March 2010

Fifth starter competition still going strong

For about 30 seconds today, I thought the battle for the fifth starter competition was done. Dead. Finished. Not by an out-dueling performance, but rather by default.

Gio Gonzalez silenced the press box during the first inning of Monday’s game when he signaled for a trainer with a 3-1 count against Franklin Gutierrez with a runner on first and one out. Gonzalez was also joined by manager Bob Geren, battery mate Jake Fox and the umpire, as he appeared to rub his eyes. He was then given a glass of water before he went back to work and managed to force an inning-ending double play ball. Furthermore, he went on to toss 6 1/3 innings of solid three-hit ball while allowing just one run (on a wild pitch) and walking three and striking out four.

So the big question of the day involved the contents of the mentioned cup of water. Turns out Gonzalez experienced a sudden migraine and simply popped two Tylenol to take care of what he described as an “explosion in my brain.”

“My right eye just started closing in on me,” he said. “They were telling me it was going to take 15 minutes for the aspirin to kick in, but I said with the adrenaline I have right now, it will probably take less than two minutes.”

Try two seconds. Gonzalez looked like a completely different pitcher after the unusual visit and quickly disregarded any thought I conjured about him surrendering the rotation spot to Trevor Cahill. He said he had never experienced any sort of migraine and was surprised by its sudden presence.

“I felt fine in the bullpen and warming up,” he said, “and then after that first pitch to Ichiro it was like ‘woah.’ That was definitely a first for me.”

Gonzalez followed up the first with a 1-2-3 second, including strikeouts to Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey Jr., before allowing Rob Johnson to score in the third on the wild pitch and loading the bases in the fourth. However, he got Griffey to pop out and then forced a double play groundball off the bat of Jose Lopez to escape the jam.

“That was huge,” he said. “It was after that my confidence just skyrocketed, and I started throwing first pitch strikes to everyone. I was excited about that, and it felt like 100 pounds lifted off my shoulder.”

Gonzalez said he relied mainly on his fastball Monday while also getting a little work in on his changeup. He also kept in mind what he called the famous words of Joey Devine: “Let it eat.”

“So that’s exactly what I was doing,” he said.

Gonzalez is well aware of the rotation situation and hopes his impressive string of spring starts continues to make Geren’s decision a difficult one.

“I did enough to show them that I’m ready and that I feel great and feel strong,” he said. “The decision is up to them. I’m just grateful to be throwing a baseball and feel healthy.”

At the beginning of the game, Gonzalez appeared slightly nervous — but rightfully so, considering he’s on the roster bubble with seven days before Opening Night. After the game, though, he was just…Gio. He even joked about the Tylenol interruption.
 
“I’m going to do a commercial for them,” he said with a smile. “I really had it all planned out. That was all a commercial stunt, guys.”

Meanwhile, Cahill made a start in a Triple-A game over at the A’s Minor League complex. He said he gave up two runs — including a homer — in six innings and basically described his outing as “nothing great, nothing bad.”

Like Gonzalez, he’s been fine tuning his changeup all spring and mentioned it’s still not working as well as last year but sees it coming around pretty quickly.

In general, Cahill evokes a much more relaxed personality than Gonzalez, and it definitely shows on and off the mound. They’re two very completely different pitchers, and I think that’s what’s making this competition so much fun to watch. It seems the general consensus is that Gonzalez boasts the best natural stuff of the two — possibly even of the entire staff — but just can’t keep his composure and command in check to bring it out consistently. Then there’s Cahill, who has a devastating sinker but otherwise average stuff. Yet the maturity and composure he brings with him to the mound, especially at the age of 22, elevates that average stuff to a different level.

In my mind, Cahill had the edge entering camp — and still does. But I have to say Gonzalez is very much still in the mix and is greatly impressing the club right now. I also can’t see him starting the year at Triple-A — he’s too good for that. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine the A’s keeping him in the bullpen. So now it’s just a wait-and-see type thing, and you can bet Geren won’t make an announcement until he absolutely has to this weekend.

No word on whether Gonzalez or Cahill will start the game Saturday in Oakland, but they’ll both presumably be pitching then against the visiting Giants. Curious to hear your thoughts on which one will be starting against the Angels in Anaheim on April 9…  

A’s bring back Gaudin to offer bullpen help

Here’s most of the story that will be up on the A’s site shortly:

A’s
assistant general manager David Forst confirmed the return of right-handed
pitcher Chad Gaudin, who on Sunday signed a Major League deal with Oakland after
being released by the Yankees on Thursday.


