June 2012

Melvin: No plan to move Cespedes from left field

ARLINGTON — A seemingly misplayed ball in left field by Yoenis Cespedes that led to an A’s loss Friday in Texas isn’t reason to consider moving the rookie back to his regular center field spot, manager Bob Melvin said Saturday.

Melvin, in fact, didn’t exactly confirm the ball — hit off the bat of Craig Gentry with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning — was even catchable after watching video of the play, though others in the clubhouse said otherwise. Cespedes came in on the ball before racing back and watching it fly over his head.

“As he said, he came in,” Melvin said. “His first instinct was to come in. We had him a little bit shallower than we normally do in that situation, based on the fact we had the go-ahead run at second base. So I agree with the fact that maybe he doesn’t get it.”

After Friday’s game, when asked what type of read he got on the ball, Cespedes replied, “I didn’t do it the right way, but even if I read the ball well, I had no chance to catch it.”

He also said, “Maybe if I played left field all the time in my life before, maybe that’s not going to happen.”

Cespedes is a natural center fielder and has limited experience elsewhere, though the A’s felt comfortable moving him to left to accommodate Coco Crisp when he was reinstated from the disabled list at the beginning of the month.

Melvin said he has no plans of flip-flopping them again.

“I don’t even want to go down that road,” he said. “This is where we are right now. Anything’s possible in the game, but I don’t want to open this up and say the possibility is for him to go back to center field. This is the way we’re going to play it.

“We do know that there’s going to be a learning curve with him in left field. It’s not that easy to go from center field out to left field and just feel comfortable. There’s going to be some plays that may have some tougher reads, but we feel like all things considered, he’s got a chance to be a nice weapon for us in there, cutting runs off at the plate and keeping guys from going second to third and certainly third to home. It’ll be a work in progress, but he continues to work, and you’re going to have some plays like that from time to time.”

Cespedes, who was sidelined by a hamstring injury for much of the month, was back at designated hitter for Saturday’s contest, and Melvin said he’ll likely continue rotating him between there and left field on an every-other-day basis at least through the break.

“I’m not going to run him out four, five days in a row yet,” he said. “After the break we’ll probably feel more comfortable running him out there every day.”

Melvin said Bartolo Colon’s bullpen session went “very well” on Saturday, so it appears that as long as he comes to the park feeling good Sunday, he’ll be on track to start Tuesday, when he’s eligible to come off the DL. … Brandon Hicks received his second straight start at shortstop in Cliff Pennington’s stead. Melvin said Hicks is here to hit against left-handers, and he also applauded his middle infield talent. … After hitting a home run in his season debut with the A’s, Chris Carter was back in the lineup Saturday, batting sixth and playing first base.

Melvin on Fuentes: “He’s OK. He wants to pitch.”

Much has been made of Brian Fuentes’ struggles this season. Now the focus has turned the struggles Bob Melvin has faced when deciding when to use him. Fuentes hasn’t been used at all since Saturday, and even that appearance followed a stretch of nine consecutive games without one — though the lefty was slowed by a slow ankle for a few days of that.

Melvin has said he’d like to find a non-pressure inning for Fuentes, as I wrote yesterday. But that wasn’t an option in Thursday’s game in Texas, when the skipper used four other relievers (Jim Miller, Jordan Norberto, Evan Scribner, Sean Doolittle) over Fuentes, whose 6.85 ERA is highest among American League relievers.

Had Doolittle walked Adrian Beltre with two outs in the eighth inning to load the bases in a one-run game, Melvin said he would have turned to Fuentes, given Doolittle was already past the 30-pitch mark. But Doolittle struck out the Rangers’ third baseman following a nine-pitch at-bat, and Fuentes was, again, never seen in the game.

“I’m trying to get him in there,” Melvin said. “I’ll take a lot of the blame on that. He was out for five days and I just haven’t been able to find the right spot for him.

“I try to stay communicative. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, because he wants to get in there and he’s used to pitching. But he knew after the stretch with the ankle that I was going to try to find an inning for him that was more of a soft landing, so to speak. We played eight games in a row here where it’s gone down to the last pitch, so it’s been difficult to find that.”

When asked how Fuentes has handled the ordeal, Melvin replied,  “He’s OK. He wants to pitch. No doubt about that.”

At this point, it appears the club would like to move Fuentes before the Trade Deadline, but it’s safe to say teams are going to be more interested in Grant Balfour’s services, though they come at a higher price.

Ross’ struggles lead him back to Sacramento

ARLINGTON — Right-hander Tyson Ross was on the move again Friday, this time back to Triple-A Sacramento following a brief third stint with the A’s.

