April 2012

Inge aboard, bats eighth in A’s debut

It appears Brandon Inge may be the piece missing from the A’s puzzle.

Only time will tell if he’s the perfect fit, but both parties seem to think so.

Inge, whose one-year deal with Oakland was made official Monday, was immediately inserted into the lineup for the club’s three-game series opener in Boston, batting eighth and playing third base, where he’s expected to remain until further notice.

“We’ve had some difficulties defensively at times this year at the position,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Unfortunately, it’s been a little bit of a revolving door, which we certainly don’t want to have, but we’re in the situation we’re in, and we feel good about getting him in there.

“We finally feel like we have a third baseman we can plug in there every day.”

Inge is anxious for the opportunity, one he wasn’t getting from the Tigers, who ended a 12-year relationship with the veteran when they released him last week. Inge insists “there are no hard feelings” for the Detroit organization. In fact, he had prepared for the parting of ways, noting he was close to approaching them about the chance to find a new team “that will better suit me.”

Inge has fond memories of the one he landed with, not only because of his success against them during the 2006 American League Championship Series won by Detroit, but from his childhood days, which included a trip to Kansas City to see a matchup between the Royals and A’s.

“That day, I remember [Mark] McGwire taking batting practice, Rickey [Henderson] there,” Inge said. “I was a huge fan of this team, so it’s fun I get to be a part of an organization that has such a rich history.”

Inge happens to be quite familiar with Melvin, whom he worked with as a catcher when Melvin served as Detroit’s bench coach during the 2000 season. Inge calls the skipper “one of the most nice guys I’ve come across,” while Melvin thinks just as highly of his new player he deems “a bulldog” and “just a terrific athlete.”

“He’s been playing this game a long time, and what I know just from playing against him, is the fact you know what kind of defense he brings to the table,” Cliff Pennington said. “The veteran presence is huge. We always need that around here. I think he’s the kind of guy we’re going to like, and the kind of guy who’s going to be a really good fit for this clubhouse.”

Inge, it seems, is adjusting just fine.

“I’m excited, I am,” he said. “It’s a little different. I’m not going to lie, a little different looking at these white shoes here. I bet everyone says that when they come over here, don’t they? I don’t mind, I kind of like it.”

A’s agree to sign Inge

Less than one year after snagging Scott Sizemore in a trade with the Tigers, the A’s are nearing a deal that will bring in another Detroit third baseman, as they’ve agreed to sign veteran Brandon Inge.

The deal, confirmed on Sunday by MLB.com, is pending a physical, but Inge is expected to be in Boston on Monday for the club’s three-game series opener against the Red Sox. Once in uniform, it’s safe to assume his place in the everyday third-base role, following an early round of musical chairs at the position that saw a lack of production from Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and the recently acquired Luke Hughes. Combined, A’s third basemen had a .127 average with a .374 OPS, two home runs and six RBIs entering the day.

Inge, who will be 35 next month, has endured his own struggles in April, compiling just two hits in 20 at-bats spanning nine games with Detroit, leading to his release from the only organization he’s known Thursday. But he’s considered an excellent defender, and his past production at the plate, though not overwhelming, still represents an upgrade for Oakland’s sluggish offense.

The Tigers are on the hook for his $5.5 million salary, while the A’s will only be responsible for the pro-rated Major League minimum.

His best year came during Detroit’s 2006 American League championship season, when he hit .253 with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs in 159 games. He was also an All-Star in 2009, when he tallied 29 homers in the first half. Since, he’s hit just 23 total and, overall, owns a .234 career average and .691 OPS.

“It’ll be good to get a fresh start with another team,” Inge said last week. “I don’t have any doubts. I’m a team player. I’m not selfish. I’m not going to talk bad about anyone. I’m going to go out and do my job.”

The infielder won a part-time job at second base in Spring Training but began the season on the disabled list with a strained left groin. He made his debut April 14 and saw most of his starts at second base against left-handed starters, striking out six times without a walk.