Gaudin, 27,
pitched for Oakland as a starter and reliever from 2006 to July 2008, when he
was traded to the Cubs along with Rich Harden. He has since played with the
Padres and Yankees, the latter for which he produced a 0-3 record and 8.68 ERA
in four spring games this year after going 2-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 11 games for
New York during the 2009 season.


The righty
will report to big league camp Monday and will offer the club insurance for a
rather depleted bullpen. The A’s relief corps has endured several setbacks this
spring, the most recent being Monday’s news that right-hander Michael Wuertz
may potentially miss the season opener with shoulder soreness.


Wuertz was
slated to throw in Sunday’s game, but he was scratched and will visit local orthopedist
Dr. Doug Freedberg on Monday. If he’s unable to go Opening Day, the A’s will
presumably look to Gaudin or fellow newcomers Jason Jennings and Edwar Ramirez
to fulfill right-handed setup duties along with Brad Ziegler.


Also offering uncertainties at the moment are righty Andrew Bailey and left-hander
Craig Breslow, both of whom are scheduled to pitch Monday for the first time since
March 14 due to elbow soreness. Furthermore, right-hander Joey Devine, who
missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, said Sunday he
likely won’t be pitching in Oakland until the third week of April, at the
earliest.

Duke struggles with command in second outing

From Surprise, Ariz., where the A’s just lost 14-12 to the Royals in a rather lengthy spring game…

Justin Duchscherer’s second spring start didn’t exactly lead to the best of results. In fact, the right-hander couldn’t even tally the five ups and downs he set out to get after throwing four shutout innings in his first outing. He lasted three frames (and faced four batters in the fourth inning) while surrendering nine hits, 11 runs (8 earned), no walks – but hit a batter — and struck out one.

“I was throwing decent pitches,” Duchscherer said. “I was just missing and getting myself in bad counts. My mentality is in Spring Training I’m not going to start walking guys, so when I was behind I was throwing pitches over the plate.

“My stuff isn’t quite there yet, and I can’t pitch over the white. So they took advantage of getting ahead in the count, and I gave them some pretty good pitches to hit. I wanted to get up and down five times, but I didn’t quite do that.”

The Royals pretty much took batting practice off Duchscherer in the first and third innings, scoring a combined seven runs — including a three-run homer off the bat of Mitch Maier. In the fourth, a few infield singles, plus a catching error by Daric Barton at first base, led to a bases loaded situation. Duchscherer then allowed a single through the hole at shortstop to bring in yet another run before being replaced by Edwar Ramirez.

The A’s righty, who missed all of last year due to elbow surgery and a bout with clinical depression, was sidelined most of camp after undergoing a nerve ablation procedure to relieve pain in his lower back. Duchscherer insists he wasn’t in any pain during the game, mentioning “he “felt physically better today,” but rather reiterated his lack of command.

“I got behind guys and then attacked the zone, but for me attacking the zone isn’t white,” he said. “Rather than walk guys, I’d rather say, hey, if you’re going to beat me, beat me by hitting the ball.”

Duchscherer threw 73 pitches and was hoping to toss 80, but “the innings I pitched were kind of long. Cautiously, they don’t want me to throw too many in too short a time,” he said.

He’ll have one more start, in which he’s aiming to throw 85 pitches, before entering the season with what he hopes is a “crisper ball” and “sharper movement.” He reached 86 miles per hour — which is slightly short of what he deemed his “87, 88, 89″ midseason form.

“I don’t want to go out there and do what I did,” Duchscherer said. “I don’t want to get my butt kicked, but it is Spring Training and you have to get your work in, so as long as I get my body in a position where I can get six or seven innings, I think if I can get my pitch count to 85 next time, I should be able to go five or six.

“If I can do that, going into the season, I think the progression will be pretty much where it needs to be, and if I can get that sharpness and that extra little life on the ball and working those kinks out, that’s the goal.”

After the game, manager Bob Geren commented that Duchscherer ‘s command “wasn’t where it usually is.” And when asked not once but twice about his pitcher’s readiness for the season, Geren only responded by saying he has one more start left.

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mso-header-margin:.5in;
mso-footer-margin:.5inPersonally, I’m not reading too much into his vague comment, but at the same time it makes you wonder about the club’s belief in his ability to produce a quality outing right now after him missing so much time. A colleague of mine even joked that maybe we’ll be seeing Vin Mazzaro again very soon…

A’s send Mazzaro, Taylor, Carter to Minors

Vin Mazzaro, Michael Taylor and Chris Carter, all pretty significant pieces to the A’s future puzzle, were sent down Saturday morning. Here’s part of the story that will be up at the A’s site shortly:

The news of
Mazzaro didn’t come as much of a surprise after manager Bob Geren all but ruled
him out of the mix during his daily media session Saturday morning, during
which he was asked about the way the starter battle was shaping up.

