March 2012

Opening Series finale: A’s vs. Mariners

Situational hitting gave the A’s some trouble last night, as they went just 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. It’s a facet of the game manager Bob Melvin is really stressing this year, especially given the makeup of the team and the overall lack of power, compared to other teams.

“It’s not like we played poorly,” he said. “We made some nice plays and, at times, I thought we had some nice at-bats. We hit some balls hard that could have ended the game, but it was frustrating in that we could have scored some more runs than we did. But you have to put that away and play for today.”

The A’s have lost eight straight season openers, but the good news is that they’ve followed five of the previous seven defeats with a win.

Today’s lineup is a bit different, with just two lefties in there against Seattle southpaw Jason Vargas. Take a look:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp LF, Gomes DH, Suzuki C, Cespedes CF, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Ka’aihue 1B (Colon SP)

And for Seattle: Figgins LF, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Montero DH, Seager 3B, Olivo C, Saunders CF, Ryan SS (Vargas SP)

Melvin says the first-base job is still a three-man race between Ka’aihue, Brandon Allen and Daric Barton and, though he could potentially carry two first baseman, he noted Donaldson could also play first during the season. It’s not the easiest of decisions, especially since both Allen and Ka’aihue are out of options. He’s also been getting good reports on Barton from Arizona.

A’s, Mariners kick off regular season

Happy Opening Night from the Tokyo Dome. Here are your lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp LF, Smith DH, Suzuki C, Reddick RF, Cespedes CF, Allen 1B, Sogard 3B, (McCarthy SP)

Mariners: Figgins 3B, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Montero DH, Carp LF, Olivo C, Saunders CF, Ryan SS, (Felix SP)

You’ll notice Kurt Suzuki is batting fifth, while Yoenis Cespedes is all the way down in the seventh hole. Bob Melvin said he likes the way Suzuki’s been swinging the bat, and he had to consider his career numbers vs. Felix, which are rather good: 8-for-26 (.308) with one home run. Cespedes, meanwhile, is still going through an adjustment process, so this takes some pressure off him, even though Melvin said the club still sees him as a middle-of-the-order threat at some point.

Also of note, Eric Sogard is at third, rather than Josh Donaldson. Melvin said he spoke with Donaldson yesterday and told him he’s still considered the starting third baseman, but “he’s just not starting today.” With Felix on the mound, it’s obviously sensible for him to stick as many left-handers in there as possible. Outside of Suzuki, the A’s other starters are a combined 14-for-70 (.200) against the right-hander. Brandon Allen, Cespedes and Seth Smith have never faced him.

A’s players settle into Tokyo

Greetings from Tokyo, where it’s been gloomy and wet since our arrival. Most players, it seems, opted for sleep rather than exploring the city last night – an understandable choice, given the 12-hour flight time and ensuing 90-minute drive to the hotel, along with a 16-hour time change. Many, like myself, couldn’t sleep past 7 a.m., as I’m sure our internal clocks were struggling to adjust, though Tommy Milone should get some kind of award for falling asleep at 10 p.m. and not waking until 8 a.m. “I feel great right now,” he said, grinning.

Milone and Co. are currently taking part in their first workout here at the Tokyo Dome. The Mariners are also here, and a press conference with manager Bob Melvin and a handful of players is to follow shortly. Otherwise, it’s a light day, as both teams prepare for exhibition games the next two days.

Josh Reddick is also preparing for a different kind of performance. Reddick, along with Brandon Allen and Collin Cowgill, are karaoking tonight in front of Comcast Bay Area’s camera crew. Allen, I’ve heard, has got some real talent, and Reddick deems himself a karaoke pro, though isn’t sure how much country music Tokyo has to offer him. He can always settle on Journey, he said.

Reddick surely garnered the most attention upon the team’s arrival yesterday, as several fans were heard both in the airport and hotel shouting his name. I asked him about being Mr. Popular over here, and he said it probably comes with having worn a Red Sox jersey during the past couple of years. He was still caught off guard by it all, especially since Kurt Suzuki – who is very popular over here – and Coco Crisp were by his side.

Jonny Gomes is also getting some looks, thanks to his mohawk. He says he’s gotten plenty of requests from people on the streets wanting to touch it. Meanwhile, the obsessions over the heated hotel toilets have started, and several players are trying to figure out a way to take one home.

Stay tuned from more updates…

Parker optioned

Following a seven-walk outing against his former D-backs club Monday, A’s top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker talked about the need to “move on.” He’ll have to do that in the Minors for now.Image

Parker was optioned to Triple-A just an hour later, but Melvin said the move does not preclude him from the fifth-starter mix, since the A’s can get by with a four-man rotation until April 17.

Still, Parker was vividly disappointed and said he was told by manager Bob Melvin he must “figure a few things out and be ready when my time comes.”

Earlier in the day, the 23-year-old right-hander more than doubled his spring walk total, having entered the game with six free passes to his name, and mentioned he was maybe trying to do too much, be too fine, against familiar faces.

