“Contagious” Starting Pitching Keys A’s to Win in Bay Bridge Series Opener

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – A bug is rapidly sweeping the Oakland Athletics clubhouse and every starting pitcher seems to have come down with it. It isn’t a case of the flu, but an epidemic of quality starts, with the latest “victim” to succumb being Jesse Chavez.

“It’s contagious,” said Chavez. “Yesterday, watching Jeff Samardzija pitch, I just wanted to feed off that. As a team, we feed off that. We’re playing good baseball. We’re happy to be home.”

The A’s right-hander matched a career-high in strikeouts (nine) over six shut-out innings in a 5-0 win against the San Francisco Giants at O.Co Coliseum Monday night. The win in the opener of the 2014 Bay Bridge Series marks the fifth-straight win for the A’s (56-33), who swept one of the American League’s best in the Toronto Blue Jays in a four-game set over the weekend. A’s starters allowed three runs over 27 innings of work in the quartet of outings.

“I just want to hold down this spot for what happened earlier in the year,” said Chavez. “Whatever role they ask of me, I’ll do it. I’m just looking forward to being a part of this team.”

The decision for Chavez (7-5, 3.06 ERA) also marks a swing towards the early-season progress that had the reliever-turned-starter in the running for American League pitcher of the month in April. Chavez was 2-4 with a 4.08 ERA over his last eight starts coming in to Monday night, including a five-inning, five-run loss at Detroit in his most recent start last Wednesday.

“The last two starts, with two strikes I was over the plate a little bit,” assessed Chavez on his recent struggles. “My main focus was finishing the at-bat if I got ahead.”

Fernando Abad pitched 2/3 of an inning of scoreless relief; Dan Otero did his part with 1 and 1/3 frames without a run. Ryan Cook fired off a 1-2-3 top of the ninth inning to wrap up the game. In total, A’s pitchers scattered only five hits to the San Francisco offense. The Giants left seven runners on base, while Oakland stranded nine.

Craig Gentry represented the first A’s run of the night on a John Jaso ground-out in the fifth inning to snap Giants Starter Ryan Vogelsong’s 18 and 2/3 innings scoreless streak in interleague play. An inning later, Alberto Callaspo provided the crushing blow, greeting newly-inserted reliever Juan Gutierrez with a one-out, two-run double. Callaspo took the first offering from Gutierrez, a 92 mile-per-hour fastball, into the gap in right-center to plate Josh Donaldson from third base and Jed Lowrie from first. Vogelsong (5-6, 3.92) was charged with all three runs, and ultimately, the loss after his five and 1/3 innings of work.

Lowrie chased Vogelsong earlier in the inning, singling on a first-pitch delivery to put runners on the corners after Donaldson was controversially hit by a pitch to open the inning. Replay showed that the ball hit Donaldson’s fingers near the knob of the bat, sparking debate from Bruce Bochy. The Giants manager already burned his challenge when officials upheld a hit-by-pitch of Craig Gentry in the bottom of the fifth.

“It was originally called a foul ball,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Once (home plate umpire Paul Nauert) saw his hand, he changed the call around.”

“It hit the small pinky, the pinky knuckle,” said Donaldson. “He did the right thing. I have to give him some credit. When I heard it, it sounded like it hit the bat, but obviously I felt my hand hurting. I knew it hit my hand. He did the right thing, looked at my hand, saw it was swelling. He asked if I swung. I told him I felt like I didn’t.”

A couple of seventh-inning errors from Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford put Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes on second and third with no outs, setting up a Brandon Moss sacrifice fly off Gutierrez for a 4-0 lead. Donaldson, the starting AL all-star third baseman by way of fan vote, knocked Gutierrez out of the game on a laser up the middle to score Cespedes for the A’s fifth and final run of the night.

The sold-out crowd of 36,067 saw Oakland continue its dominance of San Francisco in the East Bay. Oakland has taken 10 of the last 12 games against their Northern California foes at the Coliseum.

“It’s always fun,” said Chavez of playing in the friendly rivalry. “It’s good baseball. It’s two good teams going at it. I think that’s good baseball.”

While the A’s continue to trend upward to the best record in the Major Leagues, the Giants have scuffled to one of the worst margins of victory in the league. Over the last 26 games, San Francisco (49-40) has gone 7-19 after winning 42 of the first 63 games of the season.

The black and orange send All-Star starter Madison Bumgarner to the mound Tuesday looking to split the two-game series in Oakland before the interleague rivalry series shifts to AT&T Park for a pair starting Wednesday. Oakland hands the ball off to its ace, Sonny Gray to sweep the first half of the home-and-home.

No Guarantees for Scuffling Reddick in Return to Roster

By Matthew Harrington

In 2012, Josh Reddick’s career took a gigantic leap, evolving from fifth outfielder with the Boston Red Sox to a 32 home run masher with the Oakland Athletics. The Savannah, Georgia native went from spare part to key cog in an offense, notching 85 runs batted in while providing Gold Glove-winning defense in right field. 2013 brought a regression, a return to the average with a .226 clip at the plate and diminished power (12 home runs). Again, 2014 proves more the latter than the former for the left-handed hitting outfielder who is scuffling to stay above the Mendoza line (.214 batting average in 50 games) while struggling to stay healthy enough to stay on the field.

