July 2012

A’s let deadline pass without acquiring a shortstop

While their American League West counterparts made notable roster improvements before Tuesday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, the A’s stood pat with a contingent that has utilized a 34-16 record since June 2 to make a run at the playoffs.

Oakland’s lone acquisition during trade season proved to be catcher George Kottaras, who made his A’s debut Tuesday against the Rays.

But the A’s attempts at landing a shortstop were unsuccessful, a nod to their unwillingness to part with their top prospects — notably strikeout machine Dan Straily, whom the club did not want to move. Straily could have potentially helped land them someone like infielder Chase Headley. But he, too, stayed put, with Padres general manger Josh Byrnes explaining to local reporters, “We weren’t getting the value back that was out there to make a trade.”

The Angels, meanwhile, added Zack Greinke to their rotation, while the Rangers swung a last-minute deal to snatch up starter Ryan Dempster from the Cubs. Neither move influenced the A’s to hammer out something of their own, but you have to think they’re considering the looming returns of pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson as an upgrade.

The A’s could still add a shortstop in August by way of a waiver deal, but it’s not likely many will be available, and the ones that do clear waivers — think Jimmy Rollins — will only do so because of their large contracts, which Oakland probably couldn’t handle anyway.

A’s assistant general manager David Forst is expected to meet with media later to explain Oakland’s thinking through the deadline.

Pennington to DL; Sogard recalled

The A’s on Friday placed struggling shortstop Cliff Pennington on the 15-day disabled list with left elbow tendinitis and recalled Eric Sogard to take his roster spot.

Sogard was immediately inserted into the lineup, batting eighth and playing shortstop against Yankees right-handed starter Ivan Nova and Co. It’s likely he’ll platoon with the right handed-hitting Brandon Hicks at the position.

Pennington was batting just .197,  representing the second lowest average in the Majors entering the day. His on-base percentage (.259) is also near the bottom, and his slugging percentage (.282) ranks last. He was just 4-for-48 over his last 17 games and hitless since the start of the second half.

For the 27-year-old infielder, who is playing in his third full big-league season, this marks the first DL stint of his career.

Sogard, meanwhile, joins the A’s for the third time this year. He was batting .323 with five home runs and 22 RBIs for Triple-A Sacramento, while his numbers with Oakland — he’s hitting .145 in 22 games with the A’s this year — have been less impressive.

Also on Friday, the A’s signed Dominican outfielder Jhonny Rodriguez to a deal worth $300,000. Rodriguez turned 16 on Friday.

Finally, quick success for confident Carter

MINNEAPOLIS — The remaining memories of Chris Carter’s 0-for-33 start in the Majors are slowly fading, as the A’s young slugger continues showcasing the kind of offensive prowess that made him a top prospect.

Now in his fifth stint with Oakland and first of the season, Carter has compiled four home runs in eight games since his June 29 callup. Each of his last two have been three-run shots, and he has eight RBIs to his name already.

The 25-year-old found his way into the starting lineup again on Sunday, as expected with Twins lefty Brian Duensing on the mound. Yet with Coco Crisp’s (shoulder) status unknown and Brandon Moss seeing more outfield action in the meantime, Carter could be looking at more playing time against right-handers in the coming days.

So far, Carter has handled them just fine, as three of his four home runs have come against them. Overall, he’s 5-for-10 vs. righties, compared to 3-for-14 against left-handers.

“A lot will do with how Coco’s doing down the road,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s not like Moss is slacking off here.”

Moss hit his 11th home run in 27 games with the A’s on Saturday and is batting .333 over his last eight games. Having both him and Carter in the same lineup, then, seems ideal for a surging Oakland team — particularly when the latter appears to have found the confidence he was missing during his previous visits with the A’s.

“He just looks like a confident guy now, and I think that was based on the fact he was playing well when he was brought up here and got off to a good start,” Melvin said. “Whenever you have some failures when you go from Triple-A and dominate the way he does to the big leagues and get off to a bad start, you tend to put more pressure on yourself. For the first time, he had success right away, and he’s riding that, starting to accept himself and his ability at the big-league level.

“It always takes a significant amount of time for him to accept himself at that next level, and I think the numbers would suggest that. Once he gets going, you see the type of numbers he can put up. But all of the Minor League guys swear by him and say he has a bright, bright future in the big leagues.”

Cespedes starts at DH for series opener

MINNEAPOLIS — Yoenis Cespedes’ sprained left thumb didn’t keep him out of the starting lineup in Minnesota on Friday, but it did consign him to designated hitter duties.

“He probably could play the outfield, but we’ll try to take it slowly,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s a little bit more of an issue putting his glove on than it is wrapping around a bat and hitting. Whether or not he’s in the outfield tomorrow, there’s probably a good chance of that.”

