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???


A’s 7, Rays 6

Well, the A’s bullpen managed to hold on tonight, and it was a good victory for Oakland. They got some timely hitting early on, and a great starting effort from Brett Anderson for his first major league victory.

But I was really shocked that Anderson got such an early hook tonight. He had thrown just 80 pitches when Bob Geren pulled him after a leadoff double in the seventh and the A’s leading 7-3. I know hindsight’s 20-20, and it’s easy to look at the three runs that scored after Anderson left and say that it was almost a very costly decision.

I look at it this way: Anderson is a young kid who was spinning his best major league start yet. I know he had given up two homers, but staying in to protect a four-run lead at that point would have been a great test. And I know Geren was making his decisions knowing that every victory is precious right now. But I just think leaving Anderson in to try to finish that inning was a challenge that young guys like him and Cahill have to be allowed to conquer.

Anyway, it worked out for the A’s in the end. …

–Despite Santiago Casilla allowing a run on a wild pitch tonight, I actually liked what I saw from him. He was pumping his fastball consistently a 94,94, topping out at 96 (according to the stadium gun). That’s two straight outings where Casilla has looked sharp, and more importantly, carried himself with confidence on the mound. Each of the last two seasons, he’s gone downhill in the secodn half. The A’s need the Casilla that showed up Tuesday and Wednesday for the long haul this season …


Mazzaro shines

I know the A’s 12-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday was quite a sight for those starved to see the A’s bats. But the organization’s best news came up the freeway. Vin Mazzaro, who had yet to win this season, followed Santiago Casilla’s rehab start with eight one-hit innings for Triple-A Sacramento. That’s the kind of performance that has led some to speculate he might be the best of the three (Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill being the other two).

Interesting note on Aaron Cunningham in this morning’s Sacramento Bee game story.

The bad news: Tonight brings a Dana Eveland sighting.

Oh, one more thing on the River Cats. Brad Kilby walked four straight hitters to lose a game last week,something that should never happen on the professional level. But after reading this, I have no reason to question his committment to getting better.


— Told you the other day that Matt Spencer was bucking for a promotion from Single-A Stockton, and sure enough, he was called up to replace Danny Putnam after Putnam was moved up to Sacramento. Spencer immediately did something positive.


— Mazzaro wasn’t the only A’s product doing some dealing last night. Carlos Hernandez was pretty darn good, too. By the way, interesting figure on the mound for San Bernardino in the same game.


— Huge night for the son of a former major leaguer.


A’s 12, Royals 3

Orlando Cabrera hasn’t struck me as the most vocal guy in the A’s clubhouse. Nice guy, sure. But I didn’t picture him as the take-charge type. Come to find out that it was Cabrera who initiated the players-only meeting for A’s hitters before today’s game. Whatever he said seems to have struck a chord, as the A’s had a season high in runs scored tonight and also put together their biggest rally with a seven-run second inning. Cabrera said his message was simple: Play hard every day, even if it’s in a losing effort.

The A’s made headlines by acquiring four marquee veterans for this season — Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday, Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra. Of those four, Giambi was the one people pointed to as the clubhouse leader-type, the guy who would speak up when the team fell in a lull. Giambi, indeed, is that type of player. In fact, he and Garciaparra also addressed teammates in the meeting along with Cabrera. But I think the A’s have found a surprise leader in Cabrera along with someone who plays Gold Glove-caliber defense and provides a steady bat.

Just as important as his words, Cabrera raked from the leadoff spot once the game started, going 3-for-5 w/four RBI. Jack Cust hit a three-run homer and Giambi and Holliday added two RBI each.

–One thing I didn’t squeeze into tomorrow’s stories: Reliever Santiago Casilla (sprained right knee) pitched a 1-2-3 inning tonight for Triple-A Sacramento. He’s thrown two perfect innings in his two rehab appearances, and I would think that’s a good sign he’ll be activated from the DL for Friday’s game at Detroit.


Ellis won’t be returning soon; Casilla to DL

Not the cheeriest of blog titles if you’re an A’s fan, I know. I’m trying my best to provide some actual baseball news for you. But injuries are such a central theme in everything A’s-related right now, that’s the newsiest information circulating.

Second baseman Mark Ellis had an MRI on his strained left calf and he’s expected to miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Calves can be very slow to heal, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise. And w/Nomar Garciaparra on the DL with his chronic calf condition, it looks like he’s weeks away from rejoining the lineup as well. On the bright side, an MRI on third baseman Eric Chavez showed no structural damage in his right elbow. No forecast yet on whether he might be ready to play May 10, when he’s eligible to return from the DL.

The A’s made room for reliever Santiago Casilla on the 15-day DL with a sprained right knee. Lefty Gio Gonzalez was called up to take his spot in the bullpen. Casilla originally hurt his calf during Tuesday’s game at Texas, but he said yesterday that he was now feeling the pain near his knee. To be precise, it’s a sprained lateral collateral ligament, which is interesting to say out loud if you give it a try. Geren thinks there’s a good chance Casilla could come off the DL when he’s eligible May 14.

