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A’s: Samardzija revels in late outpouring of support

Jeff Samardzija got bailed out by A's offense Friday against Baltimore

Jeff Samardzija got bailed out by A’s offense Friday against Baltimore

For most of Friday night, you could forgive Jeff Samardzija if he’d started to wonder where this vaunted A’s offense he’d heard about had gone to.

With the Cubs, for whom he made his first 17 starts, Samardzija knew he wasn’t going to get much offense.

It’s not supposed to be like that with the A’s, who have scored more runs than 28 of the other 29 big league teams.

But Oakland got him four runs his first time out, just two runs in his second start and the A’s had just two runs through eight innings Friday before Josh Donaldson turned that around with a walkoff three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

Samardzija was in the clubhouse when he saw it. What followed next, creation of the walkoff tunnel down the third base line, the pie in Donaldson’s face and the dumping of the Gatorade container, is something that Samardzija could get used to.

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A’s: Starters Gray, Kazmir and Chavez earn extra time off

Sonny Gray will get extra time off thanks to the All-Star break, as will Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.

Sonny Gray will get extra time off thanks to the All-Star break, as will Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.

The A’s have asked much of their starting pitchers in the first half.

Between then, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez have averaged 119 innings per man in the first half, during which they’ve gone 28-12 with a combined 2.77 ERA.

They are using a rejiggered rotation after the All-Star break to maximize the amount of time each will get off. To do that, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young have gone with newly acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to handle the first two games after the All-Star break Friday and Saturday against the Orioles in Oakland.

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A’s: Unicorn mask latest bit of oddity in Oakland clubhouse

Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A's unicorn backpack earlier this season.

Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A’s unicorn backpack earlier this season.

It’s really true that you can never tell what you’ll see upon walking into the Oakland A’s clubhouse.

It could be players challenging themselves to coat their gums with nuclear hot sauce.

It could be a full sized Darth Vader helmet painted in the A’s Green and Gold gracing the center of the room.

Or it could be players taking turns wearing a large white unicorn mask.

Saturday pregame, it was the unicorn’s turn.

To be clear, the A’s have had a unicorn with them for a couple of years now. The backpack that the relievers fill with sunflower seeds, candy and nuts for the couple of hours they will spend in the bullpen has a unicorn on the back of it.

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A’s: The ability to bounce back the signature of this club

Manager Bob Melvin has his team rebounding whenever adversity shows up.

Manager Bob Melvin has his team rebounding whenever adversity shows up.

The old saying about sports is that you’re never as good as you look when you’re going good, and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re going bad.

So what does that say about the A’s, who have played 90 games with the second-best record (57-33) of any Oakland team ever and who haven’t had much bad happen?

It seemed like bad things might be ready to descend when the A’s finished the last road trip by getting swept in Detroit, losing three games when two of the three games were there for Oakland to win.

But they came back with a six-game homestand in which they won all six games they played and allowed five runs total in the six games.

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A’s: Gentry, Crisp prove speed doesn’t take a day off

Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry combined their speed skills to run down Giants Monday.

Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry combined their speed skills to run down Giants Monday.

The focus in Oakland almost always on the offense, which has scored the most runs (444) or on the pitching, which has the second-best ERA in the majors (3.11).

The thing is, the A’s can do more. And they did more Monday in the opener against the Giants, a team they will play three more times this week.

The A’s first run came in the fifth inning off Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong, who hit Craig Gentry with a pitch. Gentry then stole second and took third as Coco Crisp dropped down a brilliant bunt down the first base line, beating it out with a speed show of his own.

“It’s a good combination when they’re both on,’’ manager bob Melvin said. “there’s the dynamic where (the pitcher) has to be quick to the plate.’’

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A’s addition of Samardzija, Hammel is a preemptive strike

There are some hidden depths to the A’s trade with the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

One of which is that it is a preemptive strike at the rest of Major League Baseball’s contending teams, almost all of which believe they need more starting pitching.

The Yankees do. The Orioles do. The Blue Jays do. And the list is long.

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A’s: Verlander’s velocity dropoff not slowing him down

So what does Wednesday’s clash between the A’s and Detroit starter Justin Verlander mean if the A’s and the Tigers meet again in the post-season?

A third consecutive meeting is a reasonable possibility. After all, Oakland and Detroit lead their respective divisions now, and it’s not clear that either has a sufficiently powerful divisional opponent to change that between now and October.

Last August the A’s hit Verlander. Last October, he dominated them.

Verlander isn’t the same now as then. Even with Wednesday’s win, he’s only 7-7 with a 4.71 ERA. Scouts say he doesn’t throw as hard. The A’s reached him for nine hits and were on the verge of knocking him out of the game, but he persevered.

And Oakland hitters say they’d expect no less in a rematch, reduced velocity or not.

“It’s definitely weird seeing him pitch in the upper 80s and low 90s,’’ A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “I’m used to the guy who reaches back and all of a sudden it’s 97 at your hands. But that is the transitions guys have to make as they get older. You see guys like (the Giants’ Tim) Lincecum doing the same thing.

“Verlander still throws the ball well. He keeps you off-balance. He mixes his pitches. He still pitches. He’s going to be tough.’’

A’s batting coach Chili Davis said the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Verlander, who just eight months ago struck out 10 A’s batters in eight innings in as dominating a Game 5 as Oakland ever wants to see thrown at it.

There was none of that Wednesday, just a solid six-inning performance that, coupled with A’s pitching breakdowns, did in Oakland.

