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.

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.

Finishing Blow Elusive as A’s Strand 10 Against Darvish, Rangers

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. –Few teams can say they own All-World talent Yu Darvish, staff ace for the Texas Rangers. The Oakland Athletics can stake claim to that distinction, sporting a 6-1 lifetime record against the Japanese import including a sterling 2-0 record against the international sensation at O.Co Coliseum. Though Darvish didn’t manage his first win in his career in the confines of Alameda County Monday evening, his Rangers outlasted the Oakland A’s (13-6), erasing a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory.

“It was a very competitive game,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “It was about as close as you can get. They had their ace on the mound. We had them on the run early but recovered well enough to keep him in the game and go to their key bullpen guys.”

Neal Cotts (1-1, 3.38 ERA) picked up the win in relief, Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Rangers (12-8) and former Oakland middle infielder Donnie Murphy singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to lead the Rangers to a come-from-behind triumph over the American League West leaders. Brandon Moss hit his fourth round tripper of the season and Coco Crisp moved into sole possession of fourth place on the A’s career stolen base list, swiping two bags to move past Carney Lansford with 147 pilferings in his time in green and gold.  Crisp also made an incredible leaping catch in center with his back to home plate, but came up lame clutching his ribs on a diving attempt later in the game.

“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” said Melvin. “It’s the second time he’s dove and knicked that area up a little bit.”

Dan Straily battled Darvish pitch-for-pitch before relinquishing a tied game to his bullpen in the sixth inning. Texas saddled reliever Sean Doolittle (0-1, 3.38 ERA) with the loss after the lefty struggled in the eighth to snuff out a Ranger rally. Jason Frasor, Cotts, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria held the A’s scoreless over three innings of relief.

Choo greeted Straily with his 12th career leadoff homerun, launching a liner to right for his second long ball of the season and a 1-0 Rangers Lead. Choo later left the game in the seventh inning after suffering left leg tightness when he grounded out on a slow roller to third. Josh Donaldson barehanded the ball for the bang-bang play at first with Choo originally being called safe by first base umpire Adrian Johnson. Melvin challenged the play and, after the replay was reviewed, the call of safe on the field was overturned by crew chief Larry Vanover.

“I heard that he was out,” said Melvin. “Based on the replay I was seeing, I wasn’t sure about it. At that point in time I’m going to challenge it anyway. After the seventh inning the umpires get together, so that was one I would probably challenge either way.”

Moss answered Choo’s dinger with a solo shot of his own in the home half of second, depositing a Darvish delivery just inside the foul pole and beyond the fence. For Moss, the four-bagger marks his fourth of the season and fourth-career off Darvish. Moss accounts for 4 of 41 total career round-trippers for Darvish, nearly ten percent.

The Athletics rally continued when a two-out single to left by Crisp brought Josh Reddick and Eric Sogard around for a two-run edge. It would complete all the scoring Oakland mustered off Darvish, who saw his string of consecutive seven-plus innings starts snapped at three 2014 appearances.

“When he’s out there, we know it’s going to be a pretty low-scoring game,” said Donaldson of Darvish. “We jumped out pretty early. Early on he was coming at us, throwing harder. He ran it up to 96 (miles per hour) then once he got settled in, he started changing speeds which is what he does best.”

The 56-million-dollar man came into play Monday with a 0.82 ERA after allowing two runs in 22 innings on the campaign, but the A’s nearly doubled his ERA to a still-miniscule 1.61 with their three earned runs over six innings. Monday also marked the first time in nine-straight starts that an opposing team scored more than two runs on last season’s batting-average-against leader. Darvish collected six punch-outs in the no-decision, firing a laboring 116 pitches.

Texas cut the deficit in half off Straily after Prince Fielder opened the fourth inning with a double to the corner in left followed by a RBI single by Ex-Athletic Kevin Kouzmanoff. Straily settled down to retire the next three batters in order. Kouzmanoff, the reigning American League Player of the Week for his 10-for-29 performance with two home runs and eight RBIs, finished the day with two hits, an RBI and scored the game-winning run.

A two-out rally in the visiting portion of the fifth inning led to the game-tying run. Fielder hit the third of three consecutive singles to plate Elvis Andrus. Straily then threw a wild pitch to put Alex Rios, the second single of the trio, and Fielder in scoring position, but got Kouzmanoff to chase a 1-2 slider to end the inning and close the book on his day.

“He was spotty at times,” said Melvin on his starting pitcher. “He recovered nicely from the first batter in the game hitting a home run. He had two outs in the fifth and tried to finish that one off, couldn’t do it. At times I thought he threw the ball well, there were times he was maybe a little bit off his command.”