Reddick last manned right field on May 31s but exited the game against the Los Angeles Angels after two at-bats nursing a hyperextended right knee. Just like in 2013, a season that ended in a second-straight American League West title for Oakland, the A’s rolled on without Reddick’s contributions required. They currently boast the best win percentage in the Major Leagues (.618) and are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the most wins in the big leagues (47). Over the last 10 games, all sans Reddick, the A’s have gone 7-3.

Reddick appears poised to wrap up a rehab stint with the Sacramento River Cats in time to join the team for a trip to New York to face the Mets starting Tuesday. While he may be ready to rejoin the team, the Swingin’ A’s might not have a clear role for him. When Reddick first went down to end May on a down note, general manager Billy Beane called upon third-string catcher Stephen Vogt to fill the roster vacancy. The idea heading in was that Vogt would provide some depth at catcher as well as the corner infield and outfield spots where he had a scattering of experience at the minor league level.

Instead, the 29-year-old backstop stole the starting right fielder spot from other candidates like Brandon Moss and Craig Gentry, producing an eye-popping .346 batting average to go with 11 RBIs in only 17 games. While no one will confuse Vogt for a Gold Glove outfielder, his defense afield has certainly passed the eye test. For a catcher, he certainly doesn’t look out of place roaming right field.

One thing Melvin has displayed in his tenure with Oakland is a loyalty his veterans, evidenced by Daric Barton’s ability to work his way into the line-up 30 times this season despite only nine hits. Reddick will receive every opportunity to regain his role as a starter, likely seeing the majority of starts in the coming days. Melvin, however, shouldn’t feel obligated to continue to pencil no.16 onto his lineup card every day if his offensive woes continue.

If Reddick still looks lost at the plate over the next few series, the best course of action may be another stint at Sacramento. Reddick still has a minor league option left, leaving the best course of action to be riding out Vogt’s hot streak for as long as it will last. By then, perhaps Reddick will rediscover his long ball stroke and return to Oakland with past woes behind him.

“Rally Killers” Lift A’s to 10-0 Rout of Tigers

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. — A note inscribed next to the Oakland Athletics line-up card posted this afternoon stated “Home runs can be rally killers”. After a 10-0 routing of the Detroit Tigers the A’s may have reason to rethink that mantra.

“Homers can be rally killers,” said A’s catcher Derek Norris. “But when you’re hitting four or five of them a game they can probably make a different statement. That’s more for the solo home runs. Anytime you can scratch off two, three grand slam home runs, those are hardly rally killers. That’s how you bury a team.”

The A’s (31-20) did just that, outmuscling the visiting Tigers (28-19) in a Memorial Day matinee at the O.Co coliseum capped by Derek Norris’ first career grand slam. Five different Athletics homered, including four solo shots off Tigers starter Drew Smyly (2-3, 3.86 ERA) to snap a four-game losing skid. A’s starter Tommy Milone (3-3, 3.50) turned in a brilliant performance, going 6 2/3 innings without surrendering a run against a potent Tiger offense that tops the junior circuit with a .278 team batting average.

“Zero runs, that’s always a good day,” said Milone. “I’ve got to give it to my defense and obviously the offense. They backed me up today.”

Milone threw an economical 105 pitches, needing more than 20 pitches in an inning only once to retire the side, yielding a scant four hits to the visitors. The lefty collected six K’s, one shy of a season-high, while only issuing two walks. Andrew Romine and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera represented the lone Tigers hitters to reach second base Monday afternoon, each doubling off Milone. The A’s starter now has three wins in four starts after dropping three-straight decisions over his first five appearances.

“I think he was just trying to do too much,” said battery mate Norris. “He was trying to create stuff that wasn’t there. Finally I said to just sit back and throw the baseball just like you know how. His focus has been higher, his determination has been higher. He’s been attacking hitters and not shying away from contact.”

Brandon Moss opened the long ball barrage, leading off the second inning with a deep blast to right center that Austin Jackson nearly scaled the wall to steal. Moss’ extra-base hit marks his 18th of the month, tying an A’s record with Jason Giambi (2001) for most in May. Two batters later, designated hitter Blanks took Smyly yard on a 2-1 offering to make it 2-0 Oakland.

“There are very few guys on this ball club that are trying to hit home runs,” said Norris. “You look at some of the guys like Moss and (Josh) Donaldson, they’ve literally shaped their swings to try to become fly ball hitters and have home run swings. It’s definitely an art that not everyone can grasp.”

For Blanks, it was the first home run hit as a member of the Athletics after coming over in a May 15th trade with the San Diego Padres. Blanks’ last Major League round-tripper came 49 games ago on June 16, 2013. He also spent some time in the minors with the Padres since then.

