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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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Gray pleased to be able to mostly pitch around A’s errors

Sonny Gray came to the A’s as someone with an intricate knowledge of the strike zone.

He’s going to strike out a few, as was the case Friday in a 3-0 loss to the Giants in Scottsdale when he fanned seven in 5.2 innings and walked just one.

He could use a little more help from his defense when he doesn’t register the K. Three times A’s infielder butchered plays, one each by shortstop Jed Lowrie, second baseman Nick Punto and first baseman Brandon Moss.

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Game 5 start in ALCS vs. Tigers put Gray in line for opener

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 March 31.

Nothing is official, but the A’s have an opening day starting pitcher.

His name is Sonny Gray.

The 24-year-old, with just 10 big league starts to his name, was being considered for the job all along, but it seemed likely the call would go to Jarrod Parker or, perhaps, newcomer Scott Kazmir.

Parker is out for the season with the news that he needs a second Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow and forearm.

As for Kazmir, he was scratched from his start Monday because of triceps pain. He was pain-free Tuesday and wanted to pitch, but the A’s have decided that he’ll throw a bullpen session, probably Wednesday, then return to the starting rotation Saturday.

That rules him out for the opener, because to get to March 31 against the Indians, he’d either have to pitch on long rest or on short rest. The A’s aren’t going to have him do that for the sake of one game, so that leaves Gray to pitch the opener and Kazmir to follow him in Game 2 against Cleveland, the team for which he pitched last year.

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Things haven’t changed for Milone, even though they have

A's left-handed starter Tommy Milone wants to prove himself worthy of starting berth

A’s left-handed starter Tommy Milone wants to prove himself worthy of starting berth

Ask Tommy Milone, and he’ll tell you nothing has changed.

Ask Bob Melvin, and he’ll say nothing has change for Milone.

That’s true, to a point. But with the A’s having definitely lost starter A.J. Griffin from the opening day roster and very likely soon to get similar news about the man who was to have been the likely opening day starter in Jarrod Parker, everything has changed.

Milone was looking at being the sixth man in a five-man rotation, stuck behind Parker, Griffin, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Dan Straily. Now he could be the fourth man in the rotation.

It depends on how he does the final few weeks of the spring. From possibly being on the outside looking in no matter what, he’s in a position to grab a starting job just by pitching his best.

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Moss does Oscar-worthy work in latest A’s TV spots

Brandon Moss talks a good game at first base in A's TV ads

Brandon Moss talks a good game at first base in A’s TV ads

I’m not sure what it says about Vanderbilt University as a steppingstone to stage and screen, but A’s starter Sonny Gray, who took drama there for three years when not playing baseball, lost out in the early Best Actor Oscar nominations in the batch of A’s TV commercials to be released Thursday via social media.

Gray was fine, it should be pointed out, in doing his parts the five (of an eventual total of eight) commercials screened for the media Saturday (Raw footage of some of the other three bits also were shown). But first baseman Brandon Moss was flat-out hilarious in his spots, although some of the best bits, seen in outtakes and bloopers, may be left on the cutting room floor.

Put together by Hub Media and shot over the course of three days, the ads follow the path of “Green Collar Baseball’’ that the A’s have used as a general backdrop to their promotions the last few seasons, winning major awards in the sports advertising world the last three years.

Moss was seen in two bits, one where he chatters to runners at first base to distract them during pickoff throws and the other in which he crashes a group of his teammates doing “I’ve got a Secret’’ and veers the conversation from baseball secrets to improvised personal ones like “I’ve got three nipples.’’

If the bits survive the editing process, a star will be born.

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A’s approve of Griffin taking charge of his pitching future

A.J. Griffin is going back to an old friend - his changeup

A.J. Griffin is going back to an old friend – his changeup

Managers and pitching coaches would much rather have a young pitcher come to them and say “I need to develop a pitch’’ than have to suggest that kind of move themselves.

The idea is that if the prompting is internally generated, the pitcher is more likely to do the little things that go into the making of a pitch.

So the A’s are happy that starter A.J. Griffin has decided he would rather go back to throwing his changeup, a pitch he used to master, while ditching the cutter he’s thrown with mixed success since picking it up in 2011.

“What it says to me is that the player knows his strengths and weaknesses,’’ Oakland manager Bob Melvin said, “and he wants to work on his weaknesses. You want to see that in all your guys.’’

Melvin’s pitching coach, Curt Young, said that Griffin is on the same quest every other young starting pitcher (Griffin is 26) is on.

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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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Parker seems on target for opening day start vs. Indians; Melvin taking Twitter out for a spin for the second time

UPDATED

The first starting pitchers for A’s Cactus League play starting Wednesday will be Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker.

Manager Bob Melvin told the Bay Area News Group Sunday evening he’d mistakenly swapped Milone and Parker when he was talking about his first three starters of the Cactus League season.

There was no official notice of an opening day starter from Melvin, but the fact that Parker is pitching Friday suggests that he is down to get the opening day start.

Oakland starting pitcher candidates Parker, A.J. Griffin, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, and Sonny Gray are expected to throw every fifth day to get them in order.

Doing that would, when you factor in days off March 20 and March 30, would have Parker scheduled for a March 31 start. And that’s opening day in the Coliseum against the Indians.

