March 2013

A’s facing bullpen decisions

SAN FRANCISCO — The A’s have 12 relievers on their roster and just three more days to narrow that field to seven.

“That’s a good problem to have, yet there will probably be a few guys that deserve to make the team that don’t,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s usually a couple of guys every year where that’s the case but probably a few more this year, based on the depth that we do have in the bullpen. The last few cuts will be difficult.”

But perhaps the actual decisions won’t be. Closer Grant Balfour and his set-up men, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, are locks to make the team. That leaves four open spots, and there just so happens to be four relievers — good ones — who are out of options.

That group includes lefties Jerry Blevins and Travis Blackley and right-handers Chris Resop and Pat Neshek. Blevins’ spot is seemingly secure, and Resop and Neshek don’t have much to worry about, either, especially after producing zero ERAs this spring. Blackley, meanwhile, has a 14.21 mark, though his contributions to the 2012 club may end up outweighing those struggles when it comes down to decision time.

“Options always come into play,” Melvin admitted. “That doesn’t mean that that’s the way it’s going to go, but certainly when you do have depth and you try to keep everyone in the fold that sometimes happens. Whether that’s the case here I’m not sure yet.”

Blackley is perhaps the most versatile of any pitcher on the A’s roster, having pitched effectively as both a starter and reliever for the team last year. Should he make the team, he’d be mostly used in a long-relief role. Melvin said Thursday that he’s not committed to carrying a long reliever but hinted that the job could be done by several other guys in the event Blackley is not on the team. He dropped the names of Pedro Figueroa, Jordan Norberto, Evan Scribner and non-roster invitee Mike Ekstrom — who, like Hideki Okajima, could all be the odd men out.

Of Blackley, he said this: “He hasn’t pitched as well as he’d like to this spring, but he did do some very good things for us last year, whether it was starting or long relief, so that plays into it.”

Ultimately, “we have a pretty good idea, other than maybe one spot,” Melvin said, before adding, “Maybe two, but maybe closer to one. One and a half. Let’s leave it at that.

“It could come down to some performances these last three days.”

Nakajima ruled out of Giants series

SAN FRANCISCO — While it’s not yet known whether shortstop Hiro Nakajima will require a trip to the disabled list for his left hamstring strain, the A’s are at least certain he won’t play in this weekend’s three-game exhibition series against the Giants.

The A’s ventured across the Bay Bridge for the first game of the series on Thursday, and it was during that time Nakajima was scheduled to be seen by the team’s doctors to determine the next course of action.

“I do know he will not play in this series, and then after that I’m not 100 percent sure,” manager Bob Melvin said at AT&T Park, “but I’ll probably have a better indication after the game.”

Uncertainty not only surrounds Nakajima’s health but his ability to compete in the big leagues. The Japanese shortstop struggled all spring, both on defense and at the plate, and his slow progression has cleared the way for Jed Lowrie to take over everyday shortstop duties.

The A’s aren’t yet ready to say as much, but there’s no denying that his injury only adds to an already difficult adjustment period. For now, though, they’re not ruling him out of the opening series against the Mariners that begins Monday. Even if healthy, Nakajima could be sent to the Minors to pick up more at-bats.

“It’s tough to say, it is,” Melvin said. “If he misses three games here and a couple back there, it would be difficult to get back into the swing of things, but I’m not really sure yet.”

Nakajima out with hamstring strain

Once bountiful in number, A’s middle infielders are dropping like flies.

Oakland entered Tuesday with as many as six players vying for spots in the heart of the diamond and left it with only four of them healthy.

Just hours after announcing that Adam Rosales would start the season on the disabled list, the A’s watched shortstop Hiro Nakajima exit the 10th inning of a road game against the Indians with a left hamstring strain. He’s considered day to day.

“It’s too bad,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Hopefully it’s nothing significant and he’ll be back playing in a few days, but you don’t know with hamstrings. They can be difficult injuries.”

Nakajima suffered the injury while running from first to second on a sacrifice bunt, just minutes after he had found his way out of a 0-for-20 slump with a base hit. He motioned for a trainer and walked off the field with a slight limp under his own power, ultimately deferring questions from the media before getting on the team bus.

The struggling infielder’s murky health status only makes it that much more plausible that he doesn’t begin the year on the A’s 25-man roster. Rather, Jed Lowrie is likely to begin the season as the everyday shortstop, with Scott Sizemore and Eric Sogard sharing duties at second base. Andy Parrino, who is still in camp, is expected to start the year in Triple-A Sacramento.

That’s where Nakajima seems destined to pick up more at-bats before making his Major League debut. Should his injury prove to be anything but minor, the A’s could place him on the 15-day disabled list and have him rehab with the River Cats. Or, they can simply option him there before setting their roster.

Healthy or not, Nakajima still has work to do. He’s batting .167.

“He was working on some stuff in batting practice today, trying to use his back side and get his legs more involved,” Melvin said. “He had a good BP today and took a good swing on that one there in the 10th, so maybe he’s making progress, finding something that’s working for him.”

Rosales DL-bound with intercostal strain

With news of an injury to infield candidate Adam Rosales coming out Tuesday, the A’s roster is suddenly taking shape.

The versatile Rosales, out of options and in good position to grab a roster spot, will instead open the season on the 15-day disabled list with a left intercostal strain. It’s likely, then, that it will be a mix of Jed Lowrie, Scott Sizemore and Eric Sogard commandeering the middle infield come Opening Day.

Lowrie has been too good this spring — he carried a .310 average into Tuesday — to not be awarded an everyday role with the A’s, who will probably give shortstop Hiro Nakajima more at-bats in the Minors before introducing him to the big leagues.

That leaves the right-handed hitting Sizemore and left-handed Sogard to form what could be a nice platoon at second base, where Rosales was also fighting for playing time.

The 29-year-old Rosales, injured in Monday’s game, was batting .324 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 21 games this spring. This marks the second time in three years he will begin the season on the DL, having sat out the start of 2011 while recovering from a fractured right foot.

The recovery time for intercostal strains vary, but typically players require at least a month off before returning to game action.

Tuesday’s news bodes well for first baseman Nate Freiman, whose chances of making the team have grown now that Rosales — a backup option at first base — is out of the mix.

Sizemore suffers left hand bruise

Three A’s players were hit by a pitch in as many innings on Sunday, and one felt worse than the others.

Second baseman Scott Sizemore suffered a left hand bruise in his third at-bat against Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood, and he was taken out the next inning when he experienced trouble getting a good grip on the bat.

Sizemore was seen leaving the A’s clubhouse with his left hand wrapped, though he said in passing that it was “nothing too serious,” or at least he hoped.

Manager Bob Melvin also wants to believe that’s the case, telling reporters that it “didn’t look like a fracture” but, rather, a minor soft-tissue injury. The A’s will wait until swelling subsides in Sizemore’s hand and determine Monday morning if he needs to undergo an X-ray.

The infielder has already had one too many tough breaks in his young career, missing all of 2012 while rehabbing from a torn ACL just two years after a broken ankle derailed his rookie season with the Tigers.

“He’s a tough kid,” Melvin said. “He’s had a couple of tough injuries in the last four years and that’s the last thing you want to see happen, but hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

Sizemore is in battle, primarily with Jemile Weeks, for the second-base job, and he did his part Sunday by notching two hits in his first two at-bats, after collecting just one in his previous 10 at-bats.

“He’s working hard, hadn’t gotten many results, even though he was hitting some balls hard,” Melvin said, “and so it’s always nice to get a couple of hits and feeling good about staying with the plan that you have.”

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