“It makes him feel like a part of the team that much quicker when you get into a game like that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “You’re scoring runs with homers. It really gets you feeling like ‘Hey, I’m a part of this team’.”

Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes added back-to-back solo blasts off Smyly in the bottom of the third for a 4-0 edge. The twin displays of power marked the second time this season consecutive batters have homered, with Cespedes and Moss achieving the feat May 9th. The A’s made it a six-pack in the fourth after Coco Crisp hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Josh Donaldson hit a run-scoring two-out single off Smyly. In total, the Tigers starter went five innings while allowing six runs, all earned, to accompany two walks and a trio of strikeouts.

Norris brought the scoring into double digits, launching his first career grand slam to deep center field off reliever Phil Coke in the Oakland half of the 8th. Blanks opened the inning by drawing a walk, moved to second when Craig Gentry was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Crisp reached base on an error to load the bases for the Oakland backstop.

“I hit the ball hard a couple times earlier and came away with nothing,” said the A’s catcher after going 0-4 heading into his 8th inning at-bat. “I was just trying to get the RBI. I was trying to get something out over the plate. Fortunately it just came back over the middle and I put a good swing on it.”

Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle pitched 2 and 1/3 innings of perfect relief to finish off the drubbing of Detroit, the team that bounced Oakland from the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. The reeling Tigers now have lost seven of their last eight, but send 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the mound to play stopper Tuesday night. The A’s will counter with ace Sonny Gray.

“Sonny’s always pumped,” said Norris when asked if there was any extra motivation for the young A’s starter facing a familiar playoff foe. “He’s 100 percent determined every fifth day. He’s on it, he’s focused. He’s ready.”

Despite Rough Ninth, A’s Preserve A Chavez Gem

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics made it five straight wins Monday night at O.Co Coliseum, but they didn’t make it easy on themselves against the Chicago White Sox. Despite a dominant performance from starter Jesse Chavez, the green and gold needed four different pitchers to get through a three-run ninth inning to hang on for a 5-4 win. Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson connected on two-run hits each and Sean Doolittle collected his second save in three opportunities to anoint Chavez the winning pitcher.

Jesse Chavez (3-1, 2.44 ERA) turned in a masterpiece, pitching 8-plus strong innings highlighted by seven strikeouts and only two walks. The lone mistakes were solo home runs issued to Dayan Viciedo & Jose Abreu, Chavez’s fourth and fifth home runs allowed on the year. All five long balls on the campaign have come with the bases empty for the righthander, a runner-up for the American League Pitcher of the Month in April.

“He’s been doing it all year for us,” said manager Bob Melvin. “I tried to get him all the way through it. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Seeing eight strong innings again, he’s consistent in that regard.”

The journeyman reliever-turned-starter has found new life in Oakland after stops in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas and Toronto. Monday night proved a reason why, with the Southern California native pitching an effective game, using 93 pitches to retire 24 batters. 68 of Chavez’s deliveries were strikes.

“It’s amazing,” said fellow pitcher Sean Doolittle. “It’s amazing the way he can pitch to both sides of the plate with both a cutter and a sinker and obviously that big curveball he had tonight. He really pitches. The way he adds and subtracts, moves the ball around. It’s really fun to watch. That’s the guy that over the last few years has really reinvented himself.”

Dayan Viciedo took a 2-1 delivery from Chavez to the opposite field over the wall in right center, his third long ball of the season, to give Chicago (19-21) a 1-0 lead in the second inning. The A’s (24-15) responded in their next turn at the plate, with right fielder Josh Reddick skying a fly ball to straight-away center field for an RBI triple. The ball carried over center fielder Leury Garcia’s head and a foot below the top of the wall, giving Nick Punto plenty of time to score from first base and tie the game.

Third basemen Josh Donaldson enter play scuffling through the month of May, hitting .194 with no home runs and a lonely pair of RBIs over 36 at-bats. He turned around his May misfortunes in the bottom of the fifth by about-facing an 87 mph 2-1 delivery from Danks. Donaldson pulled a line drive just inside the left field foul pole for a two-run home run, giving him what appeared to be his league-leading 10th go ahead RBI at the time. Reddick walked to open the inning but Danks struck out the next two Athletics to bring Donaldson to the dish with two down for the homer. Danks (3-3, 4.88) retired Cespedes on strikes to end the inning and close the book on his outing after three runs over six innings with five outs coming on strike threes.

Shortstop Jed Lowrie added what at the time appeared to be a pair of insurance runs on his 500th career hit, a double in the gap in left off reliever Daniel Webb in the seventh. Leadoff man Craig Gentry scored from first on the hit, nipping on the heels of Reddick who came around on the play to create a 5-1 Oakland edge. Reddick singled with one out to start the rally then advanced to second on Gentry’s four-pitch walk.