Straily’s pitching line including five innings of work with three runs, all earned on 84 pitches. He struck out six and walked only two but turned the game over to Ryan Cook with no chance at being named the winning pitcher.

“Tonight I was pretty proud of myself,” said Straily. “I never really felt like I was out of any at-bats except having to work my way back into it early. I don’t really feel too down on myself. My first-pitch command was just terrible tonight. That’s something you can’t have out there. I gave it everything I had, I just wasn’t able to get it done there in the fifth.”

Oakland looked poised to add a cushion to its lead after Daric Barton singled to center on a soft liner, marking the fourth-straight inning the A’s leadoff man reached base. Sogard bounced into the momentum-sapping double play but Crisp and catcher John Jaso reached base then stole third and second respectively with Jed Lowrie at the plate. Lowrie coaxed a two-out walk to load the bases for Josh Donaldson, but the “Bringer of Rain” continued an A’s drought with runners in scoring position on the night. Donaldson went around on a check-swing for the third strike on a ball low in the strike zone.

“It’s just one of those things,” said Donaldson. “He’s a good pitcher. He started to bear down on us a little bit. We came up there with the bases loaded and he came in there with a pretty good slider for strike three. The guy’s good. He’s not just your run-of –the-mill guy.”

Donaldson represented one one of seven A’s outs in 10 opportunities with runners on second or third. The A’s left 10 men on base Monday.

“The goal is to get guys on base,” said Donaldson. “We were able to do that. More times than not when we’re going to come through in those situations. Tonight was one of those days where it didn’t happen.”

Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad combined to pitch a scoreless inning apiece before turning the game over to heir-apparent to the closer role, Sean Doolittle, in the eighth inning. Doolittle recently received a five-year extension with the A’s that many suspect puts him in line to take over the ninth inning role at some point in his career. Oakland fans hope Monday doesn’t represent a harbinger of things to come from the bearded southpaw.

Texas opened Doolittle’s frame with Kouzmanoff rocketing a ball to right center that Reddick couldn’t snag on a leap at the wall. Designated hitter Mitch Moreland advanced Kouzmanoff to third on a sacrifice bunt then Kouzmanoff scored on a Murphy bouncer up the middle, the game-winning base knock. Doolittle got Leonys Martin to fly out for the second out before being lifted for Dan Otero. Otero finished off the inning, then pitched a scoreless ninth to keep Oakland within one.

“After they got the bunt down, I snuck one past Murphy,” said Doolittle. “I thought I was going to find a way to get him out. I was doing a good job of staying short. I thought I made a good pitch. The pitch to Kouzmanoff was not a good pitch. The pitch to Murphy was well-executed. He just did a good job of smoking it back up the middle.”

Rangers manager Ron Washington, a former infield coach with the A’s, called on his closer Soria to shut the door on the A’s in the ninth. Soria got Jaso to strike out for the fourth time Monday night before Lowrie reached base then advanced to second on an error at short by Andrus. Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes, who nearly tied the game on a deep drive in a pinch-hit pop-out in the seventh, lifted fly balls for the final two outs and Soria’s fourth save of the season.

“I thought when he hit it, it was out,” said Melvin of Cespedes’ loud out in the seventh. “I know on a cold night it’s difficult here, especially in the big part of the ball park. He hits one good and it normally goes out.”

The A’s will look to get on track again in Tuesday night’s tilt which will feature Tommy Milone opposing Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez before a finale between young pitching sensations Sonny Gray and Martin Perez Wednesday afternoon. The Rangers will look to hand Oakland its first loss of more than two runs this season.

A’s On Wrong Side in Extra Innings for First Time in 2014

By Matthew Harrington

For the first time in 2014, the Oakland Athletics ended up on the wrong side of an extra innings affair. The A’s suffered a walk-off loss 5-4 against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium Wednesday night in their fourth game requiring more than nine innings this season. Despite a 4-1 lead on a three-run home run from right fielder Brandon Moss and a two earned run performance over six-plus innings from starter Tommy Milone, the A’s bullpen failed to hang on to the lead. The Angels comeback, capped by Chris Iannetta’s game-winning blast off Drew Pomeranz in the bottom of the 12th inning, rallied the Halos (7-8)to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Athletics.

Oakland (10-5) appeared to have the game wrapped up after taking a 4-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning on Moss’ second long ball of the season. The left-hander’s no-doubter to right  off Angels starter Tyler Skaggs plated Alberto Callaspo and Derek Norris with two outs in the inning. For Moss, who hit out of the eighth spot against the lefty Skaggs instead of his usual spot in the heart of the order, the dinger marked RBI’s number 13, 14 and 15 of the season, tops on the Athletics and the best mark in the American League. Moss matches fellow AL-er Chris Colabello of the Twins for third place in the major leagues.

