June 2012

Newly promoted Norris to share playing time with Suzuki

Half of the goods acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade are officially in Oakland now, with Thursday’s arrival of catcher Derek Norris coming much sooner than expected.

Norris, 23, was called up from Triple-A Sacramento and immediately inserted into the lineup to make his big league debut against the Dodgers, marking the beginning of what could be a tandem catching situation as struggling regular Kurt Suzuki garners some much-needed rest.

Norris, quickly considered the heir apparent to Suzuki after being traded to the A’s alongside Tommy Milone and Minor League pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole in the deal that sent Gonzalez to Washington, was batting .273 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in his first year at the Triple-A level. Suzuki, meanwhile, is hitting just .215 with zero home runs and 16 RBIs through 60 games.

“I probably ran Kurt down a little more than I should,” Melvin said. “I think that probably plays into some of the offensive woes he’s having right now. He would probably never admit to that, but this is our best option. Make no mistake, with him here, he’s going to play some. They’re both going to play. It’s going to give me an opportunity to rest Kurt more, and we feel like we have two very good options and a great tandem at this point.

“The catcher of the present and the guy that’s potentially your catcher of the future have to coexist together. It’s different, but we feel like as an organization we’re best suited doing it this way at this point.”

The timing of the move, which sent Josh Donaldson to Triple-A, is reminiscent of the one that occurred in 2007, when Suzuki made his Oakland debut June 12 and spent five weeks as Jason Kendall’s backup, before starting 56 of the final 70 games at catcher following the trade of Kendall to the Cubs on July 16.

Suzuki, who is slated to make $6.45 million next season in the final year of a four-year contract that also includes a club option worth $8.5 million, could potentially be a trade option for the A’s as July 31’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline nears. Such a possibility, which could be affected by Suzuki’s hitting woes, also hinges on Norris’ production in the coming weeks. It was just last June when Jemile Weeks took over second base for an injured Mark Ellis, turning a temporary situation into a permanent one with his play and forcing the A’s to trade Ellis.

Melvin, though, insisted Wednesday that Norris’ presence is in no way about creating trade bait.

“Suzuki and I were talking about when he came up when Kendall was here,” he said. “Now this is a different situation. Kendall left shortly thereafter. That’s not something we’re looking to do.”

“I’m here, and I want to win here,” Suzuki said. “I’m looking to get back on track. I feel like I’m one of the better catchers in the game. Obviously I’m not hitting the way I want to, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”

The A’s catcher hasn’t hit above since .250 since 2009, when he compiled a .274 average to go along with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. In 2010, he hit just .242 and, last year, posted a career-low .237 mark. Yet since his first full season in 2008, he’s tallied 573 starts — most among all Major League catchers — and has deservingly garnered an admirable reputation with his pitching staff.

In that regard, Melvin holds an equal amount of respect for Suzuki as do his battery mates.

“Kurt’s about winning,” the A’s skipper said. “He’s about the Oakland A’s winning. You don’t get many guys like that that are all about the team. He doesn’t worry about stats. What he worries about is the win-loss record, first and foremost, and handling the pitching staff. If this makes us better and gives us the opportunity to rest him a little bit more, then he’s all for it.”

Suzuki will play in Friday’s series opener against the Giants, and Melvin will make ensuing lineup decisions on a day-to-day basis.

For Norris, the chance to jump right into action was exhilarating. His mother, Jacque, was in the stands for her son’s debut.

“As much as it’d be nice to get out there and see the game, see how it’s done, this is what I’ve always dreamed of doing,” he said. “Get out there and do my best to put together a good game and try to win some ballgames.”

“For anybody, when you get here, it’s accepting yourself as a big leaguer and knowing you belong,” Melvin said. “He’s a tough kid. Out of Spring Training, you could tell everything we threw at him he handled beautifully. I think there’s a shorter learning curve with a guy like that who’s a tough kid and believes in himself. I don’t think there’s any fear in him coming to the big league level.”

Norris was told of the promotion by Sacramento manager Darren Bush on Tuesday night, but not before tricked into thinking he was going to be making an appearance in Oakland as a mascot.

“I asked him, ‘Really? I have to go do it?’ he said. “And then they finally told me I was being called up.

