Author Archive

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.

Days 4/5: Awaiting position players

Yesterday and today were fairly quiet in camp, since the initial intrigue of pitchers throwing bullpens typically goes away after the first one. Now, starters switch to throwing bullpens every third day rather than every other day. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily are among the pitchers scheduled to throw live batting practice tomorrow — which, yes, means position players have finally arrived. They reported today for physicals and will dress tomorrow, with Bob Melvin planning to address his entire team at 10 a.m. before the first full-squad workout. Most had already been in the clubhouse already, but a few, including Yoenis Cespedes, Jed Lowrie, Addison Russell and Alberto Callaspo, weren’t seen until today.

Cespedes was there very early and headed straight for the cages to begin work with hitting coach Chili Davis. I talked extensively with Davis after they were done, and he had some insightful things to say about Cespedes, who he said is coming into camp more focused than ever. At times last season, he didn’t have this focus at the plate, as we saw when he was swinging at bad pitches and letting good ones pass by him often. Cespedes is really trying to stick to that shortened swing to make consistent contact, instead of always swinging for the fences, and Davis is already happy with what he’s seeing, knowing Cespedes put in a ton of work this winter.

“Offensively, the sky’s the limit,” Davis said. “He’s in a position in the lineup to drive in a lot of runs, and if he’s focused, he can drive in 120-plus runs. I see him as a guy that has the ability to be one of the top five players in the game if he wants to be. He understands if he wants to get there; he has to have the discipline.”

The full story on Cespedes here.

Russell blended right in when he arrived in the clubhouse today, looking a little less like the kid we saw come in last year. He’s still just 20, but it’s very possible he could be with the A’s at some point this year, probably in the later stages. Melvin made clear today that the organization is not wanting him to start the season on the big league roster. You never want to potentially rush and impede a player’s progression, especially if it’s not necessary. The A’s already have an everyday shortstop in Jed Lowrie, and they have a couple backups at the position, too. Plus, there’s no reason to start the clock on his service time right now. No matter, he’ll be a sight to watch this spring, and there’s no doubt he’ll get his time in Oakland in the near future.

More on Russell in today’s Notebook, which also includes an item on the team potentially upping its running game this year, with Craig Gentry in tow.

If you missed it yesterday, Jim Johnson appeared in an episode of “House of Cards” after befriending Kevin Spacey last July in Baltimore. He’s a big fan of the show, and having watched it myself, I highly, highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

Also, Tommy Milone appears to be the sixth man of the rotation right now, but he has every intention of earning a job out of camp.

Day 3: Hallelujah, it’s raining (setup) men

Is that amount of cheesiness allowed when it’s only the third day of camp? I don’t know, but I’m going with it.

But, really, the A’s are absolutely loaded with setup men. They’re stacked, in general, in the bullpen, but this group in particular could really be something special. We’ve seen how great the Ryan Cook-Sean Doolittle combo can be leading up to the ninth inning, but for Bob Melvin to also have Luke Gregerson at his disposal is significant. Dan Otero, too, will be called upon at times this year to get the job done. Melvin said as much when speaking of his setup guys today.

Doolittle, by the way, threw a bullpen for the first time in a week Monday and felt no issues with his calf, so it appears he’s in the clear.

So many quality arms in there already, and then the A’s went out and got another today, stealing Joe Savery off waivers from the Phillies this afternoon. Here’s the story on the left-hander, who is expected to report to camp tomorrow and join in on the workouts on Wednesday. A preview: He had good numbers last year, but with bizarre splits, and can hit! The A’s do like their players to be versatile.

Savery’s arrival really does add more intrigue to the battle for bullpen spots, since only two seem to be open. Jesse Chavez and Evan Scribner are both out of options. They’re also both right-handed, so it seems one — Chavez probably has the edge here — may only make the team. That leaves room for a lefty, so it might come down to Savery and Fernando Abad. We can throw in Drew Pomeranz, too, though the A’s may want to keep him as a starter, even if it means he begins the year in Triple-A.

I spoke to Pomeranz today, and he’s not only feeling better about that awful infection he got from an ingrown leg hair (yes, he said this was a first for him), but about where he is as a pitcher. Specifically, he says he’s not lost anymore with his mechanics. He’s at a place where he feels confident in repeating his delivery, and a new change of scenery usually helps too.

“I’m already feeling more confident,” said Pomeranz. “That helps a lot, because you know you are yourself and you don’t have to think about what you’re doing wrong all the time. If you don’t feel right, you’re going to try to tweak every pitch, every little thing, things that probably don’t even need tweaking.”

That, and more from Pomeranz, can also be found in today’s Notebook.

