February 2013

Anderson named Opening Day starter

A’s manager Bob Melvin came with news Thursday morning, and he didn’t waste any time delivering it.

“Let’s go ahead and say Brett Anderson is our Opening Day starter,” Melvin said, smiling.

The news isn’t so much surprising as it is rewarding for the 25-year-old Anderson, who is entering his fifth season with the A’s.

Thrust into a playoff run upon his August return from Tommy John rehab last year, the southpaw responded beautifully, winning his first four starts while posting a miniscule 0.69 ERA while walking just three in 26 innings.

Anderson lost his next two starts and suffered an ill-timed oblique strain, before making a seemingly miraculous comeback in short time to pitch Game 3 of the American League Division Series. He allowed two hits in six shutout innings in Oakland’s 2-0 win over the Tigers, saving the team from elimination.

“Based on the guys that we have and how successfully he came back for us last year, we really feel like he’s the man to lead the staff,” Melvin said. “He worked hard to get back and put himself in a position to compete with us at a time of the season where there’s no easing into things. You gotta be good right away, and he was. Then he gets hurt and we think he’s done, and he works just as hard to get back and pitch in a playoff game.”

Though limited to 38 starts over the last three seasons due to four stints on the disabled list, Anderson finally appears primed to compile at least 30 this year, so long as good health remains on his side. To that end, Anderson put in hours of work to allow for such endurance, shedding 25 pounds during his rehab and keeping off the weight this winter.

“There’s never a better time to change when you can’t do anything else,” Anderson said earlier this month. “It’s never fun to be hurt for an extended period of time, but in my case it was probably a blessing in disguise, where it took something like that to realize I should probably make some changes.”

Anderson will be making his spring debut Thursday against the Cubs, and he jokingly asked Melvin if he was sure he wanted to openly announce Opening Day plans without having seen the lefty pitch in a game.

“To say he jumped up and down and all that, probably not, but he took it in stride,” Melvin said of the mellow Anderson. “He said, ‘Every guy aspires to be an Opening Day starter,’ so he was excited, as excited as he gets.”

Anderson is expected to be followed in the rotation by Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily — all 26 years old or younger. Veteran Bartolo Colon, who still has five games remaining on his drug suspension, is eligible to rejoin the team after the first week of the season.

In other news, A’s closer Grant Balfour (right knee) is scheduled to see a doctor today. He made 35 throws from flat ground on Wednesday, and his next step could be throwing off a mound, should his doctor give him the green light.

Michael Ynoa threw a bullpen yesterday, and he’ll throw one more before facing live batting practice. That doesn’t put him too far off from game action.

Sizemore takes turn at second base

Another day, another lineup. Here’s who the A’s are bringing to Tempe today to face the Angels:

Crisp CF, Young RF, Smith DH, Cespedes LF, Lowrie SS, Sizemore 2B, Barton 1B, Norris C, Rosales 3B, (Blackley P)

Of note, this is the first start on the field for Sizemore – he was at DH yesterday – since September 2011, when he was playing third base. So, combined with the fact he missed all of 2012 while recovering from a torn ACL, there’s probably going to be a bit of an adjustment period for him this spring. Still, the A’s have no doubt he’ll be able to keep up with Jemile Weeks in battle for the second-base job.

Weeks enjoyed a productive spring debut yesterday, as you can read here. And tomorrow it’s Jed Lowrie who gets the start at second base against the Indians, so it does seem like he’ll be moving around the infield quite a bit, as the A’s suggested.

Lowrie’s a guy that will probably move around a lot in the batting order, too. And on Sunday morning, Bob Melvin said the same goes for most everyone else, aside from Crisp and Cespedes, who, for the most part, will remain in the leadoff and cleanup spots, respectively.

Not surprisingly, that’s where they’re slated to be in the lineup for Monday’s home opener:

Crisp CF, Lowrie 2B, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Moss 1B, Nakajima SS, Jaso C, Donaldson 3B, Taylor LF (Werner P)

Tomorrow the A’s will also get their first glance of the spring at Sonny Gray, Evan Scribner, Hideki Okajima and Jordan Norberto, all scheduled to pitch against the Indians.

A’s ready for Cactus League play

Here’s the first of approximately 200 lineups I’ll be posting this year, this one to be used Saturday for the A’s Cactus League opener against the Brewers in Maryvale:

Weeks 2B, Nakajima SS, Reddick RF, Moss 1B, Smith LF, Young CF, Jaso C, Donaldson 3B, Sizemore DH

Right-hander Jesse Chavez gets the start on the mound, with Justin Thomas, Bruce Billings, Mike Ekstrom, Arnold Leon and Fernando Rodriguez also scheduled to pitch in the game.