Lowrie advanced to third on a wild pitch with Yoenis Cespedes at the plate, but the Oakland clean-up hitter grounded into an inning double play after second basemen Gordon Beckham snag the grounder on the shortstop side of second. Beckham flipped the ball to Alexei Ramirez who pirouetted over the bag before relaying to first to gun down Cespedes by a step and avoid the big blow and set up a tense finish.

No sooner did Chavez get A’s fans on their feet by taking the mound to try to finish off the game did Jose Abreu put fans back in their seats stunned. Entering the ninth inning, Chavez managed to void the presence of dangerous designated hitter, holding him to a pair of strikeouts and a fielder’s choice in three plate appearances. Abreu finally managed to display his raw power, taking a well-pitched 0-2 offering to deep right field for his MLB best 14th homer to chase Chavez trailing 5-2.

Melvin tabbed Fernando Abad to face Adam Dunn, but the lefty specialist failed to finish the White Sox first basemen off, getting him to two strikes before issuing a walk. Chicago manager Robin Ventura replaced Dunn with the speedy Moises Sierra who moved to third position on a double by Viciedo off Jim Johnson with no outs. Alexie Ramirez, tied for the American League lead in batting average Monday morning at .333, added to his total by picking up a run-scoring single off Johnson to trim the A’s lead to two.

“Once Chavez gave up the first hit, we knew it was going to be Abad for the next guy,” said Melvin. “After that it was going to be Johnson against the righty. If we needed the backstop we had (Sean Doolittle).”

Melvin elected to utilize the backstopper Doolittle to try to neutralize pinch hitter Paul Konerko with the tying run on first base and no outs. Instead, Konerko popped the first pitch he saw to center field for a sacrifice fly, plating Viciedo from third to make it a slim 5-4 lead.

“It’s situations like that where you look at the bigger picture,” said Doolittle. “It really breaks down to, it sounds cliché to say, but one pitch at a time. There were so many things going on, Runners on first and third, a guy like Paul Konerko at the plate. I was focused on making a quality pitch right from the very start. Getting that first out was really big.”

Ramirez stole his seventh base of the season to move into scoring position but pinch hitter Tyler Flowers struck out swinging then Doolittle overpowered Leury Garcia, forcing him to chase a fastball at the eyes to convert his second save of the season.

“I really did want to get the save,” said Doolittle. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. When we were high-fiving and going through the line after the game I was really happy with preserving the game.”

While the ninth inning proved exciting for one reason, Josh Reddick’s plate appearance in the fifth was a memorable one for a different reason. Reddick finished the day 2-3 with a walk, two runs and a run batted in, but most of the talk postgame was on his switch in walk-up music in his second at-bat. The professional wrestling enthusiast ditched the entrance music of recently deceased WWE Hall of Famer The Ultimate Warrior for George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. It certainly was a far departure from the guitar-heavy anthems players usually employ in their approach to the plate. It caught some of his teammates off guard.

“It’s just an awesome song,” said Doolittle with a straight face after the game. “It puts everyone in a good mood. I hope he keeps it up. “

Doolittle won’t be switching his battle hymn from Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” if he’s called upon tomorrow night against the White Sox to close out Drew Pomeranz’s first start as a full-time member of the rotation against Scott Carroll.

“Sometimes last year I thought about changing it,” said Doolittle. “But every time I hear it, it riles me up. I’m sticking with it for a while.”

 

Surprise Starter Plays Stopper for A’s in Game Two of Double Header

By Matthew Harrington

Very few teams can feel confident after losing three of four games in a series, but the Oakland Athletics gained some piece of mind after dodging a four-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners (17-16) Wednesday evening at O.Co Coliseum. Yoenis Cespedes hit his sixth homer of the season, Drew Pomeranz fired five scoreless innings in his spot start and newly reinstalled closer Jim Johnson cruised to his second save of the season to close out a 2-0 A’s victory in game two of double header against the M’s.

The quality start by Pomeranz (2-1, 1.45 ERA), a starter by trade but long reliever out of Oakland’s necessity this season, could normally have been considered the surprise of the day. Instead, it was the fact that Oakland manager Bob Melvin penciled number 61 in for the start that most caught fans and writers alike off guard. The A’s had called up Arnold Leon from Sacramento to fill the 26th roster spot allowance for double the headers, leading many to conclude that top pitching prospect would make his Major League debut Wednesday night.

Instead Pomeranz, acquired from Colorado in the offseason in the Brett Anderson trade, got the nod and picked up his first win as a starter for the green and gold. The southpaw cruised through his five innings, allowing only one hit and no walks while striking out five. His skid-stopping appearance showed the Oakland coaching staff that he’s ready as an understudy if starters Dan Straily (1-2, 4.93) and Tommy Milone (0-3, 5.86) continue to falter. With the A’s offense scoring three runs or less in six of seven May games, it’s imperative that pitching picks up the offensive slack.