Melvin is not planning on adding an intrasquad game to his team’s Spring Training schedule. Several clubs choose to organize one to give their players additional preseason game experience, but Melvin’s reasoning was simple.

“We’re not going to add a game just to add a game,” he said. “We have 162 regular-season games, 30-plus during the spring. We have more drills we want to focus on before playing what is plenty of games.”

Lastly, yoga’s back! For the A’s, that is. (I prefer Pilates.) This is the second spring they’ve brought in yoga expert Katherine Roberts, who has worked with a few other Major League teams in the past, as well.

“It’s really been good for our guys, and they embrace it,” said Melvin. “I think it was wise we broke it out again this year. It’s not just flexibility, but balance and body awareness — what parts of your body you need to work on to be a little bit looser and so forth.”

Position players will join in the fun when the first full-squad workout takes place Thursday. Billy Burns (the speedy outfielder acquired from the Nats for Jerry Blevins who also happens to look like a teenage bat boy) and Andy Parrino were the latest early arrivals Monday.

P.S. If you missed it this morning, beat reporters did Q&As with each team’s president in honor of Presidents Day. A’s president Mike Crowley touched on the stadium issue, and noted the A’s payroll will climb above $70 million this year. That hasn’t happened since 2007 ($79 million).

Here’s what Crowley had to say.

A’s claim Savery off waivers

The A’s just claimed lefty reliever Joe Savery off waivers from the Phillies, further adding to their enviable bullpen depth.

To make room on the 40-man roster for their newest addition, Oakland transferred southpaw Eric O’Flaherty — recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until midseason — to the 60-man disabled list.

The 28-year-old Savery was Philadelphia’s first-round selection,19th overall, in the 2007 Draft.  He went 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA and two saves in 18 appearances for the Phillies last year, holding opponents to a .205 average in 20 innings of work.

Savery has pitched in parts of the last three seasons with Philadelphia, compiling a 4.15 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 41 games overall, striking out 32 but also yielding 42 hits in 47 2/3 innings.

He’ll face heavy competition in camp for a bullpen spot. And while it’s expected he’d likely battle it out with Fernando Abad for a job as a lefty specialist, it’s worth taking a look at his bizarre splits to debate whether that’s even a good role for him. Last year he held right-handers to a .118 average spanning 51 at-bats. Lefties, though, hit .409 off him in 22 at-bats. For his career, right-handers own a .212/.315 .363 batting line vs. him; lefties .286/.304/.429.

Day 2: New guys impress early

There was a lot to see in little time at Papago Park on Sunday morning, with a trio of newcomers throwing bullpens on the second day of camp. Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson all threw in front of their newest employers, each one making a good impression. Now, you can’t put much stock, if any, into a mid-February bullpen session, since there will be plenty more even before spring games again, but this is the time to begin assessing where each pitcher is with his repertoire and mechanics. It’s also important in the sense it allows the catchers to either introduce or reacquaint themselves with the pitching staff.

I spoke to Derek Norris about this after workouts and, to no surprise, he takes it very seriously. Regarded as having great relationships with his pitchers, Norris knows these sprout in camp — but not on their own. Great effort goes into learning dozens of pitchers, and this process is paramount to in-game results.

Norris was surprised to find out Kazmir has a cutter — a pitch Kazmir added to the mix just last year in the second half when he lost grip on his traditional slider. The cutter basically takes the place of that pitch, and the lefty said he began using it often against righties to open up the plate and induce ground balls. On Sunday, his breaking stuff wasn’t up to par, but that’s normal for pitchers this time of year. However, Kazmir impressed everyone with his fastball location.

“It’s still early, and of course everything’s going to look faster than it probably is, but it’s coming out good,” said Norris. “Everything was popping the mitt. It was the first day, but the way he was dotting up with his fastball was really impressive, especially this early. So my first impression of him is very strong.”

Melvin said just as much, too, and relayed a fun little side note: He was managing the Mariners when Kazmir made his Major League debut with the Rays in Seattle back in 2004. Kazmir pitched five shutout innings for the win.

“I didn’t like him at all. Now I do,” Melvin joked. “But man you could see what he was all about at that time. He’s had some bumps in the road, but it’s not like he’s 40 years old. He’s at the prime in his career.”

You can read more about Kazmir’s day, as well as Norris’ plans to take the pitcher golfing, in today’s Notebook.

Also in there, plans for Sean Doolittle. Hint: the lefty is on the mend from his left calf strain and expected to throw a bullpen come Monday. Drew Pomeranz, meanwhile, will likely stay away from the mound for a few days while recovering from an infection in his leg stemming from an ingrown hair that had to be lanced — not the most common of setbacks you hear about, or one I’ve ever written about before now.

