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.



Armed and dangerous: Max Muncy’s game-saving throw

Max Muncy came up with a big throw at a big moment Friday in 7-4 win over Angels.

Max Muncy came up with a big throw at a big moment Friday in 7-4 win over Angels.

On Thursday, Max Muncy may have made it easy on A’s manager Bob Melvin to replace him on defense after he messed up a play in right field.

On Friday, the converted infielder made a pitch designed to get Melvin’s attention and perhaps keep him in close games where defense is an issue late.

With the A’s down 3-2 in the fourth inning, Melvin went to his bullpen with starter Eric Surkamp facing a situation with men on first and third and two out. Fernando Rodriguez replaced the left-hander only to be stung by a single to right by Mike Trout.

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Doolittle bests Pujols in battle of ninth-inning warriors

Sean Doolittle collected his third save Wednesday and had to go through Albert Pujols to do it.

Sean Doolittle collected his third save Wednesday and had to go through Albert Pujols to do it.

Sean Doolittle throws fastballs. Albert Pujols hits fastballs.

That made Wednesday’s ninth-inning confrontation between the A’s reliever and the Angels’ DH a classic of the genre.

Or, in the words of A’s catcher Stephen Vogt, “It was fun.’’

Doolittle’s inning had started with Kole Calhoun taking him deep, the homer cutting Oakland’s lead over the playoff-hungry Angels a single run at 8-7. Then Mike Trout singled, meaning that Pujols and his 558 career homers was at the plate as the potential winning run.

“It was a kind of `Is this going to end’ thing,’’ Vogt said. “Is it going to be Pujols doing what Pujols does or Doolittle getting the popup like he does.’’

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Pujols proof Scribner’s new-look cutter is the real deal

Evan Scribner's addition of a cutter has made him a late-inning weapon out of the A's bullpen.

Evan Scribner’s addition of a cutter has made him a late-inning weapon out of the A’s bullpen.

Evan Scribner struck out Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and David Freese in order in the ninth inning to close out Oakland’s 6-2 win over the Angels Tuesday.

There was no save on the line, but the first two men have MVP titles on their resumes and Freese is the cleanup hitter who’d already driven in two runs.

Still, they seemed no match for Scribner, who made the A’s roster in a last-ditch attempt this spring and who has steadily move up the ladder to the point where he’s the club’s eighth inning setup man.

“That at-bat against Pujols, that was a big one for me,’’ Scribner said. He’d faced Pujols six times over the course of the last few seasons, and Pujols had two homers and five RBIs to show for their matchups.

And he’d never struck out against Scribner. It went strike looking, strike swinging and strike swinging. Three pitches and Pujols was cooked.

“Pujols has gotten me a couple of times,’’ Scribner said. “So that was fun.’’

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Game 152 wrapup: A long, strange two games for Donaldson; Griffin’s tempo and delivery are back

To say that it was a strange 24 hours for Josh Donaldson may understate it some.

In the ninth inning Tuesday he delivered a game-winning hit on an 0-2 pitch that cut the A’s magic number for winning the American League West to six games.

He was hit in the face by a couple of pies in typical A’s fashion, and also had the contents of the Gatorade cooler dumped on him.

In the first inning Wednesday he was drilled in the back by a pitch from Angels’ starter Jason Vargas, an apparent purpose pitch that had the umpiring crew warning both benches about further retaliation.

Three hours later, the third baseman muffed the pickup of a sacrifice bunt attempt, giving the Angels an extra out they were able to convert into the winning run in a 5-4, 11-inning victory, denying Oakland a chance to cut further into its magic number.

“I felt I came in too aggressively,’’ Donaldson said of the failure to handle Erick Aybar’s bunt attempt. It set up Josh Hamilton’s game-winning sacrifice fly a few minutes later. If Donaldson had made the play, Hamilton’s fly ball would have been the inning’s third out. “My feet weren’t right.

“I expect to make that play every time.’’

What he may not have expected was to get smoked by a pitch in the back. But he’s the A’s best hitter at this point, and that means something. The Angels’ best hitter, Mike Trout, was hit by a pitch in his final plate appearance Tuesday, and the Angels apparently felt retribution was needed.