Inge represents the 12th third baseman Oakland has employed since Eric Chavez played his last game there for the A’s in 2009. Aside from Sizemore, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of spring workouts, and Donaldson, Sogard and Hughes, the others who have endured stints at the hot corner are Conor Jackson, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Andy LaRoche, Adam Rosales, Aki Iwamura, Jack Hannahan and Adam Kennedy.

When Inge is officially placed on the active roster, the A’s could choose to designate Hughes for assignment and keep Sogard on board in a utility role. Hughes is 1-for-13 since arriving in Oakland last week

De Los Santos optioned in flurry of bullpen moves

The front end of the A’s bullpen received a makeover on Wednesday, the biggest news coming from the demotion of right-hander Fautino De Los Santos, who was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento.

Righty Rich Thompson, just days after being claimed off waivers from the Angels, was designated for assignment, and another righty, Jim Miller, was selected from Sacramento to round out the flurry of roster moves.

De Los Santos, whose roster spot was taken by Wednesday starter Jarrod Parker, compiled a respectable 3.00 ERA in six relief appearances, having not allowed a run in five of his six games. But his other numbers were less desirable, as he exited with a 3.33 WHIP, a .412 opponents batting average and .500 on-base percentage.

Expected to be a significant piece in the later innings, De Los Santos was plagued by mechanical issues, as he regularly struggled to find rhythm out of the stretch and didn’t record an out in his last three outings. But manager Bob Melvin said he believes his Minor League stint “isn’t a long-term thing.”

“He’s a guy that pitched very well for us last year, has a high ceiling,” he said. “It was just to the point now where he was struggling to throw strikes, and when he did, I don’t think he had a lot of confidence. We don’t have too many guys like him that have the potential to be a late-inning reliever with plus stuff. We need to get him right, and he understands that.”

Only three right-handers currently reside in the A’s bullpen, its newest member being Miller, who brings with him a 3.00 ERA and a .188 batting average, including a .095 mark against right-handers, with eight strikeouts and just two walks in nine innings.

Miller was used in various roles in Sacramento, the closer’s job included, but Melvin said he envisions the right-hander in a long-relief role for now. Miller, 29, is just happy for the opportunity.

“I was sitting down in clubhouse last night when [manager] Darren Bush walked in and told everyone, ‘Hey somebody’s going up tomorrow,’” Miller recalled. “He reached out and shook my hand, and I was a deer in headlights. Totally wasn’t expecting this at all.”

It’s safe to assume Thompson wasn’t, either. The right-handed Aussie pitched just 2/3 scoreless innings for the A’s before being designated Wednesday, and Melvin simply deemed the decision one based on “an influx of roster moves.”

“It’s too bad,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t a performance-based thing. It was just more a numbers game than anything else at this point. And when you’re out of options, you have the designation. Really, I’d like to see him again. We’d like to see him get to Triple-A and have the option to bring him back.”

Milone stays perfect at Coliseum

A stretch of 450 miles separated southpaws Tommy Milone and Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday night.

Having swapped homes during the offseason following a five-player deal that sent All-Star Gonzalez to Washington and Milone and Co. to Oakland, the former took to the mound in San Diego for the Nationals, the latter getting the nod for the A’s against the White Sox.

Gonzalez extended his scoreless-inning streak to 20 in Washington’s win. And Milone? He’s adjusting just fine to his new abode in Oakland, where he lengthened his own scoreless-inning streak at the Coliseum to 16 frames following an eight-inning shutout performance in a 2-0 win over the White Sox.

Consider the lefty a good fit in the white shoes.

“We know we’re developing these guys, and we know they’re going to get better and better over the course of their careers,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We have a lot of faith in them. Otherwise we wouldn’t have made those deals.”

It was hard to envision a better version of Milone than the one that showed up to face the White Sox, who didn’t get a hit off the lefty until the fifth inning and managed just two others the rest of the way. Those were their only base runners of the night until closer Grant Balfour boarded one in the ninth, as Milone didn’t issue a single walk and struck out a career high-tying five.