Earlier in the top of the fourth inning, Callaspo doubled home Josh Donaldson for a one-out, game-tying double. Callaspo finished the night 1-for-4 after entering play flirting with a .400 batting average, good for the second best mark in the American League behind Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez.

In the previous half inning, the Angels opened the scoring after Erick Aybar lead off the inning with a single to center then scored on Mike Trout’s double with one out.

Milone opened the seventh inning by hitting Iannetta with a pitch that bounced in the dirt before skimming the LA backstop’s toe. After A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged the play, replay evidence proved inconclusive with crew chief Chris Segal rewarding Iannetta first base. The next batter, Collin Cowgill, singled on the first delivery from Millone, prompting Melvin to lift the left-hander in favor of reliever Dan Otero. Milone finished the night with only one strikeout and two free passes in six-plus innings of work.

Otero coaxed Aybar to ground into a fielder’s choice with second baseman Eric Sogard electing to force Cowgill out at second. J.B. Shuck reached base on an error by Callaspo, making just his second career appearance at first base, allowing Iannetta to cross the plate for a 4-2 A’s lead. Otero downed Trout on a full-count swing-and-miss but Albert Pujols wrapped a single up the middle to cut the A’s advantage to one run at 4-3 after Aybar came around to score. Pujols’ base knock was the only Angels base hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position Wednesday evening.

After the A’s went down in order in the top half of the eighth, Otero, Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook combined to pitch a scoreless bottom half. Angels reliever Fernando Salas pitched his first of two scoreless innings to keep the home team down by one entering the ninth.

Luke Gregerson, Melvin’s top candidate in the closer-by-committee approach adopted by the A’s amidst deposed closer Jim Johnson’s struggles, entered the ninth seeking his third save in four opportunities. Instead, the righty blew his second save of the season, allowing back-to-back singles to Trout and Pujols. Gregerson then yielded a run-scoring force out on a failed game-ending double play chance after Howie Kendrick beat out Eric Sogard’s pivot to first to knot the game at four runs apiece.

Angels relief arms Michael Kohn and Yoslan Herrera held Oakland scoreless in an inning each to set up Joe Smith as the winning pitcher in the 12th. Smith (1-0, 5.14 Era) struck out Gentry to open the inning, then plunked shortstop Jed Lowrie with a wild pitch to put the go-ahead run on first. Donaldson, the hero in Tuesday night’s 11 inning A’s win, advanced Lowrie into scoring position but clean-up hitter Yoenis Cespedes struck out to end the inning and the scoring threat. The left fielder went 0-for-6 on the night to join Nick Punto and Sogard as the only members of the A’s starting line-up to be held hitless.

With the A’s bullpen pitching 7 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s barn burner, Melvin used Gregerson to pitch the tenth as well before handing the ball over to lefty Drew Pomeranz in the 11th. Pomeranz (1-1, 2.16 ERA), a starter-turned-reliever, pitched 2 and 2/3 innings Tuesday night before taking the hill in Wednesday’s game. Pomeranz allowed a Pujols single in an otherwise uneventful 11th inning then stayed in the game looking to hold the Halos off the board in the 12th.

Pomeranz started the 12th on strong footing, inducing a David Freese ground out and a Raul Ibanez pop out to retire the first two men to the plate on only eight pitches in the inning. Iannetta ended Pomeranz’s run on the first pitch he saw, rocketing a 91 mph fastball at the belt to center field just right of the 396-foot marker. Center fielder Craig Gentry leapt at the wall to try to pull the game-winning shot back in from the brink, but the ball grazed off the glove’s tip and into the grass at the base of the rock pile in beyond the fence.

For the Angels, Wednesday’s win helped to skew the numbers in their favor at their home turf. In the last 22 meetings at Angel Stadium, the A’s have been victorious a lop-sided 15 times. Oakland wrapped up a nine-game road trip, going 7-2 after sweeping Minnesota and taking two-of-three from Seattle and Los Angeles.

Oakland gets an off-day Thursday to travel home before opening a weekend series at the O.Co Coliseum against the Houston Astros who, after a hot start, once again find themselves in the American League’s basement in the standings. They’ll counter A’s Ace Sonny Gray with Zach Cosart in Friday’s series-opener.

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.

Struggling Johnson’s Blown Save Forces A’s Split of Doubleheader

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Oakland Athletics closer Jim Johnson’s rocky start in the Bay Area went from bad to worse Wednesday night at the O.Co Coliseum. For the second time in a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians (2-1), Johnson (0-2, 45.00 ERA) entered the ninth inning with the A’s tied or ahead and coughed up the lead, turning a 4-3 edge into a blown save and ultimately a 6-3 loss to split the day-night doubleheader. Indians reliever Cody Allen (2-0, 0.00 ERA) bookended the series with wins in the first and third games while Jon Axford pitched a perfect ninth for his second save of the season.

