August 2012

Slumping Reddick bumped to sixth spot

ST. PETERSBURG — The A’s weren’t even on the same continent the last time Josh Reddick started in the sixth spot.

But that’s where the Oakland outfielder hit for Saturday’s series finale against the Rays, as manager Bob Melvin looked to give the slumping Reddick “a little change in scenery.” His only other start there came March 28, in the A’s season opener against the Mariners in Tokyo, and he’s hit fifth and seventh once, with 113 of his starts coming in the No. 3 hole.

“I think any time a guy goes through some struggles you want to change it up a bit,” Melvin said. “We expect him to be back in the three-spot before long, whether it’s a couple of days or whatever. But this isn’t uncommon over the course of a 162-game season. I can’t remember a season where I’ve had someone hit in the same spot the whole year.”

Reddick supported his manager’s decision, acknowledging his struggles — he’s batting .149 over his last 23 games — while attempting to dissect them Saturday morning, as Yoenis Cespedes prepared to bat third, with designated hitter Seth Smith behind him in the fourth slot.

“This maybe takes a load off my back,” he said. “I think I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself in the three-hole, and this could be a good way to get pitched differently and get pitches I can drive a lot better and build some confidence.

“I think effort level is big for me. It’s been my Achilles heel in the past. Effort level kind of gets to a maximum for me and my swing gets long. I’ve been jamming myself a lot lately, so I have to focus on getting the effort level back down and not trying to hit the ball so hard.”

That explains his growing strikeout total, too. Reddick has compiled 32 of them since July 27.

“When the effort level gets too high the head starts flying and you can’t see, so I think that’s a big factor,” he explained. “I’m trying to hit the long ball too much, and you try to hit the long ball and obviously you’re going to strike out a lot.”

Any kind of out has Reddick steaming on most days. The 25-year-old wears his emotions on his sleeve, a characteristic that Melvin continually insists drives his player to better results. At the same time, Reddick understands his frustrations can amount to disappointing ones, too.

“That’s the one thing,” he said. “It can be my motivation as well as my downfall. I can get too involved in the game whenever things aren’t going good, and when they are it’s going to be a positive, but it can hurt me just as much as it can help me.”

Weeks: “I feel like I was prepared for the news”

In a rather surprising move, Jemile Weeks was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday, the same day the newly acquired Stephen Drew arrived to assume everyday shortstop duties. Cliff Pennington and Adam Rosales will share time at second base, while Weeks regains his groove in the Minors. Here’s a dose of what he had to say to reporters today:

“For some reason I feel like I was prepared for the news. It’s disappointing, because I know I could have done more as a player, but I’m still happy with the way I took the decline in my average. I still feel like I did a lot of things I wanted to do, and I worked hard. The vision I had before the season, I’ve improved on what I wanted to improve from last year. I felt like I did that. The hitting part just wasn’t there, and that’s probably more of the reason why I’m going down.”

(What, in particular, was missing from offensive game?)
“Just consistency. I think there’s been times in big games where I’ve gotten hits, times where I’m put together two or three hits, but it just hasn’t been consistent. Until that consistency comes, you’re in jeopardy of this happening. It’s the game. It’s anybody’s job.”

(On a possible return on Sept. 1)
“I didn’t get any word, but I would hope. Even going down there, I would hope I’m still something the team feels they can still use and needs. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be a star in this game, man. You gotta have your ups and downs. It just makes the story so much sweeter when you come back. I don’t wanna expound too much on it, but you’re looking at a star, period.”

(So the confidence is still there?)
“It’s already there. I improved on what I needed to improve on this year, declined on what I didn’t think I would decline on, so now one good year of hitting, some things down, one bad year of hitting, some things up, next year you do the math.”

(Do you reconstruct?)
“There’s not much to reconstruct. This game’s a lot mental. My tools have always been there, my ability to do what I’ve been doing has been there. This game is just mental, and so you have to go down there and keep that confidence and build a commitment to do what you can do to be successful.”

A’s acquire shortstop Drew from D-backs

OAKLAND — The A’s reeled in infield help late Monday night, finally acquiring the veteran shortstop they’ve been eying for weeks in Stephen Drew.