An underrated fastball, as catcher Anthony Recker characterized it, nicely set up a changeup that was at its best.

“You gotta be aware of that changeup,” Melvin said.

“His changeup was awesome tonight,” Recker said. “Anytime he needed it, it was there. He just does exactly what you want him to do. As a catcher, he’s a dream. You’re never worried about altering your game plan based on missing spots or not having this pitch or that pitch. He has everything every day. It’s almost like he’s a perfectionist. I wouldn’t call him that, because I’ve never really seem him get mad, but I think that’s because he never misses his spots.”

So for one night, at least, the A’s were able to forget about their Major League-leading four shutout losses. Instead, they were talking about the Major League-best four shutouts recorded by their own pitching staff.

The club’s starters are owners of a 2.93 ERA, which ranks second-best in the American League only to Texas. The White Sox, meanwhile, aren’t too far behind in the third spot, with a 3.09 mark.

Chicago starter Gavin Floyd matched Milone through seven innings, with only two hits allowed during that time. But it was the eighth frame that proved decisive, as Floyd handed away a free pass to Daric Barton to lead off the inning, before striking out Luke Hughes and handing the ball over to lefty Matt Thornton, who entered the day with a blank ERA.

But Kurt Suzuki, coming in to pinch hit for Recker, soon changed that, lining an RBI double down the left-field line to turn a scoreless game into a 1-0 A’s lead, all the while snapping Oakland’s scoreless streak at 16 innings.

Melvin wasn’t aware of that number, but he was well aware of the relief felt after it was no longer of significance.

“I don’t know how many innings it was we didn’t score, but it felt like 100,” he said. “Each inning you get further along, the more guys have a tendency to tighten up, try to do too much and press some. When you’re scoring runs, you don’t think about things like that. You just go up and take your at-bat and do your thing.”

“I was just trying to think of getting a ball I could hit hard,” Suzuki said. “We talked earlier today about not trying to do too much and string some things together and see what happens then.”

The result was a reward for Milone, whose efforts lowered his ERA to 2.00.

“(Floyd) pitched great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Their guy pitched a little better.”

“Against that lineup, pretty spectacular,” Melvin said.

Recker called Milone a bulldog and noted, “A guy pitches like that, you’re dying to give him a win.”

Milone is now 3-1. Gonzalez is 2-0 yet gradually becoming a distant memory.

“Probably the best my arm’s felt so far this year,” Milone said. “Just being able to make pitches and starting hitters off with a strike and keeping the offspeed pitches low. The changeup felt good, and getting that cutter inside was important too.”

Said Recker: “He made it a lot of fun to catch, that’s for sure.”

Melvin: “I think each and every guy should take that personally”

Consider the A’s second-place standing in the American League West not so much a reflection of their early-season performance but of those around them.

Entering Tuesday 5 1/2 games back of division-leading Texas, owner of a 13-4 record, Oakland sat just ahead of the Mariners and a surprisingly struggling Angels team, despite being shutout in 22 percent of its games.

Monday’s shutout marked the A’s fourth of the season, most in the Majors and more than manager Bob Melvin was aware of.

“That does sound like a big number in 18 games, and we’re not happy about that,” he said. “I think each and every guy should take that personally. I know I do. We’re better than that offensively, and as a group we have to take it personally and intensify our focus a little bit and really get going a bit earlier in games. We have to try to put the pressure on the other team before they put it on us, and we haven’t been real good about that early in the season to this point.”

The A’s are 6-0 when scoring first, compared to a dismal 2-10 mark when their opponents do. Moreover, they have a perfect record (6-0) when leading after seven innings but are 1-9 when trailing after that frame. Overall, they’ve scored just 52 runs, fewest in Oakland history over the first 18 games of the season and fewest in the American League.

Hughes arrives; Donaldson sent out

A four-hour delayed flight couldn’t keep the A’s newest member out of the starting lineup, as Luke Hughes was immediately given the nod at third base upon arrival Monday.