Cespedes was pulled from Sunday’s game against the Mariners after the third inning, injuring his thumb when he slid into second on a successful stolen base attempt in the first frame. Jonny Gomes, who replaced him in the game, started in his stead in left field Friday.

The A’s recalled lefty reliever Pedro Figueroa from Triple-A Sacramento, as right-hander Jim Miller was placed on the paternity list.

Miller and his wife welcomed Ethan James, who weighed in at 8 pounds and 10 ounces, on Thursday. Under Major League Baseball’s paternity rules, which came into play last season, Miller is allowed to be away from the team for 24-72 hours.

Figueroa, meanwhile, joins the A’s for a third time this year and gives the team four left-handers in a bullpen that has allowed just one run in 23 innings spanning seven games in the month of July. The 26-year-old posted a 1.04 ERA in six appearances with Sacramento following his June 21 demotion and, overall, has a tidy 1.67 mark in 18 relief outings for the River Cats.

With the A’s, he has a 1.50 ERA in nine appearances, but he’s also walked 10 next to five strikeouts in 27 innings.

The signing period for all 2012 Draft picks concluded Friday, with the A’s reeling in second-round selection Nolan Sanburn before the deadline.

The University of Arkansas sophomore was one of Oakland’s two second-round picks, coming in at No. 74 overall. He went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 22 games, including four starts, for the Razorbacks, striking out 49 in 40 2/3 innings.

Oakland managed to sign 33 of their 43 picks, including each of the first five and 12 of the first 13. Third-round selection Kyle Tworney, a prep lefty, went unsigned.

Blackley helps A’s avoid four-game sweep in Texas

ARLINGTON — Perhaps overlooked amongst a heady crop of rookies on a fairly young A’s pitching staff, 29-year-old Travis Blackley is proving himself to be just as noteworthy of attention.

It’s been eight years since Blackley was a prospect himself — a big prospect for a Seattle organization he ultimately left when things didn’t work out. A’s manager Bob Melvin, who watched Blackley carry his club to a 3-1 win in Texas on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep, was managing the Mariners during that 2003 season when the southpaw picked up his first career victory.

Since, the Aussie has played for five organizations, along with clubs in the Australian Baseball League and Korean Baseball Organization. Only now, though, is he finding the consistent success he had been looking for all along.

“He really is gaining confidence,” Melvin said. “His route here was all over the world, basically. I was with him a long time ago in Seattle when he was considered the top prospect in the organization. I was there for his first win, and then things didn’t work out for him and he’s been all over the place, and for him to be pitching as well as he is at the big league level at this point is really a testament to a guy who’s persevered through a lot.”

“I’ve got heaps of confidence,” Blackley said after allowing just one run over seven innings to baseball’s best team. “I was just happy someone gave me an opportunity again. I’m just enjoying it here. It’s just comfortable. It’s a bunch of guys that get along really well.”

And pitch really well. Nestled in a rotation that also includes young phenoms Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, along with up-and-coming youngster A.J. Griffin, Blackley has now strung together a quartet of superb outings, going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA — he’s allowed just six runs over 28 innings — during his last four starts.

His most recent proved most impressive, despite a chronic stiff back that crept up on him enough to force his departure after just 93 pitches through seven frames.

Blackley scattered seven hits over that span, and the southpaw — claimed by the A’s off waivers from the Giants less than two months ago — added three strikeouts with no walks, also picking off two — he now leads the American League with six pickoffs — while lowering his ERA with the A’s to 3.38.

“He’s doing a great job of keeping hitters off balance, doing a good job of hitting his spots and working in and out of lefties and righties, mixing speeds for strikes early,” catcher Derek Norris said. “Just really everything he’s getting over for strikes and just getting a lot of weak contact.”

“He was changing speeds and changing location, no patterns,” Texas’ Michael Young said. “He threw a good ballgame.”

After lending the Rangers plenty of breaks in a span of three straight losses, the A’s were on the receiving end of two on Sunday that helped them hand Blackley the victory.

Opposing hurler Yu Darvish matched his career high with 11 strikeouts, but he also threw a wild pitch that led to a run in the sixth, as Jemile Weeks raced home from third after advancing on a Yoenis Cespedes double.

Darvish also was responsible for Derek Norris’ RBI single in the fifth, as well as Brandon Moss’ towering first-pitch shot to right field that reached the second deck in the seventh, which marked Darvish’s final inning. For Moss, it was his eighth homer with the A’s in 21 games, tying for second most in Oakland history for a player in his first 21 games (Dave Kingman, 10 in 1984; Jack Cust, 8 in 2007).

In the sixth, the A’s caught what was perhaps their biggest break of the night, when Craig Gentry launched a pitch from Blackley to center field toward the warning track and appeared to be on his way to third for a triple before the ball bounced off Cespedes’ foot into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Cespedes never appeared to know where the ball was, but it actually worked in the A’s favor, as Gentry reached third on a passed ball later in the frame but never scored, as Blackley induced three consecutive popups from Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton.