In exchange for the 29-year-old Drew, who was brought in via a waiver deal, Oakland sent Minor League infielder and 2011 17th-round Draft pick Sean Jamieson to Arizona. The move was announced on the club’s public address system in the middle of the seventh inning of the club’s contest with the Twins at the Coliseum.

In Drew, who played in parts of seven seasons with the D-backs, the A’s bring aboard a career .266 hitter who enjoyed his best seasons under the tutelage of manager Bob Melvin, for whom he batted .291 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs in 2008.

He’s played in just 40 games this year because of an ankle injury he incurred last season and is batting .193 in that span, but “hopefully coming here gives him a little added boost and gives us a little boost as well,” assistant general manager David Forst noted.

“We’ve obviously been looking for a few weeks since before the deadline to see if there was a chance to get this team some added help, and it worked out with the Diamondbacks that Stephen was available,” Forst said. “At times, and certainly before his injury, he was a pretty good offensive player. He’s shown that occasionally since he’s been back this year.”

“We had discussions with them but Willie [Bloomquist] had the bad back, so the timing wasn’t right,” Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said. “We would’ve been very shorthanded. We wanted to get a better idea where we were at. We came close. It didn’t happen, but we were able to make it happen through waivers now.”

A corresponding 40-man roster move isn’t expected until Drew reports Tuesday, with incumbent Cliff Pennington’s status up in the air. Pennington’s struggles have been well documented this year, with the shortstop batting just .198 with a .549 OPS. Those numbers influenced the A’s to look for help near the July 31 Trade Deadline, which quietly passed when the club wasn’t able to strike a deal.

That didn’t mean Oakland’s front-office army was done working, though.

“The middle infield, in general, we’ve struggled offensively and obviously a change was going to come at some point,” said second baseman Jemile Weeks, who is batting .220. “I guess they’re trying to make a push, improve in areas they feel they need to improve, and they’re trying to head in a certain direction. Obviously they have a vision in their head, and that’s’ what they’re trying to show right now.

“I know him to be a good player in the past. It’s news for everybody. It’s a surprising thing, and hopefully it’s a positive thing for the team. If he comes along and jumps in and fits in and helps us win, we’re all for it.”

Drew lends the A’s something few on the young contending club boast: playoff experience. He enjoyed a remarkable playoff run for Melvin’s 2007 National League West Championship team, hitting .387 with two home runs and four RBIs in seven playoff games.

Melvin thought it to be too soon to divulge Drew’s expectant role, having not yet announced who the newbie is replacing on the roster, but did say, “He’s a good player. He’ll be a good fit here.”

“Everybody comes in here and fits in,” said pitcher Jarrod Parker, a teammate of Drew’s in Arizona. “It’s a pretty easy going clubhouse. He’s been around the game, knows how to play the game and carry himself. He’s a good guy.”

Drew is in the final year of his guaranteed contract — with close to $2 million left on his 2012 salary that the A’s will pick up — but has a mutual option for 2013 for $10 million, with a $1.35 million buyout clause.

The hefty option likely means Drew will become a free agent at season’s end, though Forst said, “Let’s see how the next six weeks go.”

“I’m looking forward to going back to an ex-coach. It’ll be refreshing and a new start,” Drew said. “It’s a good feeling to go over there and still be competing.”

A’s alter rotation to give Milone, Parker extra rest

CHICAGO — Taking full advantage of their enviable pitching depth, the A’s are mixing up their rotation for the coming week in an effort to provide youngsters Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker extended rest.

Milone, originally slated to pitch Saturday in Chicago, won’t go until Aug. 17 for the club’s opener against the visiting Indians, while fellow rookie Parker, first scheduled to throw in Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox, will take the mound Tuesday in Kansas City.

In need of a starter for Saturday, the A’s looked no further than lefty Travis Blackley, who has provided a steady hand in both the rotation and, more recently, the bullpen this season. Veteran Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, will stay on a five-day schedule and pitch against his former Chicago squad on Sunday.

That puts Dan Straily on track to start Wednesday, having also garnered one extra day of rest, and Friday starter Brandon McCarthy in line to go again Thursday on five days’ rest. Should he be unable to do so, if he experiences more issues with his right shoulder, Blackley could go again in his spot.

