Less than 24 hours after Brian Fuentes blew a save opportunity by surrendering a walk-off, three-run homer to Josh Willingham in a 3-2 A’s loss, their seventh straight, manager Bob Melvin assured reporters he still has confidence in the veteran. Fans have been eager to see righty Ryan Cook slide into the ninth-inning role, but I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. Fuentes, who took over for Grant Balfour earlier in the month, is still the closer, and the A’s seem to like Cook in the eighth, anyway.
“That’s his first blown save,” Melvin said. “He feels worse about it than anyone here, so I know he’s itching to get back on the mound and get another opportunity to do it. Really, you’re trying to show confidence in him to get him back out there. I think you certainly don’t overreact over one blown save. Now, because of the fact that we lost a few games in a row, there’s a bit more magnitude to it, but he’s our option in that role right now.”
In other news, it’s just a scheduled day off for Brandon Inge, who will be back in the lineup for Friday’s series opener in Kansas City.
On the A’s site today:
Heartbreaking silence filled the visitors’ clubhouse at Target Field on Tuesday night.
For several minutes, Brian Fuentes was the only one in sight. His last pitch of the game wasn’t.
The A’s closer took the blame for his club’s seventh straight loss, after surrendering a three-run, walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth inning to former teammate Josh Willingham, whose blast dealt Oakland a painful 3-2 defeat.
After, Fuentes talked of the 1-0 fastball he wished to take back.
“It’s not where I’m trying to put it,” he said. “Just up and down the middle. If I go in with a lead late, it’s my job to get it done. I wasn’t able to do that today, so it stinks.”
“He’s one out away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Not much else to say. One pitch away from ending the game, and he ends up giving up a home run. So I know nobody is more frustrating than he is about it.”
Frustration is running rampant through Melvin’s clubhouse in a stretch reminiscent of the one had last year, when the A’s dropped 10 straight from May 30 to June 9, with nine of those games coming under the helm of Bob Geren, before Melvin arrived.
And much of the issues that plagued the 2011 club are haunting the newest version of the green and gold. Last year, the A’s averaged just three runs during the 10-game skid. Through the seven consecutive losses this season, they’ve plated just 12.
“Overall, it’s been tough,” Fuentes said. “It seems like when we pitch we don’t score. And when we score we don’t pitch. It’s just what happens when things aren’t going good. What can you do? Pitch better. Hit better.”
The latter hasn’t been a specialty of the A’s all year. They’re hitting a Major League-worst .212, and on Tuesday could have used some help from the game’s hero, who hit 29 home runs with 98 RBIs last year for the A’s, before garnering free agency when the club refused to offer him a multi-year contract. Willingham has already hit nine out this year, and his 32 RBIs lead the Twins.
“Any time you can come back late is great,” Willingham said. “I go up there to have a good at-bat and try to hit the ball hard somewhere. I’ve tried to hit home runs before and it doesn’t work out. I was trying to keep it simple and get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it and that’s what happened.”
It followed a stretch of frustrating events for the A’s, who put the leadoff batter on base in each of the first four innings against righty Cole De Vries — he walked five and hit a batter in the first three — without scoring. Two were wiped away by double plays, just one day after the club had compiled four of them in a loss.
The seventh, though, brought about different results. With Twins reliever Jeff Manship on the mound, Kurt Suzuki reached on a leadoff single, advancing to second on Coco Crisp’s sacrifice bunt. Cliff Pennington’s ensuing infield popup off southpaw Brian Duensing resulted in the second out, but Jemile Weeks kept the inning alive with a base hit, before Cowgill plated the first run of the game.
Crisp’s RBI single in the eighth made a pregame decision by manager Bob Melvin look like a good one, as the skipper slid his slumping outfielder, normally stationed in the second slot, down to the eighth spot in the batting order. Crisp proceeded to go 2-for-2 with the sacrifice bunt and a walk.
“I’m sure he’s feeling a lot of confidence coming off of that,” Melvin said.
Youngster Jarrod Parker, meanwhile, gave the A’s six scoreless innings despite walking four. The A’s right-hander surrendered just five hits and fanned five, all the while lowering his ERA to 2.88 through seven starts, all but one in which he’s offered up two runs or less.
