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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.

A’s sign Fuld to Minor League deal; promote Zaidi

The A’s on Tuesday agreed to terms with outfielder Sam Fuld on a Minor League deal that includes a Spring Training invite.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, who first reported the deal, Fuld will earn $800,000 if he’s on the Major League roster and up to an additional $100,000 in incentives based on games played. In addition, he has a pair of opt-out dates in late March or June 1, if he has not been added to the active roster.

Fuld has played in parts of six seasons in the Majors and spent the last three with the Rays as a reserve outfielder, batting .230/.301/.326 with five home runs and 49 RBIs in 268 games in that span. He played in 119 games in 2013, struggling to the tune of a .199 average in 200 trips to the plate before he was non-tendered.

However, the 32-year-old is regarded as an excellent defender and can play all three outfield positions. He joins Billy Burns as one of two outfielders listed on Oakland’s non-roster invitee list to Spring Training, providing the club additional depth for a Major League outfield that boasts Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Craig Gentry.

Also on Tuesday, the A’s announced the promotion of longtime executive Farhan Zaidi to the title of Assistant General Manager/Director of Baseball Operations.

Zaidi, 37, is entering his 10th season in the A’s front office, serving as director of baseball operations for the last five and often traveling with the team in that time.

He is second in line under general manager Billy Beane, as David Forst remains Beane’s top assistant GM.

More than 20 players to appear at A’s FanFest

The A’s just released a list of names expected to be in attendance at FanFest this weekend. Manager Bob Melvin and his coaching staff will be joined by these players:

Yoenis Céspedes, Jesse Chavez, Ryan Cook, Josh Donaldson, Sean Doolittle, Chris Gimenez, Craig Gentry, Sonny Gray, John Jaso, Jim Johnson, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Otero, Jarrod Parker, Drew Pomeranz, Nick Punto, Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Dan Straily and Stephen Vogt.

Former players from the A’s 1974 and 1989 World Series champion teams, including Vida Blue, Ray Fosse, Gene Tenace, Dave Henderson and Tony Phillips, are also scheduled to be there.

More details on FanFest can be found here.

A’s give up Blevins for speedy outfielder Burns

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The upper reaches of their organization lacking in premier talent, the A’s used a piece of their bullpen depth to get some on Wednesday afternoon, trading for speedy outfielder Billy Burns from the Nationals in exchange for lefty reliever Jerry Blevins.

Make that two trades in as many days for the A’s, who swung a deal for hurlers Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen while giving up Brett Anderson to the Rockies on Tuesday, and five trades in the last 10 days. Moreover, this marks the seventh trade consummated by the A’s and Nationals in the last three years.

Burns, 24, was named the Nationals’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, after batting .315 with a .425 on-base percentage and 96 runs scored in 121 games between Class-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. He stole 74 bases in 81 attempts, and in his three professional seasons has stolen 125 bases and been caught only 17 times. He played 119 games in the outfield this season, between left field and center, and committed only two errors.

The switch-hitting outfielder, who fills the void left by the departed Michael Choice, was a 32nd-round Draft selection by Washington out of Mercer University in the 2011 Draft.

Blevins was the A’s longest-tenured pitcher, having just completed his seventh season in Oakland, going 5-0 with a 3.15 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in a career-high 67 games. His 281 career appearances with the A’s are tied for sixth most in Oakland history.

The always engaging southpaw served as the club’s player representative each of the last two and a half seasons and was very involved in the local community, making Tuesday’s news bittersweet for Blevins.

“I’ll miss Oakland,” Blevins said by phone. “It’s the only place I’ve known in the big leagues, and the fans have been so great to me. It’ll be a sad moment when I leave, but I’m excited for the opportunity.

“You know, trade rumors are just that, and I’ve always gone to the way of ignoring all of the rumor talk and waiting on facts, so it was definitely a surprise for me.”

The loss of Blevins could now entice the A’s to use the left-handed Pomeranz out of the bullpen, though he’ll also likely be in the mix for a starting spot.