“It sucks every time,” said losing pitcher Johnson of blowing the save opportunity. “You have to trust the positives and have to trust the work that you’re doing. I’m going to sleep it off tonight. I’m not going to do anybody any favors hanging my head. These guys need me. These guys have been playing their butts off. We should be 3-0. I’ll take the blame. If I sit here and sulk though, it’s not going to do anybody any good.”

A’s starter Josh Lindblom, called up to start the Wednesday’s second game to keep the rotation on track for the upcoming four-game set against the Seattle Mariners, pitched 4 2/3 innings and left with a 3-2 lead but the Oakland bullpen surrender four runs to drop two-of-three against the visiting Tribe.

“Anytime you lose a game with the lead in the ninth inning it hurts a little bit,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “You have to move on. You have no choice.”

Like in the afternoon game, the A’s (1-2) struck first in their very first at-bats of the game. After Lindblom fired a 1-2-3 inning, center fielder Sam Fuld debuted in style by tripling on a 1-1 McAllister fastball lifted to deep center. Josh Donaldson struck out but Jed Lowrie singled Fuld home for the 1-0 lead. Lowrie moved to second with on a wild pitch with designated hitter Brandon Moss batting. Moss joined Lowrie on the base path working a walk against Indians starter Zach McAllister to put Yoenis Cespedes at the plate with a runner in scoring position. Cespedes plated Lowrie, launching a 1-2 fastball to the corner in right field for a double with right fielder David Murphy’s  vision impaired by the setting Sun.

Cespedes opened the season with critics scrutinizing his long swing that produced a .167 batting average over 60 Spring Training at-bats. The Cuban masher silenced those critics, at least momentarily, going 2-for-5 in game one of the doubleheader then producing the RBI hit in the night cap. Cespedes finished the night cap with a hit in two at-bats paired with a tandem of walks, including one of the intentional variety.

Lindblom found himself in a jam in the third, surrendering a single to ninth-place hitter Lonnie Chisenhall to open the inning then issuing a walk to leadoff man Nyjer Morgan. The righty induced a fly ball off the bat of Nick Swisher and then walked Carlos Santana to load the bases with two outs. Lindblom finished the escape act, forcing a Michael Brantley flyout to leave the three Indians base runners stranded.

The Tribe found the run column an inning later when Asdrubal Cabrera singled sharply to right. Murphy flew out to Fuld but Mike Aviles ripped a 0-1 slider 350 feet over the wall in left for his first home run of the season to pull Cleveland even, 2-2. Lindblom retired the next two hitters.

Fuld again anchored the A’s offensive in the bottom of the fourth by singling home Reddick from second base and moving Nick Punto to third with two outs. Reddick reached base on a one-out single then moved to second on a base-on-balls to second baseman Punto. Fuld stole second, his first pilfering as a member of the A’s, but Donaldson bounced out to Cabrera to end the threat with the A’s leading 3-2 with four innings complete on the scorecard.

“Outstanding,” responded Melvin when asked to judge his replacement center fielder’s performance. “We didn’t want to play Coco (Crisp) both games of the doubleheader. We want to give Coco his days off this season. (Fuld) knows how to play that role. He knows how to get himself ready when he’s on the bench for a few days.”

Lindblom retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth before allowing a first-pitch double to Santana, catching the evening tilt after Yan Gomes did the honors in the afternoon game. Melvin lifted the righty in favor of Drew Pomeranz, a 2010 first-round draft pick (fifth overall) of the Indians. Lindblom, called up from the Sacramento Rivercats as part of the special 26th roster spot allotment for doubleheaders, finished the afternoon with two earned runs surrendered on five hits and a pair of walks and strikeouts respectively. Having only pitched 4 2/3 innings, Lindblom would not have qualified for the five-inning requirement to be named winning pitcher if the score held up.

“He was good,” said Melvin of Lindblom. “It was tough to take him out with 4 2/3 innings. I think he was at 85 pitches, we had a left-left match-up. I thought he kept us in the game. We got to the ninth inning with a lead so he did his job.”

Indians fans recognize Pomeranz as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to to Cleveland from the Colorado Rockies for a package that included the 6-foot-5 southpaw. The Rockies later dealt the Memphis, Tenn. native to the A’s for Brett Anderson. The 22 year old, who made the bullpen after a strong spring showing, struggled with four straight balls to Brantley before Reddick nabbed a pop-up off the bat of Cabrera to close the books on the first half of the game.

Marc Rzepczynski replaced McAllister in the bottom of the fifth after the righty surrendered three earned runs on six hits with four walks and four punch-outs over four innings.  The lefty with the consonant-heavy surname held the A’s hitless over the next two innings to keep the deficit at one run.