The A’s (20-15) received all the offense needed after shortstop Jed Lowrie singled Craig Gentry home off Seattle spot-starter Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 6.00) in the third inning. Cespedes doubled the lead in the fourth after connecting on a 2-0 changeup from Ramirez to rip a liner over the wall in left field for his 20th run batted in on the season. While Cespedes now has homered on back-to-back days, third baseman Josh Donaldson saw his run of 29-straight games reaching base come to an end. Donaldson struck out three times and failed to reach base in four at-bats Wednesday.

Reliever Dan Otero strung together three shutout innings out of the pen after going a third of an inning in game one to save a staff that pitched four innings in the extra innings afternoon loss. Jim Johnson, taking the mound to a smattering of boos, silenced the critics momentarily by pitching a perfect ninth for his first save since April 6th. The A’s bullpen opened the second game down a man after Ryan Cook left game one in the tenth with an arm injury. The initial belief with the Oakland staff is that Cook’s injury is not that serious. Coco Crisp also exited game one after suffering a neck strain after crashing into the wall on an outstanding catch in the top of the fourth. Melvin expects his starting center fielder to be out for a few days, but will avoid time on the disabled list.

The A’s take Thursday off before welcoming their first interleague opponent to Oakland this season when the Washington Nationals come to town for a three-game set. Doug Fister is expected to make his 2014 debut with the Nats, facing Milone to open the series.

“Acquired Taste” Upsets A’s Appetite For Scoring

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Monday night marked a pitching matchup of eerily similar pitcher profiles. Two players amid career renaissances met in a showdown that would have stolen the Sportscenter spotlight just six or seven years ago by now over a half-decade later proved to be a showdown between starters just now rediscovering the promise of their abilities. In the end the outcome was just as unexpected as the winning pitcher’s ability to find a way to win.

The Seattle Mariners (15-15) bested the Oakland Athletics in the battle of the unbeaten starters, with lanky right hander Chris Young topping fellow former All-Star Scott Kazmir on a Monday evening match-up at O.Co Coliseum. Oakland got a two run home run from Brandon Moss but M’s outfielder’s Stefan Romero’s first career long ball proved the difference-maker as Young and the Seattle bullpen held the Swinging A’s to just four hits in a 4-2 Mariners win.

“You don’t see him a lot,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He’s an acquired taste. He’s unique in what he does. You look at the gun, he’s throwing 85 miles per hour throwing balls by you.”

Young (2-0, 3.03 ERA) baffled A’s hitters despite boasting a fastball that could be measured in miles per day, not hour. Young’s “heater” sat comfortably in the mid-to-low eighties on the radar gone throughout the evening, a speed that’d usually make any pro hitter’s eyes light up. Despite the shortcomings in velocity, the towering 6-foot-10 righty pitched six innings, holding the A’s (19-13) to just three hits while striking out and walking a pair each.

“It’s just different than a lot of guys you face,” said Moss of facing Young. “Obviously it looks like he’s throwing soft and the radar gun says he’s throwing soft but the way he pitches up and down makes it tough. It’s so rare that you see something like that. With that arm angle and that height it looks like he’s throwing out of the sky.”

Young did not pitch in the MLB at all during 2013 and pitched a combined 159 innings with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres since 2010. Like pitching foe Kazmir, Young appeared on the track to superstardom after earning an All-Star spot in 2007 with the Padres but had injuries derail a promising career. Young picked up the loss in the game, saw his ERA balloon from 3.12 in 2007 to 3.96 in 2008 before bloating to 5.21 in 2009. He now appears on track to becoming a valuable contributor to an MLB team after being released by the Washington Nationals earlier in the Spring.

“He’s not a guy that some team just runs out there,” echoed Moss. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get outs when he needs them. People see velocity and they want to judge people on that, but he can pitch.”

Young’s over-the-top delivery baffled Oakland batters for three and 1/3 no-hit innings to open play before shortstop Jed Lowrie broke through with his fourth-inning, no-out single. Left fielder Moss plated Lowrie with his two-run blast to right center on a belt-high 86 mph fastball, his fifth round-tripper of the season. The dinger marks the 10th all-time round-tripper against Seattle for Moss, the most he’s hit against one team.

“It was a mistake,” said Moss of the pitch he hammered over the wall. “He had thrown me one there earlier in the at-bat and I was in front of it. The more pitches I saw, the better my timing got. He’s a tough guy to face.”

Moss’ four-bagger pulled Oakland even after the Mariners capitalized early on an off-night from Kazmir (4-1, 2.64) by pushing two runs across in the first inning. Leadoff man Michael Saunders and Stefan Romero greeted the southpaw with back-to-back singles just out of reach of A’s infielders to open the game. Big offseason acquisition Robinson Cano struck out looking but designated hitter Corey Hart drove a single through the right side of the infield to bring Saunders around from second.

“That’s baseball,” said Kazmir. “I just had to focus on the stuff that I can control. With Saunders I ended up getting two strikes on him. I tried throwing him a fastball outside but it ended up being right over the middle of the plate and up and he was able to handle it. Then there was the changeup hit into the hole (by Romero). That’s something where, if maybe I pitched a little better there’d be a different outcome. After that first inning I just tried to get as deep as I could into the game.”

