ALDS Game 5 pressure on shoulders of Oakland organization given its history, not the A’s players

The A’s have been very good at deflecting pressure, putting one foot in front of the other and moving on a very orderly path through the 2013 season.

Does all that change now, with the season down to one game?

They won’t want to admit it, but yes it does.

Just not so much for the players. Most of them went through the disappointment of losing in Game 5 of the 2012 playoffs to Detroit and Justin Verlander, and they know the obstacle the Tigers are.

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Generalissimo Y takes center stage in Oakland

It’s way too early to know if there is a new Mr. October on Oakland’s horizon, but it’s at least worth keeping an eye on the A’s Yoenis Cespedes this month.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers Friday, the A’s left fielder shrugged off the effects of a sore right shoulder to triple and hit a two-run homer, producing the only runs the A’s scored in a 3-2 loss.

He came back Saturday with a pair of singles, the second of which touched off the winning rally that culminated with Cespedes scoring from third base on Stephen Vogt’s bases-loaded single for a 1-0 win.

Those were the sixth and seventh games in Cespedes’ admittedly short post-season career. But they are built upon a base that has the chance to be molded into a towering legacy in baseball’s center stage month. He’s the personification of Generation Y in Oakland. Call him Generalissimo Y.

He’s hit in all seven games while averaging .370 with an OPS of 1.006. Small sample size or not, those are impressive numbers.

There are some players who are just built for the spotlight, and Cespedes seems to be one of those. He floundered most of the year, but when there was a chance that the A’s might not make the playoffs, Cespedes shrugged off September shoulder issues to average .314 with six homers. For a little perspective, his best average in the five previous months was July’s .237.

In his first September pennant drive in 2012, he had season monthly best of seven homers and 19 RBIs as the A’s chased down the Rangers.

There are some classically great hitters who have wilted on the big stage. Just last year Robinson Cano of the Yankees was a woeful 3-for-40. A’s RBI machine Miguel Tejada was 2-for-23 after having racked up 70 extra base hits and 106 RBIs in the 2003 season. Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs in the 1998 season for the Indians, then went 1-for-18 in the playoffs.

Not to tell A’s manager Bob Melvin how to work his lineup, but he’d be well advised to support Cespedes by keeping Seth Smith in the lineup as the DH for the next few games. Smith had two hits Saturday, both following Cespedes hits and the second setting up the winning run, and Cespedes could use the threat of a hot, productive bat behind him to get better pitches to hit.

All Smith did was hit .393 in September, even when he couldn’t get in the lineup every day. He only played in 15 games and started just seven of those, but .393 is .393, and is going to get respect from the other side. That can only help Cespedes.

(Not that it particularly means anything, but while writing this I went back and looked up what A’s starters did when Smith was hitting behind them during his September hot streak. They went 12-for-23, .522. Add in Cespedes on Saturday and it’s 14-for-27, .518).

Whatever the A’s can do to get Cespedes to get better pitches to hit is a terrific idea.

After all, it’s October. It’s the Generalissimo’s time.


Yoenis Cespedes takes batting practice, meets media; will he be ready for start of A’s season?

The A’s introduced outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the media on Sunday, but they are not saying whether he will be on the team’s opening day roster. Cespedes’ four-year contract became official Saturday, and there’s just three-plus weeks before the A’s open the regular season in Japan against the Mariners. That’s earlier than typical seasons.

Cespedes, speaking through translator Juan Navarrete, said he can be ready to play in exhibitions in five or six days. He was scheduled to do conditioning and take batting practice and do some outfield drills Sunday. “I expect he’ll see quite a bit of activity before the Japan series,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “Whether or not he’s on the active opening day roster remains to be seen. We’ll play that by ear.”

Cespedes said he’s eager to prove he’s up to the challenge of succeeding in the majors. One player he looks up to in particular is A’s teammate Manny Ramirez. The two talked extensively while hitting in the same batting practice group and then chatted more in the outfield.

Beane talked about the A’s willingness to give Cespedes, 26, a four-year $36 million contract. “He is a pretty unique physical talent,” Beane said. “You don’t see guys like this come along too often.”

Beane did not say whether he envisioned Cespedes or Coco Crisp playing center field.


“Captain” Sal Bando drops by Oakland A’s camp

Legendary A’s third baseman Sal Bando visited camp Friday and was introduced to the team by manager Bob Melvin. Melvin, a Bay Area native, wears No. 6 in honor of Bando – captain of Oakland’s World Series championship teams of 1972-74 – and Melvin wants his players to be exposed to some of the franchise greats.

“I think it’s important that these guys understand the history,” Melvin said. “So whenever we have a guy like him around — one of the all-time great A’s — I think it’s important we share that with our guys.”

Manny Ramirez is starting at designated hitter for Friday’s Cactus League opener against Seattle, but Melvin said he’ll pencil in Jonny Gomes as DH for Saturday’s game against the Mariners in Peoria. Ramirez won’t be eligible for the A’s first 50 games while he serves a suspension, so the A’s need to get looks at their other DH candidates who are available for the start of the season. The evaluation period is shorter than usual this spring as the A’s open the regular season March 28 against Seattle in Tokyo.

