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Gray will start opener with Kazmir, Chavez, Straily, Milone also in rotation; Cook, Rodriguez, Gentry start season on DL

Sonny Gray is the last  man standing in drive to start opener for the A's

Sonny Gray is the last man standing in drive to start opener for the A’s

Sonny Gray got the job that just about everyone but Sonny Gray expected him to get when A’s manager Bob Melvin named him the opening day starter.

Gray will be followed in the rotation by Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.

The opening day start was expected originally to go to Jarrod Parker, but the competition opened up when it was learned that Parker will miss the season and undergo tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery.

Even with Parker, Gray was considered a contender for the opening day assignment by manager Bob Melvin, who isn’t afraid of putting the 24-year-old in the spotlight.

Last year in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner Bartolo Colon, and while the A’s lost that game, it wasn’t because Gray didn’t pitch well.

“He’s very quickly become one of those guys,’’ Melvin said of Gray, who was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA after his promotion to the big leagues last year and then pitched eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the playoffs against Detroit before taking the 3-0 loss in Game 5.

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Scribner at head of scramble for jobs in A’s bullpen

If Ryan Cook isn't ready to pitch out of the bullpen come Opening Day, A's could have three bullpen decisions to make

If Ryan Cook isn’t ready to pitch come Opening Day, A’s could have three bullpen decisions to make

Don’t look now, but there’s space for new faces in what a month ago was a relatively closed A’s bullpen.

The A’s won’t have Jesse Chavez in the bullpen now that he’s been moved into the rotation. There was a 50-50 chance that Tommy Milone was going to be the long man in the pen, but he’s in the rotation, too.

So what had been a set seven-man staff now has a couple of openings, with at least one of them likely to go to a left-hander. Closer Jim Johnson, right-handed setup men Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero are set, as in lefty Sean Doolittle, although even there, Cook might not be ready to start the season in the bullpen because of shoulder issues.

The non-left-handed slot is likely to go to Evan Scribner, who has been on top of his game since the start of spring training and who has put up good numbers in five of his six appearances.

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Sogard’s #FaceofMLB run `like going to Disneyland’

The bespeckled face of nerdpower isn’t, ultimately, the face of baseball.

A’s second baseman Eric Sogard’s wild ride through the Twittersphere came to an end Friday morning when a late push got the Mets’ David Wright over the top and a victory in MLB Networks’ #FaceofMLB competition.

“It was like going to Disneyland,’’ Sogard said Friday after the results were announced. “I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.’’

Sogard did nothing to promote his own candidacy, and said he was shocked when A’s fans originally picked him as the Oakland contestant in the competition. But as he rolled past the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Jays’ Jose Bautista, his momentum morphed from a strong surge into a tidal wave.

Were fans into it? Just a little. They took photos of the man whose black-rimmed glasses have had him crowned the face of #nerdpower, digitally imposed them on every picture they could think of and inundated Twitter with them.

There was Sogard in a poster for the movie Fight Club. And Raiders of the Lost Ark. And Toy Story. And the list goes on.

“There were so many amazing memes,’’ Sogard’s wife, Kaycee, said. “Eric took it all in stride, but we loved them all. I’m going to track them all down and make a book of them. They’re too good to lose.’’

Sogard just laughed when asked if he was going to ask for a recount of the vote, which saw him lose to Wright by two percentage points, 51-49. Sogard had been ahead when the West Coast went to bed Thursday night, but the East Coast rallied early.

None of which bothered Sogard.

“It goes to show the passion of A’s fans,’’ Sogard said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about this team and the fans we have. They are amazing.’’

Reliever Sean Doolittle has a theory on how the Sogard phenomenon got so big so fast.

“Who are the Oakland A’s?’’ Doolittle said. A’s fans had a chance to flip baseball on its side and they did a great job of it.’’

As did the A’s players, at least those who are on Twitter.

“We had a blast with it,’’ Doolittle said. “It got to be seeing who could come up with the coolest things to say to promote Sogie.’’

Josh Reddick dropped a few names and got Larry the Cable Guy and WWE wrestler The Big Show on board on Sogard’s behalf.

Starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Dan Straily orchestrated a scam in which Gray directed to Straily a tweet of support of Sogard his “new’’ phone number, asking that Straily call him. The number was the A’s ticket office.

Jarrod Parker, Josh Donaldson, A.J. Griffin, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and Tommy Milone all were out in front in leading the charge for Sogard. Even former A’s pitcher Travis Blackley, now pitching in Australia, chipped in, as did Brett Anderson and Pat Neshek, both of whom spent 2013 with the A’s.

Tweeted Norris: “Vote for the guy whose glasses are so powerful he can see the future.’’

Tweeted Crisp: “Who do you think showed @Coco_Crisp all his dance moves? Yup!! It was #EricSogard #FaceofMLB Sogie’s got skills.”

Tweeted Cook: “My timeline is a joke …  #EricSogard #FaceofMLB all over the place!

“I think you saw the personality of this team come out through all this,’’ Gray said. “Everybody was into it.’’

Sogard, a second baseman who has a fight ahead of him to hold the job he won last spring, won’t soon forget any of this.

“We may not have the most fans, but we have amazing fans,’’ Sogard said. “They get the credit for all this. This was them.’’

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O’Flaherty glad A’s will keep him under wraps as he recovers; Cook receives good news on favorite fan in K.C.

For a guy who’s not healthy enough to pitch quite yet, Eric O’Flaherty is sure of himself.

He’s sure that he could be pitching again by late May, early June at the latest after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

And then he laughs.

