KANSAS CITY — A postseason start still eludes 14-year veteran Adam Dunn, who was missing from the A’s lineup in Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game, despite the Royals throwing a right-hander in James Shields.
The decision, said manager Bob Melvin, was less about his designated hitter and more about his left fielder. Rather than play Brandon Moss in left field, the A’s went with the more speedy and sure-handed Sam Fuld, forcing Moss into the DH spot in place of Dunn.
“That’s a tough decision,” said Melvin, “but it did come into play. It’s a big outfield. It’s a fast opponent. [Fuld] plays the corners great. You’re talking about [starter] Jon Lester, righties that pull the ball, lefties that go the other way, so that definitely factored in.
“ At times we’ll go offense early, defense late, other times we’ll do defense early, which allows us to match up a little bit more so with Adam, too, on the bench a little bit later in the game. So we look at all sides of it when we make up the lineup.”
Dunn has played in 2,001 regular-season games without a postseason appearance, the most among active players and 14th most in Major League history among players with zero postseason games, making Sunday’s clinching win in Texas an emotional moment for him.
That made Tuesday’s conversation with him even tougher for Melvin.
“Look, he just wants to win,” he said. “I’m sure he’s probably disappointed some and wanted to be in there today, but in my experiences with him, he’s all about winning. When I told him when he first got here that he wouldn’t be playing against lefties, he said, ‘It’s fine by me. Whatever I can do to win, and I know that I can impact the game coming off the bench.’
“All our guys know that we do things a little differently here at times, and we’re trying to play for the day. He understands, too, that just because you don’t start a game for us doesn’t mean that you might not be prominent within the course of the game and may have the biggest at‑bat of the game, so he’s ready for that.”
KANSAS CITY — The A’s have opted to go with eight pitchers on their 25-man roster for tonight’s winner-take-all AL Wild Card Game in Kansas City.
As expected, the A’s are carrying just one extra starter not named Jon Lester, who will take the bump against the Royals for his 12th career postseason start. That would be right-hander Jason Hammel, who last pitched Thursday.
Lefty Drew Pomeranz is also on the roster, giving the A’s two true long men in their bullpen for the affair. They’ll be joined by closer Sean Doolittle, right-handers Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero and Ryan Cook, and left-hander Fernando Abad. Fellow southpaw Eric O’Flaherty is not on the roster because of a reported arm injury.
With just eight roster spots allotted to pitchers, the A’s have a deep bench on hand for the crucial game, featuring a slew of right-handed batters not expected to be in the starting lineup against Kansas City ace James Shields, including Derek Norris, Jonny Gomes and Nate Freiman. Oakland can also counter with switch-hitters Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo.
Speed is there in pinch-run options Billy Burns and Sam Fuld, and so is infielder Andy Parrino, who provides excellent defense as a backup option to starting shortstop Jed Lowrie.
Pitchers (8): Fernando Abad, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester, Dan Otero, Drew Pomeranz
Catchers (2): Derek Norris, Geovany Soto
Infielders (10): Alberto Callaspo, Josh Donaldson, Adam Dunn, Nate Freiman, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Andy Parrino, Nick Punto, Eric Sogard, Stephen Vogt
Outfielders (5): Billy Burns, Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld, Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick
ARLINGTON — A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson has been playing through hip issues, hamstring problems and, more recently, a left knee injury. But he can still walk, and that’s all manager Bob Melvin needs to hear to keep his All-Star in the lineup.
Donaldson, who reinjured the knee in Friday’s win but remained in the game regardless, was reassured by the Rangers’ team doctor Saturday that everything is structurally sound. So he was back in the lineup for Saturday’s potential clincher.
Donaldson said of the knee, “It does feel better,” and vowed to play as close to 100 percent as the knee allows, noting that he’s hardly the fastest guy on the roster as is.
“As long as he can move around, and as you saw last night, probably wasn’t running his normal pace, but he’s able to play out there,” said manager Bob Melvin. “It’s an inspiration to get a guy in the lineup who’s that banged-up and to stay in the lineup like he did last night. I think we all felt good about that.”
Melvin never hesitates when asked about Donaldson’s place in the American League MVP discussion, as he was Saturday. The infielder finished fourth in voting last year and, though his average has slipped from .301 to .253 this year, his WAR rating, as calculated by Fangraphs, is 6.3, tying him with Jose Bautista for fifth in the AL. Mike Trout leads the pack at 8.1.
