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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.’’

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Sliding Nate Freiman, internet sensation

Nate Freiman, internet sensation.

Well, not quite up to Justin Bieber standards, perhaps, but a pieced-together video of Freiman’s slide at home plate was making the rounds Monday night and Tuesday.

The 6-foot-8 A’s rookie first baseman, not the fastest man on the field, galloped home from second base and did a part-dive, part-slide, part-scramble, getting his hand across home plate for the run that put the A’s ahead to stay in an 8-6 win over the Tigers.

Asked what an East German Olympic judge would give Freiman on form, shortstop Jed Lowrie said, “not a 10.0.’’

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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 68 wrapup: Freiman please to share a bit of Young’s big day; Jaso on `Dino’s curse’

Much of the focus around Chris Young’s three-hit, one-walk night Friday was on the home run he hit.

And it was a monster, 419 feet to left field.

But it was his third-inning double that was at least as interesting. As he cruised into second base, he raised both of his fists to cranium level and pumped them in the direction of the A’s dugout.

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