“Both are
doing a nice job,” Geren said. “We’re going to hold off until the end to
decide.”

Both presumably referred to Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, but the A’s skipper
switched subjects before saying he would have more to discuss by the end of the
day.

Minutes
later, though, Mazzaro was found packing his bags, leaving little speculation
surrounding Geren’s hush answers.

“I’m going
to go down to the Minor Leagues and work hard and get back up here,” Mazzaro
said. “I felt I had done a pretty good job, but someone’s got to go, right?”

 With Mazzaro out of the picture, all eyes will
focus on Cahill and Gonzalez in the final week of camp as the A’s continue to
trim down their roster and set the starting rotation. Oakland now has 37
players remaining in camp, including three non-roster invitees, after sending down
Mazzaro, Carter and Taylor.

The latter
two, both watched closely this spring, could very well make their big league
debuts this year, Geren said. For the time being, though, the A’s are more than
set at first base and in the outfield. Daric Barton is enjoying a successful
spring at first, where Eric Chavez is also playing regularly. As for the
outfield, Oakland has several options in the form of Gabe Gross, Travis Buck,
Eric Patterson and Jake Fox.

The A’s won’t
soon forget about Taylor or Carter, though.

“Both are
very impressive young men, obviously both on the field and off,” Geren said. “They’re
both off the chart type players. They’re guys that can create their own
opportunities and dominate at this level. I let them know just that.”

__________________________

In other news: Both Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow, both rehabbing from minor elbow setbacks, could potentially throw in a game Sunday or Monday. … Dallas Braden received an antibiotic prescription for the red, streaky bump he found on his left shin yesterday and is hoping it’s a bug bite. He should be good to go for his next start Wednesday.
 

Friday postgame notes

With the A’s playing split-squad games in Mesa and Surprise today, I decided to take the longer drive to Surprise not only because manager Bob Geren was headed to that game but because I hadn’t really seen Vin Mazzaro pitch this spring. At this point, it appears the fifth starter battle is going strong between Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. I can’t say Mazzaro’s running in the same race, though. Today he was average and never really found a great rhythm, but he did face a pretty good Rangers lineup. Here’s what Mazzaro had to say following his start:

“I thought it went pretty well. There were some times when I lost the strike zone a little bit with the fastball but other than that I felt I threw the ball pretty well. Today was a good day and something I really needed to build the confidence going into the season.

You’d have to imagine it being slightly difficult going just two days after both Cahill and Gonzalez pitched well in the same game, but I think Mazzaro knew his situation heading into camp and really needed to step it up a notch this spring. He doesn’t have time to mess around with the strike zone, and unfortunately I think he’ll be fine tuning his command in Sacramento once the season starts. Scouts were so high on Mazzaro last year, and I’d be interested in hearing what they’ve seen from him since that time. He’ll be given one more start this spring…

Then there’s Dallas Braden. The dude deserves a break. While I was watching Mazzaro in Surprise, I was told Braden pitched six innings in Mesa after being told by a doctor this morning not to throw because he might have a staph infection. So I gave Braden a call, and he described a red, streaky bump on his calf that is right above his numb left foot. He’s always said he’d pitch until his foot was cut off, so he ignored the doc’s recommendation and pitched as planned. From the times I’ve talked with Braden, it seems he truly understands and appreciates the opportunity he’s been given in the big leagues, so he’s not about to let foot numbness or red bumps prevent him from doing what he loves and helping out his teammates. You can read the full story on Braden here at the A’s site. 

It’s Justin Duchscherer on the mound tomorrow against the Royals in Surprise. He’ll attempt to throw around 75 pitches in just his second start this spring…

Thursday pregame notes: Ellis back in lineup

First, your starting lineup against the host Giants here at Scottsdale Stadium: Davis CF, Barton 1B, Sweeney RF, Kouzmanoff 3B, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Buck LF, Pennington SS, Jennings SP

We’ll also see Michael Wuertz, Tyson Ross and newcomer Edwar Ramirez in action on the mound tonight.

Some pregame notes:

  • Mark Ellis is back in the lineup after missing two games with tight hamstrings.
  • Rajai Davis is in the leadoff spot tonight, but when Coco Crisp is in the lineup, expect the latter to lead off most times with Davis in the No. 2 hole. “I thought Raj did a real nice job in the second spot last year,” manager Bob Geren said.
  • Kurt Suzuki can be found in the fifth spot tonight, and Geren said he’d like to try him there for awhile with Ryan Sweeney batting third.
  • Andrew Bailey (elbow) said he is still slated to throw off the mound Saturday and hopes to be back in a game next week.
  • Geren will travel to Surprise tomorrow for the team’s split-squad game against the Rangers, while the rest  of the team will make the shorter trip to Mesa to face the Cubs. Vin Mazzaro is scheduled to go against Texas, and Dallas Braden will go in Mesa.