“He’s become more finesse than power,’’ Davis said. “When he came into the majors, he was known as a power pitcher. He still has a good arm – he just didn’t pitch the same way (Wednesday).’’

How does a power pitcher make the change? In a two-decade career, Davis saw plenty who did, and he’s seeing it in Verlander. The right-hander is only 31, but he’s thrown the most pitches by far of any pitcher in the big leagues the last few years.

“He throws sliders to righties, changes and curves to lefties, shows the fastball up, tries to get strikes on the outer part of the plate, gets two strikes every once in a while and tries to surprise you inside,’’ Davis said. “And that’s pretty much what I saw today,” Davis said. “Hitters know he can get his fastball to 97. But are they strikes? Numbers will say his fastball is 91 to 97, but he doesn’t pitch at 97. He pitches 88-to-93, and if I’m a hitter, that’s what I’m looking for.

“I think he can keep winning games. The fastball is going to move; it’s not going to be straight. You might see the curve a little more often. As pitchers evolve, they’re learning new pitches, they’re learning hitters. He’s going to mix it up a lot more now. I’m not saying that’s bad. He’s still a presence on the mound, and guys have to respect his ability to get you out. He’s just evolving into a certain type of pitcher.’’

Brandon Moss’s day Wednesday might suggest that Verlander can be had, at least a little. Moss was 11-for-18 career against Verlander – 11 strikeouts, that is. On Wednesday he homered, singled and doubled while Verlander was on the mound, although the single was just a blooper that fell in left field where no defender was guarding against him.

Moss said it was wrong to dismiss Verlander’s potential impact. He looked back to last August, when Verlander’s power seemed to be on the wane a bit, again to last October, when the man who throws bullets reappeared.

“When he gets guys on base, he can dial it up to 97,’’ Moss said. “He’s a finesse pitcher with a power package.

“For most top-line starters, there’s a regular-season version and there’s a playoff version. We know that about him. He’s done well against us in the regular season, but in the playoffs, he’s going to be dominant.’’

It will be time for the A’s to step up their game.

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A’s: Mills giving club a chance to win as fifth starter

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A's rotation

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A’s rotation

For someone who was toiling until the last couple of weeks in the minor leagues, Brad Mills looks like the Major Leagues are somewhere he could prosper.

After a four-inning, 94-pitch start against the Red Sox after the A’s picked him up from the Brewers, the left-hander has come back with starts of 6.1 and 6-plus innings in which he’s allowed three runs each time.

The numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but when you pitch for the team that generates more runs than anyone, that’s at least enough to keep a guy competitive.

And the A’s are more than impressed by what Mills has done.

“He’s done a great job,’’ right fielder Brandon Moss said. “He pitched into the seventh, he gave us another good performance.

“But at some point we have to score a run for him, and we just didn’t do that.’’

Manager Bob Melvin came away impressed once again by Mills, who retired the first eight men he faced, striking out four of them, and only seemed troubled by cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez, whose double in the fourth set up the first run and whose two-run homer in the sixth locked the game away for Detroit.

“He gives up three runs to a team like this, and one of them’s on a ground ball and another’s on a homer,’’ Melvin said. “Really, the only bad pitch he made was the homer. But when you give up three and you don’t get anything …

“It’s a pretty well-pitched game by him. We just couldn’t help him out.’’

For his part, Mills seems to be settling in, although he second-guessed a couple of the pitches he threw, in particular the Martinez homer.

“I felt like I came out throwing strikes, making them swing,’’ Mills said. “There were a couple of pitches I’d like back. The homer was a changeup first pitch. I couldn’t locate it like I wanted.’’

He said the fact that Rick Porcello was putting the A’s away inning after inning didn’t impact his job.

“I don’t worry about what their guy is doing,’’ Mills said. “I’ve got a job to do. That doesn’t change what I’m trying to do, which is going out and trying to get strike one.

“The last two games I’ve gone out and given the team a chance to win. That’s my job, so I feel like the last two have been good.’’

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A’s: First steal for Vogt catches Tigers off guard.

Stephen Vogt finds there's a first time for everything, including stolen bases.

Stephen Vogt finds there’s a first time for everything, including stolen bases.

Stephen Vogt had played in 86 big league games without ever having stolen a base, so there was every expectation he’d make it 87 Monday.

He didn’t. On base in the fourth inning of a scoreless A’s-Tigers game with two out and Alberto Callaspo at the plate, Vogt took off.

The suitably surprised Tigers didn’t come close to denying him his first Major League steal.

“(First base coach) Tye Waller was telling me to look for an opening,’’ Vogt said. “The pitcher (Anibal Sanchez) was slow to the plate and everything was consistently high. I felt it was a good opportunity.’’

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A’s: Lowrie’s productivity parallels 2013, except for average

A's Jed Lowrie's runs, RBIs and doubles are close to 2013, even if his average is way, way down.

A’s Jed Lowrie’s runs, RBIs and doubles are close to 2013, even if his average is way, way down.

This has been a tough stretch for Jed Lowrie.

For the longest time his luck at the plate was so bad that manager Bob Melvin compared it to Josh Reddick’s, and Reddick is notorious for hitting balls well that wind up being caught.

Things may be starting to change for Lowrie, although he lost a single and a possible RBI when Austin Jackson made a tremendous diving catch against Lowrie in the fourth inning of Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Tigers.

Lowrie caught a bit of a break when a soft two-out flare to left field fell in for him to bring in the A’s first runs in the sixth.

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