“Any time you give up a leadoff double, they probably score there 85 percent of the time, I’d say,” Blackley said. “I just told myself we’re at a one-run game at the worst, no more than that run will score. So I kind of changed my attention a bit and tried to go one at a time at the plate and got lucky with a couple of weak contact that wasn’t able to move him over to third with less than two outs.

“Facing Hamilton, I wasn’t at all worried about walking him there. Luckily he swung at a pitch that probably wasn’t a good one to swing at and popped out. It wasn’t a great pitch at all — just a floating, hanging changeup that might have surprised him because he hadn’t seen out of me all day. That was in the game plan before the game — one at-bat, let’s just show it, and give them another pitch to worry about.”

Fear is what Blackley is creating in all of his opponents these days, a trick that turned an otherwise sour weekend in the Lone Star State into a high note of an ending.

“It’s been a miserable three days for us,” Melvin said. “Heat and all that on top of it in a four-game series, it feels like you’ve been here for a week. To lose a couple of tough ones, it’s good to pull one out, especially when you got a guy like Darvish on the mound. Certainly they gotta feel good about that.”

Colon set for Tuesday; Anderson progressing

Ryan Cook deservedly stole all of the attention today after garnering his first career All-Star invitation. But here’s a quick update on a pair of other A’s pitchers:

  • Bartolo Colon reported no issues Sunday after throwing a bullpen on Saturday, and at this point the team is counting on him to start Tuesday at home against the Red Sox. Once he his activated from the disabled list prior to the game, the A’s will then option a member of their current eight-man bullpen.
  • Brett Anderson completed a 40-pitch bullpen session today, even throwing some breaking balls. He’ll continue building on his pitch count through bullpens every few days, and the team will soon assess when he’s ready to face hitters. Though late July/early August was initially targeted for his return, I’d think late August/early September is more of a realistic possibility, especially considering the A’s don’t want to rush him.

Cook calls ASG selection “absurd”

A’s reliever Ryan Cook, named to the American League All-Star team today, says of his selection, “It’s awesome, there’s no doubt about it. It’s very cool for me and my family and friends, and I’m just honored really to even be mentioned and then to be chosen and get to represent the Oakland Athletics and the long line of people before me who have done it.

“Really just kind of excited. I really don’t even know. Coming into the year, I was looking just to make the team and never, ever did I envision getting the results that I’ve gotten and then the opportunity to do this. I’m just truly blessed.”

On brushing shoulders with some of the game’s biggest names:

“Hopefully I can learn from them, get to talk to them and hear what they’ve gone through. I’m just always trying to learn, so hopefully I can pick up on some things.”

On teammate Josh Reddick being left off the reserve list:

“I thought he deserved to go. I know it’s tough, especially being in the outfield, considering all of the other guys in the league, but he’s had a good first half for us and will continue to do the same in the second half I’m sure.”

Cook initially had plans to spend the All-Star break in Napa with his girlfriend, Jamie. Now they’re both booking plane tickets to Kansas City, as are his parents, Chuck and Brenda, of Clovis, Calif.

Said Cook: “I never thought I would be a Major League baseball All-Star. That’s absurd.”


Cook named to A.L. All-Star team; Reddick left out

ARLINGTON — A’s righty Ryan Cook’s birthday celebration continued in a memorable way Sunday, when the rookie reliever was named to the American League All-Star team.

Cook, who turned 25 on Saturday, was handpicked by A.L. manager Ron Washington for the July 10 game in Kansas City, after turning in an incredible performance over Oakland’s first 79 games in his first full professional season.

The hard-throwing right-hander entered the day with a 0.97 WHIP and 1.59 ERA, which is tied for eighth among all A.L. relievers. His .109 opponents’ average ranks second, as does his opponents’ slugging percentage (.164), and he has not allowed a home run in 34 innings.

Originally a 27th-round Draft pick by the D-backs in 2008, Cook has surely done his part for his newest team, following a trade that sent him to the A’s alongside Jarrod Parker and Collin Cowgill for All-Star hurler Trevor Cahill during the offseason.

He quietly earned a bullpen spot out of Spring Training and managed to string together 23 consecutive scoreless innings, marking the longest scoreless streak to start a season by an A’s pitcher on the Opening Day roster since at least 1918. In the 13 outings that have followed, Cook has allowed runs on just two occasions.

Progressively entrusted with pivotal eighth-inning situations in a setup role, Cook is now viewed as the team’s closer, ahead of veterans Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

The A’s are among four teams to not have anyone picked in the players’ or fans’ votes, and this marks the ninth straight year they have been represented at baseball’s Midsummer Classic by pitchers, after outfielder Josh Reddick was left out of the mix despite his 18 home runs. Catcher Ramon Hernandez was the last A’s position player to earn the nod in 2003.