Parker has received little run support in several of those outings, as was the case this time around, yet he was the one who offered a positive in the midst of a disappointing atmosphere Tuesday night.
“We’re in every game,” the pitcher said. “Obviously we don’t want to lose, we want to win. We’re battling day in and day out. I think it’s something where we’re just a tick away and it’s going to click. It could be tomorrow, it could be the next day. It’s just a matter of time.”
Added Melvin: “They fight. The effort is there every single day. It’s disappointing, frustrating, the whole bit to be where we are right now. You just gotta keep plugging. This is just a tough one to swallow.”
A’s assistant general manager David Forst discusses Manny, Cespedes and sluggish offense:
[On timetable for Manny's A's debut]
“It really is day-to-day. There is really no other way to describe it. We’ve gone and seen him the last two nights. Bob [Melvin] has been in touch with [Sacramento manager] Darren Bush every night after their game, and I think we just want to make sure that we feel and that Manny feels he is 100 percent ready before we pull the trigger on this move. I don’t have any time frame. As soon as we think he’s ready, we’ll make that move.”
[On Manny's progression]
“He had a good game yesterday, hit the ball hard a couple of times. I don’t think we have any sort of goals, necessarily, in terms of performance or at-bats. I think we have seen him make progress, and we need to make sure that it’s at the point where everyone feels he’s Major League-ready. There’s no number in mind for at-bats or hits. Once we make the move, we want him to be here to stay and to be able to contribute every day. We want to be 100 percent sure of it.”
[On balancing Manny's readiness and team's offensive needs]
“I think we’re trying not to make a short-term decision here. Obviously we would like to improve the Major League offense, but we’re not even 50 games in. There’s still four months to play. We’re trying to make a long-term decision here for the team and not just rush into this because we’d like to score a couple of extra runs tonight or tomorrow. Obviously it’s part of the decision, but we want Manny to be here to stay once he gets here.”
[On Cespedes playing left field in Sacramento on Monday]
“We’re keeping our options open. Coco can play left and center. With the mix of outfielders that we have and the roster that we have, it’s easier on Bob if everyone can do a couple of things. Reddick can play center and right. It’s nothing beyond wanting to keep our options open as far as the roster construction is concerned.”
[On plan for outfield when Cespedes returns]
“[Melvin] will put the best team out there to try to win every day. When Cespedes gets back, then we’ll figure out where he goes.”
[On club's offensive struggles]
“We’ve swung the bats better than our offensive numbers suggest. At the same time, we haven’t won as many games as we probably should with our pitching and defense. I think we know there are guys on the team who are going to perform better than they have. That being said, it was nice getting Inge back, it will be nice to get Yoenis back and, hopefully at some point, it will be nice to put Manny in there. I think we’re all aware we could use some of those guys back.”
A’s fans can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that Yoenis Cespedes is back to hitting home runs without pain.
Cespedes proved that much during batting practice Saturday in his first session since going on the disabled list May 12 with a strained muscle in his left hand. He’s slated to hit again with the team on Sunday before potentially embarking on a short rehab stint in the Minor Leagues on Monday.
“My guess is he’ll need a few at-bats,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Cespedes believes he won’t need more than two games before being ready to join the A’s on their six-game road swing through Minnesota and Kansas City that begins Monday. They’ll likely come with Triple-A Sacramento.
“For me, I haven’t seen live pitching for a long time, so those games are going to mostly be about seeing pitching,” he said. “Maybe four, five, six at-bats — depends on how I feel.”
Cespedes used a new bat on Saturday, one that is tapered to help him make a grip adjustment to prevent further harm to his hand. He knows a successful change can’t happen overnight, so he’ll initially use the new bats just during batting practice, before introducing them to game action.
Cespedes is eager to return.
“For me, for my team, for my family, it will be nice to see this nightmare over,” he said.
Less shy, more aggressive.
That’s the plate approach the A’s are trying to preach to a normally patient Daric Barton, and it appears the work with hitting coach Chili Davis is paying off. Barton entered Saturday batting .559 (5-for-9) with two doubles when swinging at the first pitch, compared to a 3-for-38 showing with a count featuring at least two strikes.