For the A’s, Pomeranz opened the sixth, getting David Murphy to roll over on one that was handled by Daric Barton at first. Pomeranz then worked a full count after throwing three straight balls to Aviles, but ultimately lost the second baseman on a 4-seamer out of the strike zone.

Melvin and the A’s were on the losing end of a challenge that confirmed an out call on a tag play at home plate in the afternoon, but in the sixth inning Oakland became victim of their first overturned call off the season. Mike Aviles broke for second on an 0-1 delivery with pinch hitter Elliot Johnson at the plate. The throw from Derek Norris, subbed into the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth before taking over for starter John Jaso defensively, beat Aviles to the bag.

It appeared that the swipe tag from Nick Punto was on the mark. After some argument from Aviles, Francona emerged from the first base dugout to argue the call. Replay clearly revealed that Punto had missed the tag by a couple of inches, so the umpiring crew overturned the call after video review from headquarters in New York City and awarded Aviles the steal.

Aviles wound up stranded at second as Pomeranz got Johnson swinging on an 80-mph curveball for the second out, then Luke Gregerson came out of the bullpen to get pinch hitter Ryan Raburn to end the inning on a fly to Cespedes to maintain the one-run gap.

The A’s went down in order in the bottom of the 6th, opening the door for the Indians to tie it in the 7th after Brantley’s RBI ground out brought designated hitter Jason Kipnis in from third base. Kipnis drew a one-out walk, stole second with Santana at the plate then advanced to third when the Indians catcher singled later in the at-bat. Gregerson got Cabrera to line out to Fuld in center to strand Santana in scoring position.

Rzepczynski got Fuld, the lefty’s last batter of the day, to pop out to short to open the bottom of the seventh before giving way to right-hander Bryan Shaw. Josh Donaldson, laboring with a .143 batting average on two hits in 14 plate appearances this season, reached base and advanced to second to welcome Shaw when Brantley flubbed a routine fly in center. Brantley had shifted to center after Raburn pinch hit for Morgan and took over left field and narrowly avoided a collision with Raburn on the play. It was his first error in a franchise-record 247 games, with his last miscue coming June 3rd, 2012 against the Minnesota Twins.

Donaldson jogged to third on a wild pitch past backstop Santana, known more for his bat than defensive prowess behind the dish, but three-spot hitter Lowrie grounded out to a drawn-in second baseman prepared to cut an advancing runner down a home plate. The clean-up hitting lefty Moss, who ended the day 4-for-7, got the job done by rolling a ball into the hole at second with the Indians defense shifted to the right of the diamond. The slow roller got by first baseman Swisher but Aviles was able to scoop it and fire to Shaw racing to cover the bag. Shaw couldn’t close his glove on it with Moss bearing down on him, allowing the leading runner Donaldson to cross the plate with Oakland now up 4-3.

Sean Doolittle, a candidate to replace Johnson at closer should the offseason acquisition continue to struggle, pitched a perfect eighth inning. He now has pitched two innings this season, collecting three strikeouts and no hits along the way.

Francona lifted Shaw after 2/3 of an inning and an unearned run in favor of Monday’s winner Allen to open the eight. Allen retired the side in order to keep Cleveland within one run with the beleaguered Johnson loosening in the pen. Johnson took the mound showered by a hail of boos, with Monday night’s two-hit, two-walk, two-run performance fresh in A’s fan’s minds.

“He’s been around long enough,” said Melvin. “He’s had some ups and downs. It’s unfortunate. When you’re with a new team you want to get off to a good start. That’s tough on him, but we have to be behind him, we have to support him. He’s going to get better.”

Again Johnson failed to retire the first two batters he faced, giving up consecutive singles on two-seam fastballs to Raburn and Swisher. Kipnis bounced into a fielder’s choice with Raburn moving to third and Swisher out at second. With Santana at the plate, Kipnis stole second without a throw from Norris. Santana worked a five-pitch walk off Johnson, who also was roughed up in spring training to the tune of five runs in nine spring innings, loading the bases for Brantley.

“A lot of veteran guys don’t have a good spring,” said Melvin. “The velocity’s there, some of the movement’s there, maybe not as consistently as he’d like it. He’s been up in the zone a little bit more than he’d like.”

Brantley hit a first-pitch changeup, a sinking liner to right that bounced in front of Reddick. Reddick couldn’t field it cleanly with Raburn and Kipnis coming home and Brantley winding up on second with a two-RBI single and Cleveland’s first lead in 17+ innings of play Wednesday. Melvin had Johnson, usually an efficient groundball pitcher, set up the force play by issuing an intentional walk to Cabrera. David Murphy foiled the plans, hitting a sacrifice fly to Fuld to bring Santana home. Melvin called on reliever Even Scribner to mop things up in his first appearance of the season. Scribner got Mike Aviles to float one that Fuld gloved easily, limiting the damage to three runs and a blown save for Johnson.