This is the first opportunity to see Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima in a game as a big leaguer, so the A’s are eager to see how his skill set translates from workouts to game action. Can he be a threat on the base paths? How can he handle an at-bat with runners on base? There are a lot of unknowns with him, so the evaluation process is about to ramp up a bit.

His double-play partner on Saturday, Jemile Weeks, will also be watched closely this spring, as the team waits to see if he can regain the form he showed in 2011. Bob Melvin has always said spring numbers usually don’t matter much, but Weeks’ will to determine whether he’s the best fit at second base by camp’s end. Same goes for Scott Sizemore, batting for the same job.

As for the regulars missing in the lineup (think Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie and Derek Norris), they’ll all play Sunday against the Angels.

Cespedes addresses media shortly after arrival

Yoenis Cespedes made his way into A’s camp on Sunday looking right at ease, emitting a sense of comfort that was missing at this time last year as he prepped for his first season in the Major Leagues. Cespedes was facing plenty unknowns yet, as we know, handled everything very well and turned out to be pretty good on the field, too.

The A’s are anxious to see just how much more he can do with a full season under his belt and nagging health issues hopefully behind him. Cespedes said the bone bruise on the bottom of his right foot has fully healed and that the extra stretching he incorporated into his offseason workout routines should help his body withstand the rigors of a 162-game season.

Cespedes was asked about the legal issues that may have bothered him toward the end of last season — he was dealing with a financial lawsuit in the Dominican Republic and worry over his family’s safety, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported — and how resolve of some of those problems have helped to put his mind at ease going into a new season.

He said through translator Ariel Prieto, “I tried to be focused every single day when I went to the field. It weighed on my mind sometimes, yes. It could’ve been a distraction but I tried not to worry about it too much and tried to put all of my mind on the field, to be my best on the field.”

Manager Bob Melvin was well aware of everything Cespedes was going through at the end of the season and couldn’t have been more impressed by the way he continued to go about his business day in and day out, all with a heavy heart.

“He was very communicative with me, so I knew what was going on with him,” Melvin said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he came to the ballpark, it was pretty easy to see what kind of mood he was in on that particular day. He always found a way to go out on the field and perform. Any time your family’s situation is involved and you’re not with them, it’s very difficult, and there were days I was going to give him the day off but he refused and said, ‘I want to play.’ He’s a tough makeup kid.”

Cespedes wants to play every day this year, and he’s not too thrilled about the possibility of DH’ing every once in awhile other than on days when he really needs a day off his feet in the outfield. Melvin, upon hearing this, smiled and said, “I appreciate the fact that he’s taking that attitude. I love that. We want all our guys to play and be out there on the field. We did see last year that it was the first time he played 162 games so we DH’d him some, especially at the end. He plays awfully hard. It’s not like he goes out there and paces himself.”

The big question facing Cespedes today, on whether he was going to grow a beard, was met with a resounding “No.” He could only shake his head upon mention of Josh Reddick’s beard.

All players are taking part in the club’s first full-squad workout right now. This morning they were engaged in the annual introductory meetings and rah-rah talks, with Melvin offering his squad a simple message as they set out to defend their AL West title:

“You take pride in that, that’s for sure,” he said. “You want to carry that forward but also understand that this is a new year, and you have to let that go. But once you let that go, you have to reflect and ask yourself, ‘What made us good?’ What made us able to win the West?’

“We have a lot of guys that have had success here, and they’ll lead the way as far as how we go about our business on the field.”

Position players join the fold

Today’s the official reporting day for A’s position players, which has turned out to be just as anticlimactic as expected, with most everyone having already been working in camp for several days. Still, a few big names had yet to make their arrival as of early Saturday morning: Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and Jed Lowrie, along with 2012 first-round Draft pick Addison Russell. All are anticipated for an on-time arrival in advance of Sunday’s first full-squad workout.