With Hughes on board, the A’s decided to demote a struggling Josh Donaldson to Triple-A Sacramento, where he’s expected to continue work at third base while also seeing time behind the plate in his natural catcher position.

“It wasn’t for a lack of effort, and he really did handle himself beautifully defensively,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I know he would have liked to have swung the bat better, but at the big-league level, to an extent, you have to produce. I don’t feel great about the fact he’s going down right now, but hopefully this isn’t the last time we’ve seen him because he’s a good athlete and has a lot of ability.”

In 32 at-bats spanning nine games with the A’s, Donaldson managed just three hits for a .094 average. His lack of production led to more playing time for Eric Sogard and, ultimately, influenced the club to look outside of the organization for help.

“It’s unfortunate that Josh has to go down right now,” Melvin said. “We got to a point where I think he’s grinding pretty hard, and he probably needs a bit of a break here. He worked very hard this spring, really every day to try to combat the fact he wasn’t a natural third baseman.

“We still have high hopes for him. Just because he’s not here right now doesn’t mean he’s not here at some other point in time. Hopefully he can get over this and go down there and continue to work as hard as he has, have some success.”

Hughes’ numbers aren’t overwhelming, with a career .224 average attached to his name, but the A’s are hoping he brings consistency to a position that’s been unsettled since Scott Sizemore endured a season-ending knee injury at the beginning of camp.

Melvin said he anticipates playing the versatile Hughes at third on a regular basis, with Sogard still the mix while also spelling the middle infield duo of Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington — the only A’s players who have yet to take a day off this season — from time to time.

“From what I understand, [Hughes] is a scrappy player, a guy who likes to play,” he said. “We’ll get him out there and get him in the fire right away.”

Hughes gives the A’s three Aussies, which represents a Major-League record. There are only two other Australian-born players in baseball.

“It’s pretty great,” said reliever Rich Thompson, who grew up playing youth baseball with Hughes and was also introduced to fellow Sydney native Grant Balfour at a young age. “I love it here already.”

Parker to start Wednesday

A’s manager Bob Melvin announced Sunday that top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker will be called up this week to start Wednesday’s afternoon matchup with the visiting White Sox.

The right-handed Parker, who missed out on a rotation spot at season’s start because of command issues that plagued him all spring, has worked his way through those and, as a result, is 1-0 with a 2.18 ERA with 21 strikeouts next to just six walks in 20 2/3 innings, spanning four starts.

“He’s been pitching well,” Melvin said. “We’ve always envisioned him being here at some point in time, especially with the stuff he has.”

Parker’s looming promotion comes in the wake of Graham Godfrey’s return to Triple-A. The 23-year-old righty was the key piece of December’s trade that sent All-Star Trevor Cahill to Arizona, where Parker was considered the D-backs’ top prospect.

Following rehab from his 2010 Tommy John surgery, Parker posted an 11-8 record and 3.79 ERA for Arizona’s Double-A club last year. He was called up to the big leagues for the first time in September and impressed greatly in just one start, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings and earning a spot on the club’s postseason roster.

Parker will be pitching on three days’ rest, but he utilized just 48 pitches in his Saturday start.

Melvin: “I don’t know that I wouldn’t admire it…”

Bob Melvin, when asked before the game if he anticipated the Mariners to budge on Yoenis Cespedes after he admired his homer last night, had this to say:

I don’t think so. You watch, and 90 percent of guys watch them, and it seems like the more stature they have, they watch it some. You could tell he caught himself. I don’t know that I wouldn’t admire it for a second, too. But you could see, he ran hard around the bases, and it wasn’t like it took him a half hour to run around the bases. I think they also understand over there this is a guy that’s learning a lot here at the big-league level. I don’t foresee that being a problem.

Well, after Cespedes struck out against Felix Hernandez in the first, he was hit by a pitch that brushed his shoulder on a 1-0 count in the fourth with two runners on base. The base runners would normally signal the question, Did he really mean to board another, then? But with a 7-0 lead at the time, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

Cespedes batting fifth in Oakland debut

Nevermind the pitching-friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum. Yoenis Cespedes, gradually acclimating to his new digs, says if he hits the ball well, “the ball’s gone.”

