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A’s forced to make tough roster decisions

First baseman Daric Barton and outfielder Sam Fuld have made the A’s Opening Day roster. Catcher Stephen Vogt will begin the season at Triple-A Sacramento, and Michael Taylor, one of the club’s former top prospects, was designated for assignment.

Those were just a handful of announcements made Saturday my manager Bob Melvin, who has also elected to start the season with a bullpen that will include lefties Drew Pomeranz and Fernando Abad and right-hander Evan Scribner. His other four relievers — Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero — were already locks.

As expected, righty Ryan Cook (shoulder) will begin the season on the disabled list, as will outfielder Craig Gentry (back). Both are expected to be back when eligible April 5.

Lefty Joe Savery, who was in battle for a bullpen spot, will pitch in relief for Sacramento.

“Certain times you look at Spring Training numbers and sometimes you don’t, and when you’re competing for jobs you do,” said Melvin. “Pomeranz and Abad had terrific springs, and we do need the length option. We feel like Pomeranz and Scribner give us that, and Abad gives us that lefty matchup we were looking for, and deservingly so.”

Melvin’s most difficult conversation Saturday came with Vogt, who hit .364 with three homers this spring, after enjoying a breakout stint with the A’s last year and collecting the walk-off hit in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

The A’s very much expect Vogt back in the big leagues this year, but they’ve opted to begin the year with only two catchers — Derek Norris and John Jaso — to ensure roster room for Barton, who will be entering his eighth season in Oakland.

Barton will start at first base against most right-handers, while the A’s other left handed-hitting first baseman, Brandon Moss, sees more time at designated hitter. Alberto Callaspo will start at first base against lefties.

“I went about my business all spring as if I was going to make the team,” said an emotional Vogt. “Obviously you never want to believe it until it happens. I believe in myself and I know at some point this year I’ll be back to help. It’s still a tough day to get that news.

“This is such a great team, a fun team, and it’s just hard to not necessarily be a physical part of it at the beginning of the year. I think that’s the hardest part for me. I love these guys.”

“That was maybe the most difficult one I’ve had to do,” said Melvin. “Not only what he’s meant to this team in the time he’s been here, but he comes into spring trying to make the team and proving he belongs here and he did. That’s a tough one on everybody, not only myself but the front office, the coaches, certainly him. Now, is he going to be here at some point in time this year? I don’t see how he can’t be.”

Emotions also ran high for Taylor, who spent four years in the organization, the bulk of it at Triple-A. He hit just .135 in 74 at-bats at the big league level but excelled this spring, batting .274 with three home runs.

“I’m obviously a little sad because I’ll be missing some of the guys I’ve grown up with in this game,” said Taylor. “I know they’ll have a great season. Now, for me, it’s just seeing what the next step is for me and my family.

“I think I have a lot to offer as a player. It didn’t really come out here at the big league level. I’ll just continue to work hard and hopefully, at some point, I get the opportunity to break through and stick.”

The A’s have 10 days to trade, release or pass Taylor through waivers to keep him in the system, though that’s not likely to happen, with outside interest thought to be high for the outfielder.

“I can’t imagine that it’s not better than it’s ever been for him,” said Melvin. “When you’re getting as much playing time as he had, all the big league scouts are watching at that particular time, and he really impressed and performed well, not only offensively, but defensively. As an organization, certainly we’d like to keep him. But as a human being, you want the best to happen for him.”

For Fuld, his place on the A’s roster could be a temporary one, since Gentry is anticipated back during the team’s first homestand. But considering he had an opt-out date March 26, the A’s are fortunate to ensure more time with him.

Fuld can play all three outfield spots “plus-plus,” said Melvin, and “deserved to make the team,” after batting .271 with six extra-base hits, including four triples, this spring.

“Obviously I’m really excited,” Fuld said. “All you can ask for when you come into a situation like I did is an opportunity, and I got a good opportunity to play, and I’m generally pretty happy with how I played.

