White Sox 6, A’s 2

The spotlight in tomorrow’s game will be on the A’s rotation, with Vin Mazzaro making his big league debut. But tonight’s loss showed how much the A’s bullpen is a concern these days. Santiago Casilla struggled again, giving up Jim Thome’s three-run HR that broke a 2-2 tie, and we’re starting to see the same pattern we saw last year. Casilla seems to struggle to regain his form once he comes back from an injury.

I think Sunday’s game in Texas showed how little faith Bob Geren has in his late-inning relievers other than Andrew Bailey. He brought in Bailey with one out in the eighth, even though the situation called for a ground-ball specialist such as Brad Ziegler. Ziegler hasn’t been in top form lately, and neither have Casilla or Russ Springer. But I have to say, I’m not a fan of bringing in Bailey, who’s obviously the closer, during the eighth inning so often. The A’s need to find a way to save him for the ninth. He’s got the build of a workhorse kind of pitcher, but no reliever can pitch one-plus innings on a regular basis and remain fresh.

Funny how things change. Remember when the A’s bullpen was the best in the majors???


Cunningham sent down to make room for Breslow

It’s a pretty odd situation today with a 4:08 p.m. start (East Coast time) for the A’s-Rays series finale. Not really a day game, not really a night game. …

The A’s just announced that outfielder Aaron Cunningham was optioned to Triple-A to make room for new reliever Craig Breslow, who arrived today. This was a surprise to me, as I figured another reliever would go down. This gives the A’s an eight-man bullpen — highly unusual — but with Russ Springer’s status iffy after he hurt his forearm last night, I guess they felt like they had to play it safe. Bob Geren spoke w/reporters before this news came down.

Lost in the shuffle of last night’s exciting finish: Brad Ziegler’s first save opportunity since April 25. But how many will he get in the coming games? Geren reiterated before the game that he’s not naming an official closer, and that he’ll choose his ninth-inning man based on matchups. He added: “I told (Ziegler) I could use him at any time of the game. Bailey could take (the ninth), or he could take it, based on the matchup.”

Bailey had thrown two innings on Tuesday, which made Ziegler the only logical choice to close last night.

Jason Giambi is at DH today. “He was in need of staying off the field,” Geren said. “DH is the most he could do for me today.” Once Nomar Garciaparra returns, maybe Giambi can get a full day off. He could use one, as he enters today hitting .198, the second lowest batting average in the American League.

A’s lineup:
Cabrera SS; Suzuki C; Cust RF; Holliday LF; Giambi DH; Kennedy 2B; Sweeney CF; Crosby 1B; Hannahan 3B; Braden P.

Rays lineup:
Upton CF; Crawford LF; Longoria 3B; Pena 1B; Bartlett SS; Aybar DH; Iwamura 2B; Kapler RF; Navarro C; Garza P.


Ziegler’s back; Sunday pregame update

There’s a few clouds over head, but the roof is open at Safeco Field leading up to this afternoon’s series finale between the A’s and Mariners. Not a whole lot to report from the A’s clubhouse, but closer Brad Ziegler is back w/the team. He’s unlikely to pitch today, but Ziegler said he wanted to play catch and hopefully be ready tomorrow night against the Angels. Bob Geren echoed that thought.

Ziegler had been battling the flu since Wednesday, and though it wasn’t stomach flu-like stuff, he didn’t eat much and estimates he lost about 8 pounds. He did say he was a little worried considering how much the swine flu has dominated headlines, as were the A’s. They ran his symptoms by doctors, but it was more precautionary, according to Ziegler. “There were some symptoms of (the swine flu) I never experienced. But with something new that you haven’t heard of, you never know.”

Michael Wuertz and Russ Springer are the logical options in a save situation today.

–A bit of a different look w/the A’s lineup, with Kurt Suzuki at DH and Landon Powell catching.

Here’s the full lineup behind Josh Outman, making his first start in 16 days:

Sweeney CF
Cabrera SS
Giambi 1B
Holliday LF
Cust RF
Suzuki DH
Crosby 3B
Petit 2B
Powell C

And for Seattle …

Ichiro RF
Lopez 2B
Sweeney DH
Beltre 3B
Branyan 1B
Balentien LF
Johjima C
Gutierrez CF
Betancourt SS

Jakubauskas P.


A’s 5, Rays 2

Pretty complete effort today from the A’s, who snapped a five-game losing streak by beating Tampa Bay. A few postgame tidbits:

–Dallas Braden tweaked his groin in the fifth inning, though he and the A’s are both hopeful it’s minor. You might have noticed he lost his command a bit in the fifth and sixth innings before he was pulled. He’s looked very sharp since the season began, and the A’s have to hope he doesn’t miss any time. Remember, Braden was sidelined the final few weeks of 2008 with a groin injury too.

–I was a little surprised to see Bob Geren pull Russ Springer for Brad Ziegler with two runners on and two outs in the eighth. The A’s were up 5-1 at the time, and the situation didn’t seem urgent enough, in my opinion, to call on the closer. Springer has been pretty clutch this season. Ziegler gave up a run-scoring single that inning, but slammed the door in the ninth for his fourth save.

