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A’s powering down as their season is winding down

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A's hitters.

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A’s hitters.

There are only so many ways to ask the A’s about their frustration level and if their supply of moxie evaporated at the end of July.

Oakland is simply not the same team it was six weeks ago.

For four months, Oakland had the best record in the game, the best run differential, the most runs scored and ranked in the top five in the fewest runs allowed.

The pitch has remained relatively constant, but all the other numbers have fallen off a cliff, mostly because the offense has gone from awesome to awful.

“We were one team for the better part of four months,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “Then for the last month and a half it’s been different.’’

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Pomeranz likely roster space victim after strong start

Drew Pomeranz gave teh A's a huge lift Wednesday, but they may need his spot on the roster Thursday.

Drew Pomeranz gave teh A’s a huge lift Wednesday, but they may need his spot on the roster Thursday.

There have been a lot of “thanks, but no thanks’’ moments for the A’s of late.

They sent down reliever Dan Otero last week. when he had a 7-1 record and 2.28 ERA when they needed the roster space.

They told first baseman Nate Freiman they were sending him down Wedendsday because they needed roster space.

And the man Freiman was moved for, Drew Pomeranz, could be facing the same fate Thursday.

Pomeranz isn’t at all likely to stay in the starting rotation, and even after 5.1 innings in which he allowed one unearned run and did more than his share in a 5-4 A’s win over the Astros, it will be three or four days before he could pitch again. Because the rosters expand after Monday’s game, Oakland could send him down and have him back on Tuesday.

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Will acquisition of Blanks cut into Moss’s playing time?

Brandon Moss has been playing almost daily; will that continue with acquisition of Kyle Blanks?

Brandon Moss has been playing almost daily; will that continue with acquisition of Kyle Blanks?

The A’s tried going to battle with two left-handed first basemen.

Now they are trying it with one left-hander and one right-hander.

Kyle Blanks joins the A’s Friday in Cleveland as the right-handed hitting first baseman, joining Brandon Moss, the lefty. Daric Barton, the other lefty at the season’s start, has been designated for assignment to make room for Blanks.

It never seemed to make much sense to outsiders to have both Moss and Barton on the roster at the same time unless one was going to be the DH and one was going to be the first basemen and both were going to play against both left-handed pitchers as well as right-handers.

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Freiman, Lindblom, Leon cut, but Burns earns Bay Area trip

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman celebrates two-run homer vs. Astros Aug. 15, 2013

The A’s made what are likely their last roster trims in Arizona Sunday when they optioned first baseman Nate Freiman and pitchers Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon to Triple-A Sacramento.

Lindblom, who had a hitless, scoreless 4.2 innings against the Mariners Sunday before the M’s tagged him in the fifth, was in the mix in the bullpen, but with the A’s short two starting pitchers to the disabled list in Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery) and A.J. Griffin (elbow), both he and Leon will be starters for the RiverCats.

“We’re two down in the rotation,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “We need backup.’’

Lindblom served as starter and reliever in the big leagues with the Rangers last year after having been exclusively a reliever with the Dodgers and Phillies. He threw 4.2 innings without allowing a hit or a run Sunday against the Mariners before being tagged for two runs and lifted in a game the A’s lost in the bottom of the ninth, 6-4.

Lindblom said he long since learned how fruitless it was for players to play general manager, ended his spring with a 4.02 ERA and knowing that he’ll be a starter, which is what he would prefer.

Leon, too, made an impact with Melvin this spring with a 2.13 ERA in five games, including one start. The manager called him “highly impressive.’’

As for Freiman, he was a Rule 5 player last year, so the A’s had to keep him on the roster or lose him. This time around, he has options, so the club can send him down without risking losing him. And he needs more at-bats, because 2013 saw him serve almost exclusively against left-handed pitching.

“Nate needs to build up at-bats,’’ Melvin said. “Last year we needed him against left-handed pitchers, and he prepared for that. But he needs to get at-bats against right-handers and play every day.’’

Freiman hit four homers last year after having hit 42 combined in 2011 and 2012 in the minor leagues. Melvin suggests the power will return.