“Seven walks is pretty brutal,” he said.

Parker, acquired by the A’s in the Trevor Cahill deal in November, is finding out what most Tommy John survivors learn following their procedure, in that command is normally the last thing to come back. Melvin agreed but said Parker’s fastball command, more so than his breaking stuff, should have already returned by now.

“His stuff’s good when he gets it over the plate,” Melvin said. “He has the stuff to get behind guys and get guys out, but you just don’t want to put guys on base like he did today.”

“Today didn’t help,” Parker said, after learning of his demotion. “I strive to be better than that, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Arizona’s first-round Draft pick in 2007  pitched in just one big-league game for the D-backs, tossing 5 2/3 shutout innings last year as a September callup from Double-A, where he went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA. He compiled a 3.27 ERA with 13 walks and nine strikeouts in 11 innings this spring.

Barton, Cespedes and feats of strength

A quick roundup of the morning’s news:

  • Daric Barton will make his Cactus League debut tomorrow and will DH against the host White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Barton recently restarted his throwing program but is still at least a week away from appearing in a game at first base. That makes it very unlikely he’ll be able to join the team in Japan, considering the charter leaves in 11 days. Like his other players, Melvin would like to get Barton around 40 at-bats this spring. Some of those, it seems, will have to come in extended Spring Training, while Brandon Allen or Kila Ka’aihue get a shot at the everyday first-base job to start the season.
  • The A’s have always envisioned Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order, and it didn’t take long for him to land there. Just one day removed from his big debut, Melvin planted the Cuban sensation in the three hole for Sunday’s contest with the Royals. He’ll DH today and get tomorrow off and will follow a two-on, one-off schedule, like several other players are on. 
  • Seth Smith is in right field today, and Melvin says he and Josh Reddick will see time in both corners this spring. I imagine, though, that we’ll soon see plenty games with Cespedes in center and Coco Crisp in left, so that the team can make a decision soon on how they want to handle the two outfielders moving forward.
  • The A’s received their annual motivational talk from team chaplain Donnie Moore on Sunday. Moore has been a steady presence with the team for more than 20 years, and like he’s done for the past few, brought in a team to perform unusual feats of strength to convey a message of positive thought. What, you ask, are unusual feats of strength? Well, the 30-minute performance included Moore and Co. rolling up a metal frying pan, breaking stacks of bricks, tearing a phone book in half and breaking a soda can in half. Normal, right? Melvin, new to the show, thoroughly enjoyed it and was even a guest participant at the end. I didn’t have the best view, but let’s just say it involved the breaking of a brick over his chest with a sledge hammer — or something like that.

A’s introduce Cespedes

The A’s introduced Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes to the media on Sunday and could see their newest outfielder in game action by the end of the week.Image

Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the A’s, said through translator Juan Navarrete that he “is happy to be able to take my first step of my dream to play in the Major Leagues” and anticipated being game-ready in five to six days.

Whether he starts the year in Oakland remains to be seen, though. A’s general manager Billy Beane, who was in attendance at the press conference alongside Cespedes’ agent, Adam Katz, said the club will “take that by ear.” Less than three weeks remain before the team jets to Tokyo to open the season with the Mariners.

“I expect he’ll see quite a bit of activity before the Japan series,” Beane said.

“I haven’t seen him out on the field doing baseball drills, and that’s what you wait for,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We hear he’s a heck of an athlete. With a lot going on, coming in to the situation like this can be uncomfortable, so sometimes the solace is getting on the field and playing baseball, where those are instinctive things.”

Cespedes appeared to quickly warm to Manny Ramirez. The two took batting practice together and were then seen talking in the outfield for an extended period of time.

The 26-year-old Cespedes is most comfortable in center field, where veteran Coco Crisp currently resides. It’s plausible that the A’s choose to keep Cespedes in his natural position and move Crisp to left field, but Beane and Melvin reiterated that the situation will work itself out in due time.

Cespedes said he will “play where they want me to play” and called his transition to the big leagues “a process.”

“It will take time,” he said. “I’ll adjust and perform the way people expect me to play.”

Katz has spent a good amount of time with his client in recent months and, when speaking about him as a person, called him “calm, focused, charming, hard-working — just a great kid.”

“He is a pretty unique physical talent,” Beane said. “You don’t see guys like this come along too often.”

—–

If you want a peak at Cespedes, here’s some video I shot of him this morning: http://www.twitvid.com/JaneMLB

Cespedes arrives

Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes made his first appearance in the A’s clubhouse this morning, but don’t expect to see him on the field today. His four-year deal won’t be made official until he undergoes a physical, as he’s scheduled to do by day’s end. So A’s officials like manager Bob Melvin still can’t even comment on him until tomorrow, when Cespedes is expected to finally join the team for workouts and speak to the media. He’ll be wearing No. 52.