This is where things get fun. The A’s have so many moving parts between the outfield and infield, and this is when we finally get to see how they come together. Second base should draw the most attention throughout the duration of camp, with Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore in battle for an everyday job, while the A’s also hand out playing time to Jed Lowrie, Grant Green, Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard there too. Bob Melvin reiterated on Saturday that Lowrie will bounce around the infield, but I suspect he’ll see plenty time at second base, just like all of the other guys mentioned, so that he has time to develop a relationship with shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

Lowrie, a natural shortstop, is understanding of his rover role, as it allows Nakajima to solely focus on adjusting at one position. There’s a lot being thrown at him as is, and the A’s don’t need him worrying about fielding at multiple spots right now — though Melvin said Nakajima has told him he’d be willing to do anything for the team, a gesture that further speaks volumes to his character.

As for Sizemore, who played third base for Oakland in 2011, he’ll spend the majority of his time at second but will also get some reps at the hot corner, since he’s the best insurance option there in the event Josh Donaldson experiences injury or prolonged struggles.

In the outfield, Chris Young will play the role of rover, despite having never moved from center field — a spot reserved for Coco Crisp in Oakland — in his career. He’ll see time in all three outfield positions this spring, and Melvin, already very much familiar with Young’s work ethic from their time together in Arizona, is confident that he’ll be able to smoothly handle the changes. Still, he understands “it’s going to be hard,” he said.

“The first time he has to go into another position, there’s a lot of pride that comes into play, especially considering how good of a center fielder he is,” Melvin explained. “Therefore, I know how difficult it’s going to be his first couple of times out there, not only in a game in a different position but doing work at a different position. I’m very understanding of that but he knows what’s expected.”

Bottom line: Don’t expect to see the same lineup trotted out back-to-back days not only during preseason games but regular-season games, as well.

“We have a good group here,” Melvin said, “and we’re going to find the right combinations. With this time here, we’re able to figure out where everything fits, and then come up with some kind of formula going into the season that works for everybody.”

Balfour to undergo right knee surgery

A’s right-hander Grant Balfour is scheduled to undergo right knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus on Thursday afternoon, leaving Oakland without its closer for approximately four to six weeks.

Given that timeline, the A’s are hopeful that Balfour could still be ready by the start of the regular season.

“I’m kind of a glass-half full guy, so I’m looking at it as, if there was ever a time to have it done it would be now,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Balfour, 35, echoed those sentiments in a statement released by the team, saying, “I feel good about getting it done now. It will allow me to get ready for Game 1 of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn’t have been able to pitch through it all season long.”

Melvin said Balfour felt some knee tenderness toward the end of last season but went about his normal offseason routine without any pain, before experiencing some on Wednesday before his scheduled bullpen. Balfour proceeded with his side session, after which the A’s opted to be proactive and send him for an MRI that revealed the tear.

The operation will be performed by local orthopedist Dr. Douglas Freedberg, who also operated on Scott Sizemore last spring when the A’s infielder suffered a torn ACL on the first day of workouts.

“After the surgery they will know how extensive it is,” Melvin said. “He’s a grinder, and he feels like he’ll be able to rehab very quickly. He keeps himself in great shape.”

In the meantime, the A’s are more than comfortable with their bountiful bullpen depth. Should Balfour end up missing any time during the regular season, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle stand out as options to close.

“Those are the obvious choices, but we’ll see how it goes,” Melvin said. “Again, depth comes into play. We’re not ruling Grant out to start the season, but this is the reason you accumulate as many guys as you can.”

Balfour compiled 24 saves in 2012, posting a 2.53 ERA and 0.92 WHIP along the way.

Figueroa out of WBC mix; Okajima arrives

Oakland was expected to send just one player to the World Baseball Classic this year, but as of Tuesday morning that number shrunk to zero, with manager Bob Melvin telling reporters it’s his understanding that lefty Pedro Figueroa — anticipated to pitch for the Dominican Republic — will not be leaving the A’s this spring. That’s a relief for any club, since it allows everyone to remain on the same page for the duration of camp without any interruption. This also gives Figueroa more time to show the A’s he belongs in the bullpen, a challenge made tougher this year because of an abundance of depth, particularly amongst left-handers. There’s plenty of competition, and Figueroa’s absence could have easily paved the way for another arm to gain an edge for a roster spot. Melvin had not spoken to Figueroa about any of this yet, but he was under the impression that the reliever was the one who made the decision.