Johnson, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly boast quite the fiery spirit that Grant Balfour brought to the mound, but he doesn’t hide his emotions either.

“You can tell Johnson’s a bit of a perfectionist,” Melvin said. “If he doesn’t throw the ball exactly where he wants to, he gets upset with himself.”

So don’t expect Johnson to be patting himself on the back after these bullpen days. That job’s for Melvin, who praised the tall righty. He did the same for Gregerson, coming away from the day floored by his deception, joking, “I don’t know if you put a million dollars on the table and tell him to throw the ball straight, that he could do it.”

One more leftover quote from Melvin on the veteran Johnson: “He seems to be an all-business guy. He knows his routine, knows what works for him. I’ve found he’s very routine-oriented in the morning. We’ve seen him probably pitch against him too much the last couple years, it’ll be nice to finally see him on the mound in the right colors.”

Also on the site today, this story on Jarrod Parker, who has put on a bit of weight as part of an ongoing effort to build up his stamina, which was missing at season’s end last year. This wasn’t a homework assignment from the A’s; Parker did this on his own, which says a lot about him, particularly his self-awareness.

Tomorrow is Day 3 of workouts for pitchers and catchers, and position players are finally set to join them Thursday. Coco Crisp and Nate Freiman were among the new arrivals in camp today.

– Jane Lee

Day 1: Workouts underway

The competition begins now.

Saturday marked the first official day of workouts for A’s pitchers and catchers, a group of 35 roster hopefuls — including 10 non-roster invitees. It was a relatively uneventful day, though that’s typically a positive when it comes to early spring workouts. Players wandered into the clubhouse in the early hours of the morning, intently watched the Olympic shootout thriller between the U.S. and Russia and generally took it easy in advance of manager Bob Melvin’s annual address to the troops. An extended version will be relayed to the entire team once position players gather for the first full-squad workout on Thursday, but this was a simple meeting of introductions and expectations.

Chief among them: improved defense.

“I brought up today that we have to get better as a pitching staff defensively,” said Melvin. “We had some errors last year and have to get better, so that will be a focus.”

Oakland pitchers ranked in the middle of the pack last year in errors, tallying 10 for 14th most in the Majors. So it wasn’t surprising to see everyone’s favorite Spring Training activity, PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice) underway on multiple fields at Papago Park. These coincided with a handful of bullpen sessions.

Drew Pomeranz was among the pitchers listed on Saturday’s schedule to throw off the mound, but the lefty had to stay back at Phoenix Muni to deal with an ingrown hair in his leg that had to be lanced to avoid infection. Now he’ll probably throw Sunday or Monday.

After each workout, Melvin typically likes to hand out praise to the players who made a big impression on him that day, and on Saturday it was Evan Scribner he mentioned first. The righty reliever, who is out of options, “looked like he was in midseason form,” according to Melvin, who added that “the ball was flying out of his hand.” I ran into Scribner shortly after, and he said he’s just glad to be throwing in normal weather again. (Scribner’s from wintery Connecticut, and it reached the high 80’s in Phoenix today).

The biggest news of the day probably came from a pitcher who didn’t throw a bullpen. Ryan Cook, who has been dealing with shoulder inflammation for the better part of the month, threw from a distance of 75 feet on Saturday without any issues. The plan is to progress from there and be ready for Opening Day, so this is encouraging news for the A’s.

Here’s the full story on Cook, who told me, “Today I actually felt better than I have in a really long time. I feel great. It’s night and day. In fact, I ask myself, ‘How long was I dealing with it without knowing?’ My arm felt alive, and I haven’t really felt that out of my hand in awhile.”

Another pitcher on the mend, Sean Doolittle, is expected to be back on the mound come Monday. The lefty’s been dealing with a right calf strain for a few days but took part in running drills on Saturday and came out pain-free.

Also on the site today, a story on new A’s pitcher Josh Lindblom. The right-hander, who came over with Craig Gentry from Texas for Michael Choice this winter, is one of a handful of pitchers who are looking for a spot on the pitching staff as either a starter or reliever. Lindblom was mostly a reliever in recent years, but he says he now sees himself as a starter after making the transition in Texas last year. He’ll be stretched out as one, and the same goes for Pomeranz and Philip Humber, who are in the same boat. Jesse Chavez can be included in this mix, too, and so can Tommy Milone, though Melvin noted Saturday he doesn’t want to make it seem as if Milone is on the outside looking in to the rotation. Even though Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin seem to be the favorites to grab the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation behind Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, Milone is still very much considered a candidate for the job.

Tomorrow will be more of the same, and this should all start to feel very routine shortly. But the group will increase greatly in number come Thursday, when the position players join the mix.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers