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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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Freiman making a name for himself against lefties

OAKLAND – For a player who wasn’t supposed to be in the big leagues this year, Nate Freiman is having a serious impact for the A’s.

That’s never been more true than in two starts against the Yankees’ former Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia.

Freiman had three singles off Sabathia back on May 3 in Yankee Stadium with his Boston-area family in the house. Then on Tuesday, he had two more singles off the veteran lefty before finally hitting a ball back up the middle that Sabathia deflected to turn into a groundout.

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Game 64 wrapup: Close call at first hard to take; Milone earns right to finish tough seventh inning

Nate Freiman, like any first baseman, knows how to gauge a close play at first base, even a play he can’t see.

Judging the impact of the ball hitting the glove while feeling through your leg as a runner is almost simultaneously hitting the base becomes a habit.

And what did Freiman think of the eighth inning play Saturday when second baseman Jed Lowrie tried to throw out Chicago leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza on a medium-speed grounder  with the score tied at 1-all?

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Game 61 wrapup: Donaldson finding might doesn’t make right; Cespedes can’t enjoy multi-homer game; Moss feeling better about swing; Doolittle gets vote of confidence

There seems to be no shortage of hits in Josh Donaldson’s bat these days.
He had three more Wednesday and for the month of June is 9-for-21 (.429), getting his overall average up to .332.
What gives?
Meet the pull hitter-who-wasn’t.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever hit this well,’’ the right-handed Donaldson said. “I know that I’ve never had so many hits to right field in an entire season as I’ve had already right now.’’
Four of the nine hits for Donaldson this month are to right. Baseball-reference.com has him with 19 hits to right field already this season. In 75 games last year, just 10 went to the opposite field.
The change may be the Donaldson isn’t trying to pull the ball the way power hitters are wont to do. He’s had episodes with the A’s and in the minor leagues where he would get on a roll. Then the temptation to swing for the fences would get him off-kilter for a spell.
So far this year, at least, that hasn’t happened. It’s not that he’s become a singles hitter. With eight homers, he’s third on the A’s roster. With 18 doubles he’s tied for the team lead. He’s hitting the ball in the gap, hitting the ball hard and taking whatever happens.
And whatever happens has been pretty good.
“What is it that Josh can’t do?’’ manager Bob Melvin asked after his team finished off the Brewers 6-1 Wednesday, the team’s 16th win in 19 games. “
Melvin was particularly impressed by the first of Donaldson’s hits Wednesday, a single to right with Jed Lowrie on first base.
“He uses his head there, sees the whole field and goes to right and we’ve got guys on first and third and a chance to score a run,’’ Melvin said. “You can say he’s a little bit of a flake, and I’m not saying he’s not, but he’s very, very aware of what happens on the field.’’
One man’s flakiness is another man’s free spiriting, but however you define it, Donaldson does enjoy himself. He put on a show on MLB-TV’s Intentional Talk Tuesday, a performance that had his teammates howling.
He enjoys playing the game, and it shows – and not just on defense.
“He’s as good a defensive player at third base as there is,’’ Melvin said. “He’s done a great job for us there.’’
The one thing Donaldson will not do is come out of a game. Melvin keeps pressuring Donaldson to see if he needs a day off, so far without success.
“I talk to him about it all the time,’’ Melvin said. “He just doesn’t want to come out.’’
And so far, at least, he’s not wearing down. He seems to be warming up.

–Yoenis Cespedes hit a couple of home runs Tuesday, a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the sixth, and for most of the night it seemed like they would stand up for the win.
They didn’t. Bullpen breakdowns led to a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.
And that impacted how Cespedes thinks of his first-ever multiple-homer game in the big leagues.
“I was so happy, for almost the whole game,’’ Cespedes said Wednesday through interpreter Ariel Prieto. “Until the end of the game. I wasn’t happy at the end of the game because we lost.’’

–Brandon Moss hasn’t gotten many hits lately.
When he’s gotten them, however, they’ve had some impact.
The first baseman has three hits in his last 33 at-bats (0.91), but each of the three has been a home run. Wednesday’s homer was a monster, a first-pitch blast into the far reaches of the right field stands.
It turned a 3-1 game into a 6-1 game and kept the A’s on a roll by getting Oakland back to a season-best 11 games over .500.
And while the homers by themselves don’t suggest that he’s coming out of a slump that has him having fallen from .295 at the end of April to .225 now, the line drive shot that was caught by third baseman Juan Francisco suggested to Moss that happier days are just around the corner.
“In the first two at-bats today I felt like I’d taken a step backwards,’’ Moss said. “I can in (the clubhouse) and told myself to let it go. I’m at my best when I’m pulling the ball, but right now that’s not working.
“So I told Jed (shortstop Jed Lowrie) that I was going to swing when I saw a pitch that was in the zone. I was able to do that and hit it hard.’’
It may be a while before Moss gets a chance to see if his swing really is coming around. The A’s first three games in Chicago, at least, will be started by left-handed pitchers. That means rookie Nate Freiman, who is hitting .340 against lefties, will get those starts.
And Moss is cool with that.
“It’s a great thing we picked up Nate,’’ Moss said. “He’s been a great part of our team. And he’s done a lot of damage. Whether it’s three days a week (of playing) or seven days a week, you just want to have competitive at-bats.
And that, Moss said, defines the A’s.
“We aren’t building for (the future),’’ he said. “We’re trying to win right now. We have guys who understand that nothing is owed to us.
“It’s not owed to me because I hit a homer off a lefty today that I start against the lefty tomorrow.’’

–Reliever Sean Doolittle, who was told in a sitdown with Melvin early Wednesday that the club would be sticking with Doolittle as the lefty setup man, was happy to hear that.
He was even happier to go over video of his last three performances and come up with a reason for his recent troubles. After allowing just two runs in 23 games, he’s allowed seven runs in the last three games, including blowing a 3-0 lead Tuesday that led to speculation Melvin might find a different role for him.
“Watching the video I see I’m flying open with my hips (during his delivery),’’ Doolittle said. “We did some mechanical work and maybe I’ve got it worked out.’’
Doolittle was gratified by the support he felt leaving Melvin’s office after their meeting early in the day.
“It’s good to know that I’ll stay in the same role,’’ Doolittle said. “But most of all it’s good to know that he’s in my corner.’’
Doolittle didn’t pitch in Wednesday’s win over the Brewers, but expect to see him at his old post in the seventh or eighth inning, as needed, in a four-game set in Chicago. He will have lots of friends and family in U.S. Cellular Field, and he can’t wait.
“A lot of my support system is going to be there,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to that and looking forward to getting out there again.’’
–Hideki Okajima continues to wear an iceberg-sized wrap on his left forearm after games. It’s so big that the left-hander has to eat the post-game meal with just his right hand.
Even so, he’s close to being ready to pitch and, in a pinch, could have pitched for the A’s Wednesday, two days after taking a line drive off his left forearm.
“I really wanted to give him a couple of days off,’’ Melvin said. The manager had a spot that would have been ideal for the lefty in the eighth inning, but with Okajima not quite himself, Melvin had Ryan Cook pitch the eighth instead.
“I think he’ll be ready to go (Thursday in Chicago),’’ the manager said.

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Doolittle will retain role as lefty setup man

Sean Doolittle, the embattled A’s reliever who has fallen on hard times at the mound, doesn’t have to worry for his job.

Doolittle met Wednesday morning with manager Bob Melvin who told Doolittle he would be remaining in his role as the A’s primary left-handed setup man to closer Grant Balfour.

That came the morning after Doolittle threw four pitches and gave up three runs in the eighth inning, letting a 3-0 Oakland lead slip away. The A’s went on to lose the game to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in 10 innings.

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Game 57 wrapup: Straily keeps filling up strike zone; Freiman gets critique on how to run out a triple; Young breaks loose

Dan Straily didn’t get the win Saturday, but not because he didn’t deserve to.

The second-year right-hander limited the White sox to five singles and double in six innings, didn’t walk anyone, struck out eight and left a 3-1 lead to the A’s bullpen.

Sean Doolittle wound up letting Chicago back in the game, so when the A’s did go on to score a 4-3 win, the victory went to Jerry Blevins, who got the final out of the top of the 10th innings.

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