Romero advanced to third on the play as well, though if Craig Gentry weren’t subbing in in right field due to Josh Reddick’s ankle injury sustained Sunday in Boston, a play at the plate or third base could have been a possibility. Romero instead came around to score on Kyle Seager’s groundout for a 2-0 M’s lead with a half inning in the books. Romero also touched Kazmir for another run in the fifth, turning around a Kazmir 0-1 delivery to left field for his first homer in the Major Leagues.

“His velocity was down,” said batterymate Jaso. “He left a couple off-speed pitches in the zone. The homer was on a changeup and it was on a guy who swings and misses on changeups but location is key. When he got hurt it was just location.”

Kazmir opened the sixth inning by surrendering a 1-2 count single to Cole Gillespie, then watched him advance to second on a wild pitch to Brad Miller. The Seattle shortstop connected on the run-scoring base hit after lifting a fly ball to left field. Moss original charged the ball and appeared to have a chance to make a routine catch, but he put up a hand to his face as the ball dropped in front of him for the hit.

“As soon as it went up it went in the lights,” said Moss, primarily a first basemen by trade. “I was hoping it would come out of it but I could tell that it wasn’t going to. I tried to back up and keep it in front of me. I wanted to keep the runner from second from scoring and keep the other guy on first. I backed up and tried to get it in to (Donaldson) as quick as possible. Sometimes those plays feel worse than errors. At least when you make an error, you know it’s your fault. You can take ownership for it. When something like that happens, that’s tough. You want to make plays for your guys.”

Miller swiped second and third off Kazmir with catcher Mike Zunino at the plate, but third basemen Josh Donaldson cut a greey Miller down at the plate after he tried to score on a tapper down the line. Catcher John Jaso applied the tag for the easy out.

Seattle ran into the third out of the inning as well when Moss caught Zunino trying to go first-to-third on a Saunders single in the gap to left center. Moss atoned for his early miscue after his throw beat Zunino to the bag for the tag by Donaldson.

Kazmir departed the game after the inning, allowing four runs on eight hits with only three punchouts and a pair of walks. Kazmir also plunked Hart for the lone hit-by-pitch of the game and fired one wild pitch in a night where his best stuff and usual velocity eluded him.

“They just got to him early,” said Melvin of his veteran hurler. “They got him out of his rhythm early on. He recovered some, he battled. It probably wasn’t the best stuff we’ve seen this year. The velocity was down a little bit. You’re going to have days like that but he still kept us in the game.”

The A’s put the leadoff batter on just once all night after Donaldson singled up the middle in the bottom of the seventh, reaching base in the 27th-straight contest. The next batter Moss fell behind 0-2 before drawing the walk in a 12 pitch battle against Young. Manager Lloyd McClendon saw enough out of his starter, lifting him for lefty Charlie Furbush to face designated hitter Alberto Callaspo.

Callaspo entered play Monday night hitting .308 with runners on base. The switch-hitter also came having hit into six double plays, “good” for second in the American League. Callaspo added to that total, bouncing into the 6-4-3 twin killing.

“He hits it hard,” said Melvin of Callaspo’s grounder. “He just hit it right at the shortstop. (Callaspo) is a guy we feel good about in those situations. He’s gotten big hits for us all year. Sometimes you just square it up and hit it right at someone. It was a bit of a momentum changer.”

Pinch hitter Derek Norris walked off newly-inserted reliever Dominic Leone to keep the A’s threat. A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Reddick to the plate for Gentry, but ended up burning the outfielder’s availability after McClendon countered by calling on Joe Beimel for the lefty-lefty match-up. Melvin sent Yoenis Cespedes, another ailing Athletics outfielder, to the plate in Reddick’s stead, but the 2013 Home Run Derby champion popped out to Cano at second to end the rally.

“He was good enough to swing the bat,” said Melvin when asked after the game if he’d send a hampered Reddick to the plate. “He was good enough to potentially stay with it.”

In total, Seattle used five relievers with set-up man Yoervis Medina picking up his seventh hold and Fernando Rodney completed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his eighth save on the campaign. Fernando Abad pitched a dominant seventh inning for Oakland and Ryan Cook pitched two innings to avoid taxing a green and gold bullpen that pitched four innings in a 3-2 extra innings win at Boston Sunday.

The A’s have now dropped three of their last four after exploding for 12 runs Wednesday to complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers. The A’s have scored just eight runs in the quartet of contests since. They’ll look to regain the scoring touch against Roenis Elias in game two of the four-game set Tuesday night. Oakland will counter with the surprise player of the season, Jesse Chavez.

“That’s just how it goes,” said Jaso. “There are ups and downs throughout the year. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come out and score ten, maybe we’ll win a 1-0 ballgame. You never know, that’s just how it works.”