“What he means for our team is pretty significant, and that’s what you go by,” Melvin said. “Sometimes, if a guy’s not hitting .300 or whatever, nowadays, average probably isn’t the most important thing. It’s production, it’s defense, all of the above. He gives us exactly that. So I would say he’s definitely in the equation.”
ARLINGTON — Not playing is not an option right now for A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, who refused to exit Friday’s 6-2 victory in Texas despite suffering what appeared to be an alarming left knee injury. Donaldson was examined after the game and deemed his prognosis “OK,” saying, “We’ll play it by ear tomorrow.”
“It’s just going to be how I feel,” he continued. “Obviously they’re going to look at it. But how I felt at the end of the game, it didn’t get any worse, which was good. So hopefully I’ll be in there tomorrow.”
The All-Star third baseman, who has already played banged-up for much of the second half with a left hamstring issue, injured the knee on an attempt at a foul-ball grounder in the third and looked to be in serious pain, bringing out manager Bob Melvin and the club’s head trainer, Nick Paparesta, while leaving his teammates greatly concerned.
Donaldson opted to stay in the game — “I was just like, ‘Let’s go,’ he said — and singled in his next at-bat, scoring a run in the same inning despite hobbling around the bases, helping the A’s inch even closer to their third consecutive playoff berth.
“It wasn’t fun,” Donaldson admitted. “That’s just with the hamstring thing, too. The hardest part is trying to push off that leg. My left leg wasn’t really working.”
“He wasn’t going to push it as far as running,” said Melvin, “but he obviously means a lot to us and he stayed in the game.”
Added closer Sean Doolittle: “It was very scary, but the kind of guy that Donaldson is, he’s tough as nails, he’s an absolute gamer. His legs are gonna have to be off his body for him not to stay in the game. We all breathe a huge sigh of relief when he got up, and then next at-bat got a knock, scored a run. That’s the kind of player that he is.”
Donaldson has played in a team-high 156 games, and it’s unlikely he sits out the next.
“I want to be out there for my team,” he said. “This is the most important time of the year and if I can move I’m going to try to be out there.”
“I didn’t even think he’d come back and do what he did,” said Josh Reddick. “It just shows how tough he really is and shows how important these games really are. To stay in was really big and to even come up with a big base hit like he did and get that rally going. Hopefully he’s all right because without him it’s going to be a tough task.”
Brandon Moss has been playing through a right hip injury for much of the year and is prepared to undergo surgery on it as soon as the A’s season concludes.
Moss has been dealing with the injury since mid-May, but only recently has it really become a concerning issue, which is why he opted to go for an MRI on Monday that revealed torn cartilage. He was unavailable Wednesday after receiving a cortisone shot but returned to the lineup for Thursday’s four-game series opener in Texas, playing in left field.
“As far as the pain, there really isn’t any right now,” said Moss. “Today it feels really good.”
But a cortisone shot can only mask an injury for so long, and Moss understands offseason surgery isn’t even up for debate at this point. It’s simply a matter of deciding what kind is best, be it microfracture surgery, which would sideline him through the majority of Spring Training, or a more minor clean-up procedure.
“Best-case scenario would be to go in there and just clean out what’s in there,” he said. “Obviously there are things floating around in there.
“Something has to be done. Can’t just leave it alone. Leaving it alone isn’t going to do it any good.”
Moss has gradually lost mobility and strength in the hip, but he does not want to use that as an excuse for his second-half struggles at the plate. He entered the day batting .179 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 54 games since the All-Star break, after batting .268 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs in the 89 games before it.
“When you have something going on, your body finds a way to compensate for it, so mechanical things change and such, but as far as how I felt at the plate, I didn’t feel any different,” he said. “There may have been some differences, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I was swinging at bad pitches. That’s all there was to it.
Moss later added what manager Bob Melvin echoed: “I have a hard time pinning all of my struggles on that. It progressively got worse through the season, but I was playing with it early in the season, too. It hurt, it bothered me, but until recently, I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as it was.”
KANSAS CITY — The A’s will push through the rest of August without shortstop Jed Lowrie, who is expected to go on the disabled list Thursday with a hairline fracture in his right index finger.
Lowrie has been playing through the injury for 10 days, but it was adversely affecting his performance to the point where he realized he couldn’t keep doing it through the rest of the season. Just Wednesday, he lobbed a throw over to first base on an Omar Infante grounder that resulted in an infield hit.
