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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???

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Mazzaro to make A’s debut tomorrow

As the A’s start a four-game series w/the White Sox, the big news in pre-game was that hotshot pitching prospect Vin Mazzaro will be called up to start tomorrow night. The A’s have an open spot because two starters were needed for Friday’s doubleheader in Texas, and all signs pointed toward Tuesday’s outing being a one-shot deal for somebody. Not so, Bob Geren says. Mazzaro will start tomorrow and remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Edgar Gonzalez will move to the bullpen. Of course, the A’s will need to clear a roster spot for Mazzaro, so Gonzalez could be a candidate for Triple-A.

“Vin has been exceptional at Triple-A. We all feel he’s ready to go,” Geren said.

I’d have to think that this weekend’s series in Texas — when the A’s lost three of four to drop 10 games back in the AL West — spurred this decision in a big way. There’s lots of season left, but this move is the sign of a team looking toward the future (w/good reason, I’d say). But Geren didn’t bite on the topic when asked about it.

“Honestly, I think he gives us the best chance to win. If he’s 20 years old or 30 years old, he gives us the best chance to win.”

In any case, it didn’t take long for the A’s to get all three of their top pitching prospects — Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro — into the rotation at the same time. This will make things interesting, or as interesting as a 19-29 team can possibly be, right????

By the way, check out Mazzaro’s stats at Triple-A Sacramento. Over his last four starts: 0.33 ERA, 21 K’s, 4 walks, 9 hits, one run …

Tonight’s lineups, featuring Gavin Floyd starting for the Sox in place of Bartolo Colon:

A’s — Cabrera SS; Kennedy 2B; Cust DH; Holliday LF; Giambi 1B; Suzuki C; Sweeney CF; Cunningham RF; Hannahan 3B; Cahill P.

White Sox — Podsednik LF; Ramirez SS; Dye RF; Thome DH; Konerko 1B; Pierzynksi C; Fields 3B; Wise CF; Nix 2B; Floyd P.

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A’s-Rangers: Let’s play two

Just checking in before the first game of today’s A’s doubleheader in Arlington. Not a whole lot to report from the pre-game scene. Bob Geren said Jack Cust (lower back spasms) and Travis Buck (oblique strain) were questionable, but both are in the lineup for first pitch. Buck apparently hurt his oblique before Wednesday’s game.

Things to watch tonight:
–Edgar Gonzalez’s performance in the nightcap. A solid outing probably solidifies him in the rotation for the time being. If he struggles, that could impact how soon we see a high-profile prospect such as Vin Mazzaro get promoted. Regardless of how Gonzalez does tonight, the A’s need to call up a starter for Tuesday’s game at Chicago, as they play five games over this four-day stretch through Monday.

–Adam Kennedy is batting second and Kurt Suzuki sixth in the current lineup for the first game, not surprising because Geren said he might do this against right-handed starters. Texas has two righties going tonight in Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman.

First game lineups –
A’s:
Cabrera SS; Kennedy 2B; Cust DH; Holliday LF; Giambi 1B; Suzuki C; Sweeney CF; Buck RF; Hannahan 3B; Outman P.

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

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A’s minor league recap: Mazzaro looks ready for big leagues

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm Friday for the A’s affiliates:

The arbitration clock appears to be the only thing standing between Vin Mazzaro and a spot in the A’s rotation. After Mazzaro’s dominating effort Friday night, what other reason could there be for not promoting the 22-year-old right-hander?

Mazzaro flirted with a no-hitter against Omaha and it figures to be just a matter of a bad start or two by a current A’s starter before he’s in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Adrian Cardenas’ difficult time in Triple-A have come to an end as the A’s top middle infielder prospect was sent back to Double-A Midland. However, Cardenas was in the middle of another huge night offensively for the RockHounds on Friday.

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

RiverCats 3, Omaha (Royals) 1: Story l Boxscore

Vin Mazzaro fired eight innings of one-hit, shutout ball against Omaha to lower his ERA to 2.66. Mazzaro, who got no decision in the Cats’ 12-inning win, walked just one and struck out six. Over his last three starts, the A’s third-round pick from ’05 has gone 21 innings and given up just five hits and one earned run _ for an ERA of 0.43.

Eric Patterson had an RBI triple and Danny Putnam followed with an RBI single in Sacramento’s two-run 12th inning. Gregorio Petit had snapped a 0-0 tie with a run-scoring hit in the top of the 11th, but the struggling Jerry Blevins gave up the tying run in the bottom of the inning.