“This is an easy place to feel comfortable. It seems like whether you’re Josh Donaldson or the 25th man, everybody has a role here. I feel like everyone is going to have an opportunity to contribute, and that’s great.”

Speedster Billy Burns, acquired in the offseason from Washington for lefty Jerry Blevins, will begin the season at Double-A Midland, according to Melvin, after totaling a team-high 22 hits in 72 spring at-bats.

“He was very appreciative of the opportunity, and from what we’ve seen,” said Melvin, “he’ll be a big leaguer at some point, I believe.”

A’s announce Opening Day roster

Your 25:

Catchers (2): Derek Norris, John Jaso

Infielders (7): Brandon Moss, Daric Barton, Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson

Outfielders (4): Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Sam Fuld

Starters (5): Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone

Relievers (7): RHPs Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Evan Scribner; LHPs Sean Doolittle, Fernando Abad, Drew Pomeranz

  • Michael Taylor designated for assignment
  • Optioned to Triple-A: C Stephen Vogt, LHP Joe Savery, INF Jake Elmore
  • Billy Burns will begin the season in Double-A Midland

Ryan Cook, A.J. Griffin, Craig Gentry and Fernando Rodriguez will start season on the DL.

 

 

Projecting the 25-man roster

We’re nearly a week out from Opening Day, and the A’s roster is starting to take form. Bob Melvin announced Sunday morning that outfielder Craig Gentry and righty reliever Ryan Cook will begin the season on the disabled list, as expected, allowing us to further speculate who will be on the club come Opening Day. Furthermore, with Arnold Leon being reassigned Sunday — no announcement has been made, but his locker was cleared — and Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom likely starting the season at Triple-A to be stretched out and provide starting depth, a once-crowded bullpen appears to be in place. Nothing is set, but based on what we know to this point, here is my 25-man roster prediction:

Catchers (2): Derek Norris, John Jaso

Infielders (7): Brandon Moss, Daric Barton, Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson

Outfielders (4): Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Sam Fuld

Starters (5): Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone

Relievers (7): RHPs Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Evan Scribner; LHPs Sean Doolittle, Fernando Abad, Joe Savery

Stephen Vogt obviously deserves a roster spot, but he has been fighting for a job that was never available in the first place. Keep in mind, t’s never been about Vogt vs. Jaso. Jaso was a lock from Day 1. But the A’s desire to keep Barton on board doesn’t allow them to carry three catchers.

Gray named Opening Day starter

Young righty Sonny Gray has been named the A’s Opening Day starter.

Oakland’s 2011 first-round Draft pick, who made his debut just last July, has only 12 big league starts under his belt. Yet two of them came on baseball’s biggest stage, against one of the game’s best, and Gray’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Detroit’s Justin Verlander in Games 2 and 5 of the American League Division Series played a significant role in manager Bob Melvin’s decision.

The 24-year-old Gray is the A’s ninth consecutive different Opening Day starter, the longest such streak in the Majors.

“He’s very quickly become that guy for us — whether it was last year in the playoffs or being the Friday night guy at Vanderbilt, he was always that guy,” said Melvin. “He’s not afraid of the spotlight, not that anyone else couldn’t do it as well. But we’re comfortable with him.

“Not only the poise, but the competitiveness, how driven he is, and we’ve seen it all spring long here too. Whether he’s throwing in a bullpen, pitching in a game, it doesn’t matter to him, he’s the same guy all the time and takes his A game out there and is prepared every single time.”

Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone will follow in the rotation behind Gray, who is scheduled to christen the A’s season with a 7:05 p.m. PT start against the Indians at the Coliseum on March 31.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Gray. “I’ve had a big smile on my face, and I’m just excited for the opportunity.”

Gray was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 games, 10 starts, last year, striking out 67 next to only 20 walks in 64 innings. He limited the Tigers to three earned runs spanning 13 combined innings over two starts in the playoffs.

In other news, Melvin made official what has been speculated all along: right-hander Ryan Cook and outfielder Craig Gentry will begin the season on the disabled list. They will only play in Minor League games this spring, allowing them to be eligible to return from the DL as early as April 5. Fernando Rodriguez, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, will also start on the Dl.