–You know that waggle in his bat that makes Travis Buck’s stance pretty unique? Buck is trying to tone it down some. He said he’s been studying film of his 2007 rookie season, and noticed that he had less movement in his hands before his swing, and that he hit better as a result. “It’s definitely helped out to work in the cage,” Buck said. “Once I focus on making (the movement) smaller, I see the ball a lot longer and see some good swings.”


Devine headed to DL; out indefinitely with elbow injury

We learned this morning that right-hander Joey Devine will open the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury that he really hasn’t shaken since last season. Devine will visit elbow specialist Dr. James Andrews either Wednesday or Thursday of next week to try to decipher how significant the injury is.

Needless to say, it’s a huge blow as the A’s prepare for Monday’s season opener against the Angels. Devine and Brad Ziegler were set to open the season as co-closers, but it was generally thought among baseball observers that Devine’s stuff would allow him to eventually assume the full-time role. It’s a recurring injury that landed Devine on the DL for much of last season. He eventually returned to the mound (his 0.59 ERA was the lowest in major league history among pitchers with a minimum 25 IP). But the elbow was enough of an issue that the A’s had him visit Andrews in October. Devine missed three weeks of action once spring camp started, and his elbow flared up again yesterday.

“I spent the entire offseason and rehabbed it and then it came back as soon as I got to game-ready, the first part of spring training,” Devine said. “That tells me there is something there.”

With Devine out, Ziegler takes over the closer’s role, and Bob Geren said Russ Springer and Santiago Casilla could also be called upon on days Ziegler isn’t available for the ninth. Springer, 40, was signed to be an eighth-inning man and has just eight saves in his 16 big league seasons. Casilla has four saves, seeing just the occasional ninth-inning opportunity in recent seasons with Oakland. “Casilla is definitely throwing the ball right now where I would have confidence putting him in the ninth inning too,” Geren said.

Devine’s absence has a trickle-down effect on how the A’s can handle their bullpen. They’re expected to carry seven relievers. Ziegler, Springer, Casilla, Wuertz and left-hander Jerry Blevins, at first glance, would take five spots. The A’s could also carry two long relievers, as Geren has said might be necessary because of his young rotation. In that case, think lefties Josh Outman and Gio Gonzalez (if Gonzalez is healthy). Or, if the A’s want to avoid having three lefties, they could sub in prospect Andrew Bailey for Blevins. Bailey hasn’t allowed a run in 10 spring outings.

Of course, Outman is starting today’s game against the Royals, and Geren still considers him a rotation candidate. “We haven’t finalized anything in our rotation and probably won’t until after the Bay (Bridge) Series,” Geren said.

The rest of today’s lineup vs. KC:

Sweeney CF
Cabrera SS
Giambi 1B
Holliday LF
Garciaparra 3B
Cust RF
Suzuki C
Buck DH
Crosby 2B


On Springer and more

The A’s apparently are closing in on a deal with free agent reliever Russ Springer. Forgive me if I don’t go overboard with anticipation.

Don’t get me wrong. Springer has had two very good years in a row. But relief pitchers are a little bit like the economy. You can use your best data to get an idea of what will happen in the coming 12 months, but in reality, it’s far too unpredictable to know for sure. So while Springer will add a nice veteran presence for a young bullpen, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t pitched in the American League — generally considered superior offensively to the National League — since he was with the then-Anaheim Angels in 1995.

That said, the A’s usually do a nice job of finding setup men. Jim Mecir, Jeff Tam, Chad Bradford, Mike Magnante, and even Ricardo Rincon (for a time) have been the right men at the right time through the years. It’ll be interesting to see if Springer can do the same.

— No brainer call by the A’s brass to re-up play-by-play man Ken Korach for another couple of seasons. I did not envy Korach when he had to step in for Lon Simmons back in 1995, but through the years, he has established himself as one of the best in the game. I’m not sure how much the kids out there still listen to games on the radio, but broadcasting that way has become a lost art. Korach maintains objectivity (a nearly extinct quality these days), regularly gives props to opponents and does a fantastic job of painting a picture. Now that the A’s are on a radio station that can be heard outside the Coliseum parking lot, do yourself a treat and tune in.

— One last note on the Jay McGwire/Mark McGwire news item last week. I asked Matt Holliday at a luncheon last Thursday whether he would care if it was revealed officially that McGwire used steroids. Holliday, who has worked on his hitting with Big Mac, predictably didn’t comment. But it seems to me that, at this point, why would we care? It would be a bit like condeming somebody for smoking in the 1950s or not wearing their seat belts in the ’70s. Mark McGwire was a product of his time and seems to have made some mistakes with his choices along the way. That would put him in company with, oh, the entire human race. But what bothers me is his lack of forthrightness. If he truly wants to help people, he needs to be honest about his experience, whatever it may have been. Living a lie, if that’s indeed what he’s doing, is an extremely dark place to be.