Since Trout getting hit loaded the bases with two out in a 1-all tie, it’s likely that Ryan Cook wasn’t going out of his way to hit him.

“Was it intentional? I don’t know,’’ Donaldson said. “Trout took that one pretty hard yesterday.’’

The umpiring crew led by Gary Darling wasn’t taking any chances and both benches were warned against further incursions, which A’s manager Bob Melvin felt was unnecessary.

“That’s a very experienced crew of umpires,’’ Donaldson said. “They’ll try to take control of the game.’’

Donaldson said he wasn’t sure that Vargas was even throwing at him.

“He has to throw inside,’’ the third baseman said, “for guys to respect his changeup.’’


–Starter A.J. Griffin hit a slow spot in August, but he’s been close to at his best in his last four starts, including fiving up two runs and one hit in six innings Wednesday in a no-decision against the Angels.

The only hit he allowed was Mike Trout’s 26th homer, the center fielder’s third in the series. Beyond that, only two walks marred Griffin’s day.

Afterward he said he’s been able to recapture his tempo and delivery and repeat both time after time.

“It’s better now,’’ he said. “Before I was thinking too much. Now I get a sign and let it fly.’’

As for the homer, the 35th he’s allowed, he’s the big league leader in that category, something that’s an issue only when someone asked him about it.

“Trout’s good at baseball,’’ Griffin said, shrugging his shoulders. “It was a 3-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate.’’

As for being asked about all the home runs, he took it matter-of-factly.

“It’s only a problem when the press asks about it,’’ he said. “(Bert) Blyleven and Catfish (Hunter) gave up some homers and they were pretty good pitchers.’’


Game 151 wrapup: Wolff says he’s not complaining about fans; Reddick likes his handiwork with pies; Rookie starter Gray comes up big against Trout

There is no timing quite like bad timing.

And so it was for A’s managing general partner Lew Wolff, who took to the pages of USA Today Tuesday to talk about the low turnstile count at the Oakland Coliseum on the same night the A’s surpassed last year’s attendance total of 1.665 million.

It was the fourth year running that the A’s had registered an increase in yearly attendance, and in the wake of a 2-1 walkoff win over the Angels, the A’s still have five home games left in which to build on that total.

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A’s 4, Twins 3

Just a quick update on the A’s outfield corps, which has suddenly gotten pretty thin. Aaron Cunningham left tonight’s game with a concussion after he was beaned in the helmet by an Anthony Swarzak fastball. Cunningham was taken to the hospital for X-rays, but there was no further update on his condition. The A’s were already down to four outfielders, because Ryan Sweeney went on the DL and they chose to promote first baseman Daric Barton rather than another outfielder. A trip to the DL would certainly seem possible for Cunningham, but we’ll know more tomorrow.

–Anyone out there got any thoughts on who the A’s will choose with the 13th pick in the draft tomorrow? The common logic is it will be a pitcher, since the top of the draft is so deep with pitching. I threw out a few candidates in my notebook for tomorrow’s paper, so check that out.

A couple names I didn’t throw out:

–Arizona State right-hander Mike Leake. The A’s drafted this kid out of high school back in 2006, and now he’s one of the top right-handers in this year’s class after a standout career as a Sun Devil. He doesn’t blow up the radar gun, but he’s said to have great command, and we know the A’s often value that more than velocity (see James Simmons: 2007).

–We’re talking a real dark-horse candidate here, but keep the name Mike Trout in mind. He’s a high school center fielder from New Jersey that Baseball America projects will go in the first round. I know GM Billy Beane was in New Jersey doing some scouting recently, though he could have been checking out any number of prospects. Anyway, this is a longshot, since the A’s haven’t taken a high school position player in the first round since Eric Chavez in 1996. But scouts think Trout is a five-tool guy, and his competitiveness draws comparisons to Aaron Rowand.
Just throwing this one out there.

When it comes to outfielders, they could also consider Sacramento State’s Tim Wheeler or Notre Dame’s A.J. Pollock. Or, they could just do the expected thing and grab a pitcher. We’ll find out tomorrow …