Ross was optioned less than 24 hours after he was handed the loss in Thursday’s 7-6 defeat to the Rangers, who tagged the right-hander for five runs on eight hits in just four-plus innings. The A’s called up first baseman Chris Carter to take his roster spot, allowing Melvin to keep a taxed eight-man bullpen on hand for the remaining three games in Texas.

In 12 starts with the A’s, Ross is 2-8 with a 6.35 ERA and nearly as many walks allowed (30) as strikeouts garnered (35) in 62 1/3 innings. Left-handers were batting .354 off him, and his .277 opponents average against right-handers wasn’t encouraging either.

“He needs to get deeper in games,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He needs to find a secondary pitch that’s a bit slower, we believe. His fastball velocity, if it’s 92, 93, and his slider is 87, 88, that’s probably not a big enough gap for a starter. But I think his slider was better in the times we saw him here recently. Sometimes his rhythm can be a little bit off, and therefore teams will run on him a little too much.”

With Ross back in Sacramento, the A’s will need a starter for Tuesday’s home contest against Boston, and the answer may already be in the clubhouse, as Melvin said Bartolo Colon “could be” an option for the start. It marks the day Colon is eligible to be reinstated from the disabled list, and the team is likely to decide on his availability for the outing after his bullpen Saturday.

Right-hander Graham Godfrey, currently stationed in Sacramento, has posted similar numbers with the A’s as Ross in five appearances (four starts) this season, going 0-4 with a 6.43 ERA. But he could potentially be back Tuesday, should Oakland keep him from making his scheduled Saturday start.

Carter back up for another shot with A’s

ARLINGTON — Each of Chris Carter’s four stays with Oakland have been a disappointment, but the A’s youngster is hoping the fifth time proves to be the charm.

Carter, once considered the club’s top prospect, was called up on Friday in Texas to make his season debut with the A’s, following two separate stints in each of the last two seasons. He started at first base against Rangers lefty Matt Harrison, batting seventh, and will platoon with Brandon Moss — hitting just .125 over his past seven games — at the position going forward.

It would seemingly serve the A’s well to give Carter a lengthy look at the plate, in order to decide where he fits into the organization’s future plans. The 25-year-old has played in parts of eight Minor League seasons, collecting a combined .283 average, .378 on-base percentage and .913 OPS, yet in his four previous stints with the A’s spanning a total of 39 games, he’s hit just .136 with a .174 OBP.

“I think, like anybody, you make your own opportunities at the big league level,” manager Bob Melvin said. “If you come in, you knock the door down and force us to put you into the lineup, I think that’s what everyone aspires to do at the big leagues. It just hasn’t happened for him yet up to this point.”

“That’s always the thought process,” Carter said. “I know what to expect now. I don’t have any excuses.”

Most recently, Carter was batting .279 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in 72 games with Sacramento. He appeared in 47 games at first base and, more recently, made several starts at designated hitter while splitting time in the field with former big league regular Daric Barton, who’s hitting .253 for the River Cats.

“I’ve been coming along a lot better now,” Carter said. “I went through some struggles a few weeks ago but came out of it and have been feeling good lately. Before, I was swinging at everything again, which I know I can’t do.

“It’s always nice to be back. I’ve been waiting for this moment all season, and I’m ready for it.”

Manager Bob Melvin noted Carter has made small adjustments at the plate since he was last in Oakland, making better use of the lower half of his body. Yet Melvin also noted the bigger change for Carter in the big leagues will likely have to be a mental one.

“I think the physical attributes are all there,” Melvin said. “You watch him take batting practice and you see how far he hits the ball. In spring, we’ve seen him do some good things, too. Just maybe you create a little doubt in your mind at the big league level that you haven’t been able to break through and stay.”

Five straight hits for home runs for A’s

From Elias:

Prior to Coco Crisp’s third-inning single tonight, the A’s had five straight hits that were home runs between yesterday and today (Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes yesterday; Josh Reddick, Derek Norris, Cliff Pennington today).

It is the first time the A’s have had five consecutive hits for home runs since Sept. 22-23, 2001 (Ramon Hernandez, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada on Sept. 22; Jermaine Dye and Greg Myers on Sept. 23) and the fourth time in Oakland history. The record is six straight, June 15-16, 1971.

Entering the 5th inning tonight, the A’s had tallied 17 hits over their last 31 innings, with seven coming for home runs.

Moreover, the A’s now have 74 home runs on the season, after tallying just 50 before the All-Star break last year. Of the 74, 34 have come with two outs, which is fourth most in the American League.

McCarthy not yet throwing; Fuentes throwing, but not in games

ARLINGTON — Right-hander Brandon McCarthy was seen hard at work in the visiting clubhouse in Texas on Thursday — on a crossword puzzle.

The injured A’s pitcher, again sidelined by recurring right shoulder soreness, has yet to resume throwing and won’t until he’s pain-free, a feeling he hasn’t quite reached yet since shutting things down on Saturday.

“You can then usually start working on shoulder exercises and strengthening to kind of get rid of that deficit that’s been created, and then at that point you can get back on a normal schedule and start mapping things out,” McCarthy said. “Right now, you just go a day at a time and kind of gauge it and try to slowly build off it.

“For now, it’s a lot of doing this, sitting around and being bored.”

The 28-year-old right-hander has been troubled by shoulder issues for the last several years, but the problem has been much more acute this season, with McCarthy missing time on three separate occasions — mostly, he says, because of his proactive approach with it.

“I’ve never done it like this where it’s been, miss a start and then make a start and then maybe a quick DL and come off and go through the cycle again,” he said. “Usually I’ve kept going until it’s really hurt, and then it’s a big shutdown. This year, it’s trying to find ways to swim around it, which going forward is probably not something I’ll do again, but it was just about trying a different attack to it this year.

“I think more rest, and hopefully I avoid this process again. It’s a whole lot of guesswork at this point.”

In McCarthy’s absence, along with the rotation hole left by the injured Bartolo Colon, Oakland’s young starting staff has been remarkable. A’s starters entered the day 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA and .157 opponents average over the last 13 games.

And while that work has gone unnoticed by most in the game, McCarthy has been paying plenty attention.

“It’s unbelievable, especially considering the youth,” he said. “This isn’t the five that came out of Spring Training. Everybody is throwing unbelievably well, and they’re doing all the things you want to see from a really veteraned staff — lots of strikes, not walking guys, putting guys away when they need to, keeping the ball on the ground, keeping the ball in the yard. If you saw this coming from a Yankees staff or Red Sox staff, it’s what you’d expect. It’s really outstanding to see and not easy to do.”

Lefty Brian Fuentes has made just two appearances in two weeks, and he’s seemingly out of the late-inning mix — at least for now.

Initially slowed by an ankle injury in the middle of the month, Fuentes didn’t pitch in nine consecutive games, before allowing three runs in just 1/3 of an inning of work on Saturday against the Giants. He hasn’t pitched since.

“I’d like to get him a nice, clean inning, where I don’t have to put him in a tough position, since he hasn’t pitched a lot,” manager Bob Melvin said Thursday. “He did have the ankle injury. It’s probably asking a bit much of him right now to bring him in a game in the eighth inning with the tying or winning run on. I’d like to get him a softer landing to get him going again, but in this ballpark, you tend to use the bullpen a bit more.”

It was less than a month ago when Fuentes was anointed the team’s closer, a role he only held for a couple of weeks before continual struggles led to Melvin going with a three-man, closer-by-committee approach. But Ryan Cook has received the majority of ninth-inning action since that time, and the All-Star worthy rookie appears to have solidified his full-time place in that role.

Righty Grant Balfour, meanwhile, has not allowed a run over his past 10 games, a stretch that has Melvin again confident in the hurler’s set-up abilities in the eighth. Fuentes could return to a similar role, too, but not before he finds his groove again.

Fuentes, whose name as circulated around trade rumors, entered Thursday with a 6.85 ERA, highest among all American League relievers.

“I’d certainly like to get him in games more frequently,” Melvin said. “We just had a stretch there where he wasn’t in games, and it’s kind of snowballed a bit.”

Bartolo Colon threw off the mound Thursday in Texas for the first time since suffering a right oblique strain, and Melvin said the veteran came out of the session well.

“Hopefully we can get him a start sooner than later,” he said. “He’s on target or maybe ahead of it. Whether or not he pitches before the break, we’re not sure yet.”

Colon to throw off mound Thursday

SEATTLE — Though oblique injuries normally lead to an extended absence for athletes, A’s hurler Bartolo Colon is working against those odds and progressing at an encouraging rate.

The right-hander suffered the injury to his right oblique less than two weeks ago, yet manager Bob Melvin reported Wednesday that Colon is already scheduled to throw a bullpen on Thursday in Texas. He’s eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday.

“After he had the injury, I was surprised to see him coming along as quickly as he has,” Melvin said. “I really didn’t think at the time he’d have a chance to pitch in a game before the All-Star break, but there’s a possibility of that.”

The 39-year-old Colon, who has already given the A’s 89 2/3 innings of work this season, was 6-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 15 starts before being sidelined. His injury coincided with righty Brandon McCarthy’s recurring shoulder issues, leaving the A’s two veteraned rotation spots to fill. Yet they’ve managed just fine with fill-ins Tyson Ross and rookie A.J. Griffin, and Oakland starters entered Wednesday having posted a 1.77 ERA and .160 opponents average over the last 12 games.

“It’s good to see,” Melvin said. “Some of the younger guys that we haven’t seen as much, like a Griffin, are doing well. I think it becomes something where they’re pushing each other. One guy sets the bar and has a good game, and the next guy goes out there and tries to better. It kind of becomes a competition amongst pitchers to keep it on a roll.”

• A’s lefty Brett Anderson, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw a 30-pitch bullpen in Seattle on Wednesday, using fastballs and changeups.

“Free and easy,” Melvin said. “Before he had a little bit of a setback, he was getting close to potentially pitching in a game, so we’ll go through this route again. Everything feels good, and obviously we’re going to be careful with him. He’s a guy we’re looking forward to getting back but certainly not one we’re going to rush.”

Anderson’s next bullpen session will come Sunday in Texas.

• Jemile Weeks received the day off Wednesday, with Brandon Hicks getting the start in his stead at second base. Weeks, who was battling some leg soreness in recent weeks, is hitting just .205 over his previous 12 games, but he stole his first base — 11th of the season — in Tuesday’s game, snapping a streak of 35 contests without a steal.

Norris sits after Sunday’s heroic effort

SEATTLE — Rookie Derek Norris’ first career home run, a memorable walk-off shot to beat the Giants on Sunday, wasn’t enough to keep him in the lineup for Monday’s series opener in Seattle, as manager Bob Melvin instead opted to start Kurt Suzuki.

The decision, Melvin explained, was mostly made to accommodate starter Tommy Milone, who has a 3.39 ERA in nine starts when paired with Suzuki. Norris will start Tuesday, with lefty Travis Blackley on the mound, and Melvin said the day’s starter moving forward will likely be dictated by who is on the mound.

“I think, more so now, that will be the case,” he said. “We’ll get them each some time. I think Suzuki’s done a good job with Milone.”

Norris, who started three of the first four games played by the A’s since his callup, is 3-for-12, while Suzuki entered the day batting .216. More recently, he’s hit .190 over his last 24 games, and his slugging percentage (.268) ranks last in the Majors, while his on-base percentage is second lowest.

Yoenis Cespedes made his sixth straight start at DH on Monday, but he’s expected to be back in the outfield Tuesday. … Brett Anderson is with the team on its current seven-game road swing through Seattle and Texas and will throw his second bullpen session on Wednesday.

Where is Brian Fuentes?

Though five runs allowed in nine innings of work for Brian Fuentes over his last five outings could perhaps explain his absence of more than a week, that’s not so much the case.

Fuentes, who was again rested in favor of southpaw Sean Doolittle following Ryan Cook’s ninth-inning fallout in the A’s loss to the Giants, has been slowed by an ankle issue that made him unavailable for a few days.

Fuentes, 36, said he has been 100 percent healthy since Sunday, and Melvin acknowledged as much, explaining that he wants to ease the lefty back into action in a non-pressure situation.

Fuentes last pitched June 14 in Colorado, marking a stretch of eight days (seven games) in which he hasn’t appeared in a game. He has a 5.79 ERA on the season, which ranks third highest among American League relievers.

DH role suits Cespedes well

Any questions about Yoenis Cespedes’ ability in the designated hitter role have been put to rest, and it appears the rookie’s production from the spot could lead to intermittent starts there even when he’s completely healthy.

Still nursing back a strained left hamstring, Cespedes made his third straight start at DH for Friday’s series opener against the Giants, having gone 3-for-8 in his previous two games there, one of those hits being a walk-off, three-run homer in Thursday’s win.

Cespedes appears to be nearing a return to the outfield, but manager Bob Melvin confirmed the slugger won’t completely be stripped of DH duties when he does.

“I think that’s an option with everybody, yeah,” he said. “It allows us to incorporate more guys and rest guys, as the season goes along. We’re coming up to the halfway point, and at this point, guys aren’t always healthy.

“The one thing I was a little bit concerned about was him not DH’ing before, but he seems to be doing OK with that. It gives us the opportunity to make sure he’s 100 percent when he goes back out there.”

Cespedes, who is batting .341 with runners in scoring position, entered Friday ranked second among American League rookies in RBIs (30) and third in home runs (7), doubles (9) and extra-base hits (17).

The A’s, who entered Friday just two games below the .500 mark for the first time since May 25, are eager to even out their record, something they haven’t done since May 22. But Melvin wants to make sure his team knows that’s not the end goal.

“I think, once you’re close to it, you have to set your goals a little higher and say, ‘Can we get past it? Ahead of it?’” he said. “If all you’re looking to do is play .500, typically you’ll get there and kind of stall out. Once you get to .500, you’d like to set a higher standard and get over it. So it would be big for us to get there and try to move forward.”

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