“We know which guys we need to give more at-bats, and we’re in a little bit of a rush,” Melvin said. “We’re outta here on the 22nd,(to travel to Tokyo), and typically you like to get ‘X’ amount of plate appearances for guys. We’re going to be a little bit short of that, but we understand where we are.”


Manny Ramirez will DH in A’s exhibition opener Friday

The morning recap as the A’s take infield and prepare for this afternoon’s intrasquad game …

Manny Ramirez will be the designated hitter Friday when the A’s open Cactus League play against the Seattle Mariners. But manager Bob Melvin cautioned not to read too much into Friday’s lineup, backing off somewhat from his statement Wednesday that the starting nine in the exhibition opener might look a lot like his lineup for the March 28 regular season opener. The A’s have several starting spots up grabs, including first base, third base and DH. The look of the outfield is also undecided, with Yoenis Cespedes factoring heavily in that picture when he reports to camp.

Ramirez can’t even play in the regular season until he serves a 50-game suspension. Melvin said earlier in camp that he will rotate hitters through the DH spot. Ramirez will draw starts so he can shake off rust. But figure that Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, Jonny Gomes, Kila Ka’aihue and Seth Smith will also see DH time as the A’s must identify someone for that spot to begin the regular season.

Allen, Carter and Ka’aihue are also competing for the first base job along with Daric Barton. Barton, who is recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder, had a cortisone shot recently and is getting a couple day off from baseball activity. He isn’t expected to be ready to play defense until later this month. Does that put him behind in the first base battle? Melvin says no. “We know what to expect for him,” Melvin said. “We need to get him healthy.”


Scott Sizemore listed with sprained knee; MRI results unknown

The A’s are listing Scott Sizemore’s injury as a left knee sprain as they await the MRI results. Sizemore was on crutches in the A’s clubhouse and declined to discuss his injury with reporters through a team spokesman. “You don’t want something like that to happen on the first day,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “On top of that, he’s an integral player. You feel bad for him.”

As for third base alternatives if Sizemore is sidelined, Melvin mentioned Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard and catcher Josh Donaldson as the leading candidates. He considers non-roster invitee Wes Timmons in the mix too but added that “Donaldson is probably more of a bat.”

–Melvin had good things to say about Tyson Ross, who threw live batting practice to Manny Ramirez among other hitters. “His ball can disappear with a lot of velocity,” Melvin said. Ross admitted he was a bit nervous when Ramirez dug in — he bounced his first pitch — but Ramirez only made solid contact on one pitch. “I’ve pitched against him in video games, but this was the first time live,” Ross said.


Manny Ramirez likely to assume Oakland A’s DH role when suspension ends

The update from manager Bob Melvin’s morning media briefing …

Expect Manny Ramirez to be inserted as the A’s designated hitter as soon as the slugger comes off suspension. Melvin said that’s a logical assumption given Ramirez’s prolific hitting career. “He could jump out of bed in December and hit.”

Ramirez agreed to a minor league deal with Oakland on Monday and Melvin expects him in camp Friday, which is the full-squad reporting deadline. Ramirez must serve a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy, meaning he’s not eligible to play in a regular season game until May 30. Given that, Melvin said he won’t give Ramirez the majority of spring at-bats at DH, but will mix him into a rotation that will likely include Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Chris Carter and Kila Ka’aihue. Melvin added that he wouldn’t rule out giving Ramirez an occasional start in left field during the regular season.

Ramirez can play in a 10-game minor league assignment as his suspension nears an end. He’s likely to spend that period with Triple-A Sacramento, according to Melvin.


What will Manny Ramirez’s impact be on the A’s?

Checking in from Phoenix, where the A’s just announced the signing of Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract.

I have a couple different thoughts on this: First of all, spring training just got very interesting. I expect that Ramirez will attract a throng of national media when he arrives at camp, which is expected to be by the end of this week. He might be arriving right around the same time that Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes checks into camp. Cespedes’ four-year, $36 million deal should be finalized soon. But Ramirez should bring a circus-like atmosphere that’s all his own, thanks to his nutty personality as well as his reported performance-enhancing drug use. For a team that has lacked star power in recent years, this is quite a publicity boost and raises the A’s national profile. And if it boosts ticket sales, that’s a great thing for a club that ranked last in the major leagues in home attendance last season.

However … what will Ramirez’s real impact be on the field? He must serve a 50-game suspension, meaning he’ll miss more than one-quarter of the season by the time he’s eligible May 30. By that time, where will the A’s be in the standings? Will they be so far back that his addition won’t mean much? Or what if the other likely DH candidates (think Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes) really tear it up over those first 50 games. Do they stick in the lineup and does Ramirez get unceremoniously released? It’s worth pondering, but for now, the A’s will bask in the national spotlight a bit. And how often have we said that for a topic non San Jose ballpark-related?

Let’s hear some reaction to the Ramirez signing. Are you counting the days until May 30? Or do you hope that the A’s are hitting so much that adding Ramirez seems unneeded?

Sound off …