at the plate. “I’m staying pretty consistent with the fact that I want to get him involved,” Melvin said of Powell. “He’s done a nice job.” Melvin did praise Suzuki on Saturday for calling a good game for Trevor Cahill.

–Grant Balfour is still bothered by a sore right oblique, and Melvin was assuming he wouldn’t be available today. He’ll also try to stay away from Brian Fuentes, who has either pitched, or warmed up to pitch, often over the past several days. Melvin has come to Fuentes’ defense this weekend, saying he didn’t fault him for giving up a chopper that went for the game-winning hit for the Phillies on Friday, and adding that Fuentes has been flexible and agreeable to whatever role he’s been asked to fill.

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennignton SS, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney RF, Sizemore 3B, Powell C, Outman LHP.

Phillies – Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Victorino CF, Howard 1B, Francisco RF, Ruiz C, Ibanez LF, Valdez 2B, Halladay RHP.

–It’s been a good few days in Philadelphia, an out-of-the-ordinary stop for us on the road trip circuit. The cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks was excellent. I give it a slight edge over Geno’s, the other landmark cheesesteak establishment located right across the street from Pat’s. I tried Geno’s on a non-baseball trip to Philadelphia a few years ago. You can’t go wrong trying either one. But Pat’s is a little grittier, the service is very no-nonsense, bordering on bossy. Somehow that adds to the authenticity of the experience, if that makes any sense.

I was told that the Courtyard by Marriott where I stayed was used for filming scenes for “The Sixth Sense” and “Twelve Monkeys.” That information came from a cabbie, who was a handy tour guide when he wasn’t spewing obscenities at the “crazy drivers” all around him.

And if you get to Philadelphia, you have to stroll through the Italian Market, where Rocky went for his epic jog while training for his second fight against Apollo Creed. This is the second “Rocky II” clip I’ve provided on this blog. Obviously, this movie has affected me deeply …

1

Baseball under the roof (sort of)

It’s raining in Seattle today but the roof is closed at Safeco Field, which provides a weird dynamic. The roof does not enclose the entire stadium. There are huge gaps of open air, so the cold weather sweeps through the stadium even when there’s “indoor” baseball being played. If you’re ever looking to plan a road trip to watch the A’s, I highly recommend Seattle as your destination. It’s a great city to navigate on foot, and Safeco Field is considered among the major leagues’ best stadiums, for good reason. Just remember to bundle up when you get here …

–Pretty standard lineup for the A’s today, with the exception of Landon Powell catching instead of Kurt Suzuki. It was a planned day off for Suzuki, who hasn’t left the team yet for the birth of his baby.

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

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Figgins 3B, Bradley LF, Olivo C, Kennedy 1B, Ryan SS, Saunders CF, Wilson 2B, Langerhans RF; Fister RHP.

–Michael Wuertz could rejoin the A’s bullpen for the upcoming three-game series with the Angels. He threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts Saturday night for Triple-A Sacramento, his best rehab outing yet. Manager Bob Geren said Wuertz would get checked by the training staff in Oakland today, and that would help determine when he gets activated. The A’s need this guy in the ‘pen. They’ve got just two right-handers right now, and though Grant Balfour and Brad Ziegler are both throwing well, a little more righty-lefty balance would be nice.

–Did you like the A’s aggressiveness on the bases last night? They stole three bases as part of their 12-hit attack, and I’d expect them to continue pressing the action with the running game. Geren says he’s looking to pull all strings to get the offense rolling consistently. He still looks for favorable pitcher/catcher matchups that allow for stealing, but I think the A’s need to error on the side of aggression right now. Of course, if they hit as they did Saturday night, the running game isn’t nearly as vital …

1

A’s pitchers and catchers hit the field

The first blog from spring training has arrived … I’ll try to post each morning, but that could change slightly depending on how heavy/light news is. And if news develops throughout the day, I’ll throw it on here too. You can also get updates at twitter.com/joestiglich

–A’s pitchers and catchers just took the field for their first workout. The sun is out and it’s good baseball weather, though not as picturesque as yesterday. We may get a little rain over the weekend, but nothing that’s expected to disrupt things too much once the full squad holds its first workout Monday. But you didn’t come here for weather reports …

–Manager Bob Geren held his first extended media session today. The most noteworthy item was that relievers Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow and Michael Wuertz will be brought along more slowly than the other relievers. That’s a precautionary move and probably a smart one – Breslow has thrown a ton of innings over the past two seasons, Bailey is coming off minor elbow surgery and Wuertz had a shoulder injury early last season after he logged a ton of innings in 2009. The A’s will budget most relievers for 10-13 Cactus League outings, but Bailey, Breslow and Wuertz (no, that’s not a law firm) will be closer to the 8-10 range.

–How’s this for showing gratitude? Dallas Braden sent catcher Landon Powell and his wife, Allyson, on an all-expenses paid trip to Maui in January to show his appreciation for Powell catching his perfect game. Braden put them up at the Four Seasons. I mentioned in today’s paper that Bailey and pitcher Brett Anderson have lost weight. Throw Powell in the mix, too. He says he’s lost 15 pounds.

–It was interesting seeing new bench coach Joel Skinner, a former catcher, huddled with all of Oakland’s catchers and dishing some wisdom earlier this morning. In the opening days of spring training, players take time to get acquainted with each other. But this spring, Oakland’s players are also feeling out several new coaches. Skinner and hitting coach Gerald Perry are new to the staff, and Ron Romanick has shifted from bullpen coach to pitching coach. Obviously, the big news will be whatever impact new players such as Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham have on the team, but this reshuffled coaching staff is an under-the-radar factor to watch.

