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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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Reddick hasn’t lost the knack for great defensive plays

Josh Reddick (16) saved the day for a few hours for the A's with a bases-loaded catch at the wall.

Josh Reddick (16) saved the day for a few hours for the A’s with a bases-loaded catch at the wall.

Josh Reddick began the Cactus League almost three months ago by steal a pair of home runs from the Giants’ Mike Morse.

And in the 10 weeks since, it’s good to know he hasn’t forgotten how to do it.

The A’s right fielder made one of the best catches of his career in the third inning Thursday, racing from medium-shallow right field to deep right-center to make a leaping catch against the wall with the bases loaded.

“When he starts to run that hard, you know something cool is about to happen,’’ A’s starter Sonny Gray said.

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Doolittle can empathize with Gray about rocky inning

When Sonny Gray gave up four consecutive hits Saturday, Sean Doolittle could empathize.

When Sonny Gray gave up four consecutive hits Saturday, Sean Doolittle could empathize.

When A’s starter Sonny Gray gave up four consecutive hits in the third inning Saturday, manager Bob Melvin said it was shocking.

“You don’t expect Sonny to give up two consecutive hits,’’ the manager said, “much less four.’’

Sean Doolittle could appreciate the moment. It was back on April 26 when the A’s left-handed reliever entered a game in Houston with the A’s and Astros tied at 3-all in the bottom of the eighth.

Single, single, single, single. Just like that Doolittle, who had an ERA at the time of 3.09, just about doubled it to 6.17, giving up four runs without getting anyone out. To make matters worse, the A’s scored three runs in the ninth and had the tying run on base before taking a 7-6 loss.

That game was like a taser to Doolittle’s pitching strategy.

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Red Sox’s Farrell has good scouting report on Sonny Gray

A's Sonny Gray en route to three-hit shutout of  Rangers last week.

A’s Sonny Gray en route to three-hit shutout of Rangers last week.

Red Sox manager John Farrell has not seen A’s starter Sonny Gray pitch in person.

A few hours from now, he won’t be able to say that. Gray starts for the first time Sunday afternoon (10:30 a.m. in the Bay Area) in Fenway Park. Even without having seen Gray, Farrell talks like he knows the second-year Oakland starter is the real deal.

“He’s a guy that’s got very good stuff,’’ Farrell said Sunday morning. “He’s going to be in the low- to mid-90s (mph) and with a very good curveball. And from what we’ve come to understand, he’s a very confident young pitcher that’s gotten to the big leagues quick.

“He pitched in a very advanced program at Vanderbilt and he doesn’t back away from or fear the Major League challenge. That’s evident by the numbers that he’s put up this year.’’

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Jaso finds catching Kazmir for first time a breeze

After never having caught Scott Kazmir, John Jaso found working with the lefty easy as could be.

After never having caught Scott Kazmir, John Jaso found working with the lefty easy as could be.

John Jaso didn’t know for certain that he was catching Sunday until a few hours before the game.

He was told Saturday night that he might, so he was prepared, but since he’d never caught Scott Kazmir, he couldn’t be sure.

“Not even for a stretch in batting practice,’’ Jaso said. “I’ve never caught him. And I was lucky, because Scott is so easy to catch. Now if it had been Sonny Gray, that would have been different.’’

How’s that?

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Gray pitching like a proven commodity in first full season

Sonny Gray is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts after Saturday's win

Sonny Gray is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts after Saturday’s win

Sonny Gray has only made 13 big league starts. three of them this year.

He commands the game as if he’d made 130.

Once again the A’s 24-year-old was the best pitcher on the field Saturday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball, giving up a first-inning run then almost nothing else in what Gray called “my best game of the year.’’

What he didn’t say was “so far.’’

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Straily the latest of the brotherhood to give A’s top quality

Dan Straily enjoying being part of the brotherhood of A's starters

Dan Straily enjoying being part of the brotherhood of A’s starters

Dan Straily says there’s a reason the A’s starting pitching keeps getting better.

With Straily throwing seven one-run innings Thursday in a 6-1 win over the Twins, Oakland starters have allowed three runs or fewer in all nine of their games this year. The last time they did that, 1990, they wound up in the World Series.

It’s way too early to be thinking such lofty thoughts now, but the fact is that while pitching is a very individual pursuit, the A’s starting corps of Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez and Straily – No. 5 starter Tommy Milone makes his debut Friday in Seattle – have a nice bond.

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Rules on blocking the plate very much still a work in progress

A's catcher John Jaso got his first taste of the new home plate collision rules in the sixth inning Monday vs. Cleveland

A’s catcher John Jaso got his first taste of the new home plate collision rules in the sixth inning Monday vs. Cleveland

Baseball is trying to reinvent the game, or at least smooth out some of the rough spots, and in Monday night’s opener between the A’s and the Indians, it’s clear that there is still a ways to go.

To combat the spate of concussions and severe injuries that have come from collisions at home plate, the rulebook has been rescripted to make sure the base runner has access to the plate.

However, changing the rule and making the rule second nature are not the same thing. In the sixth inning Monday A’s starter Sonny Gray picked up a deflected grounder and threw the ball to catcher John Jaso.

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