Axford pitched a 12-pitch ninth, overpowering Fuld with a third-strike fastball before coaxing Donaldson and Lowrie to pop out, handing Cleveland a split of the twin bill and a 2-1 series win. Johnson ended up on the losing end, extended a streak of winless appearances against the Indians. Johnson is 0-7 against the Indians in his career. Though Melvin was coy about any shattered confidence he has in his $10 million closer, he did rule Johnson out for game one of a four-game set against visiting Seattle starting Thursday night. The Mariners come to town buoyed by a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels, their best start to a season since the Ken Griffey Jr.-Jay Buhner-Edgar Martinez era.

“You know what, it’s been two games,” said Melvin after being asked if the thought of unseating Johnson at closer had crossed his mind. “Potentially because of the pitches he threw tonight (29 pitches), as far as tomorrow that’s tough. We traded for him for a reason. He has a terrific track record.”

 

Kazmir Shines, Bats Break Out For A’s First Win Of 2014

By Matthew Harrington

The first game of Tuesday’s twin bill between the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians didn’t have the same pageantry or anticipation as Monday night’s Opening Day game at O.Co. That’s just fine for the A’s (1-1), who also welcomed a different end result, erasing the doubts of a 2-0 season-opening loss with a 6-1 thumping of the Tribe (1-1).

Left-hander Scott Kazmir (1-0, 0.00 ERA) fired 7 1/3 innings of three-hit, shutout baseball and an Oakland offense that stranded nine runners and mustered only five hits in Monday’s home opener exploded for a dozen base knocks and six runs. Tribe starter Corey Kluber (0-1, 13.50 ERA) departed after just 3 1/3 innings after surrendering five earned runs. Kazmir, facing the club that signed him to a career-reviving contract last season, quickly received the kind of run support Opening Day starter Sonny Gray is still waiting for.

After the southpaw dispatched the Indians in order in the first, center fielder Coco Crisp opened the A’s first at-bat by lacing the Corey Kluber 1-1 delivery to center. Designated hitter Josh Donaldson took strike three looking but Crisp put swiped his first bag of the season with to put himself in scoring position Jed Lowrie at the plate. Crisp then advanced to third on a deep pop fly by the shortstop. First baseman Brandon Moss drew a walk before Yoenis Cespedes brought Crisp home on a single to right for the first A’s run of the season. Josh Reddick grounded out to end the threat with the home team leading 1-0.

The bottom of the second mirrored the first with third baseman Alberto Callaspo and catcher Derek Norris, both making their season debuts Tuesday afternoon, singling back-to-back and second baseman Eric Sogard drawing a walk. With the bases loaded and no outs, Crisp lofted a sacrifice fly that plated Callaspo and moved Norris 90 feet from home plate.

Oakland Manager Bob Melvin used the first coach’s challenge in A’s history on the next batter after Donaldson bounced into a fielder’s choice. Carlos Santana fielded the grounder at the hot corner and fired home to cut an advancing Norris down at the plate. Melvin challenged the out ruling, but after 4 minutes and 45 seconds of deliberation it was ruled that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the call. Lowrie brought Sogard around from second on a single in the next at bat before Moss closed out the inning on a fly out to right fielder Elliot Johnson to strand a pair of runners.

For the third-straight inning, a member of the green and gold crossed home plate. Callaspo smoked a liner over right field wall with Reddick on first following a one-out walk to stake Oakland to a 5-0 edge with a third of the game played. Moss completed the A’s scoring by doubling in Lowrie on a 3-1 Vinnie Pestano fastball in the sixth. In total, the A’s three-though-seven hitters went a combined 8-for-19 after the heart of the line-up collected one hit in 15 trips to the plate Monday night.

Kazmir spared the A’s bullpen for the second half of Wednesday’s bizarre early season day-night double-header, a make-up of the first rain-out in 15 years at O.Co Tuesday night. One season removed from a 10-9, 4.04 ERA season with the Indians, allowed only four base runners with no walks and only one extra-base hit, a double by Mike Aviles with one out in the eighth inning that chased Kazmir. Aviles represented the first member of the Tribe to reach third base when Yan Gomes welcomed A’s reliever Dan Otero into the game with a ground out that advanced the runner. Aviles remained stranded at third after Elliot Johnson bounced out to Sogard for the third out

The Indians broke up the shutout, scoring in the ninth inning, their second-straight game against the A’s where they plated a run in the ninth after new Oakland closer Jim Johnson surrendered two runs in Monday night’s game to get saddled with the loss. Jason Kipnis doubled with two outs and Santana’s line drive single off Otero brought him home. Otero coaxed Ryan Raburn to ground out softly to the pitcher’s mound to finish off the game and seal the A’s 6-1 win.