–One final note for those who might be visiting Phoenix next week: The A’s changed their practice schedule. They will only work out at Papago Park on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before shifting back to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for intrasquad games Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

That’s all for now …

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A’s-Angels pregame update — Saturday

We’ll keep it short and sweet. The A’s are sticking w/the same lineup as last night as they try to break through against John Lackey. The right-hander has allowed zero earned runs in three starts against the A’s this season. Dana Eveland pitches for the A’s, hoping for his second straight win.

Look for Matt Carson to get a start in the outfield tomorrow afternoon, with Ryan Sweeney getting the day off against Angels lefty Joe Saunders, manager Bob Geren said. Landon Powell will start behind the plate tomorrow. …

Tonight’s lineups
A’s
Kennedy 3B
Davis CF
Sweeney RF
Suzuki C
Cust DH
Barton 1B
Ellis 2B
Patterson LF
Pennington SS

Eveland LHP

Angels
Figgins 3B
Abreu RF
Hunter CF
Guerrero DH
Rivera LF
Morales 1B
Kendrick 2B
Mathis C
Izturis SS

Lackey RHP

0

A’s-Rangers lineups; pondering Landon Powell’s future role

A little different look to the A’s lineup today, not surprising for a day game after a night game. Eric Patterson is at second base, Travis Buck is in left field and Landon Powell is catching, plans that manager Bob Geren had indicated last night.

Geren was asked if Powell might be a consideration for more DH/first base duty next season, based on how well he’s hit. Geren wasn’t specific, but said he would try to find Powell more at-bats somehow, depending on how the roster shapes up. That’s an interesting idea to ponder. With this year’s offense lacking in the power department, Powell’s presence could provide a little more pop. But that depends on A) How healthy he would remain with increased playing time; B) whether he could improve enough at first base to not be a defensive liability; C) whether the A’s re-sign Jack Cust and what other DH options they might have; and D) who else they might sign/trade for over the winter.

Anyway, here’s your lineups as the A’s prepare to head out on a six-game road trip:

A’s
Kennedy 3B
Davis CF
Sweeney RF
Cust DH
Powell C
Barton 1B
Patterson 2B
Buck LF
Pennington SS

Anderson LHP

Rangers
Kinsler 2B
Andrus SS
Murphy LF
Jones DH
Blalock 1B
Byrd CF
Davis 3B
Teagarden C
Gentry RF

Feldman RHP

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Brett Tomko could be out for season; Dana Eveland gets a start

Working my way back into game shape  after not covering the last road trip, and problems connecting to the Internet aren’t helping my cause. But I won’t bore you w/that. Here’s a few quick A’s items as we’re not far off from first pitch at the Coliseum …

–With Vin Mazzaro shut down for the season with shoulder tendinitis, Bob Geren said Clayton Mortensen would remain in the rotation the remainder of 2009. Mortensen makes his third start tonight since being recalled from the minors, and he’s looked pretty good in his first two outings.

–Brett Tomko, who’s experiencing a nerve problem in his elbow area, could also be out for the season, Geren said. These injuries aren’t helping the A’s efforts to carry through with a six-man rotation, are they? Lefty Dana Eveland will start in Tomko’s place Sunday, with Edgar Gonzalez taking the hill in Monday’s series opener against Texas.

Remember when Eveland was a key part of Oakland’s rotation? His name has fallen through the cracks with the emergence of other young pitchers, but he’s looking forward to his first major league start since July 6. He’s made three relief apperances since being recalled Sept. 1, allowing five hits and one run in three innings.

Tomko wasn’t in the clubhouse today, as his wife is preparing to deliver twins tomorrow. Not much more concrete detail to offer on his injury.

Here’s tonight’s lineups, featuring Landon Powell in the DH spot for the A’s. Hmmm, I’ll go out on a limb and predict he might hit a homer. Gutsy call, eh???

A’s

Kennedy 3B

Davis CF

Sweeney LF

Suzuki C

Powell DH

Cust RF

Ellis 2B

Barton 1B

Pennington SS

Mortensen RHP

 

Indians

Brantley CF

Carroll 2B

Choo RF

Peralta 3B

Hafner DH

LaPorta 1B

Valbuena SS

Marson C

Crowe LF

Masterson RHP

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Eric Munson called up as third catcher; Braden to 60-day DL

Thought I’d throw a little news on the blog: The A’s called up catcher Eric Munson from Triple-A Sacramento today. Makes sense for them to add a third backstop now that rosters have expanded. The other benefit: This gives Bob Geren a little more freedom to use backup catcher Landon Powell as DH, knowing that he’s got an extra catching option if Kurt Suzuki were injured.

To make room for Munson on the 40-man roster, the A’s transferred left-hander Dallas Braden to the 60-day DL, which all but ends his 2009 season. Technically, Braden could be activated Sept. 30, with five games left in the season. But it’s highly unlikely the A’s would do this, even if his injured left foot felt great.

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Ichiro gets 2,000th hit

Ichiro Suzuki didn’t waste time getting his 2,000th major league hit, ripping a double down the right-field line on the second pitch of today’s game at the Oakland Coliseum. He reached the milestone in his 1,402nd big league game, making him the second fastest in major league history to reach 2,000 (All Simmons did it in 1,390 games). But remember, Suzuki also had 1,278 hits in Japan before coming to the majors. Surprisingly, the A’s didn’t make much of an acknowledgement of Ichiro’s feat other than a brief and small mention on the video board. But he got a nice standing ovation from the crowd and removed his helmet at second base to acknowledge it. …

Landon Powell continues producing whenever he plays: He hit a rocket into the seats in right-center to tie the game, 1-1, in the bottom of the fourth. That’s where we stand …