The A’s newest outfielder is more concerned about a different aspect of his big home: the weather. When asked about the cold conditions in the Bay Area, Cespedes smiled and told reporters through translator Ariel Prieto he’s going to try to “fix it.”

“He’s going to try to do something about it,” Prieto said, laughing.

Cespedes appears capable of many things, but controlling the temperature likely isn’t one of them. In the meantime, he’ll focus on what he can manage, like working his way up in the lineup. On Friday, for the club’s home opener and his first regular-season game in Oakland, Cespedes was spotted in the fifth spot of the order after batting seventh and sixth, respectively, in the two-game Opening Series in Japan last week.

“I’ve said all along, we expect him to be a middle-of-the-order bat,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s got tremendous power. He’s got the ability to drive in runs. We’re not trying to put too much on his plate. He’s got enough going on, but at some point in time we’ll sneak him up there and maybe inching him up day by day or game by game, he won’t notice when he’s in the four hole one day.”

Either way, it likely wouldn’t phase the right-handed hitter, who entered the day as one of only two batters — Cliff Pennington being the other — who has hit safely in each of the first two games.

“I feel a lot better, really relaxed,” Cespedes said.

The 26-year-old Cuban defector relayed feelings of “great and happy at the same time” when speaking of his Oakland debut and said he hopes the fans “support me in the good times and bad times.”

“I’m going to try to look for good pitches and make good contact,” he said. “No matter how I hit the ball, if I find the ball I’m looking for, if I hit it and if it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The spacious outfield, meanwhile, shouldn’t prove too heavy a task for the speedster, who has been relying on left fielder Coco Crisp for some insight into the park’s characteristics. Right fielder Josh Reddick, also new to Oakland, believes Cespedes is acclimating just fine and jokingly called him a “ball hog.”

“I guess that’s a good thing, right?” Reddick said. “He’s definitely taking charge out there, and that’s what you want out of your center fielder. You just have to learn to know where he’s out and get out of his way, because he’s a little bit bigger than I am, so I don’t want to be running into him.”

——-

The full lineup for tonight’s home opener: Weeks 2B, Crisp LF, Reddick RF, Gomes DH, Cespedes CF, Suzuki C, Donaldson 3B, Ka’aihue 1B, Pennington SS

And for the Mariners: Figgins LF, Ackley 2B, Ichiro RF, Smoak 1B, Montero DH, Seager 3B, Olivo C, Saunders CF, Ryan SS

Melvin pointed to Reddick’s consistency when discussing his decision to hit him third. Last year, while with Boston, Reddick never hit higher than fifth, but when I talked with him about the move today, he said he almost treats the two spots the same. It’s the fourth hole, he said, that adds a little too much pressure for him to hit the long ball. While batting third, he can just worry about putting the ball in play enough for tablesetters Jemile Weeks and Coco Crisp to get around the bases.

Reddick’s positioning forced Melvin to place Pennington all the way down in the ninth spot – a move, he said, that not necessarily reflects Pennington but, rather, Reddick. He likes having Pennington batting next to fellow speedsters Weeks and Crisp.

…Like we saw against Seattle lefty Jason Vargas last week, it’s Jonny Gomes getting the nod at DH tonight. Expect him to see the majority of action vs. southpaws, with Seth Smith likely reserved for the right-handers.

…On the mound, it’s Brandon McCarthy again, with Bartolo Colon set for tomorrow’s start. McCarthy pitched 7 innings in his first start, and Colon went 8, marking the first time since 1991 the A’s had their starters pitch at least 7 frames in each of the first two games.

…One final note: Seven A’s players (Balfour, Blevins, Crisp, Fuentes, McCarthy, Pennington, Suzuki) returned from last year’s Opening Day roster. Those are the fewest returning players from a previous OD roster since OD rosters were first available in 1992.

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