Parker: “I can do it again”

Jarrod Parker was back in A’s camp on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after learning from Dr. James Andrews in Florida that he needs a second Tommy John surgery, to be performed a week from today.

Parker, who was anticipated to make his first career Opening Day start, will miss the entire 2014 season. Understandably, he was visibly upset when speaking to reporters, but at the same time he spoke in positive terms, acknowledging his desire to do whatever it takes to get back on the mound again.

Said Parker: “There’s always that thought, ‘Why me? Why the guys that are working hard and we think we’re doing the right things?’ It’s that thought in the back of your head, ‘What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change?’

“But I think, to sit back and look and regret and think you did something wrong is not the right attitude.”

Here’s more of what he had to say:

On his initial reaction to hearing the news:

“I was upset. It’s one of those things where you say you go in prepared but you can’t really prepare for that. It’s tough to do alone, but I needed to go alone yesterday and hear it and let it sink in. I feel like it’s a speed bump at this point. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.”

On his conversation with Bob Melvin and his manager’s support:

“It’s big. He’s going to be in my corner no matter what. He knows as well as I do that you can’t put statistics on individual guys. You don’t want to categorize things and be a statistic. I want to be the different one, and hopefully things work out, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it work.”

On receiving Tommy John news a second time:

“It’s tough. It’s never easy news. I love this game. I love this team. It’s tough.”

On the mental aspect of such a long rehab:

“I think that’s going to be the biggest battle. Everything phsycially — I’m young, I’m healthy, I work hard — but it’s going to be a test. I’m going to be around the team, be around all the guys.I’ve gotten hundreds of texts already, and I’m going to seek out as much information as I can, as much support as I can.

“Some of them have made me laughed, some of them have made me a little teary-eyed. It’s good, but it’s tough at the same time.”

On Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone filling out rotation:

“I think they’re more than capable. They’re Major League pitchers. It’s not like we’re searching and seeking and trying to find something. These guys are established Major Leaguers, they’re hard workers, they’re guys that are going to do whatever it takes.”

Parker to undergo second Tommy John surgery

The A’s will be playing for their third straight American League West title without Jarrod Parker on their side.

Oakland learned Monday afternoon that the right-hander, who was in line to make his first career Opening Day start, will instead undergo his second Tommy John surgery on March 25 and miss the entirety of the 2014 campaign.

Rehab from the surgery typically spans 12 to 18 months.

The devastating revelation is the latest in an unfortunate string of news for the A’s, who knew they would already be without A.J. Griffin (muscle strain) for the first month of the season. Parker and Griffin combined for 397 innings last year.

Now it’s likely Sonny Gray, who has just 12 big league starts under his belt, assumes Opening Day duties, with Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone filling out the rotation.

“Obviously we feel bad for Jarrod,” said A’s assistant general manager David Forst. “I know he worked hard this offseason after having some struggles at the end of the year and was hoping to be at the top of the rotation this year. Other than that, we can only play the hand that we’re dealt, and we obviously spent a lot of time putting together pitching depth coming into the year, and some guys are going to have to step up.”

Parker, 25-16 with a 3.73 ERA in 61 starts for the A’s the last two years, experienced forearm discomfort for much of the last month of the 2013 season but entered camp feeling stronger than ever, having put on added muscle weight in an effort to avoid another round of late-season fatigue.

But he pitched to a 10.61 ERA in three starts this spring, before manager Bob Melvin noticed Parker struggling to get loose while playing catch on Friday. The two spoke shortly after, and it was decided right then that the pitcher would visit Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on Monday,

Andrews performed Parker’s first Tommy John surgery on Oct. 28, 2009, while he was still a member of the D-backs organization. He’s far from the only pitcher to undergo the elbow procedure twice. Former A’s relievers Joey Devine and Jason Isringhausen are examples, as are Brian Wilson, Daniel Hudson, Ryan Madson, Kris Medlen and Cory Luebke.