In other news, a new reliever (yes, another) showed up in A’s camp today. Hideki Okajima, whose Minor League deal with the A’s was made official Tuesday morning, was welcomed into the clubhouse just about an hour before the pitchers and catchers began their first official workout. The 37-year-old left-hander believed his career to be over after he failed a physical with the Yankees last spring, and he said he’s still befuddled why New York thought there was trouble with his pitching shoulder, since he was fully healthy at the time. He’s still fully healthy and grateful for the opportunity given to him by the A’s, who already have another Japanese player on their roster in Hiroyuki Nakajima. Okajima is also familiar with pitching coach Curt Young from their time together in Boston. Young said of Okajima, “He knows how to get people out.”

It’s Brett Anderson and A.J. Griffin, along with new reliever Chris Resop, throwing side sessions this morning here at Papago Park. Righty reliever Andrew Carignan, rehabbing from Tommy John, will also throw a side — 25 pitches — as he aims for a midseason return.

Reporting day signals end of offseason

Plenty rain joined pitchers and catchers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium this morning, which was all about hellos and hugs and new haircuts and physicals and far too much talk of beards – even Brandon Moss, who has a modest beard of his own, joked, “There’s too much hair in this clubhouse.” This after seeing Daric Barton’s new beard, which arguably rivals Josh Reddick’s. If you couldn’t tell, it was obviously a very relaxed day around camp, since the only thing going on was pitchers and catchers checking in and such, with a large handful of position players roaming around in advance of their own report day Saturday. Nevertheless, here’s a breakdown of the day and of the team’s status heading into camp, which will liven up once workouts begin. Among those to report was Bartolo Colon, who has not spoken to media since his Aug. 22 drug suspension last year. He declined to talk again today, and it didn’t sound like he would be ready to talk anytime soon. Still, his teammates hold no grudges against the pitcher and are simply just amped to get back to baseball again.

The pitching staff is expected to receive an addition soon in lefty Hideki Okajima, who agreed to terms with the A’s on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite Monday, pending a physical.

As the above links suggest, most of the daily content that comes out of camp can be found at oaklandathletics.com. But that coverage will be supplemented by several other social media platforms, including Twitter, where you can find instant updates via my account @JaneMLB, and this blog, where I’ll dump other bits of information and tidbits. I’ve also thought about creating a work account for Instagram, so if that’s something you’d be interested in following, please do let me know.

Now, onto a random dose of news from Day 1:

  • New shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima met with media for a few minutes and said he’s been in Arizona since Jan. 31, in an effort to get to know his teammates, the facilities and the typical workout routine ahead of schedule, as to allow himself to fully focus on baseball once workouts begin Tuesday. In Japan, Nakajima said, spring workouts begin by February and involve seven-hour workouts with just one 15-minute lunch break. They’re even longer for younger players, who spend an extra hour and a half at the park following dinner, so “you’re entire body is sore and painful,” he said. Nakajima is looking forward to the “relaxed environment” Major League camp offers, but he plans to take advantage of each minute, fully knowing the adjustments that await him offensively and defensively. Off the field, everyone knows he’ll be just fine, with such a likeable personality.
  • Scott Sizemore, in the mix for the everyday second base job, enters camp with no restrictions after recovering from the torn ACL he suffered on the first day of workouts last year. He’s obviously anxious to get out there but even more so for his first child, a baby girl, to be born. Sizemore’s wife, Brooke, has a week until her due date but the couple is hoping she arrives sooner, so as to allow them time together to adjust before full-squad workouts begin.
  • Manager Bob Melvin reiterated what he said at FanFest about some of his pitchers easing into camp and being held back during the first batch of games. They’ll be particularly careful with guys like Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, who endured a big workload last year – nothing to be concerned about at all but important in helping them be fully ready for the season, especially with workouts starting earlier this year because of the World Baseball Classic.
  • Speaking of the Classic, Balfour said he did consider joining Team Australia but ultimately felt it in his best interest to remain with the A’s and get his arm ready for the regular season. Plus, he added, “I’m going into a season here where I’m going to be a free agent, too, so I have to take care of myself.”
  • Catcher John Jaso seemingly fits right in with this loose bunch of A’s, and he’s excited to be working with a pitching staff he faced one too many times for his liking last year while with the Mariners. Melvin said Jaso, like all of the catchers in camp, will be working with every pitcher, so as to get acclimated with the whole roster so there’s never any real surprises once the season begins.
  • Righty Andrew Carignan, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw his first side session last week – 20 pitches – and all went well, putting him on track to throw two side sessions a week for the next five weeks. Other than him, every other A’s pitcher is without restriction entering camp — aside from maybe Jordan Norberto, Melvin said. Norberto missed significant time at the end of last season and, though he feels great, the A’s want to be cautious with him.

