Gray feels great, could be back in A’s rotation next week

Sonny Gray threw about 50 pitches Tuesday , said he felt great and he could be back in rotation withing a week or so.

Sonny Gray threw about 50 pitches Tuesday , said he felt great and he could be back in rotation withing a week or so.

Things are looking up for the A’s starting rotation, at least that’s the way it seems.

Left-hander Rich Hill, owner of the second-best ERA in the American League at 2.25, says he’s feeling better every day. He’ll test his left groin injury by throwing a bullpen Wednesday that will determine if he’ll be able to start this weekend in Houston.

Sonny Hill threw off the mound Tuesday in three sets of about 15 pitches each, finishing with 50 pitches and said he wasn’t feeling any ill effects from the right trapezius strain that sent him to the disabled list 10 days ago. He threw two sets to bullpen catcher Phil Pohl, then threw to a group of hitters, including bench coach Mark Kotsay, infielder Tyler Ladendorf and outfielder Jake Smolinski – the last time through.

So by this time next week the A’s could have Gray and Hill throwing back-to-back in the rotation.

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Henderson’s passing reminds us of baseball’s mortality

Dave Henderson is all smiles while signing for A's fans in 2000.

Dave Henderson is all smiles while signing for A’s fans in 2000.

I got a chance to connect with some of the guys I grew up with Sunday.

At the other end of the phone were Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Sandy Alderson, Terry Steinbach and Tony La Russa.

This isn’t a case of dropping names here. These are some of the guys I talked to after the news came out that Dave Henderson, center fielder par excellence for the A’s from 1988-93 had died in Seattle at 57 of a massive heart attack.

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Teammates salute Dave Henderson, dead too soon at 57

Rickey Henderson (24) Dave Stewart and Dave Henderson (42).

Rickey Henderson (24) Dave Stewart and Dave Henderson (42).

Dave Henderson’s ever-present gap-toothed grin symbolized the joy with which he lived, and that’s what teammates remembered Sunday upon the news that the longtime A’s center fielder died of a massive heart attack in Seattle. He was 57.

“I never saw him have a bad day,’’ first baseman Mark McGwire said. `He’d strike out, and he’d come back to the dugout flashing that gap-toothed grin. He loved to play the game. He was a beautiful man.’’

Henderson joined the A’s in 1988 as just another player in a massive roster reorganization orchestrated by general manager Sandy Alderson, but as the former A’s general manager and current Mets’ GM said, “he was incredibly important to the run of success we had in those years.’’

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McGwire awash in memories on night of his bobblehead

Mark McGwire said "how cool is that" to having A's honor him with a bobblehead of his 1987 self.

Mark McGwire said “how cool is that” to having A’s honor him with a bobblehead of his 1987 self.

Mark McGwire returned to the Oakland Coliseum Tuesday, lean, clean-shaven, short reddish hair. In all, not at all as you probably remember him.

Of course, that McGwire was a bobblehead giveaway on the occasion of the Los Angeles Dodgers making their only visit this season to the Coliseum.

That trim and yet powerful McGwire circa 1987 was the one the A’s chose to commemorate McGwire’s 12-year Oakland career, the dozen years in which he hit 363 homers and won the 1987 Rookie of the Year award with a rookie record 49 bombs.

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The trade of McGwire in 1997 has lessons for A’s now

The trade of Mark McGwire in 1997 still has lessons for the 2015 A's

The trade of Mark McGwire in 1997 still has lessons for the 2015 A’s

(NOTE: This version of the story was written before the trade of  Tyler Clippard this afternoon)

The A’s will spend the next couple of nights in Chavez Ravine playing the Dodgers, for whom longtime A’s slugger Mark McGwire is the hitting coach.

When the cameras pan to McGwire, as they surely will, it would be well to think of former Oakland pitcher Scott Kazmir and the situation the 44-56 A’s have themselves in as the clock winds toward the July 31 trade deadline.

Eighteen years ago this week, the A’s traded McGwire to St. Louis for much the same reason Oakland traded Kazmir to Houston five days ago. The team was buried in the standings, McGwire was a free agent-to-be who wasn’t going to be coming back and Oakland wanted to try to rebuild for the future.

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Canha could be intriguing option for A’s at third base

Mark Canha, who went from Bellarmine High to Cal, will get every chance to stick with A's in 2015.

Mark Canha, who went from Bellarmine High to Cal, is mostly a left fielder and first baseman, but he can play some third, and A’s may well give him that chance in 2015.

The smart money says the A’s aren’t done with their tri-annual roster remake, but as we await those, there are some intriguing possibilities put forward by the moves the club already has made since the end of the season.

For me, one of the more compelling is the addition of Rule 5 slugger Mark Canha, the Cal product who is mostly a first baseman and left fielder.