“You don’t know what the recovery rate is with guys with a second Tommy John,” said Forst, “but unfortunately it’s becoming more frequent.”

Depth is what’s separated the A’s from their division counterparts in recent years, and they’re hoping they have enough to withstand their current crop of injuries and remain a contending team. Forst said the organization will not pursue outside help despite Monday’s news.

Chavez, who a valuable piece of the A’s bullpen last year, takes Griffin’s spot in the rotation, while Milone, who has compiled 25 wins for the club the past two years, now likely slots in for Parker.  Oakland also has Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom as other options.

“We obviously thought these guys could start when we brought them in here,” said Forst. “That’s why we stretched Jesse out from the start of Spring Training. That’s why Tommy wasn’t traded in the offseason, despite everyone saying, ‘What are they going to do with all these starters?’

“We’ve been through enough seasons to know five starters isn’t going to make it, and in this case, five starters didn’t make it to Opening Day. Hopefully we’ve done enough planning and those guys are ready to step in and be Major League starters.”

A’s roster taking form

A’s Opening Day is exactly two weeks away. Answering a few roster questions….

Jesse Chavez gets the road start on Tuesday against the White Sox. Dan Straily will pitch Wednesday, and it’s Tommy Milone throwing in a Minor League game on the off-day, giving us an idea of how Oakland’s rotation is lining up for the season. The A’s already know they’ll be without A.J. Griffin at season’s start, and if they also don’t have Jarrod Parker, who is being examined by Dr. James Andrews today, this is how their rotation sets up, with Chavez slotting right into Griffin’s spot: Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Chavez, Straily and Milone, in that order.

It’s too early for news on Parker, but the righty was in good spirits ahead of his trip and confident that his forearm strain is just that, nothing more.

Craig Gentry took part in all baseball activity for the first time since suffering lower back spasms this morning, and the outfielder’s next step is likely a simulated game. It’s possible he doesn’t get into a Cactus League game until a week out from Opening Day. Whether that gives him enough time to be ready for the season is unclear, though, as a part-time player, he likely doesn’t need a full complement of spring at-bats. The A’s can slowly work him into the season. On the flip side, they have another excellent fourth outfielder candidate in Sam Fuld, who will almost assuredly take Gentry’s Opening Day roster spot if Gentry begins the season on the DL.He has an opt-out date at the end of the month, and the A’s don’t want to lose him.

Michael Taylor is out of options, yes, but he doesn’t profile as the part-time outfielder the A’s need, whereas Fuld has plenty experience in this role. Equally important is Fuld’s ability to play center field.

For those wondering if the A’s would carry both, it’s not likely. They’re only planning on taking four outfielders (Brandon Moss can act as a fifth outfielder) because they’ll probably have seven infielders in tow: Moss, Daric Barton, Alberto Callaspo, Eric Sogard, Nick Punto, Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson.

Ryan Cook threw live batting practice on Sunday, and his next step is a simulated game on Wednesday. He might need two of those before getting into an exhibition game; maybe not.

Today’s lineup vs. a split-squad Cubs team, with Kazmir on the mound: Crisp CF, Jaso C, Reddick RF, Moss 1B, Callaspo 3B, Vogt DH, Punto SS, Fuld LF, Sogard 2B

Norris sidelined by back spasms

A’s catcher Derek Norris was scratched from Friday’s lineup against the D-backs because of back spasms.

The 25-year-old backstop was originally slated to be behind the plate for lefty Scott Kazmir’s Cactus League debut, but that job went to Stephen Vogt, and Norris is expected to remain out of action through at least Saturday, according to manager Bob Melvin.

Melvin said Norris has been dealing with the issue “for a couple of days,” and it’s the same one that forced him to miss a handful of games last August.

Norris is 3-for-11 (.273) with one home run and four RBIs in five games this spring.

A day after throwing his first bullpen of the spring, Ryan Cook was set to throw long toss from 90 feet on Friday. His next bullpen will follow in a few days. Despite his encouraging progression, Melvin still sounded weary on Friday of having him ready by Opening Day. There just might not be enough time to get him a certain amount of appearances. Melvin noted that by spring’s end, most other relievers will have 8 to 10 appearances under their belt. At this point, Cook may only have time for six or seven.

