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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.

A’s stay quiet on Day 1 of Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The A’s worked in fast fashion last week when reeling in five players in four separate moves in a matter of two days, so it’s of no real surprise they’re not exactly zealous to get another deal done this week at the Winter Meetings, which conclude Thursday.

The majority of Oakland’s front office members, including general manager Billy Beane, arrived in Orlando on Monday evening, whereas most other clubs’ officials landed on the scene Sunday. That left little time for work to be done.

“Obviously we haven’t been here very long and we did a lot of our work last week, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have ongoing conversations with clubs and agents,” said A’s assistant general manager David Forst. “We feel really good about the team and the things we did last week and where we’re at, but we always still look to make some tweaks and make some changes.”

Last week’s brought about enough to fill an entire offseason, as the club reeled in starter Scott Kazmir on a two-year, $22 million deal in advance of trades for closer Jim Johnson, reliever Luke Gregerson, and perhaps the most valuable part-time player in the game in speedy outfielder Craig Gentry.

Their Major League roster now essentially in place, barring what would likely be any minor adjustments, the two-time defending American League West champion A’s may now turn their focus on helping their farm system, in part depleted because of the loss of top outfield prospect Michael Choice in the Gentry trade and the promotion of top pitching prospect Sonny Gray to the Majors.

“You never feel like you have enough,” said Forst. “I don’t know the best way right now to supplement that, but obviously there is a gap in guys we see contributing in the immediate future. I don’t know that we’ll get four or five prospects no matter what we trade.”

But the A’s have potential to land one or two key pieces should they opt to move lefty Brett Anderson.

The southpaw, making $8 million in 2014, is one of seven starters occupying the A’s rotation, making him expendable. However, Anderson’s medicals could potentially be cause for concern for interested teams. The Rockies are already one known club who heavily inquired on the oft-injured lefty but backed off a bit when scouring medical reports that indicated Anderson’s stress fracture in his right foot may not be completely healed.

Multiple A’s sources said Monday there was absolutely no worry over the foot at season’s end. Still, Anderson’s track record — health issues, including Tommy John surgery in 2011, have limited him to only 162 innings over the last three seasons — could prevent other teams from pulling the trigger on a potential risk.

Forst said the team is “having ongoing conversations” when asked about potential trades, only generalizing on the topic.

“Free agents are expensive, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, “and there are a lot of ongoing trade conversations on both ends — teams that need starting pitchers and teams that have them. I think it’s pretty active.”

These talks could easily hasten as starters continue to fall off the free-agent market, which is steeper than ever. But the A’s are content staying pat for now, even as their AL West counterparts continue to add big names.

Forst joked he “could have done without [Robinson] Cano in our division,” referring to the second baseman’s impending $240 million pact with the Mariners, but also noted, “I would argue that our competitors have been doing that for more than just a couple of seasons.”

“We fully expect to be outspent by everyone in the division,” he said. “Obviously with the Astros now, it’s not quite everybody. But I don’t think that’s anything new. We’re really happy with the team we have now and the additions we’ve made, so we don’t expect to keep up with them dollar for dollar, but to compete with them as we have the past two years.”

A’s tab Gray to start Game 5

OAKLAND — The A’s are counting on a rookie to take down the Tigers in Thursday’s decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series, with 23-year-old Sonny Gray getting the nod over veteran Bartolo Colon.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin announced the decision on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his club suffered an 8-6 loss in Detroit to force Game 5.

Gray will go up against Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, who in Game 5 vs. the A’s last year put the Tigers on his back with a complete-game, 11-strikeout effort that sent Detroit to the AL Championship Series. He also pitched seven shutout innings in Game 2 on Saturday.

But Gray did Verlander one better, compiling eight scoreless innings in Oakland’s Game 2 victory. He allowed four hits, with only one leaving the infield, and walked two in the affair, which marked just the 11th start of his big league career.