“Just trying to focus on my breathing right now, trying to not let it get too bad. This is what I’ve dreamt of my whole life, and I’m here, and not much else I can do but go out and try to play my game.”

McCarthy sent home with shoulder soreness

DENVER — Another bout of right shoulder soreness has sidelined A’s starter Brandon McCarthy, who has been scratched from his scheduled Wednesday start and sent back to the Bay Area for an MRI.

McCarthy, 28, has missed time with the same injury on three separate occasions this season, and the most recent could potentially call for a second disabled list stint. Moreover, the soreness in his scapula has surfaced in four of the past five seasons, including last year when he was out for six weeks.

“Pretty similar to what we’ve seen in the past, so we sent him home for an MRI and so forth, and we’ll see how that goes,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s always kind of the same thing. He knows himself pretty well when it’s sore and was experiencing that the last couple of days. We try to be proactive here and try to keep him healthy.”

Because of Monday’s off-day, the A’s are able to push up Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker in the rotation, with the southpaw going Wednesday and the right-hander Thursday in Denver.

In 11 starts this season, McCarthy is 5-3 with a 2.79 ERA. His place in the rotation, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, is likely to be filled by either Graham Godfrey or Tyson Ross, with Brad Peacock also an option.

Godfrey has been dominant at the Triple-A level, going 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in eight starts with the River Cats, compared to an 0-4 ledger and 6.43 ERA in five games — four starts — with the A’s. Ross, meanwhile, has fared well at Sacramento since being demoted by Oakland, posting a 2.45 ERA with 11 strikeouts next to five walks in 22 innings spanning four starts.

Cespedes close to action: Yoenis Cespedes was held out of the starting lineup for the fourth straight game on Tuesday, but the A’s outfielder was deemed to be available off the bench as a pinch-hit option for manager Bob Melvin for the first of a three-game series with the Rockies.

Cespedes, who suffered a strain left hamstring on Thursday, could make a return to the starting lineup as early as Wednesday, Melvin added.

“He ran a lot better today,” Melvin said. “He’s definitely an option off the bench today and could be a start here very soon.

“We’re probably a little more careful with a guy as aggressive as he is. He does pretty much everything max effort.”

The A’s, who entered Tuesday having dropped three straight, are 19-16 with Cespedes in the lineup and 7-19 when he doesn’t play.

For now, Melvin says three is better than one

PHOENIX — The Brian Fuentes experiment lasted less than half the time the Grant Balfour one did, and now neither are viewed as the A’s lone closer.

Both are expected to still see ninth-inning action, though, as manager Bob Melvin has decided to move forward with a three-man closer-by-committee approach. Righty Ryan Cook, who has allowed just two runs all season, joins Fuentes and Balfour in the mix.

“I feel like we have three closers now,” Melvin said Saturday. “We’ll do the best we can to match up based on availability, left/right matchups. We’ll do the best we can to get the guys in the right situations. I talked to all three of them.”

The change comes less than 24 hours after Fuentes surrendered his second walk-off homer in as many weeks, the latest resulting in a 9-8 loss to the D-backs that was once a six-run Oakland lead. The left-handed Fuentes, who took over the ninth-inning role on May 13, has surrendered seven runs over his last four outings, forcing Melvin to stray from the one-man closer approach he prefers.

“I do,” he said, “but at this point in time, we’re having a little bit of an issue with that. So, therefore, we’re going to try a different group.”

Cook has been lights out for the A’s, evidenced by his miniscule 0.69 ERA spanning 26 innings. He ranks second among American League relievers in opponents batting average (.085), and his .224 on-base percentage is sixth lowest. The numbers suggest the closer role may suit him best at the moment, but Melvin also acknowledged his value in other innings.

“I considered it, and it’s very likely he could be the guy pitching in the ninth inning, but if there’s one out in the eighth and the bases are loaded, he’s probably my best option, too,” he said of Cook, who appears to also be the A’s most likely All-Star option. “You actually have to get to the ninth inning first.

“I’m open for anything right now. We’re just going to try to get them in the best situations for them and for the team.”

Balfour, meanwhile, has showcased greater consistency his last few visits to the mound, turning in a 1.88 ERA over his last 14 games after allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings with two blown saves over his previous six contests.

