Zito, Crisp take center stage today for A’s vs. Cubs

Barry Zito's gets his first Cactus League start Thursday against the Cubs.

Barry Zito’s gets his first Cactus League start Thursday against the Cubs.

It’s a quiet morning in Mesa with only a little bit of news coming out of A’s camp

That figures to change this afternoon as former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito makes his fist Cactus League start of the spring in what he hopes will be a first step toward winning a job in the A’s rotation.

And Coco Crisp will start in left field, marking his move there from center field, his home for most of his big league career.

Zito has a long road to go to make the A’s rotation. The A’s have three spots open behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, but the club is leaning toward giving Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz the first shots at two of those jobs, and Oakland went out and got handful of not-quite-ready-for-primetime pitchers for the fifth spot, including Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt.

It’s a virtual certainty that one of those last three makes the rotation, and two of them making it isn’t out of the question.

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Pitching guru has great expectations for Zito’s return to A’s

Barry Zito's winter spent with pitching guru Ron Wolforth has resulted in an invitation to A's spring training camp.

Barry Zito’s winter spent with pitching guru Ron Wolforth has resulted in an invitation to A’s spring training camp.

Ron Wolforth won’t throw an inning in the big leagues this year, but he could have a huge impact on the A’s starting rotation.

It was Wolforth, something of a pitching guru working out of Houston, who resuscitated Scott Kazmir’s career a couple of years back. Kazmir, a 15-game winner and an All-Star last year, is the No. 2 man in the Oakland rotation behind Sonny Gray.

And Monday came the news that another Wolforth reclamation case, Barry Zito, has signed with the A’s. Zito will be on a minor league contract, but if the left-hander does as well as Wolforth seems to believe he will, the one-time Cy Young Award winner could easily fit into the A’s rotation.

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A’s likely not done dealing after Norris exits for two arms

The trade of Derek Norris brings two good arms into the A's camp and leaves open more possible moves.

The trade of Derek Norris brings two good arms into the A’s camp and leaves open more possible moves.

You have to wonder what’s next for the A’s.

Billy Beane & Co. have spent the last six weeks stocking up on young talent, most of it pitching, including right-handed starter Jesse Hahn and right-handed reliever J.R. Alvarez who are the newest additions with Derek Norris having been traded to the Padres Thursday night.

Already five of the seven players the A’s had at the All-Star Game this season are off the roster, and as Norris told me Thursday night, it seems like the A’s “are looking to rebuild’’ heading into 2015.

Norris may be right about that, but it seems more than a little possible that Beane is loading up for one big swing between now and the start of spring training. With Matt Kemp off the block now, the biggest bats known to be available are outfielder Justin Upton of the Braves and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies.

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Semien, Bassitt could get shot to be immediate contributors

Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley with soxThe slow process of rebuilding the Oakland A’s took another step forward Tuesday with the completion of a deal with the Chicago White Sox that saw Oakland potentially bring a starting shortstop and a starting pitcher into the fold.

At the cost of top-end starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and minor league reliever Michael Ynoa, the A’s added four players, two of whom, infielder Marcus Semien and pitcher Chris Bassitt, could have an immediate impact on the big league club.

The two other players acquired, catcher Josh Phegley and first baseman Rangel Ravelo, figure to be Triple-A players to start 2015.

Semien, from St. Mary’s High and the University of California, will have the shortstop job to lose come spring training. He’s mostly been a third baseman with a secondary role at second base for the White Sox, but in the minor leagues two-thirds of his playing time has been at second base.

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Kazmir may have saved spot in possible post-season rotation

Scott Kazmir may have saved his spot in a possible ALDS rotation with Friday's win.

Scott Kazmir may have saved his spot in a possible ALDS rotation with Friday’s win.

It was, by Scott Kazmir’s own admission, a “huge relief’’ for him to go out and pitch the way he had the first four months of the season Friday.

He threw seven innings, allowed just four base runners and two runs, one earned.

No one will admit it, but Kazmir might have been pitching for his post-season life.

The veteran lefty came into the game 0-4 in his last six starts with an 8.58 ERA. And the ERA was mostly worse than that, because one of his losses in that stretch was 1-0.

Upper management was considering its options, which would likely have meant moving Jason Hammel in ahead of Kazmir.

While Kazmir had been slumping, Hammel had been pitching some of his best baseball of the season. In his last nine games, eight of them starts, he had a 2.49 ERA.

Now the question will be what to do with Hammel, because Kazmir seems to have locked up the final spot in a post-season American League Division Series rotation, should Oakland get that far.


Athletics limitless foibles at the plate ruining their season

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn't good enough for a win.

Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn’t good enough for a win.

If there isn’t a theoretical limit to the number of times the A’s can tell themselves they’re in good shape just because the American League Wild Card standings say they are, there should be.

By imploding in the ninth inning Wednesday, Oakland fell into a tie with the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card derby, both teams at 83-68, two games up in the race over the 81-70 Seattle Mariners.

It’s technically true that the A’s can make their way in to the playoff by following the old Al Davis dictum, “Just Win, Baby.’’

The trouble is, they seem to have no remembrance of how to win, or even how to hit. Time and again in the last couple of weeks they’ve gotten brilliant starting pitching and have lost because the offense hasn’t made an appearance or because the defense had regressed to high school levels.

Already this month:

–Jon Lester gives up two runs (seven hits, no walks) in eight innings and loses 2-1 (Sept. 3)

–Jeff Samardzija throws scoreless ball for seven innings, turns a 1-0 lead over to the bullpen and Luke Gregerson gives up two runs in the eighth (Sept. 10).

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A’s find some life and energy after long dry spell

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A's Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A’s Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

For five weeks, the A’s were performing a number straight out of Jackson Browne, Running On Empty.

They showed up daily at whatever ballpark was on the scheduled, convinced they were playing hard. But something was missing.

That something showed up again Saturday in a 4-3 walkoff win over Houston. The Coliseum crowd could sense it almost from the time Josh Donaldson led off the ninth inning with a single.

The A’s were down 3-1 at the time. In recent weeks, scaling Kilimanjaro was easier for the A’s by far than putting together a ninth-inning rally.

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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 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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One-third of the way through 2014, A’s numbers imposing

A's have had plenty to celebrate in first one-third of the season.

A’s have had plenty to celebrate in first one-third of the season.

The last week hasn’t been much for the A’s, what with being swept in a three-game series in Toronto and then coming home and having to settle for getting a split with the Detroit Tigers.

It’s as well to be noted that the Blue Jays have the best record in the American League East. The Tigers have the best record in the AL Central. And, yes, the A’s have the best record in the AL West exactly one-third of the way through the 162-game schedule.

For the first 54 games they’ve played, the A’s have been perhaps the most dominant team in the league. It doesn’t always get reflected in the winning percentage – Toronto, Detroit and Oakland are all in the range of .600, which over the course of the year would come out to 97 wins.

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