He also plays third base, and has a Triple-A slash line good enough – .303/.384/.505 – that the A’s traded a young pitcher they liked, Austin House, Thursday morning to make sure they could emerge from the Rule 5 draft with Canha, the owner of 68 career minor league homers, in the fold.

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Bob Welch leaves eddies of emotion in old teammates

When I returned to the A’s beat in the spring of 2013, I hadn’t seen Bob Welch in about five years, maybe more.

I’d hit the road for a dozen-plus years in Seattle and he’d spent time away from the A’s working for the Arizona Diamondbacks but ultimately had been lured back to the Oakland organization by longtime buddy Curt Young.

We’d almost always gotten along well enough, although there are going to be rocky patches between reporters and players, and that’s never going to change.

We started talking, rehashing old times and I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Welch called longtime A’s photographer Michael Zagaris over from the far side of the clubhouse, put his arm around my shoulder and told Zagaris, `I want a picture with this guy.’ ’’

That’s sort of the way it was with Bobby Welch. He liked people. He loved baseball. And anything that brought the two of them together was all right by him.

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Former A’s shortstop Walt Weiss finds surprising new home in Colorado dugout.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It was good to catch up for a minute with one of the A’s of an earlier era, Walt Weiss, the new manager of the Colorado Rockies.

Weiss was the shortstop on the 1988 A’s team when he became the third consecutive Oakland player to win Rookie of the Year honors, following in the wake of Jose Canseco (1986) and Mark McGwire (1987).

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On Springer and more

The A’s apparently are closing in on a deal with free agent reliever Russ Springer. Forgive me if I don’t go overboard with anticipation.

Don’t get me wrong. Springer has had two very good years in a row. But relief pitchers are a little bit like the economy. You can use your best data to get an idea of what will happen in the coming 12 months, but in reality, it’s far too unpredictable to know for sure. So while Springer will add a nice veteran presence for a young bullpen, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t pitched in the American League — generally considered superior offensively to the National League — since he was with the then-Anaheim Angels in 1995.

That said, the A’s usually do a nice job of finding setup men. Jim Mecir, Jeff Tam, Chad Bradford, Mike Magnante, and even Ricardo Rincon (for a time) have been the right men at the right time through the years. It’ll be interesting to see if Springer can do the same.

— No brainer call by the A’s brass to re-up play-by-play man Ken Korach for another couple of seasons. I did not envy Korach when he had to step in for Lon Simmons back in 1995, but through the years, he has established himself as one of the best in the game. I’m not sure how much the kids out there still listen to games on the radio, but broadcasting that way has become a lost art. Korach maintains objectivity (a nearly extinct quality these days), regularly gives props to opponents and does a fantastic job of painting a picture. Now that the A’s are on a radio station that can be heard outside the Coliseum parking lot, do yourself a treat and tune in.

— One last note on the Jay McGwire/Mark McGwire news item last week. I asked Matt Holliday at a luncheon last Thursday whether he would care if it was revealed officially that McGwire used steroids. Holliday, who has worked on his hitting with Big Mac, predictably didn’t comment. But it seems to me that, at this point, why would we care? It would be a bit like condeming somebody for smoking in the 1950s or not wearing their seat belts in the ’70s. Mark McGwire was a product of his time and seems to have made some mistakes with his choices along the way. That would put him in company with, oh, the entire human race. But what bothers me is his lack of forthrightness. If he truly wants to help people, he needs to be honest about his experience, whatever it may have been. Living a lie, if that’s indeed what he’s doing, is an extremely dark place to be.


McGwire ‘outed’?

Wow, back in the blogosphere again. The job description for me has changed in the past couple of months — won’t bore you with the details — so the posting in this space has belonged primarily to Joe Stiglich, our fine A’s beat writer. But I’ve recently been given clearance to launch again, and Joe and I will be sharing the space as we get closer to spring training.

Anyway, wanted something interesting to mark my return and darned if Dead Spin hasn’t provided it. It’s tough to tell sometimes what’s for real and what’s tongue in cheek on that site, but it appears that Jay McGwire is about to out his older brother. You know, the guy who bombed 345 homers over his final seven seasons.

Of course, to say this reveals any great insight would be akin to saying that George Michael’s misadventures at Beverly Hills park a decade ago revaled something we didn’t really know already about his sexuality.

Still, Jay McGwire’s story, if an when it’s published, removes yet another layer of doubt surrounding his big brother. I can tell you that when Mark McGwire appeared on Capitol Hill four years ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from a guy who told me he knew Jay McGwire from a local gym and that it was an open secret the guy was dealing in steroids. The gentleman wouldn’t go on the record, wouldn’t lead me to anyone else, and the story never went anywhere. But it’s interesting.

And speaking of McGwire, the kid who does batting-stance impersonations did a fantastic one of No. 25. But the best was Dwayne Murphy with the hat pulled down over his head and swinging so hard he fell down.