The A’s enter the second of Wednesday’s two-game set in perfect position with only one reliever exhausted. Tribe starter Zach McAllister will be called on by Indians’ manager Terry Francona to go deep into the P.M. tilt after using four different relievers in the afternoon session. For Melvin’s A’s it will be right-hander Josh Lindblom on the bump. Lindblom was called as part of the special 26-man roster allotted for double-headers up to start game two over expected rotation candidates Dan Straily, Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone. Lindblom appeared in eight games, including the only five starts he’s made over three seasons, pitching 31.1 innings with a 5.46 ERA.

Chavez Continues Impressive Spring with Fifth Win, A’s Beat Giants 4-1

Photo Courtesy USA Today
Photo Courtesy USA Today

By Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO – A’s pitcher Jesse Chavez (5-1, 2.22 ERA) looked great in his seventh appearance of spring training and beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-1. Chavez continued his domination during spring training as he took a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth inning until Angel Pagan hit a double to get the Giant’s their first hit of the game. John Jaso and Sam Fuld provided the offensive power for the A’s tonight while the Giants were only able to score one run in the bottom of the ninth.

“It was a good one to finish off like that and go into the season and build off  of that one,” said Chavez on the win tonight. “Getting ahead was key for me tonight. If you can get ahead, you’re more than likely to succeed.”

On Chavez, Coach Bob Melvin said “Jesse’s been really sharp and efficient this spring. He had a really good cutter tonight and mixed his curve ball in just enough to slow him down a bit. He was on the corners all night.”

Tonight’s win solidified Chavez as a bona fied  starter in the A’s rotation and gives the Oakland faithful something to be grateful for after losing Jarrod Parker for the season. When asked about being a starter and how to keep it going, Chavez said, “I can’t get complacent. I still have to stay after it and keep doing what I’m doing and not change anything. I’ve been able to focus a lot more knowing that I have to go through line up three or four times. I’m happy that they have the confidence in me to put in me in the rotation and I don’t want them to think they made the wrong decision.”

“This is something he’s always strives for is to be a starter. He’s earned, he deserves it and you can see his confidence grows each time he goes out there,”said Melvin echoing his confidence in Chavez.

On offense, Oakland’s John Jaso hit his first homer of spring training on a first pitch 2-seam fast ball from Tim Lincecum (1-1, 5.79 ERA) to give the A’s a 1-0 lead in the third.

In the top of the fourth, the Giants biggest fear came to reality when Daric Barton hit a shot into Lincecum’s left leg and immediately dropped him. After stretching on the ground and taking time to make sure nothing was broken, the Giants were able to get Lincecum to get off the field with some help from the trainers. Luckily it was a left knee contusion and x-rays didn’t find anything.

“You never want anybody to see get hit by a come backer especially someone of his caliber,” said Chavez.

In the fifth, Jaso walked, Nick Punto doubled and Daric Barton walked to get the bases loaded for  spring training phenom Sam Flud. Flud didn’t disappoint as he took a 2-seam fastball to right field past the out-stretched body of Brandon Belt and into the deep part of right field that Hunter Pence had to scoop up and relay to home. By the time the ball reached home Flud was standing at third and had three more RBI added to his stat sheet to give the A’s a 4-0 lead.

The Giants were able to break up the no-hitter that Chavez had going into the sixth when Angel Pagan hit a double to A’s left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. After the hit, Melvin pulled Chavez ended  his night with 5 1/3 innings pitched with one hit, one walk and five strike outs.

“I don’t normally take out guys of potential no-hitters,” Melvin said. “At the time, I was almost glad that Pagan got the hit, to tell you the truth. But it was impressive. He was on it all night.”

The Giants were able to get to A’s closer Jim Johnson for one run in the bottom of the ninth but then he settled down and got Sanchez to fly out to Flud to end the game.

Both teams head to the other side of the Bay to continue the Bay Bridge series in Oakland when Dan Strailey takes on the Giant’s Edwin Escobar, game time 1:05 pm.

 

Wet Rainy Day Couldn’t Keep 20,000 Fans Away For A’s Fanfest 2014

Photo Courtesy Oakland Athletics
Photo Courtesy Oakland Athletics

by Kahlil Najar

OAKLAND – Leaking ceilings, huge puddles and long lines couldn’t keep away 20,000 plus fans today from the Oakland Athletics annual Fanfest held at the Oakland Coliseum. The Oakland faithful stood outside the for as long as two hours before the gates opened until they were finally allowed in to welcome back their A-Team and kickoff the 2014 A’s season.