Cliff Pennington was 3-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .283.

MIDLAND (Double-A)

RockHounds 24, Corpus Christi (Astros) 6: Story l Boxscore

Midland abused Corpus Christi pitching while amassing 24 runs on 28 hits, including four apiece by four different players. Here’s the RockHounds’ honor roll from last night:

Adrian Cardenas: After hitting .177 in Sacramento, he resumed his torrid Texas League hitting by going 4-for-5 with 3 RBI. Cardenas is hitting .398 with 22 RBI in 20 Double-A games.

Corey Brown: Went 4-for-5 with six RBI and five runs, and came within a single of the cycle. He’s hitting .326 with five HRs and 22 RBI with an OPS of 1.044 in 95 at-bats.

Archie Gilbert: Ex-James Logan High star went 4-for-7 as his OBP stays over .400.

Matt Spencer: Went 4-for-5 with four RBI.

Matt Sulentic: Had two hits and 3 RBI and the 21-year-old outfielder is hitting .444 over his last eight games, boosting his average to .306.

Josh Donaldson: Went 3-for-3 with two RBI and is hitting a season-high .273.

Chris Carter: Had 2 doubles, 3 RBI and is hitting .268 with four homers, 32 RBI.

Tommy Everidge: Had three RBI and is now second in league with 37 RBI.

In injury news, 20-year-old reliever Arnold Leon is on the disabled list with a strained right elbow.

STOCKTON (High Single-A)

Ports 4, Visalia (Diamondbacks) 1: Story l Boxscore

Things are looking up in Stockton, as witnessed by a thoroughly dominating show by Ben Hornbeck. The 21-year-old lefty, making his Stockton debut, struck out a career-high 12 in six innings and allowed just one hit and one walk.

Hornbeck (32nd round, ’08) has probably been the best pitcher in the minors this year, having gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA at Kane County before last week’s promotion to the Ports. On Friday, Hornbeck struck out the side in two consecutive innings and finished by striking out eight of his last nine batters.

Larry Cobb drove in two runs, including one on a solo homer, to spark the Ports’ offense. Justin Friend of Tracy picked up his first save, as regular Ports closer Jon Hunton was promoted to Double-A.

Hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez recently was activated after recovering from offseason hernia surgery. Rodriguez, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, has pitched in two games for Stockton, throwing three scoreless innings with seven strikeouts.

More excitement should be on the way shortly as second baseman Jemile Weeks, last year’s No. 1 pick, figures to arrive from extended spring training in Arizona in a matter of days.

KANE COUNTY (Low Single-A)

Cougars 6, Wisconsin (Brewers) 3: Story l Boxscore

Pedro Figueroa, a smallish (6-foot-1, 164 pounds) left-hander, threw seven strong innings as the Cougars (25-16) stretched their Western Division lead to 2 1/2 games. Figueroa (4-1, 5.40 ERA) gave up six hits, three runs, one walk and struck out five.

Franklin Hernandez had three RBI.

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A’s pregame report: Tuesday

It’s tough sorting out who’s coming and going from the A’s roster these days, wouldn’t you say?

With Sean Gallagher shipped out to the minors, the plan is for right-hander Edgar Gonzalez to make Saturday’s start against Arizona. Unless, Bob Geren said as a qualifier, he’s needed in relief before then. And would you bet against that possibility, with the way the starting pitching has been?

I thought Gio Gonzalez was a strong candidate to make that start, but assistant GM David Forst said in a pre-game media briefing that the priority right now is to keep the bullpen fully stocked. “Gio did a nice job, but with him being unavailable over the next three or four days, we needed to make a move.” Forst said elite prospect Vin Mazzaro was considered. You’ll remember he made a nice impression in spring training, but showed that he needed more seasoning. He’s 1-2 with a 3.16 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) for Sacramento. “Vinny’s pitched well and he deserved to be in consideration,” Forst said. “But his development is more important. Right now he’s doing a nice job there, and we prefer for it to continue.”

Landon Powell is nursing a sore right hamstring, and though Geren said he considers Powell available if needed, the A’s are skating on thin ice at this position right now. But in looking at their minor league catching options, Curtis Thigpen hasn’t played all season because of a back injury, and Joel Galarraga is nursing a sore shoulder. Eric Munson is starting at Triple-A, and Anthony Recker, recently demoted to Double-A, was brought back to Triple-A just because depth was needed. So the A’s are crossing their fingers that Kurt Suzuki stays healthy. Jack Hannahan is the emergency catcher if needed.