It will be interesting to watch Cespedes acclimate to his new surroundings and to big-league competition. Perhaps equally intriguing is how Melvin and Co. decide to work him into games in the early days and how intent they are on keeping him in center field (Coco Crisp has said he wouldn’t be in favor of moving to right). Also, do they hurry to get him the needed at-bats to start the season in the Majors? I initially believed that Cespedes would be on the Opening Day lineup, but considering he’s missed the first two weeks of camp, it’s hard to envision a guy who has never faced big-league pitching get the playing time needed in the next three weeks to be handed an everyday job by the time the team leaves for Japan.

Nevertheless, all of these questions will be addressed tomorrow, so in the meantime, a handful of other notes from around camp this morning:

  • Melvin initially planned to start Manny Ramirez at DH tomorrow in Mesa, but instead he’s chosen to play Chris Carter there for the duration of the game and start Ramirez against the Angels at home on Monday in split-squad action.
  • Josh Donaldson was kept in the game longer than any other player in Friday’s Cactus League opener, and Melvin said the aspiring everyday third baseman will see a lot of playing time over there during the next few weeks, as officials continue to evaluate his progress at the position.
  • The closer job is still unsettled, and expect it to stay that way for awhile. Melvin said he won’t necessarily take into consideration the spring performances of Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes when making his decision, given the fact he’s already quite familiar with the veterans’ strengths, etc. And while Melvin said he hasn’t narrowed his decision down to those two guys, it would seem that they are the early favorites to land the role, though I’d keep an eye on Joey Devine. Ultimately, Melvin’s choice will be affected by the other moving pieces of the bullpen, and where needs lie in other innings. So, if he exits camp with just one lefty in Fuentes, for example, he would likely peg a righty as his closer to start the year.

Today the A’s head to Peoria for a rematch with the Mariners. Here are the lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Cowgill CF, Smith LF, Gomes DH, Ka’aihue 1B, Donaldson 3B, Taylor RF, Recker C, Sogard SS (Ross SP)

Mariners: Figgins 3B, Ackley 2B, Suzuki RF, Smoak 1B, Carp LF, Olivo C, Peguero DH, Saunders CF, Ryan SS (Noesi SP)

If you can’t keep track of A’s tweeters…

Plenty new A’s faces have joined the Twitter world. Here’s an updated list of tweeting players:

Jarrod Parker: @JarrodBParker
‏ Sean Doolittle: @whatwouldDOOdo
Josh Reddick: @joshreddick16
Michael Taylor: @MTAYinh
Collin Cowgill: @Ccowgill12
Ryan Cook: @ryancook_48
Jemile Weeks: @RealJemileWeeks
Max Stassi: @MaxStassi10
‏ Michael Choice: @VinnyChoice
‏ Sonny Gray: @SonnyGray2
Kurt Suzuki: @kurtsuzuki
Brett Anderson: @BrettAnderson49
Dallas Braden: @DALLASBRADEN209
Brandon McCarthy: @BMcCarthy32
Coco Crisp: @Coco_Crisp
Brian Fuentes: @teetofuentes
Andrew Carignan: @A_Carignan38

Game 1 Lineups: Mariners @ A’s

For the A’s:

Weeks 2B
Pennington SS
Crisp CF
Ramirez DH
Smith LF
Reddick RF
Suzuki C
Allen 1B
Donaldson 3B

SP: Godfrey

And the Mariners:

Kawasaki SS
Seager 3B
Wells LF
Montero C
Peguero RF
Catricala DH
Liddi 1B
Saunders CF
Rodriguez 2B

SP: Beaven

Manny to DH in Friday’s opener

A’s manager Bob Melvin advised reporters Thursday morning not to read too much into Friday’s lineup for the Cactus League opener against the Mariners. That notion is supported by his decision to start Manny Ramirez at DH. Ramirez, of course, is banned from the club’s first 50 games. Plenty regulars will be sprinkled around Manny, but the order in which they appear won’t necessarily have an Opening Day-look. Melvin plans on experimenting with several lineups over the next couple of weeks,in part because there are several spots up for grabs, including first base, third base and DH. The outfield is also far from settled, as it remains to be seen where Yoenis Cespedes fits into the picture once he reports to camp, which I’m hearing could be as soon as tomorrow.

Among those heavily in the mix at first base is Daric Barton,who is getting three days off after receiving a cortisone shot recently. Melvin said he should be hitting again Sunday and it’s a possibility he could slot into the DH slot in one of Monday’s split-squad contests. Barton, recovering from shoulder surgery, isn’t expected to be ready to play defense until mid-March at the earliest. That would seemingly put him behind fellow first-base contenders Brandon Allen, Kila Ka’aihue and Chris Carter, but not as much as you would think. The A’s are very familiar with Barton’s abilities as a defender, so it’s not like he’ll be having to prove himself all that much with his glove. His bat, more so, will do the talking, it seems. But it will be interesting to see just how soon he’s allowed to take the field at first base.

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