Gonzalez was 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in four starts at Triple-A, but he’s needed in relief up here. He’s also the only left-handed reliever. Remember, he pitched well out of the ‘pen late in 2008 after struggling in the rotation. This doesn’t necessarily mean the A’s envision him as a reliever long-term, however.

Brad Ziegler is still battling the flu, so he’ll be unavailable for a third straight game. That leaves the ninth inning a bit of a question mark tonight. At the time of his media chat, Geren wasn’t sure about Russ Springer’s availability after pitching two straight days. Michael Wuertz or Andrew Bailey figure to get the call in a save situation tonight.

After saying Eric Patterson would see the majority of time at second base, Geren gave Gregorio Petit the start tonight. As for the rest of the A’s lineup:

Sweeney RF; Cabrera SS; Giambi 1B; Holliday LF; Cust DH; Suzuki C; Crosby 3B; Davis CF; Petit 2B; Cahill P.

Mariners lineup: Ichiro RF; Chavez LF; Griffey Jr. DH; Beltre 3B; Branyan 1B; Lopez 2B; Johnson C; Gutierrez CF; Betancourt SS; Washburn P.


No Giambi for A’s; Chavez starting at 3B

Lots of on-field activity this morning at Rangers Ballpark. The A’s and Rangers each took batting practice, which is pretty unusual for a day game. But with yesterday’s rainout, both teams want to sharpen up, I suppose. …

No Jason Giambi for the A’s today, as his hamstrings need another day of rest. Bob Geren thinks he might be able to play in tomorrow’s series opener in Seattle. … Just got word that Eric Chavez will start at third base. He was penciled in to play first, but Geren mentioned to reporters that he would play Chavez at third if his elbow felt good during pre-game drills. “My preference if Eric’s arm is available would be to do that,” Geren said. That means Bobby Crosby draws his second start at first base.

I’m wondering how wise it is to have Chavez play third, if there was doubt surrounding his elbow as recently as Tuesday. Crosby has looked better at third recently, and says he’s feeling more comfortable there.

Closer Brad Ziegler is under the weather, and Geren said the plan was for Ziegler to show up to the stadium around game time to see how he felt. If he’s unavailable, that leaves the A’s with a five-man bullpen unless Santiago Casilla (right calf) is able to go. I’m sure Geren would like to avoid using him. Regardless, the A’s would sure like to see Dallas Braden pitch deep into today’s game …

The A’s lineup: Sweeney CF; Cabrera SS; Cust DH; Holliday LF; Chavez 3B; Suzuki C; Buck RF; Crosby 1B; Patterson 2B; Braden P.

Rangers lineup: Kinsler 2B; Byrd CF; Young 3B; Jones LF; Blalock DH; Cruz RF; Davis 1B; Saltalamacchia C; Andrus SS; Padilla P.


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


First (day’s) impression

Checking in from Phoenix, where the A’s pitchers and catchers took the field for their first workout today. My laptop seems to be shaking off some winter rust right now, much like the ballplayers, so the blog updates may be lighter than I’d hoped for the next day or two until I get some technological glitches ironed out.

Overall, it was pretty uneventful, which is how the first day of camp usually is. The biggest note of consequence: The A’s are holding Joey Devine and Santiago Casilla out of the World Baseball Classic. Each are healthy now, but considering they missed time with elbow problems last season, the A’s are playing it safe. MLB teams can petition an individual player’s country to request they not participate in the WBC if there are health concerns. Devine (who was on the U.S.’s provisional roster) and Casilla (Dominican Republic) each really wanted to play, but they seemed to take the news well. That leaves fellow reliever Brad Ziegler (US) and outfielder Chris Denorfia (Italy) as WBC hopefuls from the A’s. Final WBC rosters will be set Feb. 24.

As for the A’s first workout, drills and fundamentals took up most of the day, though several pitchers threw their first bullpen session — Gio Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, Dallas Braden, Sean Gallagher, Vin Mazzaro and Brett Anderson among them. Surely, Bob Geren and his staff had to be eager to see Mazzaro and Anderson, two of the organization’s brightest prospects pitching in their first big league camp. It’s tough to glean too much this early. Mazzaro seemed to struggle with his command a bit (pitching coach Curt Young actually took him aside and chatted w/him briefly). Geren mentioned in his morning team meeting that he wants his young pitchers to try to keep their composure early on (“Nobody wins a roster spot on the first day.”)

A few position players took some informal BP, including Matt Holliday, who was spraying line drives all over the field. This guy looks like the baseball equivalent of a “gym rat.” During the pitchers’ bullpen sessions, long after most veterans would have called it a day, Holliday wandered over and stood in the batter’s box while Gallagher was pitching. I think he wanted to just get a look at some live pitching. If this is typical of his work ethic, it’s not surprising he’s developed into the player he has.

Speaking of Gallagher, he’s sporting a bit of a mullet, and, from afar, he’s a dead ringer for Travis Buck. It’s always entertaining to see what kind of look these guys show up to camp with, and how long it lasts. … Like I said, news is slow, so you’re getting some random observations!

Check out tomorrow’s paper for some more coverage …