“We’ve been looking for a way to try to give Parker and Milone a little bit of a break,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We are very cognizant of the workload of our younger pitchers, and we feel like this is a good time to be able to give them a little bit of a break, refresh them going forward for the rest of the season.

“It’s a mental grind once you get to this time of the year. Tommy’s last few games haven’t been his best, but it really isn’t about that. We’ve been looking to potentially do this for awhile now, and with the two off days and McCarthy coming back and the way Travis has pitched for us, this worked out very well timing wise. It’s about giving them a break.”

Milone, already up to 140 1/3 innings this season, acknowledged his struggles on Friday in Chicago, and he referenced a similar stretch he experienced last season that was helped along by extra rest. The lefty has allowed at least five runs in each of his last three starts, after giving up more than one just twice in his previous six outings, twice not surrendering any.

“I had a couple of rough starts in a row around this same time last year, and they felt it was probably a good idea for me to rest because I hadn’t skipped or missed a start before,” Milone said. “After that, I came back and felt a lot better.

“For me to pitching the way I am is obviously frustrating, and it could be a mechanical thing, just because I’m trying to fix things to make it how I want them to be, and rest may be just what I need, rather than changing things. I can definitely tell there’s a difference when I’m out there. The pitches I’m throwing are just off. I feel the same, but it’s just not coming out the same.”

Parker, meanwhile, has gone 2-3 with a 5.94 ERA since sitting with a 5-3 record and a 2.46 ERA on July 2. Time off should also serve him well, and the team’s ability to give that to him speaks volumes about its depth. Rehabbing hurlers A.J. Griffin and Brett Anderson are also expected back soon.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without the depth,” Melvin said. “It means we have depth in starting pitchers a lot of teams don’t have and we have confidence in quite a few of them and rightfully so.”

McCarthy nearing first start in nearly two months

A’s right-hander Brandon McCarthy got through a 25-pitch bullpen session without any issues on Wednesday, putting him in the clear for Friday’s start in Chicago.

It will be his first in the Majors since June 19, after dealing with the same right shoulder soreness that has plagued much of his career. Though missed, the A’s have done just fine without him, moving from four games under .500 (32-36) at the time of his setback to eight above it (59-51) entering Wednesday.

When healthy, McCarthy has proved to be one of the league’s best, having compiled a 2.54 ERA in 12 starts for the A’s. He’s completed at least six innings in all but two of them and gotten through seven in seven outings.

When stepping to the mound against his former White Sox club Friday, in place of the injured A.J. Griffin, McCarthy will be expected to tally 80-90 pitches.

“For him, that gets him through a lot of innings,” A’s pitching coach Curt Young said. “He’s very efficient with his pitches. That’s the key to his game. He gets a lot of early outs and makes things happen quick.”

McCarthy made two rehab appearances with Triple-A Sacramento, his most recent coming Sunday, when he utilized just 73 pitches despite striking out nine over six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and issuing two walks.

His return is welcoming news for an already pitching-rich A’s club, which is also close to getting lefty Brett Anderson back. Anderson is slated to throw 90 pitches for the River Cats in Oklahoma City on Friday, before throwing 100 five days later, at which point the A’s will assess his readiness for big league action.

Cespedes sits for opener vs. Angels

For the start of a three-game set against one of the league’s best pitching staffs, Oakland was without its most feared hitter for the opener Monday.

Yoenis Cespedes, still battling right wrist soreness, was held out of the A’s lineup for their evening matchup with Angels righty Jered Weaver — owner of a career 2.63 ERA vs. Oakland — and Co.

After injuring the wrist when sliding into third base in the sixth inning of Friday’s 15-inning affair, Cespedes only appeared in Saturday’s game as a pinch-runner. Upon his return to the starting lineup Sunday, manager Bob Melvin said the wrist “bothered him a little bit.”

“Especially the last couple of at-bats,” Melvin said. “So we’re going to try to give him a full day off today, not swinging in batting practice, and hopefully he’ll feel that much better tomorrow.”

Cespedes, who has battled numerous injuries in his first big league season, is batting .410 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 21 games since the All-Star break. The A’s are 46-29 with him in the starting lineup and 12-21 when he doesn’t start.