Milone has a chance to break into that rotation, but if he does so, it likely would have to be at the expense of Straily, who won 10 games for the A’s as a starter after being called up to stay at the end of April.

Although he’s been a starter and is getting Wednesday’s start against the Giants in Scottsdale Stadium, Chavez pitched only relief in Oakland last year and would seem destined for that role again this year.

 

–Twitter 1, Melvin 0.

Melvin joined Twitter last spring with the idea that he needed to keep abreast of the latest trends. He lasted three days. He didn’t much like what he read, finding it annoying for the most part.

But he’s back. He said Sunday he joined Twitter for a second time, this time under an alias, and for the moment, at least, will just read and won’t be posting tweets. He noted his buddy, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson joined this year and has tweeted once.

Who’s he following? A total of 29 people at this point including about 10 of his players and most of the local media involved in covering the A’s. That would include one @jhickey3.

“It’s more the players who annoy me more than anything else,’’ he said. “Some of the stuff, I don’t even want to see what they’re doing.’’

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O’Flaherty’s call from A’s came at just the right time; Alcantara’s star on the rise; Gray works over the catchers; Ynoa makes it all look so easy

The call that brought Eric O’Flaherty to the Oakland A’s couldn’t have come at a better time.

He was in the middle of rehabbing his left arm after Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery and was trying to figure out where he should go as a free agent.

Then came the news that his mother-in-law, Holly Gualco, had some serious medical issues. Being close to their Washington State home would be ideal.

“The A’s contacted us late,’’ O’Flaherty said Sunday at the A’s spring training camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “But the day we got the news about my mother-in-law was the same day they called.

“I’d told my agents that even though I was probably only going pitch half a season this year (after recovering fully from the surgery), I wanted to pitch for a contender. And with Oakland being the second-closest team to our home, that became a big bonus for us.

“My wife (Heather) is going to spend a lot of time flying to Washington this year. If we were on the East Coast, it would be difficult. Being in the Bay Area makes it much easier on her. And pitching for the A’s, well you can’t pitch for a more competitive team.’’

 

–When the A’s traded reliever Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox in 2011, in return they got Josh Reddick, who has been their right fielder the last two seasons.

At the same time, Oakland insisted on getting right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara in the deal. No Alcantara, no trade.

Alcantara threw for the first time this spring Sunday, delighting manager Bob Melvin and drawing some nice comparisons from longtime A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman.

“I look at him and he reminds me a lot of Jose Rijo with the stuff he throws, minus the slider,’’ Lieppman said.

Rijo pitched for the A’s (without much use of the slider) from 1985-87, then pitched for the Reds (with ever-increasing use of the slider) from 1988-95, including the 1990 World Series when he crushed the A’s with two wins, allowing one run in 15.1 innings for Cincinnati.

Lieppman said that Alcantara, who throws hard, will need to work on his secondary pitches.

“But the thing is he has the tools,’’ the four-decade member of the A’s organization said. “I can see him at Double-A this year and then we’ll see what happens.

Alcantara went 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA at low Class-A Beloit last year, then moved up to high Class-A Stockton where he went 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA. Through it all, he struck out 100 more than he walked, 124-24.

“The ball jumps out of his hand,’’ Melvin said after watching Alcantara throw for the first time this spring Sunday. “It’s just about controlling all the pitches and throwing the ball over the plate. We’re excited about having him. We expect big things out of him.’’

 

–Melvin, a former catcher himself, said that A’s starter Sonny Gray is one of the more difficult draws a catcher can get, especially early in the spring.

“He’s one of the more difficult guys to catch because his fastball movement is really inconsistent,’’ Melvin said. “It will cut one time, it will sink one time.

“You see catchers dropping a lot of balls, especially early in camp. Especially until you’ve caught him a few times. He’s got a very unique fastball. He’s got very late movement to it and very rarely is it straight.’’

 

–Michael Ynoa seems bigger than his 6-foot-7.

And his fastball seems bigger than most, too.

The A’s prospect threw for the first time on schedule Sunday. Last year he was supposed to open up with the A’s in the spring, but a case of the chicken pox got the better of him.

Now he’s healthy, and the A’s like what they are seeing from the Dominican prospect to whom they paid a whopping $4.25 million in 2008 when he was still in his teens. He’s just 22 now.

“That’s just easy, easy. It looks like he’s not working hard,’’ Melvin said after watching Ynoa throw. “I don’t know that he’s sweating. The ball just jumps out of his hand.

“With him it’s all about health and utilizing a secondary pitch because very rarely do you see a guy throw what appears to throw that easy and that hard. There’s a reason he got the type of money he did at the time. Now it’s all about keeping him healthy.’’Alcantara

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A’s impress new closer Johnson with off-season moves

The A’s became very comfortable knowing that Grant Balfour was their closer the last few years.

Their comfort level figures to be as good or better this time around, even with Balfour gone.

Jim Johnson, who has saved 50 games in each of the last two seasons for the Orioles, is the A’s new closer. He was in Oakland Friday in preparation for Saturday’s FanFest at the Coliseum and Arena, and he said he’s excited that spring training starts next weekend.

“Once the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to go,’’ Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to this opportunity.’’

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