“He’s a fast runner, but I think that’s a play that I make 10 times out of 10,” Lowrie said Thursday morning. “There was no way that I could continue to put the same velocity on throws because the finger just wouldn’t allow it.
“I think the realization last night was it’s not going to get any better unless I take time off.”
Manager Bob Melvin agrees, but that still leaves him with a thin middle infield that’s already missing Nick Punto, who is expected to be out at least another week or two with a right hamstring strain.
The A’s are expected to call on Andy Parrino from Triple-A Sacramento when Lowrie officially hits the DL. Parrino can not only supplement Eric Sogard at shortstop but also play the outfield. Alberto Callaspo will continue to see the most time at second base.
Melvin hopes to have Lowrie back on board in September. That’s at least a month — likely longer, given the first-place A’s postseason chances — of a healthy, proven shortstop versus six weeks of one that could prove to be a liability.
Lowrie was mostly hampered by the fracture when throwing but also at the plate, too, since he was trying to avoid placing the finger on the bat at all. He was 2-for-15 in five games he played with the injury.
“We could get away with it for a week, but if I’m going through the rest of the season like this and into the playoffs with a broken finger, it’s going to catch up with us as a team,” said Lowrie. “Especially what we’re doing this year, that’s why I chose to try to play with it, because of where we are and what this team has done so far and what we’re capable of doing. But, in the same breath, I think it’s the right choice and once that focuses on the ultimate goal. So while, yes, it’s not what I wanted to do, I think it’s ultimately the best thing.”
Lowrie, a free agent after this season, is batting .238 with five homers and 28 doubles in 407 at-bats, after finishing with a .290 clip in 2013 – the first big league season in which he avoided the DL.
ST. PETERSBURG — The A’s are done playing musical chairs in the ninth inning.
Having toyed, sometimes unsuccessfully, with a closer-by-committee approach following Jim Johnson’s demotion from the role just 11 days into the season, the A’s appear ready to anoint Sean Doolittle as their new guy.
Manager Bob Melvin didn’t say so directly after Doolittle locked down the save in Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout in Tampa, but he sure suggested it, relaying as close to an official announcement as he has all year.
“The way things are setting up,” Melvin said, “there’s a good chance he will be in the closing role.”
To which Doolittle responded, “It’s pretty cool, I guess.”
“He’s done a good job of communicating with us as far as what our roles are all season long, so it’s not exactly a surprise when the phone rings,” the lefty continued. “We know what’s going on. I’ve said to him a number of times, whenever you need me to pitch, I’ll pitch. Whether you need me for two outs in the sixth or in the ninth, I’m ready to go.”
Doolittle’s promotion comes just four weeks after the A’s rewarded him with a five-year deal on the premise that, one day, he would be their closer. No one expected it to happen this soon, though, given the club’s decision to reel in Johnson via trade in the offseason and pay him $10 million in arbitration salary.
Johnson’s role is anything but defined at the moment. He’s allowed seven runs, all earned, over his last six outings following a 10 1/3-inning scoreless streak and has a 7.00 ERA in 19 appearances, compared to Doolittle’s 3.27 mark in 21 outings.
Doolittle issued his first walk since Aug. 31, 2013 with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday. His strikeout total, meanwhile, stands at 30 over 22 innings — including 19 against right-handers.
Lefty closers form an exclusive class, but Doolittle has always felt “like I’ve been able to get righties out just as well as lefties. That’s something I take a lot of pride in, being able to get guys out on both sides of the plate.”
The A’s are now showing confidence in his ability to do it in the ninth inning.
“I’ve gotten to do it very sporadically over the last couple of years and a little bit this year, and it is a little bit different out there when you’re trying to nail down the last three outs of the game in a tight ball game,” he said. “But the more I’ve done it, the more and more I’ve been able to control that adrenaline and use it to my advantage and feed off it, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable in that spot.”
The A’s have acquired Kyle Blanks from the Padres in exchange for Minor League outfielder Jake Goebbert and a player to be named later.
Blanks, a right handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder, will join the A’s in Cleveland on Friday and take the roster spot of Daric Barton, who has been designated for assignment.
With Barton out of the mix, after hitting just .158 in 30 games, Blanks will presumably form a platoon with Brandon Moss at first base.
The A’s have 10 days to trade, release or, like has happened multiple times before with him, pass Barton through waivers. He can decline a Minor League assignment but has opted to remain with the organization before.