“The power comes when he gets more at-bats,’’ the manager said. “It’s easier to track the ball.’’

Melvin said the A’s won’t be making any more cuts before the Bay Bridge series, which means non-roster outfielder Billy Burns has opened enough eyes that he’ll be in the mix this weekend in San Francisco and Oakland.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ Melvin said of Burns having made it this far. “I don’t know that he would have through that this would have been the case for him, but he’s earned every bit of it.’’

Burns had two more hits in Peoria Sunday, has 20 hits for the spring and is averaging .313. And let’s not forget the Major League-high 10 steals the fleet Burns had. One of his two hits Sunday was a bunt to the right side that only the fastest of men could have beaten out.

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Freiman wears his loss to Burns in black and orange

Nate Freiman as Marge Simpson, 2013

Nate Freiman as Marge Simpson, 2013

Billy Burns is a true believer, Nate Freiman a true disbeliever.

That’s at least when the subject of the NCAA basketball tournament is involved. The alma maters of each played Friday morning, and Burns’ Mercer stunned Freiman’s Duke.

And stunned Freiman himself. He not only didn’t believe black-and-orange clad Mercer would beat the Blue Devils, one of the most storied teams in NCAA history, he didn’t believe they’d stay close.

So the two bet their team’s colors, Freiman giving the points. The loser had to wear the other team’s colors during workouts Friday afternoon before the A’s left Phoenix to pay a call on the Giants in Scottsdale.

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Novel idea helps A’s double up on their batting practice

A's double batting cagesThe A’s were all over bench coach Chip Hale Friday in the second day of workouts at Phoenix’s Papago Park.

In a good way.

It was Hale, who runs the nuts and bolts of the A’s spring training camp,  who decided to use side-by-side batting cages on one of the back fields at Papago Park, then to set up a left-handed breaking ball machine on one and a right-handed machine on the other.

Players were able to get through twice as fast, if that was their desire, or to get twice as many swings.

Field baseman Nate Freiman was in the twice-as-much category.

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There’s nothing evident about the A’s anymore

The additions of Scott Kazmir to the starting rotation and Jim Johnson to the bullpen should have the A’s in good shape heading into the winter meetings.

The A’s will go to Orlando next week, because they have to at least make an appearance, but history suggests they may not do much past taking part in the Rule 5 draft, the same process that brought them first baseman Nate Freiman last year. History may prove to be wrong about that.

Already the A’s have shown a major ability to surprise. And they’d like more, because they need more. Oakland would like to add a bat, but most of the ones they’d want they can’t afford. Many of the one they can afford, they wouldn’t want. Maybe there is one out there they’d like.

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Game 162 wrapup: Melvin makes sure Donaldson finishes over .300; Gray tunes up for ALDS start; Norris has smooth sailing playing first base

What’s in a number?

On Saturday, Brandon Moss got to the 30-homer level. On Sunday, Josh Donaldson was taken out of the game in part to preserve a plus-.300 batting average and Chris Young came out with his average at .200.

There’s something about round numbers that baseball likes.

Donaldson likes his .301 average, too, but he was loathe to be taken out of the game after just one plate trip.

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Game 159 wrapup: Last two games aside, A’s have done well vs. top pitchers; It’s rookie hazing day for flight to Seattle

Dan Straily as Wolverine

Dan Straily as Wolverine

This is perhaps an odd time to concern oneself with the Oakland offense, but the A’s have gone from scoring early and often in game after game to having scored one run in the last two starts.

That in itself wouldn’t be too miserable if it were not for the fact that the A’s face Felix Hernandez in Seattle Friday and they haven’t scored a run off the King in two starts this year.

Having three of the final five games before the playoffs start be games in which they haven’t been able to score much is not the tone the A’s want to set.

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Game 146 wrapup: It’s time to let Moss play against leftties; Donaldson likes A’s plan for success; Young soars to .201; Balfour finally back in action

Are the A’s about to play the Texas Rangers, their last competition in the American League West title fight, with one arm tied behind their back?

Maybe. The Rangers are scheduled to start two left-handed pitchers, Derek Holland on Friday and Martin Perez on Sunday, against the A’s.