“That’s what Chili is all about,” manager Bob Melvin said. “You go up there aggressive, get ahead in the count, get a pitch to drive, they don’t give it to you, you move on. But you don’t go up looking for a walk. If the first pitch is there, and it’s a first-pitch fastball and you can do something with it, have at it. We want them to be aggressive, everybody.”
Barton has five hits in his past 13 at-bats, hitting safely in each of the last four games after going 1-for-20 over his previous six contests. Perhaps not coincidentally, he’s hit his stride just as he’s begun gaining back his everyday role at first base, in part to a hamstring injury that forced Kila Ka’aihue to rest for a few days.
“This is probably the most comfortable I’ve seen him here, both defensively and offensively,” Melvin said. “I think we’re starting to make some strides with him. He’s looking more confident.
“The way he’s always been is a guy that works the count, who is a little less apt to swing early in the count. Now I think you’re starting to see some first-pitch swings. Teams know what he’s doing. If you’re continually taking strike one and getting behind, that makes the road a little tougher, as far as the at-bat. If he shows them he can swing early in the count, maybe that makes them pitch him a little bit differently.”
Count three men down for the A’s.
Brandon Inge became the latest member of the club to hit the 15-day disabled list, joining fellow regulars Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes on the sidelines with a strained right groin.
The move, which led to the promotion of infielder Adam Rosales, is retroactive to Sunday, meaning Inge is eligible to rejoin the team May 28 in Oakland, two days before Manny Ramirez’s scheduled arrival. Crisp (inner ear infection) and Cespedes (left hand) are also expected back by then, with Inge saying, “It’s just a little calm before the storm maybe.”
“That would be the glass-half full version of it,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This is the time for the role players to do their thing, hold down the fort, and we do have some impact bats coming back soon.”
This marks the second big-league stint of the season for Rosales, though his first only included one appearance as a defensive replacement in Tokyo. He was batting .277 with two home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games with the River Cats and, after catching a red-eye flight Wednesday night, was immediately inserted into the starting lineup at first base Thursday in Texas.
Melvin said Rosales, who appeared in 32 games at shortstop and four at second base for Sacramento, could also see time at third base, with most of his starts to come against left-handers.
“When you get a call to the Major Leagues, you’ll play anywhere, anytime,” Rosales said. “I’m just glad to be here. I played a lot of shortstop, played third a couple of times. I’ve been bouncing around everywhere, and I’m sure that’s what my role is here.”
“He’s a good defender, wherever he goes,” Melvin said.
Inge’s absence from the lineup follows an eye-popping week in which the veteran tallied four four-RBI games with four home runs — two of them grand slams — in a five-day span. He admitted Thursday morning that going on the DL was the best decision not just for his health but for the team.
“I feel like I never really gave it a chance to rest,” he said. “The only reason I think it wasn’t getting better was because I pushed it, testing it every day and never giving it the chance to heal. It’s not bad, but it’s bad enough to where I couldn’t play on it, so I think if I just let it heal, then I can strengthen it, no problem.
“I feel bad anytime I go on the DL. I can’t stand letting the team down, but at the same time there’s nothing you can do about it. And I’d probably be hurting the team if I tried to go out and play the way I am.”
The A’s officially swapped a righty reliever for a lefty one on Wednesday, bringing in Travis Blackley and optioning Andrew Carignan to Triple-A Sacramento.
Blackley, whom the A’s claimed off waivers from the Giants on Tuesday, gives the A’s five southpaws in their bullpen. Though a rarity to have so many lefties in stock, this is nothing new for Oakland, who at one point last season also employed five.
“At some point in time you just use your best pitchers that you feel you have at the time,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s always going to be some trial and error, and that’s just where we are right now.”
Blackley, who has made more starts (8) than relief appearances (4) in the big leagues, represents a true length option, as Melvin also noted.
“Length is length, and I think Travis gives us, at this point, the most length, coming from a natural starter who can give you more than two innings,” he said of the Aussie. “This is a guy who could really give you four or five innings if you need it.”
Carignan was just five days into his second stint with the A’s this season before being demoted. The right-hander appeared in two games over that span, allowing two runs on two hits with three walks in two innings.