Eric Chavez doesn’t figure to be ready for another month or so anyway, so I wasn’t surprised to see him go on the 60-day DL. But I just talked to Chavez, and he said he’s definitely shooting to be ready by the time he’s eligible to come off the DL. Believe me, retirement is nowhere on this guy’s agenda, which might surprise you.

More comments from Chavez in tomorrow’s notebook …

Tonight’s A’s lineup: Cabrera SS; Suzuki C; Cust DH; Holliday LF; Giambi 1B; Kennedy 2B; Sweeney CF; Crosby 3B; Cunningham RF; Outman P.

Rays lineup: Upton CF; Crawford LF; Longoria 3B; Pena 1B; Bartlett SS; Aybar DH; Iwamura 2B; Kapler RF; Hernandez C; Shields P.

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A rough ending

Just when you thought all the pitching woes were reserved for the big club, a rough night at Triple-A Sacramento. The River Cats allowed three runs in the ninth in a 7-6 loss to Round Rock. J.R. Towles hit a three-run home run off Jerry Blevins. Not sure what Blevins’ deal is, but he’s gone from being very promising to very nauseating. His combined ERA this season between the A’s and Sacramento: 7.79.

BTW, Sean Gallagher got what he deserved after his pathetic outing.

The rest of the rundown:

TRIPLE-A SACRAMENTO

— Righty Vin Mazzaro earned pitcher of the week honors in the Pacific Coast League after allowing just a run in 13 2/3 innings. Question for the readers: Do you want to see Mazzaro called up.

— Lefty Dana Eveland still stinks.

Interesting promotion by the River Cats.

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

— The Rockhounds’ pitching staff had just as brutal an outing Monday. Chad Tracy’s two-run double highlighted a three-run sixth after another Chris Carter RBI made it 6-2. that tied it after Midland reliever James Heuser walked a pair while loading the bases. In the 10th, Sam Demel allowed three straight hits without getting an out to cap a 7-6 loss.

— How did outfielder Matt Spencer adjust to his promotion from Single-A Stockton? On the third pitch of his debut, he smacked a two-run single in a 9-1 win over Frisco. Here are Spencer’s numbers since his promotion.

Travis Banwart is a guy to track. He was 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his first seven starts.

SINGLE-A STOCKTON

— Another tough loss for Craig Italiano, who has pitched better than his numbers. The Ports are showing signs of life.

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The weekend

Gonna start the weekend minor-league rundown with a bit of a detour. The discussion in the office this morning regarded just how bad this A’s team is — frankly, I think it’s their worst team since 1997 — and how much longer do you give them until you call off the dogs?

My thinking: Two more weeks. The late, great sportswriter Leonard Koppett told me one time that six weeks into the season, the hitters have caught up to the pitchers, and that’s usually when veterans if they get going will start to get going.” In other words, two more weeks of a lousy Jason Giambi doesn’t portend good things.

How does this tie into the minors? Well, time to see which prospect you’d like most to see called up for an extended call-up. Co-worker Ben Enos says Jeff Gray. Cubs fanatic Chase Bryson said Sean Doolittle (“Demote Buck,” he says). I say, “anybody but Vince Mazzaro (don’t start his service time).”

Who’s your pick?

Meantime, while you think about it, here are some candidates.

TRIPLE-A SACRAMENTO

1B SEAN DOOLITTLE: He’s been playing the outfield and is on the disabled list. But he hits left-handed and 10 of his 28 hits have been for extra bases.

RHP JEFF GRAY: His whip is under one. He brings heat. And I’m thinking if you give Brad Ziegler a chance to close in a lost season, why not this guy?

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

1B CHRIS CARTER: We won’t see him this year — why start his service time? — but this kid is the buzz. He continues to drive in runs in bunches.

The usual rundown returns tomorrow.

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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.

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

— 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.

SINGLE-A STOCKTON

— 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.

SINGLE-A KANE COUNTY

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

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A’s minor league recap: Hot-hitting Cardenas promoted to Sacramento

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm for the A’s affiliates:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

The big news Friday was the arrival of infielder Adrian Cardenas from Double-A Midland, who earned a promotion after tearing up Texas League with a .372 average and a league-leading 13 extra-base hits in 19 games. The hot-hitting Cardenas, Oakland’s No. 5 prospect according to Baseball America, will likely split time between second base and shortstop with Cliff Pennington.
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