The 6-foot-6 Blanks was 2-for-10 with the Padres. He was promoted from Triple-A in early May after hitting nine homers but optioned again this week to make room for Carlos Quentin.
Blanks, 27, was a 42nd-round pick in 2004 out of Yavapai College in Arizona. But he wasn’t exactly a sleeper, as this was during the old Draft-and-follow days, which allowed a team to hold the exclusive rights to a player up until one week before the Draft the following year.
He made his big league debut at the age of 22, against the A’s on June 19, 2009. He got his first hit the following day. Blanks was a first baseman that was asked to play the outfield by the organization, and took to it far better than many thought.
In July 2009, a swarm of bees in left field at Petco Park – near where Blanks was playing – caused a 53-minute delay against the Astros. A month later, Blanks delighted the home crowd by chugging around the bases for an inside the park home run against the Cubs.
Heck, Blanks, not even with a year of service time, even had his own Bobble Head night at Petco Park in 2010.
But Blanks couldn’t kick the injury bug with the Padres.
He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010. He later had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in April of 2012. He also had issues with a strained arch in his right foot and, last season, left Achilles tendinitis.
The most at-bats he had in the big leagues in a single season was in 2013, when he hit .243 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 308 plate appearances.
Goebbert, meanwhile, was hitting .257 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 31 games for Triple-A Sacramento.
ARLINGTON — A’s right-hander A.J. Griffin will undergo elbow surgery in Houston on Wednesday and, like Jarrod Parker, miss the entire 2014 season.
Parker succumbed to Tommy John surgery in March, and Griffin could be staring down the same fate, though the A’s won’t know for certain the extent of his procedure until it’s completed, manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday.
Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff, who performed Tommy John surgery on A’s reliever Fernando Rodriguez last March, will orchestrate Griffin’s surgery, which comes seven months after the righty first felt discomfort in his elbow.
The injury forced Griffin off the A’s postseason roster, and he was shut down in mid-March following a handful of Spring Training outings with what was described as flexor tendinitis. He attempted to start a throwing program just last week but immediately experienced a familiar ache, leading to Tuesday’s visit with Mehlhoff.
“We were certainly hoping this wasn’t going to be the case,” said Melvin. “Losing two guys like that for an entire season is a difficult blow. Losing one’s a blow, two’s tough. You move on, but you have sympathy for the two guys that are having to go through that because they’ve meant so much to this team over the last couple of years.”
Melvin is prepared to forge on with a Griffin-less rotation that entered the day with an American League-best 2.89 ERA. The A’s have starting depth in Triple-A arms Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon — one of which will be needed during a scheduled doubleheader against the Mariners on May 7 — but not much beyond that. Lefty Drew Pomeranz, currently stationed in the bullpen, isn’t stretched out enough to start.
Leon has fared better in the early going of the season, pitching to a 3.75 ERA through five starts for Sacramento. Lindblom, who gave the A’s 4 2/3 innings in a spot start April 2, has allowed 19 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings spanning four starts for a 7.23 ERA in Triple-A.
Melvin spoke with Griffin briefly on Monday and said the pitcher, who is 21-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 47 starts over two seasons for the club, was “in good spirits.”
“He’s always pretty happy, go-lucky,” he said. “I think the fact that he’s having it done this early gives him the light at the end of the tunnel to pitch next season. He’s looking at it very positively.”
ARLINGTON — Jim Johnson may be nearing a return to the closer’s role he lost less than two weeks into the season.
The right-handed veteran allowed at least two runs in three of his first five appearances while absorbing two losses and a blown save, after collecting 101 saves over the previous two years. He’s since gained two wins while pitching in innings not named the ninth and hasn’t allowed a run over his last six outings.
Opponents are hitting just .179 against Johnson over that stretch, numbers that may very well suggest he’s back to old form. His sinker sure looks like it is.
In the meantime, the A’s have been utilizing a closer-by-committee approach and playing to match-ups, with Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson mostly splitting ninth-inning duties. But Johnson’s continued success could change that.
“It has certainly elevated the potential for him to close,” manager Bob Melvin said Monday. “He’s pitching really well.”
Melvin had Johnson warming up in a save situation in Houston on Friday, but his services weren’t needed after the A’s scored seven runs in the ninth inning.
The All-Star righty entered Monday riding a streak of 20 consecutive saves against American League West competition dating back to Aug. 6, 2012. He has a 0.64 ERA over that 27-game span.