Rangers Sweep A’s Out Of First Place, Steal AL’s Best Record on Perez’s Complete-Game Shutout

By Matthew Harrington

For the first time in the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics failed to pick up a single win in a series, dropping the Wednesday matinee finale 3-0 to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers at O.Co Coliseum. Southpaw Martin Perez (4-0, 1.42 ERA) out-dueled A’s ace Sonny Gray,  taming the potent Oakland offense in a complete game, three-hit shutout. The win improbably propels the Rangers (14-8), battered with injuries to key personnel at nearly every spot on the diamond, over the A’s to the best record in the American League and first place in the division.

The A’s (13-8) only had one batter advance past first base all afternoon. Josh Donaldson doubled on a line drive to Michael Choice in left field with one down in the bottom of the seventh but the A’s failed to convert on the opportunity with a man in scoring position. Perez followed up Oakland’s other two base-hits, singles by Jed Lowrie and catcher Derek Norris, by inducing the next batter to bounce into a double-play each time. Lowrie, Donaldson and Norris were the only A’s base runners all afternoon, as Donaldson and Norris also drew the only two walks for the green and gold.

A couple of players with ties to the A’s, including former prospect Michael Choice and one-time utility infielder Donnie Murphy, collected run-scoring base hits to lead the visitors over the A’s for Oakland’s first loss by more than two runs this season.

Texas touched Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA) up for a run in the first inning after the A’s starter gave up a walk to ex-Athletics farmhand Michael Choice. Gray bounced back to strike out Elvis Andrus, finishing off the shortstop looking on a masterful 80 mph curveball. Gray didn’t fare as well against Alex Rios who ripped an 0-1 fastball to left field for an RBI triple and a 1-0. The Rangers scored in the first inning in all three games of the series.

With Rios 90 feet from home and only one out, the Rangers appeared on the verge of a big inning. The clean-up hitter Prince Fielder appeared to expand the visiting team advantage after grounding a Gray offering to shortstop Jed Lowrie. Lowrie made the heads up play to try to cut an advancing Rios down at home plate, but home plate umpire Larry Vanover signaled Rios safe on the tag play. After A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged the play, the call on the field was overturned and the second run of the game became the second out instead.

The Rangers tagged Gray with another run after Leonys Martin singled to open the fifth then came around on Choice’s one-out single to center fielder Craig Gentry. Choice, Oakland’s no. 3 prospect in 2013 according to Baseball America, came over in the December trade that brought Gentry and Josh Lindblom to Alameda County. The A’s also shipped infielder Chris Bostick, the only player in the deal without Major League experience this year, to the Lone Star state.

One inning later Donnie Murphy wrapped up the scoring, launching a 3-1 fastball over the wall in left for a 3-0 Rangers lead. Gray fed Murphy a steady diet of fastballs in the at-bat, throwing five-straight heaters to the Rangers second sacker.

Gray pitched another scoreless inning but his offense couldn’t pick him up in the end. He headed to the showers down 3-0 on five hits and three earned runs. Gray struck out eight and walked four. Drew Pomeranz and Jim Johnson finished up the loss with a scoreless inning a piece.

Oakland hits the road for the next 10 games, heading to both American League outposts in Texas before a trip to Boston to face the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. The A’s open the road trip with a quartet against the Houston Astros, a team the A’s swept before seeing roles reversed against the Rangers. Scott Kazmir will take the mound for the second consecutive game against the ‘Stros. The veteran hurler pitched eight innings and surrendered three runs, two earned, but picked up the no decision on April 19th. Just like in that Saturday Showdown, he’ll be opposed by winless lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer gave up a lone run in five and two-third innings of work against the A’s.

Crowded Outfield Means Catalyst Fuld May Be Odd Man Out In Oakland

By Matthew Harrington

When the Oakland Athletics dealt power-hitting prospect Michael Choice to the Texas Rangers for Josh Lindblom and outfielder Craig Gentry, the idea was that Gentry would serve as the team’s fourth outfielder. Gentry brought all the requisite skills; the ability to play all three positions, a proven track record performing in the role and faith in management that the role was his to lose. Now, with Gentry ready to return from the disabled list potentially as soon as Saturday fresh, the A’s have a tough decision on their hands. What do they do with their bench when everyone is healthy?

The platoon in place at catcher means both backstops are safe, not that John Jaso or Derek Norris would have been a victim of a crowded bench in the first place thanks to their offensive profiles. Nick Punto brings the intangibles, representing the type of glue guy franchises need in the club house if they hope to survive the 162-game grind with morale intact. Alberto Callaspo, who made his debut at first base in Tuesday’s afternoon half of the doubleheader, now boasts experience at every position on the diamond except catcher, pitcher and center field. The switch hitter stands firmly entrenched as the right-handed bat in a right-left platoon with Daric Barton at first. That leaves fourth outfielder Sam Fuld as the odd man out.