—-

A’s claim Farquhar off waivers: The A’s claimed right-handed reliever Danny Farquhar off waivers from the Blue Jays on Saturday and optioned him to Triple-A Sacramento. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, they transferred righty Andrew Carignan (elbow) to the 60-day disabled list.

Farquhar, who had a 2.97 ERA in 20 relief appearances for Double-A New Hampshire at the time of the move, began his career with Toronto but was traded to the A’s with right-hander Trystan Magnuson for Rajai Davis in November 2010. He was then traded back to Toronto for left-handed pitcher David Purcey in April last year after appearing in four games for Sacramento.

Cespedes out of lineup Friday

PHOENIX — Though injured A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes isn’t likely to make a return to the starting lineup until next week in Denver, manager Bob Melvin is hopeful his cleanup batter may be a pinch-hit option during this weekend’s three-game Interleague series in Phoenix.

Cespedes, who sustained a strained left hamstring in Thursday’s game, took part in limited hitting activities inside on Friday and is expected to join the team on the field for batting practice Saturday. If all goes well, he could potentially come off the bench in the later innings.

“He looked like he was fairly comfortable walking, so I think we’ll know more tomorrow when we get him on the field and get him swinging a bat,” Melvin said.

Both Melvin and Cespedes are still hopeful a disabled list stint won’t be necessary, which is welcome news considering the outfielder was already absent for three weeks with a strained muscle in his left hand. Since his June 1 return, he’s boosted a sluggish A’s offense, hitting .400 with three doubles, one triple and a home run in his last six games. He has six hits in his last six plate appearances.

“You look at how we do offensively, when he’s in the lineup, compared to when he’s not, it’s pretty significant,” Melvin said. “He takes a lot of pressure off other guys in the middle of the order. He’s a true No. 4 hitter for us, and just a terrific athlete.”

Moss, Scribner promoted

Updated: Kila Ka’aihue, who I prematurely assumed was headed to the paternity leave list, has been designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot. The A’s now have 10 days to trade, release or pass him through waivers. Ka’aihue hit .234 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 39 games but was batting just .154 over his last 16 games. And Andrew Carignan, hurt last night, goes on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.

—–

I’ve just learned that Brandon Moss, who was hitting .286 with 15 home runs for Triple-A Sacramento, has been promoted to Oakland. Moss was told he will play first base, so he’s presumably here for Kila Ka’aihue, who I’m assuming will be placed on the paternity leave list, given the fact his wife was ready to deliver twins any day. Under Major League Baseball’s paternity rules, Ka’aihue is allowed to be away from the team for 24-72 hours.

Also expected up from Triple-A is right-handed reliever Evan Scribner. Righty Andrew Carignan exited last night’s game with a sore elbow, so it’s safe to assume he’s DL-bound. Scribner, who was with the A’s in Tokyo, has a 3.31 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 32 2/3 relief innings for the River Cats.

Both Moss and Scribner are not on the A’s 40-man roster, which currently has 39 players. That means one will have to be created, and at this point it’s unclear how that will happen.

Melvin: “That was the least of my worries, was getting booed.”

If you assumed Jarrod Parker was headed back out to the mound for the ninth inning if he had a no-hiter intact, think again. Manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday there was “no way” Parker was going out there with 111 pitches to his name. He was prepared for the boos.

Parker ultimately exited after the eighth, having allowed just one hit.

“That was the most miserable couple of innings that you could ever imagine,” Melvin said. “That’s a game I should be over here sitting down and not worrying about anything. After the sixth inning, at 91, I knew I couldn’t let him go nine innings. So I’m not rooting for a hit, but it certainly didn’t break my heart when Michael Young got that hit, because this kid’s too important to us. It was difficult to watch.”

Rangers manager Ron Washington, for one, was on Melvin’s side.

“My mind was in the same place,” he said. “I was in the opposing dugout and saw this kid had thrown a lot of pitches, and it would be tough for him to throw nine innings. “

Parker threw a career-high 112 pitches in his May 13 start and greatly struggled five days later in San Francisco, allowing six runs on four hits and four walks in just two innings. Since, he’s been his old self, allowing one run over his last 21 innings.

