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Vogt continues to fight for a job that may not be there

It's been a hot spring for A's catcher Stephen Vogt

It’s been a hot spring for A’s Stephen Vogt

It doesn’t seem possible that there have been many players fight harder for a job than the A’s Stephen Vogt, especially when considering there doesn’t seem there’s a job available.

We’re a week away from the A’s having to finalize their roster, and it seems there is no way the club can work it to carry three catchers. And since the other two catchers don’t have options, it seems the A’s will opt to send Vogt to Triple-A Sacramento, keeping lefty John Jaso and right-hander Derek Norris to platoon at the big league level.

Vogt keeps putting pressure on the decision makers. He hit a homer foul with a man on base in the third inning, then came back later in the at-bat to hit the ball out again, this time in fair territory.

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Stephen Vogt does where Crash Davis never did

If you don’t think there is something wonderful and downright fun about baseball in the playoffs, then you haven’t met Stephen Vogt.

And if you had seen Vogt six months ago, you wouldn’t have seen someone destined for the limelight. You would have seen a man not feeling the wonder, not feeling the fun, just walking through a shopping mall in Durham, N.C., not far from where another minor league catcher, Crash Davis, made a name for himself.

At the time Vogt had close to 1,900 minor league at-bats in which he averaged .299, but in his only 25 at-bats in the big leagues he was a whopping zero, zilch, nada, nyet for 25.

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Vogt goes from outhouse to penthouse; A’s will turn some pitchers loose on hitters in BP

The A’s will be carrying three catchers in the first round of the American League Division Series.

That one of them is Stephen Vogt is not a surprise at this point, Vogt having more than proved himself since … well, since almost being out of baseball earlier this year.

He was in spring training with Tampa Bay, but the Rays didn’t have a spot for someone who was 0-for-25 as a rookie in 2012. The A’s picked him up for a few bucks at a point in April where the Rays seemed destined to cut him loose.

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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 53 wrapup: Norris earning pitchers’ trust

The way the season started, John Jaso was going to be the regular behind the plate against right-handed pitchers for the A’s and Derek Norris would be there against lefties.

Norris is still there against lefties, witness his starts the last two nights against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner and Mike Kickham, but he’s getting more playing time against right-handers, too.

It’s not that Jaso isn’t playing. It’s that with Luke Montz on the roster as a third catcher, manager Bob Melvin can feel safe using two catchers in the same lineup, so Jaso frequently serves as DH when Norris catches.

That combination has been trotted out seven times in the A’s last 21 games.

What it’s meant is that Norris is getting more time behind the plate than he would have expected coming out of spring training, and that’s made him more confident, and his pitchers more confident in him.

“I think the way things have been going, it shows that the pitchers have a lot of trust in what I’m doing,’’ he said. “I know each guy goes in with a game plan, but I spend a lot of time in the video room studying the other hitters, I do my homework, and they can be confident when I put down the signal that it’s the right pitch.’’

Pitchers haven’t shaken off many of Norris’ pitches lately – Jarrod Parker shook off Norris just twice Tuesday – although you wouldn’t always know that.

“I’ll give them a `fake shake,’ ’’ Norris said, letting his pitchers appear to be shaking him off when they really aren’t. “It gets the hitters thinking. Mostly, it shows that the pitchers have a lot of trust in me.’’

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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 facing a flurry of roster moves this week

The A’s have some decisions to make in the next week, and not all of them are clear cut.

Between now and Friday, outfielders Chris Young and Coco Crisp and starting pitcher Brett Anderson are likely to come off the disabled list.

It seems a no-brainer that Dan Straily will be the odd man out in the rotation. He has made three starts with Anderson out, and is due to make another against Texas Wednesday, two days before Anderson (sprained right ankle) is first eligible to come off the disabled list.

Young and possibly Crisp could come off the disabled list on Wednesday, and while it’s certain that Michael Taylor, who has an .063 average and hasn’t driven in a run, will be sent down, choosing between the other two candidates, Luke Montz and Daric Barton, will be a matter of just what kind of flexibility A’s manager Bob Melvin wants.

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Game 23 wrapup: Letting Milone down gnaws at A’s; Cespedes cut down again in crucial steal try

Tommy Milone walked out of the Oakland clubhouse Tuesday seemingly having put the 1-0 loss to Cleveland behind him.

His teammates weren’t so fortunate.

They not only didn’t hit behind Milone, the A’s not getting a runner to second base, but they didn’t play defense behind him, either.

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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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Game 29 wrapup: Montz an immediate contributor; Milone’s long day on the mound saves A’s bullpen

Luke Montz was just trying to be a good teammate Tuesday night.

A veteran catcher on the roster of the Sacramento River Cats, he was on the bench in Fresno when he and his teammates saw plenty not to like about a series of first inning ball-strike calls against outfielder Michael Choice.

Everybody spoke up, more than once. When the umpire had enough, he pointed to the bench and ejected … well, no one was quite sure who got ejected.

“I just jumped up,’’ Montz said. “I wasn’t in the lineup, so it made sense.’’

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