Spiderman gets the green light from Gomes

First purchased in Baltimore last weekend, Josh Reddick’s Spiderman getup never made an appearance on the East Coast, after teammates refused to walk around town next to a grown man dressed as a comic book hero.

Reddick wasn’t about to return his coveted purchase, though, so he decided the costume would make its public debut the next time the A’s collected another walk-off win. Less than a week later, the outfielder’s plan was executed, with teammate Jonny Gomes’ blessing.

Following Coco Crisp’s game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th inning against the Blue Jays on Friday, Reddick raced to the clubhouse and quickly made the outfit change in a matter of two minutes. He returned to the field with two pies in hand for Crisp.

“I saw it in his eyes. He really wanted to do it,” Gomes said. “I want to be a veteran and lead you in the right direction. But at the same time, I don’t want to be a dream crusher. If he wants it that bad, put that thing on.

“He asked me if I thought it would be a good idea, and I thought about it for a minute. You see guys play well in free-agency years, guys who play well in arbitration years, but none of these guys are going through that. They’re literally playing to have fun, because winning is fun. I’m a huge fan of the alumni of the game, I’m a huge fan of the game, and probably the No. 1 endorser of respecting the game, of playing the game right. With that being said, I don’t think we crossed any of those lines. We gotta keep that mojo going somehow.”

Reddick insisted on Saturday morning that it was all “a one-time deal.” But there’s no telling what else is hiding in his closet.

“He’s the first one off the field, so when he comes off in that fashion, I know he’s going to do something,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He definitely added to the dynamic [on Friday].”

Griffin exits start early

A’s starter A.J. Griffin exited Saturday’s game against Toronto with just two outs in the second inning because of tightness in his right shoulder.

Lefty Jordan Norberto came on in relief, which the A’s are short on following Friday night’s 15-inning marathon. The club’s lone long man, southpaw Travis Blackley, pitched three innings in the contest, seemingly making him unavailable.

Righty Grant Balfour also compiled two innings in the affair, and Ryan Cook, Pat Neshek and Sean Doolittle each tallied one, with Jerry Blevins giving the A’s 2/3 of an inning. Norberto was the only reliever who didn’t get into the game.

Norberto’s longest outing of the year came July 22, when he pitched 2 1/3 innings. He’s pitched at least 2 innings six times.

For Griffin, who was accompanied by manager Bob Melvin and head trainer Nick Paparesta upon his departure, it was his eighth start with the A’s, who watched the rookie right-hander pitch at least six innings in each of his previous outings.

Suzuki now out of picture, Norris assumes catching duties

The A’s only keep getting younger.

Even in the heat of a playoff run, Oakland hasn’t shied away from playing the kids. Four of the club’s five starters are rookies, and for the remaining days of the season, they’ll be throwing to one.

Derek Norris, all of 23 years of age, overtook full-time catching duties on Friday, when the A’s dealt one of their longest-tenured players in Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals in exchange for Minor League backstop David Freitas.

Oakland kicked in some cash to offset the money owed to Suzuki, who has roughly $1.6 million left on his contract for the season and a $6.45 million salary to be had in 2013. He cleared waivers Friday morning, three days after the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed, to allow the two clubs to complete the swap.

“We just think it’s a good time to turn the bulk of the catching duties over to Derek,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “We think very highly of him. From Kurt’s own personal standpoint, I think he’s going to be much happier in a situation where he gets to play every day, which probably wasn’t going to happen here.”

That hadn’t happened since before June 29, when Norris was first promoted to Oakland, where he started 20 of the club’s next 32 games, with the A’s going 15-5 over that span.

Suzuki’s offensive production had greatly declined since he was signed to a four-year deal in July 2010, and he was most recently batting just .218 with a .536 OPS, one home run — he collected at least 13 in each of the previous three seasons — and 18 RBIs in 75 games. He hasn’t hit above .245 since 2009.

Norris, meanwhile, shows great power potential, though the A’s will have to be patient with him, after watching him hit .333 over his first eight games with the team, before landing in an 0-for-30 slump and, ultimately, finding his groove again with a .278 average over his final five contests. He was demoted to Triple-A on Monday, when the A’s brought in veteran backup George Kottaras, but was allowed to be recalled less than 10 days later on Friday because of an injury to Seth Smith.