Fuld came to Spring Training a minor league free-agent competing for a position on the Major League roster that he was far from first in line for. The A’s gave prospect Billy Burns, possessor of plus-speed and the eye at the plate Billy Beane adores, an extensive look with 72 spring at-bats over 26 games. The speedster did not disappoint, pilfering 10 bases to pace the green and gold in Arizona while producing a .370 on-base percentage. Gentry, of course, was acquired to be the man off the bench to patrol the grass at O.Co Coliseum and every sign still points at him filling the role. His spot on the roster were only slightly derailed by a lower back strain. There was also always the option that Beane and co. would stick with no true fourth outfielder, electing to have Callaspo or first baseman/designated hitter Brandon Moss, who broke into the majors as an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, spelling Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes when one of the triumvirate needs a breather.

Instead, the A’s saw something in Fuld, who hit a respectable .271 (abeit, less impressive than Burns .306 mark) with a .348 OBP in 59 preseason at-bats. The veteran outfielder, a product of Stanford University, led Oakland with four triples in the valley of the Sun. His March performance landed the 32-year -old a roster spot on Opening Day for just the third time in his seven seasons at the Major League level, not counting the 2008 season when he didn’t play above the AAA level. He’s certainly the one slated to head to the Sacramento Rivercats, if not elsewhere in the bigs, but he’s done nothing but excite in his time in Alameda County. If he hasn’t won a permanent spot in Oakland, he’s certainly shown value to the 29 other general managers in the league.

The compact left-hander, in hitting and throwing alike, has sparked the A’s offense in the leadoff spot when the coaching staff grants Coco Crisp a day of rest, something they plan on doing often this season for late-season preservation. Fuld currently sits behind only Callaspo, buoyed by the lone A’s home run of the season, in slugging percentage and OPS. Fuld is tied for second on the team in RBI’s with two, though five other Athletics have a pair as well. Fuld was denied another Thursday night when attempting to stretch an RBI triple into an inside-the-park homer proved ill-advised.
The 5-foot-10 journeyman with a career .235 batting average and only two seasons of 100-plus games-played may not be in the plans full-time for Oakland, but as long as he can produce like he is Fuld deserves a roster spot.

Every time number 29 steps to the plate or has a ball hit his way elicits an excitement that something electric is happening. He’s the one-man rally, the highlight reel grab, the game-changer in every sense of the word. It’s no wonder that he’s gained a cult-level status in his stops in Chicago and Tampa Bay. Rays fans watched the phenomena that was Fuld, dubbing the outfielder’s blossoming the so-called “Legend of Sam Fuld”. He soon saw his status elevated to tall-tale heights, with Chuck Norris jokes being altered to feature Fuld as the larger-than-life protagonist in Norris’ stead.

The Oakland A’s are now 2-0 when Bob Melvin pencils Fuld into the starting line-up. Perhaps it’s coincidence. Perhaps a season of Fuld can lift the Athletics over the playoff hump and bring the East Bay its first World Series title since 1989. Fuld’s future in the clubhouse at 7000 Coliseum way remains uncertain, but one thing is. A’s supporters would gladly watch Fuld’s legacy expand over this season over the likes of Punto or Gentry if it involves bringing the A’s more wins and some hardware in October.

A’s Make More Changes Via Trades

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

By Charlie O. Mallonee

The Oakland Athletics are being very active in the “hot stove” market. Not all the names involved are household names, but they are the pieces that Billy Beane and staff are putting together to make up the 2014 version of the Oakland A’s.

On Tuesday, the A’s announced a trade that brings right-handed relief pitcher Luke Gregerson from the San Diego Padres to Oakland. In exchange, the A’s sent outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres.

Gregerson was 6-8 with four saves and a 2.71 ERA in 73 relief appearances for the Padres in 2013. He held opposing hitters to a .203 batting average and right-hand hitters to just a .192 mark.

Gregerson made his Major League debut with San Diego in 2009 and has appeared in at least 60 games in each of his five seasons with the Padres. He has a career 2.88 ERA in 363 relief appearances.

Gregerson is the second major change to the relief staff that A’s have made over the last two days. Oakland also traded for  Orioles closer Jim Johnson.

Seth Smith batted .253 with eight home runs and 40 RBI in 117 games for Oakland in 2013. The left-handed hitter made 84 of his 97 starts versus right-handed pitching. Smith is a .265 career hitter.

Also on Tuesday, the A’s  acquired outfielder Craig Gentry and right-handed pitcher Josh Lindblom from the Texas Rangers in exchange for outfielder Michael Choice and minor league infielder Chris Bostick.

Gentry hit .280 with two home runs and 22 RBI in 106 games for the Rangers last season. He was 24 for 27 (88.9%) in stolen bases which was the third best percentage in the American League. The right-handed hitting Gentry started 49 games in center field and 20 games in left field for Texas in 2013.

Lindblom was 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA in eight games (five starts) in three call ups to the Rangers last season. He also went 8-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 20 games (18 starts) with Triple-A Round Rock.

Choice made his Major League debut with the A’s in the September call-up last year. He hit .278 with a double and a walk in nine games. Choice was the A’s first round draft pick in 2010.

Bostick spent the entire 2013 season with Single-A Beloit. He batted .282 with 14 home runs and 89 RBI in 129 games.