Anderson throws in simulated game

Both Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson, the latter who was scratched from his Monday start due to neck stiffness, were scheduled to pitch in Minor League games today on the team’s off day. Mother Nature decided to switch things up, though. A pretty heavy rainfall through the night and into this morning forced the games to be canceled.

As a result, Gonzalez’s start was pushed back and he’ll now throw four innings after Trevor Cahill in tomorrow night’s game against the visiting Dodgers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Meanwhile, according to pitching coach Curt Young, Anderson threw 82 pitches in five innings in a simulated game and all went well.

The A’s have back-to-back night games beginning tomorrow, the first slated for 7:35 p.m. PT and Thursday’s Bay Bridge battle with the Giants scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT in Scottsdale. 

Duke starts, Crisp back in lineup

Lots of tidbits to share this morning, but first your starting lineup vs. the Mariners in Peoria:

Crisp DH, Barton 1B, Suzuki C, Kouz 3B, Sweeney RF, Patterson CF, Gross LF, Rosales 2B, Pennington SS, Duchscherer SP

  • Mark Ellis was scratched from today’s lineup due to tightness in both hamstrings. Adam Rosales is now in there playing second base. If there was ever such a thing as a good time for this kind of injury, it’s now – the A’s have tomorrow and most of Wednesday morning off before playing the Giants that night.
  • Brett Anderson was scheduled to make his fourth spring start Monday, but he woke up with neck stiffness so he’ll pitch in a Minor League game tomorrow. Therefore, Justin Duchscherer will not only make his first pitching appearance today, but he’ll make his first start since 2008. As a result, it appears the pitching rotation is taking form and could look something like this come Opening Day: Ben Sheets, Dallas Braden, Duchscherer, Anderson, [insert fifth starter]. That’s a nice R-L-R-L in the first four slots, and assuming Trevor Cahill grabs that last spot, another righty could fill the rotation. Anderson will pitch in the Double-A game tomorrow while Gio Gonzalez will get his work in at the Triple-A game over at Papago Park on the team’s scheduled off day.
  • As you can see, Coco Crisp is back in the lineup today after having been sidelined with a strained left hamstring March 10. Manager Bob Geren said both he and Rajai Davis will start Wednesday’s night game against the visiting Dodgers in the outfield, marking the first time all spring we could potentially be seeing the same outfield slated to start Opening Night.
  • The A’s have another night game Thursday at the Giants’ stadium in Scottsdale, where Jason Jennings will make his second start. Earlier in the day, Sheets will toss six innings in a Minor League game to “make sure he gets his six ups and downs in a controlled environment,” Geren said. 
  • Joey Devine, Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey are all throwing today. Devine threw yesterday at 80 feet and said he’s going to attempt 100 feet this morning. The right-hander will then take Tuesday off and resume flat ground throwing Wednesday. He’s hoping to throw off the mound by the end of the week and resume his throwing program by next week. Meanwhile, Breslow and Bailey are slated to throw sides on Wednesday, which is good news for the recently injury-prone bullpen.
  • Not so good news came in the form of John Meloan’s elbow, which will require season-ending surgery. The 25-year-old righty pitched in just two games this spring for a total of 1 2/3 innings, in which he allowed four hits and two earned runs. He’ll soon visit with Dr. James Andrews, who has performed Tommy John surgery on a few current A’s players, including Bailey, Devine and Josh Outman.  

Wuertz back in action; Braden goes five

Michael Wuertz showed off his multitasking
talents today by balancing nine-month-old son Braxton in one arm while talking
to reporters about his first spring appearance. The A’s righty gave up two
hits, a walk and a run in his outing but said he felt good and saw results
he was expecting. “That’s kind of always how my Spring Training games have
gone,” he said. Since Wuertz missed the first couple weeks of spring with
shoulder soreness, he’s still building up arm strength and, subsequently, can’t
get much out of his slider right now. He said he threw three in the frame, one
that was taken for a hit and another that led to a walk. At the same time,
Wuertz said he expected it to be that way, so he heavily relied on his
changeup. He mentioned his shoulder felt fine and, at the end of the day, “it
was just good to get out in game action, especially against another colored
uniform.” Meanwhile, manager Bob Geren

called it a “decent first outing.”