Oakland generally sits lefty cleanup hitter Brandon Moss against left-handed pitchers, and the A’s have had some success doing so. Nate Freiman has had a big year against left-handed pitching at .314 with four homers and 22 RBIs, and Freiman, a right-hander, is the usual starter at first against lefties.

There are times to throw away the numbers, however, and this may be one of them. Moss is an impact player, and more now than ever. The A’s are 13-4 since Aug. 26, going from 2½ games behind Texas to 3½ games in front of the Rangers in that time.

The driving force? Brandon Moss. He’s a .356 hitter in those games with five homers and 17 RBIs, an average of an RBI per game although he’s only starter 13 of those games.

He didn’t play Thursday when the Twins threw lefty Scott Diamond at Oakland and the A’s came away just fine with an 8-2 win. But since Aug. 26, in the limited time Moss has had against lefties, he’s been much better than his .216 season average against them.

Specifically he’s 5-for-10 with two homers and five RBIs.

Moss isn’t going to ask to play against lefties. Ask him, and he’ll say that he hasn’t hit well enough to earn the right and that it’s all about the team winning and “it’s not about whether it’s hard for me to sit and watch.’’

Ask manager Bob Melvin and he’ll say he doesn’t know yet what his lineup will look like. But Moss has stood up and been counted when the A’s needed him to be The Man. A couple of swings from Moss in games Friday or Sunday could be the difference between winning and losing for Oakland.

And the A’s very much need to win to keep the Rangers at bay.

“If I play, I play,’’ Moss said. “This (platooning) is what we’ve done for two years, and it’s worked pretty well. It’s about what we have done, not about what I have done.’’

Moss was slogging along in the minor leagues last June when the A’s pulled him back to the big leagues for one last shot. Since then he’s hit 46 home runs in less than a season and a half, a figure that is tied for the 12th-best total over that stretch in the Major Leagues.

He’s immensely grateful for the chance the A’s have given him.

And that explains, at least in part, why he’s not going to push his case to play.

“When you think of where I was last year and where I am now,’’ he said, “obviously I’m very appreciative of the chance I’ve gotten. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in the team and the (front office) staff to make the right decisions.’’

That’s the company line, too.

But it’s difficult to see the A’s putting their best lineup forward against the Rangers in a series Oakland needs to win and not see Moss a part of it.

 

–Josh Donaldson says the A’s don’t have to do anything differently against the second-place Rangers this weekend to move closer to another playoff spot.

“Pitching and hitting is what it’s about,’’ the third baseman said. “We’ve done that the majority of the year, and when we have, we’ve done fine.’’

Donaldson was in the lineup at third Thursday less than 20 hours after being hit on the right hand by a pitch. He singled, walked twice and scored a run in five plate trips. Defensively, he made a pair of above-average plays, getting plenty on the throw with his injured right hand.

“At this point of the year,’’ he said, “it’s going to take a lot to get me out of the lineup. It was a little sore, which I expected, but I’m going to play.’’

 

–Chris Young, who generally plays only against left-handers, got a start against one Thursday and had a double and a triple, although both of the hits came against right-handed relievers.

The two hits got him over .200, all the way to .201, for the first time since May 25, when he was hitting .207. It’s been a tough year for Chris Young.

“I feel like I’ve been swinging well,’’ Young said. “Today some balls found some holes. It’s not about the numbers anymore, not at this point of the season.

“It’s about winning games, just winning games. Our season depends on that.’’

 

–Grant Balfour, talking before Thursday’s game, said “we aren’t there yet’’ when asked if it was possible he was getting too much time off. Balfour hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 before throwing the ninth inning Thursday.

After the game the Oakland closer was talking as if the long layoff, his tired arm notwithstanding, was perhaps a little too long.

“I felt good,’’ he said. “But you do need to be out there more consistently to have your command. But it went OK, and I’m ready to go.’’

And he’s looking forward to the three games this weekend against the Rangers.

“I don’t think about three games,’’ he said. “I just think about the next game. Tomorrow is the most important day for us.

“We’ve played well to put ourselves in good position going in. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it.’’