The reins are his going forward.

“He’s a young kid, but we think he has a chance to get better, and as he’s shown when up here, we think he’s perfectly capable of handling the staff, and that the team is capable of performing well with him,” Beane said. “This is a good time for him to take over and get better, and he should get better over the course of the next couple of years.”

“Derek’s our guy,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Derek’s going to get the brunt of the time behind the plate. Certainly performance going forward will dictate how much, but obviously we have a lot of confidence in him, otherwise we wouldn’t have made this move with Suzuki.”

There was no question doing so was difficult, though. Suzuki, recognized as one of the true class acts in the game, provided an unmatched presence both in the clubhouse and on the field, particularly with a pitching staff that adored him. His 669 games caught are second most in Oakland history only to Terry Steinbach (1,050).

“I kind of thought he would be here throughout the season, but it is what it is,” righty Jarrod Parker said. “Everything he did was commendable — the way he prepared for the game, the way he played the game. He took me under his wing and was able to teach me a lot, and I obviously appreciate everything. I can’t thank him enough. I don’t think it really mattered to us what he was hitting. He was who he was to us because of what he did behind the plate. Our ERA is a reflection is what he has been to us.”

Oakland’s staff does lead the American League with a 3.43 ERA, though Beane was quick to note Norris’ equivocal success with that same group, having gathered a 2.85 catchers’ ERA in his time with the team.

“There’s no sense in creating a catching controversy when it’s best for Kurt and his career to go to Washington, and it’s probably best for our long-term interests to let Derek take over this young staff and grow with them,” he said. “Derek was catching most of the previous month, anyway, so there really shouldn’t be any transition problem. Kurt was great in helping Derek starting off working with these guys, and that’s a testament to his character.”

More of that was revealed in the afternoon, when Suzuki issued a statement to the A’s organization and its fans that read like this:

“I would like to thank the Oakland A’s organization for eight memorable years. They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing in the big leagues and for that I am eternally grateful. To all of my coaches, teammates, clubhouse staff and members of the media, the bonds that we’ve made during my time here will always be cherished and never be forgotten. I’d also like to thank the City of Oakland and the greater Bay Area for embracing me and my family as one of your own. Last but not certainly not least, I’d like to thank the Oakland A’s fans for supporting me during my career.”

Said Norris: “That’s the type of guy he is. We had a great relationship when he was here. He was teaching me everything I need to know about calling a game. I called him on my way down here today to wish him luck, and he gave me a little advice, and I told him a bit about the team he’s going to.”

That team, of course, is the same club that sent Norris to Oakland in the offseason as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal. This time around, Washington parted ways with a catcher who has an attractive offensive profile. Freitas, drafted by the Nationals in the 15th round of the 2010 Draft, was batting .271 with five home runs and 46 RBIs in 78 games with Single-A Potomac. He’ll report to Double-A Midland, Beane said.

The A’s general manager insisted Friday’s deal was not made for financial reasons, but there’s no denying it does lend the club some flexibility, now and in the offseason. Oakland is expected to keep close watch on the waiver wire this month, in hopes of landing an offensive upgrade for the left side of the infield.

In the meantime, they’ll ride their streak — the A’s are 14-5 since the All-Star break — with a quickly maturing roster that will move on without its most popular member.

“If you know Kurt at all, you know what type of impact he had here in the clubhouse, what kind of person he is, what he meant to the team, all of the above,” Melvin said. “With Derek, I don’t think I’ve been around a younger catcher that was accepted by the pitching staff as quickly as he was. Now that had a lot to do with Kurt Suzuki.”

Suzuki: “I am eternally grateful”

The always classy Kurt Suzuki issued this statement today after learning of his move from Oakland to Washington:

I would like to thank the Oakland A’s organization for eight memorable years.  They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing in the big leagues and for that I am eternally grateful.   To all of my coaches, teammates, clubhouse staff and members of the media, the bonds that we’ve made during my time here will always be cherished and never be forgotten.  I’d also like to thank the City of Oakland and the greater Bay Area for embracing me and my family as one of your own.  Last but not certainly not least, I’d like to thank the Oakland A’s fans for supporting me during my career.

Aloha –
Kurt Suzuki