The FanFest contained all the usual things you would expect – autographs, photo opps and clubhouse tours. However the A’s front office and staff outdid themselves this year by adding the opportunity to take photos with all four of the A’s World Series trophies, a baseball 101 and kids batting clinic for the public and an exclusive opportunity for the fans to interview the bench coaches. Also the A’s brought home the champions by inviting A’s legends Vida Blue, Ray Fosse, Gene Tenace, Dave Henderson and Tony Phillips.

Prior to opening up the gates to the public, the players and coaches gathered in Oracle Arena’s courtside club and gave the media a quick media session where coaches and players addressed questions from the press.

Manager Bob Melvin was the first to be swarmed by reporters where he addressed the A’s improved bullpen, Coco Crisp’s leadership as well as the complicated decision of who should be designated hitter for each game.

“You pinch yourself with his bullpen depth,” said Melvin when asked about the additions to his bullpen. “I’m very happy with what we’ve been able to do.” This off-season the A’s added LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Jim Johnson, RHP Josh Lindbolm, RHP Luke Gregerson, LHP Scott Kazmir, LHP Drew Pomeranz and LHP Eric O’Flaherty to their bullpen to give what some have called the best bullpen in the league.

The A’s also agreed to terms with fan darling Coco Crisp a few days ago to a two-year, $22.75 million deal through 2016 and it includes a vesting option for 2017. “Coco has been a leader each year since I got here” said Melvin.

“I don’t really look at myself that way. If the guys have questions I would love to answer them. I consider myself a peer to these guys. They (the organization) do a good job of grooming the personalities and a lot of these guys came from the organization so it’s a fairly easy gig to have that veteran label but there are a few things that I try to chime in here and there,” said Crisp on his leadership role.

As for the designated hitter role Melvin said that the A’s are likely to rotate the DH spot with days off between Cespedes, Crisp and catcher John Jaso. General Manager Billy Beane said that the A’s will not add any big bats before spring training even though there are still some big names out there. He also said that the 25-man roster will likely come from the group of guys invited to spring training and that if there are any other additions to the team that they would be there purely for depth.

The AL West is stacked this year. The Mariners signed the dangerous Robinson Cano , reliable first baseman Corey Hart and second baseman Willie Bloomquist. The Rangers signed outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Alex Castellanos and the Angels signed Raul Ibanez and Angel Molina but also traded RF Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks for left handed pitchers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.

On the moves, Crisp said, “It’s going to make our division harder. Seattle has done a great job of enhancing their chances of winning this year. They already had a good team in place so it’s going to make it a little more fun for us to go out there. Competition is always good and I think our team enjoys that. We feed off that.”

Ryan Cook continued, “It’s nothing new for us. The Rangers made big moves. Anaheim made big moves in the past. We’ll see. We’re going to go out there and play the way that Bob wants us to play and the way that we know how.”

Eric Sogard echoed Cook’s sentiments, “We’re not going to change what we’re doing. We’re going to go out there everyday and focus on what we’re doing. Obviously the AL West is going to be the top division in baseball and I think that will be exciting for the fans. Playing them (Seattle) a majority of the year is going to allow us to play our best baseball and get ready for the post-season.”

During a question-and-answer session at the arena Sean Doolittle addressed the idea that the A’s are still considered underdogs and address the AL West situation as well.

“If we were really under the radar, would these other teams in our division be spending that kind of money or be making those blockbuster trades to try to shake things up? This time last year, we were answering these same questions about what other teams did. So we’ve been through this before.”

The A’s have a daunting task in front of them. They are trying to be the first back-to-back-to-back AL West Champions since the 1988-89-90 team did it over 20 years ago. Out of that team the A’s were able to grab two World Series appearances and a World title. With the team on hand today, the A’s appear to be destined to be back in the playoffs.

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The Agony of defeat

The Agony of Defeat

The Oakland Athletics lost the final game of the AL Division Series. The A’s led the series at one time two games to one but the Tigers won the last two games to take the best of five series 3 games to two.

In addition, the A’s had to watch the Tigers celebrate on their home field. The A’s had to go to the clubhouse and feel the agony of having their season end.

It’s hard to realize that after the great season had this year but end it did. All the hard work day after day

as the A’s won the AL west. All the great performances and thrilling come from behind wins are put aside as the players have to come in tomorrow and clean out their lockers and head home for the winter.

The A’s brass will have to think hard over the winter on ways to improve this team so that the can get

past the first round of the playoffs. The only time the A’s advanced to the AL Championship series was in 2006 and the Tigers knocked them out in four straight.

The fans were great again this year but they left the stadium disappointed as the A’s couldn’t get the job done. The fans will have to “wait till next year”.

So that’s it for the 2013 season. See you again next year as the A’s regroup and start a new quest.