A’s give up Carter, others to get Lowrie

Billy Beane was at it again Monday, as the A’s restless general manager reeled in infielder Jed Lowrie from the Astros in a five-player deal less than two weeks before his club begins Spring Training workouts.

Beane and Co. can let out a sigh of relief now, having immediately bolstered the organization’s infield depth via Lowrie. Yet in doing so, the A’s were forced to give up power bat Chris Carter, along with highly touted prospects Brad Peacock and Max Stassi.

It’s a rather high price to pay for Lowrie, who comes to Oakland alongside right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez, but Beane never fears the risk in a move that could equate to bigger rewards — particularly when that window of opportunity for contending is open.

“Given where this club finished last year and where we see it having a chance to compete this year, we wanted to do everything we could to help ourselves right now and felt this was the best route to go,” Beane said. “It wasn’t going to get done unless Chris was in this deal.

“Jed’s a guy we’ve had a lot of interest in going back to his Boston days. He plays four infield positions and switch hits and has always been a good offensive player for a middle infielder.”

The 28-year-old Lowrie has spent the majority of his career at shortstop — 240 appearances in 368 starts — but will be asked to get comfortable at essentially every infield spot, with newcomer Hiroyuki Nakajima still pegged as the everyday shortstop. He’s a reliable option at third base should youngster Josh Donaldson stumble and he can not only lend his glove at second base, where Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks are expected to duke it out for playing time, but as a switch-hitter he offers a nice complement to the left-handed Brandon Moss at first base in Carter’s absence.

The A’s must be creative with so many working pieces, and that just so happens to be one of manager Bob Melvin’s biggest assets. The 2012 American League Manager of the Year, who guided Oakland to a division title with a mix of rookies and castoffs, always seems to get the most out of his platoons, putting each of his players — whether of the everyday or bench type — in positions to succeed.

“Our roster is very interchangeable,” Beane said. “That’s one of the things we had last year, which worked to our advantage. I think this roster is every bit, if not more, interchangeable than last year’s was, and we think that was one of the major reasons we were able to win the division.”

Lowrie, who played at Stanford, is very familiar with the Bay Area and equally as much with some of his new teammates — many of which double as ex-teammates: Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, via his Red Sox days.

The infielder brings with him a career .250 average spanning five seasons, none of which amounted to more than 100 games. The closest the oft-injured Lowrie got to triple-digit appearances was last year, when he played in 97 games, hitting .244 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs while not sidelined with a couple of fluke injuries.

“I’m excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year and have the opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area,” Lowrie said. “I obviously followed the story last year, considering everyone had pegged either the Angels or Rangers to win it. It was a great story to watch from a distance. It’s a group of young guys that obviously know how to win and hopefully just continues to get better.”

Carter was thought to be an integral piece of Oakland’s future, but he may be primed for a brighter one from a personal standpoint in Houston, where his right-handed bat could break havoc at Minute Maid Park. Furthermore, he gives the Astros an appealing long-term option at designated hitter, where his at-bats were going to be limited in Oakland because of the excess in outfielders.

“We don’t really need a true DH, since we’ll be resting outfielders and some of those guys are going to be in the DH slot,” Beane said. “We didn’t see as much opportunity for Chris immediately.”

Peacock was facing a similar situation. The right-hander, initially acquired by the A’s from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year, was prepared to enter camp behind at least seven pitchers, following a full year at Triple-A Sacramento that saw him go 12-9 with a 6.01 ERA. Suddenly, he could be given a quick opportunity with the rebuilding Astros.

Stassi, meanwhile, departs the organization that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft on the heels of another injury-plagued season. The catcher endured two stints on the disabled list but still managed to hit .268 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs in 84 games with Class-A Stockton.

Monday’s trade only came together once Rodriguez was included, however. The 28-year-old righty struck out 78 batters in 70 1/3 innings for the Astros last season and “was part of the deal that helped us get over the top,” Beane said, “because we felt like we were giving them a pretty good package and this addition sort of helped us get to the finish line.”

Overall, Rodriguez was 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 relief appearances in 2012 — misleading numbers, insists Beane, who likes the added bullpen depth this trade gives the A’s.

It seems they don’t need much else before camp opens.

“I rarely say this,” Beane said, “but I told this to [owner] Lew [Wolff]: That’s it. We’re done, as it relates to the Major League roster.”