“That’s why I don’t make those decisions,’’ he said.

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Humber perfect no more, but hopes to help A’s; Melvin likes what he sees from Scribner, Lindblom, and Nieve; and notes

If you were in Safeco Field on April 21, 2012, you may have thought, as Philip Humber did, that he had it all going.

Humber, then starting for the White Sox, threw a perfect game against Seattle in his second start of the season

“I thought, `Is this really happening?’ ’’ Humber said. “Then I thought I can continue to dominate in this league.’’

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Melvin sees this A’s bullpen as his best yet

Bob Melvin ended the 2013 season with a bullpen he believed was the best he’d ever had at his disposal.

The relievers A’s manager Melvin called on last season went 24-18 with a 3.22 earned run average. The bullpen was the backbone of a second consecutive American League West title. The relievers won or saved 70 of the A’s 96 wins.

Now with spring training’s start drawing close, the manager says the Oakland bullpen for 2014 could be his best ever.

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Game 160 wrapup: Cespedes shoulder trouble an issue for A’s; Norris homer-or-nothing in pinch; Cook getting back to form out of the bullpen

The A’s started Friday with a good idea of how they’d be structuring their starting lineup in the playoffs.

Then they played the first game of their final series with the Mariners and things changed dramatically.

The idea was that Yoenis Cespedes, who hadn’t been in left field since Sept. 13, was once again healthy, able to throw and ready to man his position. He’d play all three games in left this weekend to get himself ready for the playoffs.

That meant the resurrected Daric Barton was ready to play first base and Brandon Moss, who can play both first base and the outfield, was going to be the designated hitter. He was in Friday’s lineup as the DH, the first time all season that’s happened.

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Game 153 wrapup: Bad luck compounds Cook’s woes; Straily makes bid for post-season rotation

There’s a tendency to jump on a player when he’s down that pervades all sports. Baseball is no different in that regard.

A’s reliever Ryan Cook is in a bad slump, no doubt about it.

But sometimes it’s not bad pitching as much as it is bad luck.

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Game 152 wrapup: A long, strange two games for Donaldson; Griffin’s tempo and delivery are back

To say that it was a strange 24 hours for Josh Donaldson may understate it some.

In the ninth inning Tuesday he delivered a game-winning hit on an 0-2 pitch that cut the A’s magic number for winning the American League West to six games.

He was hit in the face by a couple of pies in typical A’s fashion, and also had the contents of the Gatorade cooler dumped on him.

In the first inning Wednesday he was drilled in the back by a pitch from Angels’ starter Jason Vargas, an apparent purpose pitch that had the umpiring crew warning both benches about further retaliation.

Three hours later, the third baseman muffed the pickup of a sacrifice bunt attempt, giving the Angels an extra out they were able to convert into the winning run in a 5-4, 11-inning victory, denying Oakland a chance to cut further into its magic number.

“I felt I came in too aggressively,’’ Donaldson said of the failure to handle Erick Aybar’s bunt attempt. It set up Josh Hamilton’s game-winning sacrifice fly a few minutes later. If Donaldson had made the play, Hamilton’s fly ball would have been the inning’s third out. “My feet weren’t right.

“I expect to make that play every time.’’

What he may not have expected was to get smoked by a pitch in the back. But he’s the A’s best hitter at this point, and that means something. The Angels’ best hitter, Mike Trout, was hit by a pitch in his final plate appearance Tuesday, and the Angels apparently felt retribution was needed.

Since Trout getting hit loaded the bases with two out in a 1-all tie, it’s likely that Ryan Cook wasn’t going out of his way to hit him.

“Was it intentional? I don’t know,’’ Donaldson said. “Trout took that one pretty hard yesterday.’’

The umpiring crew led by Gary Darling wasn’t taking any chances and both benches were warned against further incursions, which A’s manager Bob Melvin felt was unnecessary.

“That’s a very experienced crew of umpires,’’ Donaldson said. “They’ll try to take control of the game.’’

Donaldson said he wasn’t sure that Vargas was even throwing at him.

“He has to throw inside,’’ the third baseman said, “for guys to respect his changeup.’’

 

–Starter A.J. Griffin hit a slow spot in August, but he’s been close to at his best in his last four starts, including fiving up two runs and one hit in six innings Wednesday in a no-decision against the Angels.

The only hit he allowed was Mike Trout’s 26th homer, the center fielder’s third in the series. Beyond that, only two walks marred Griffin’s day.

Afterward he said he’s been able to recapture his tempo and delivery and repeat both time after time.

“It’s better now,’’ he said. “Before I was thinking too much. Now I get a sign and let it fly.’’

As for the homer, the 35th he’s allowed, he’s the big league leader in that category, something that’s an issue only when someone asked him about it.

“Trout’s good at baseball,’’ Griffin said, shrugging his shoulders. “It was a 3-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate.’’

As for being asked about all the home runs, he took it matter-of-factly.

“It’s only a problem when the press asks about it,’’ he said. “(Bert) Blyleven and Catfish (Hunter) gave up some homers and they were pretty good pitchers.’’

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Game 144 wrapup: Melvin gives Parker added respect; A’s pen still among best despite slump

It was the kind of thing you see in the middle of a playoff chase that you don’t see in the middle of a season

A’s starter Jarrod Parker had given up a run, then loaded the bases with two out in the sixth inning. Oakland still had the lead at 3-2, but Parker was looking vulnerable.

It was time for a visit from the pitching coach. It didn’t happen. Instead, manager Bob Melvin exercised his prerogative and took the walk to the mound.

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