“I was in Arizona when they drafted him, and I saw his first couple Minor League games, and he blew me away,” Melvin said. “Then he had the Tommy John surgery and you lose sight of him for a year and the Diamonbacks felt good enough about pitching him one start late in the season and did so well they put him on the playoff roster last year. This is a guy, from the time he was drafted, you look at him and you say, ‘Could this guy be a No. 1?’ You certainly don’t discount that.”

Other pregame tidbits:

  • Cliff Pennington received the day off Tuesday, while Adam Rosales started at shortstop in his stead.
  • Coco Crisp, who sat out his third straight game Tuesday, will be back in the lineup Wednesday, Melvin confirmed. The plan is for Crisp to start in center field, with Yoenis Cespedes again shifting to left field.

A’s pick college catcher Maxwell in second round

With their first choice on the second day of the First-Year Player Draft, the A’s selected Bruce Maxwell, a catcher from Birmingham Southern College, with the 62nd overall pick.

The drafting of Maxwell marks the first college selection for Oakland in this draft, as the organization picked three high schoolers on Monday in the first and compensation rounds.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Maxwell is a bit of an oddity in baseball circles as a left-handed-hitting backstop, but that status hasn’t affected his hitting ability for Division-III Birmingham Southern. The Toney, Ala. native led his team in hitting at .471 and slugging at .928, and collected 15 home runs, 25 doubles and 48 RBIs.

Maxwell was made with a pitch that the A’s received as compensation for losing free agent Josh Willingham to the Twins.

Here are the rest of the team’s picks in the 2nd through 5th rounds on the second day of the draft, which goes through round 30:

Round 2, 74th overall: RHP Nolan Sanburn, University of Arkansas

Sanburn is a hard-throwing, draft-eligible college pitcher. Checking in at a relatively slight 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Sanburn is still able to throw very hard, getting his fastball into the high 90s. He compliments it with a sharp breaking ball that is more of a slurve than anything else.

Though he started some games for the Razorbacks this year, the Kokomo, Ind. native is likely ticketed for the bullpen in his professional career. Sanburn was rated 44th in MLB.com’s Top 100 draft prospects.

Round 3, 106th overall: LHP Kyle Twomey, El Dorado High School, Calif.

Committed to USC, Twomey is a projectable pitcher given his 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame. Twomey went 8-3 with a 0.76 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings pitched.

Twomey throws four pitches, including a 90-91 mph fastball, though his secondary offerings still require some work. He worked on adding a cutter to his repertoire this season.

Round 4, 139th overall: OF BJ Boyd, Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, Calif.

A two-sport athlete, Boyd likely could have earned a football scholarship as a running back if he so desired, but has stated his desire to play baseball and concentrated mostly on that sport.

Boyd isn’t a very powerful hitter but is extremely athletic. The left-handed-hitter hit .507 this season for Palo Alto.

Round 5, 169th overall: 1B Max Muncy, Baylor University

A 41st-round pick out of high school in 2009 by the Indians, Muncy elected to go to Baylor where’s had a solid three-year career. This season, Muncy hit .313 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs.

The question for Muncy is whether his power will translate to the pros, but if it doesn’t, he is athletic enough to possibly move to a different position.

A’s go with high school shortstop in first round

With the 11th overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the A’s strayed from the college pool and plucked prep infielder Addison Russell out of Florida’s Pace High School.

The first-round high school selection marked Oakland’s first since 2001, when the organization drafted pitcher Jeremy Bonderman.

Russell, a shortstop who may actually project as a Major League third baseman, boasts impressive arm strength and athleticism — tools that also make him an option in the outfield — and also carries above-average bat speed and tremendous power potential.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound infielder, who is already committed to Auburn and is advised by super agent Scott Boras, represents the second shortstop taken by the A’s in the first round in the last four years, with Grant Green — since turned into an outfielder — being selected 13th overall in 2009.

The interest in Russell shows the A’s are clearly not afraid to take their time developing a young offensive bat. He is said to show plus bat speed and flashes big power to the middle of the field, batting over .500 in each of first three high school seasons and most recently posting a .368 average and .532 on-base percentage with seven homers as a senior.

The A’s will make two more picks Monday night. The 34th overall selection is compensation for Josh Willingham, a modified Type-A free agent who ultimately signed with the Twins in the offseason. They’ll also take the 47th pick as compensation for Type-B free agent David DeJesus, who landed with the Cubs.

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