 

Slightly in
the shadows of Wuertz’ outing was Dallas
Braden
, who started the game and threw close to 80 pitches in five innings
of work. He gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits while fanning half a
dozen and was quite pleased with his fastball command and changeup. However, he
wasn’t too thrilled with his fielding. Braden committed an error by missing a
catch and noted he felt rather “embarrassed” and “disappointed” since pitchers
spend half of their spring doing fielding drills.

 

Braden also
talked about how his numb foot affected him for the first time in a game
situation this spring. He lost his balance on a pitch to Chris Dickerson in the fifth because he couldn’t feel how far back he was. The southpaw half-heartedly reached out to reporters for ideas to ease his foot, as he’s already
using insoles, metal plates and toe guards, among other things. “I think a
witch doctor is coming tomorrow with a bucket of chicken,” he joked. Braden isn’t
too worried about the foot, though. After all, he may never regain feeling in
it. “I can’t just wait around for it,” he said. “I’ve got baseballs to throw.”

Dribblers: Coco Crisp is slated to be back in the lineup tomorrow after having been diagnosed with a strained left hamstring March 10. He’ll likely DH before making his first spring start in the outfield the next game. … Rajai Davis (sore abdomen) took batting practice Sunday and told me he was planning on doing all baseball activity. He should be back in tomorrow’s lineup as well. … Rehabbing pitchers Joey Devine (shoulder) and Craig Breslow (elbow) played catch today, and there’s a possibility Andrew Bailey (elbow) will pick up a ball tomorrow.

Talking ads, brackets … and some baseball

There was a lot going on today, and as I mentioned in my previous blog, it all started with the unveiling of the A’s new ad campaign. I ran into Andrew Bailey right before the A’s game against the Cubs and he mentioned he had heard all of us media folk got a sneak peak at the commercials. When I asked him how many times he had to say “nipple clipper,” he laughed and shook his head before replying, “A lot.” He’s quite the trooper. “That’s what they wanted me to say!” he insisted. From what I hear, a few clips of the ads will join the story that’s already posted on the A’s site by the end of the day, so make sure you check on that tonight. 
____________________

I’m pretty sure the A’s clubhouse was just as stunned as the rest of the nation by St. Mary’s upset of Villanova this afternoon. Only infield coach Mike Gallego picked the Gaels to beat up on the No. 2 seed, and things only got worse for the A’s clubhouse pool when Kansas was stunned by Northern Iowa later in the day. Out of the 57 entries, 30 have Kansas winning it all. I hate to say it, but that 30 includes me. I usually like to pick anyone but the early favorite, but for some reason I did this year, and look where it got me. At the same time, I believe that watching the underdog upset the top seed is well worth the complete trashing of my bracket.
_____________________

It’s hard not to get caught up in all the glory that is March Madness, but aside from my frequent peeks at scores today, most of my focus was on the A’s and Cubs split-squad game here in Phoenix — mainly Ben Sheets, who, if you all recall, gave up 10 runs without retiring a batter in his last outing. On Saturday, though, Sheets looked like a different pitcher. Not only was his velocity there again, but his movement finally decided to show up this time. He was quite pleased with his curveball — and rightfully so — and the ways in which his mechanics improved in just five days’ time.

While Sheets was tossing his most impressive spring performance thus far, Jason Jennings wasn’t having as much luck with the Indians over in Goodyear. The new A’s right-hander, vying for a bullpen spot, gave up eight runs, seven hits and two walks in just 1 2/3 innings as the A’s dropped that one 12-4. Vin Mazzaro also pitched in the game but didn’t post great numbers either. His line: 2 IP, 5 H, 4 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 2 K. He’s going to need to step it up if he wants to be a serious contender for the fifth starter spot, especially when Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez are throwing as well as they are.

Joining Jennings and Mazzaro in Goodyear was Ryan Sweeney, who notched two hits in the DH spot, and Kevin Kouzmanoff, who went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer. Outfielder Matt Carson also hit a home run and went 2-for-3, and Adrian Cardenas tallied two hits as well. Eric Chavez was hitless in three at-bats, but the fact he made the rather long trip says something about the effort he’s putting in this spring to assure himself of a successful year. From what I was told, Chavez volunteered to make the trip so as to guarantee a start at first base since Daric Barton was already slated to start at the home game. The team, of course, didn’t have the veteran Chavez making the trip at first, but the A’s infielder insisted so that he could get in his at-bats.

That should do it for today. Dallas Braden is on the mound for the A’s against the visiting Reds tomorrow, but I’m sure all eyes will be on Michael Wuertz, who is supposed to make his first game appearance of the spring.     

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