Today’s lineup vs. D-backs: Burns CF, Lowrie, SS, Donaldson 3B, Cespedes LF, Callaspo 1B, Reddick RF, Montz DH, Elmore 2B, Vogt C

Scott Kazmir makes his Cactus League debut, and Callaspo makes his debut at first base.

Cook “way more confident” about Opening Day

After throwing his first bullpen of the spring Thursday morning, Ryan Cook’s confidence level was off the charts.

Oakland’s right-handed reliever, no longer nursing shoulder inflammation that sidelined him in late January, was already pretty certain he’d be ready by Opening Day. Now, 20 pain-free pitches off a mound later, he has no doubt in his mind.

“I’m way more confident,” said Cook, who has made 71 appearances in each of the last two seasons for the A’s. “That’s like a double-edge sword, because I felt confident the whole time. To say I’m more confident is strictly because I felt good, not because I was doubting myself.

“Everything felt great, really good. Pleasantly surprised isn’t the right term to use, because I’m not surprised, but I would say instead of optimistic, I’m confident. I don’t want to say I didn’t expect it to feel that good, but I was happy it did.”

Cook threw just fastballs but said he’s already been working on his offspeed pitches in flat ground sessions. He’ll likely throw another bullpen this weekend and, barring any setbacks, face hitters in live batting practice sometime next week in advance of his Cactus League debut.

“You start to feel like, wow, I can speed the process up and get in a game shortly, as opposed to, you’re so far away and you see other guys get out there and compete and you really start to miss the competition factor of it all.

“I competed with myself a little bit today. I didn’t try to blow anything out or try to go 100 percent effort-wise. I just tried to make pitches as if I was facing a hitter.”

Cook still has a chance to appear in at least five or six exhibition games, which the A’s believe is enough to deem him Opening Day-ready. Asked if it’s important to have two of those appearances come on back-to-back days, the 26-year-old responded, “I don’t think that’s really an issue.”

“Especially with the strength of our bullpen,” Cook said. “I think that I can get through the first little bit without having to do that. We talk about it all the time. I think our bullpen is really good.”

Today’s A’s lineup @ D-backs, with Sonny Gray on the mound: Crisp CF, Lowrie SS, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Moss 1B, Donaldson 3B, Jaso C, Punto 2B, Fuld LF

One bullpen spot up for grabs

Had some technical issues here the past week, but it appears the blog is back up and running.

A quick update on the bullpen battle: Is there really only one job up for grabs right now?

It appears so, based on manager Bob Melvin’s comments this morning.

“I think six of them could be fairly obvious, and then there’s that seventh spot, and you always want that kind of competition,” he said. “You don’t want to come in with no jobs available, even though I do tell these guys too, just because you don’t start with us doesn’t mean you can’t be a big piece for us, based on the amount of players we used the last couple of years.”

It was pretty easy, from the get-go, to assume that Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero have spots locked up. Now, it seems Jesse Chavez does, too, which makes sense, given his value to the club last year.

That leaves one spot, probably for a lefty, though the A’s have been extremely impressed with righty Evan Scribner so far, and he’s also out of options, which could work in his favor. But if they do really want that second lefty in there, it’ll come down to Fernando Abad and Joe Savery.

Another job could become available, though, if Cook isn’t ready for Opening Day, which Melvin said yesterday is a possibility. Story on that here.

Lineups for today’s split-squad action:

A’s vs. Brewers: Crisp CF, Jaso C, Lowrie SS, Cespedes LF, Callaspo 3B, Freiman 1B, Montz DH, Taylor RF, Elmore 2B; Straily P

A’s @ Cubs: Burns CF, Punto SS, Donaldson 3B, Moss 1B, Reddick RF, Norris C, Fuld LF, Vogt DH, Sogard 2B; Milone P

Melvin will be with the home team, while bench coach Chip Hale manages the road team.

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