The A’s, who have kept mum on Manny Ramirez for the most part until now, just put out a release confirming he will begin a 10-day stint with Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday. For fans interested in seeing him play in Sacramento, the River Cats will be back home May 25.
In the release:
“In advance of being activated from his 50-game suspension, designated hitter/outfielder Manny Ramirez will play 10 minor league games with Triple-A Sacramento, joining the RiverCats in Albuquerque, N.M. this Saturday, May 19. … Barring any rainouts, Ramirez is scheduled to play his first game with the A’s May 30 in Minnesota.”
So it appears the A’s won’t waste any time in bringing him aboard, which should make for an interesting roster decision, considering they already have veteran DH options in Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes. May 30 marks Ramirez’s 40th birthday.
A’s right-hander Brandon McCarthy came out of his Thursday bullpen session pain-free, putting him in the clear for his scheduled Saturday start against the Tigers.
Concern surfaced Tuesday, when McCarthy was scratched from his start because of soreness in his throwing shoulder, which has landed the pitcher on the disabled list in four of the past five seasons. And while Saturday’s outing will truly dictate where he stands, McCarthy called Thursday’s session “a little bit of a relief, considering how the week started.”
“I didn’t feel anything today,” he said. “I felt fine, and it’s really not a concern at this point. I wasn’t mentally hung up, wasn’t worried about it. I pretty much knew what to expect, and unless something unexpected happened, I wasn’t going to be surprised. It went the way I wanted it to, and it just leaves me perfectly on course for Saturday.
“I know these next couple of starts will be big for me, to see where it’s at and if it is coming on. But the way it feels right now, there’s nothing that should stop me.”
The A’s hope not. McCarthy, pitching from the No. 1 spot, has been extremely consistent this year, allowing no more than two earned runs in six of his seven starts. He’s pitched into the seventh inning in five of them, all the while compiling an overall ERA of 2.96.
McCarthy will be pitching on nine days’ rest come Saturday, and when asked if he believed if the extra time off might affect him, he replied, “Postgame Saturday, we’ll find out.”
McCarthy also reiterated that the pain he experienced after his last start in Boston “wasn’t even pain.”
“You know when you get a tickle in your throat before you’re sick and you’re trying to convince yourself you’re not sick and two hours later you’re sick?” he said. “It’s like that, where it’s not the actual sickness. You just feel something that feels different, and every time I’ve felt that, it’s gone into that. But I’ve never been proactive with it before, so it might be possible to get around it this time.
“Everything I do is based around staying healthy, staying strong. There’s not much more I can do.”
An update on Yoenis Cespedes:
Cespedes said Thursday afternoon his left hand felt “better than yesterday,” and it appears the outfielder could potentially return to the lineup as soon as Friday.
Cespedes, who on Wednesday was diagnosed with a muscle strain in the back of his hand, hit off the tee and took part in a round of soft toss Thursday, but the real test was to come following batting practice, when he was scheduled to see live action in the inside cages.
How he fares swinging the bat in there should help determine his closeness to game action. Either way, Melvin said he wouldn’t be afraid to use Cespedes as a pinch-hitter Thursday but would prefer to avoid utilizing him defensively.
The A’s breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday afternoon, after hearing there is no break to Yoenis Cespedes’ left hand.
An X-ray showed that the rookie outfielder suffered a strained muscle to the back of his hand, ruling out the possibility of an extended absence and instead leading the A’s to list him as day-to-day.
“No breaks — good news,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Added Cespedes: “I’m happy because it’s good news.”
Cespedes will attempt to swing a bat on Thursday. Melvin is not ruling him out of the team’s series opener against the Tigers, saying if he’s not in the lineup Thursday, “maybe the next day.”
Cespedes said the injury surfaced last week while the team was in Boston but, at the time, proved wasn’t of much concern. It was on Tuesday, before he was a late scratch from the A’s lineup, when the soreness peaked during batting practice.
New teammate Brandon Inge called Wednesday’s news “peace of mind for the entire team.”
“You don’t want to lose a bat like that in the lineup,” he said of Cespedes, who has five home runs and 21 RBIs.