Oakland’s 2011 first-round Draft pick has a 1.85 ERA over his last seven outings, and his ability to continue such an impressive trend could help the A’s buck a depressing one. The club enters Thursday’s contest 1-11 in potential clinch games since 1990.

Colon, 40, lost to Detroit in Game 1, but followed a three-run first with five scoreless innings. He hasn’t won a game against the Tigers since 2003, going 0-8 in 14 starts for three different teams in that span.

Should the A’s advance to the ALCS, which begins in Boston on Saturday, Colon would likely start Game 1 against the Red Sox.

Smith gets the start at DH for Game 2

A day after compiling 16 strikeouts in a Game 1 American League Division Series loss to the Tigers, the A’s rolled out a similar lineup against righty Justin Verlander for Game 2.

The only new face in the lineup for Saturday evening’s contest was Seth Smith at designated hitter. Brandon Moss, who DH’d on Friday, moved to first base in place of Daric Barton.

Melvin said he targeted this change all along, noting Barton’s defensive troubles on Friday did not play into his decision.

“Smitty has a history with Justin Verlander,” said manager Bob Melvin, “and the versatility with Brandon Moss allows us to play him at first.”

Smith is just 2-for-15 in his career against Verlander, but one of those hits is a home run, and he’s also walked six times in 21 total plate appearances vs. the righty for a .381 on-base percentage.

He was part of an A’s lineup that did well in running up Verlander’s pitch count the last time they faced him, forcing him to throw 44 pitches to get through a two-run first inning, 104 in all to finish five on Aug. 28.

Smith hit .286 (4-for-14) in seven games against Detroit this year and is a career .321 hitter vs. the Tigers, with four home runs and nine RBIs in 19 games. He also went 14-for-38 over his final 19 regular-season games.

“He was swinging the bat well,” said Melvin. “He has the most experience of getting at-bats and sitting for a while and still keeping himself ready to get an at-bats, whether it’s once every three or four days or once a week.”

The full lineup, with Sonny Gray scheduled to pitch:

CF Coco Crisp

SS Jed Lowrie

3B Josh Donaldson

1B Brandon Moss

LF Yoenis Cespedes

DH Seth Smith

RF Josh Reddick

C Stephen Vogt

2B Eric Sogard

Cespedes in left field for Game 1

ALDS Game 1 starting lineup:

CF Coco Crisp: 4-for-14, 4 K vs Max Scherzer

SS Jed Lowrie: 2-for-6, 1 K

3B Josh Donaldson: 1-for-8, 3 K

DH Brandon Moss: 3-for-13, 1 HR, 5 K, 2 BB

LF Yoenis Cespedes: 1-for-4, 1 K, 2 BB

RF Josh Reddick: 4-for-10, 5 K

C Stephen Vogt: 1-for-2

1B Daric Barton: 0-for-4, 3 K

2B Eric Sogard: 3-for-5

A’s set ALDS roster

Rotation: Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily

Bullpen: Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Brett Anderson, Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez

Catcher: Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt, Kurt Suzuki

First base: Brandon Moss, Daric Barton

Second base: Alberto Callaspo, Eric Sogard

Shortstop: Jed Lowrie

Third base: Josh Donaldson

Outfielders: Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith

Offensive struggles continue for A’s in another loss

CINCINNATI — For the last week, the A’s haven’t been playing like the first-place team the current standings say they are.

Going back to July 30, an eight-day, six-game span, Oakland’s pitching has been inconsistent. So has its defense. The only thing consistent about this club has been its hitting — consistently bad, that is.

A sputtering A’s lineup was nearly shut out a second straight game on Tuesday, before Derek Norris hit one out of the park with two outs in the 9th in an eventual 3-1 series-opening Interleague loss to the host Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Oakland managed just five hits in the affair.

As for that first-place standing, the A’s are quickly letting it slip away, having watched a six-game lead over the Rangers narrow to 1 1/2 games in just eight days.

Before Norris’ homer, his eighth of the year, Oakland hadn’t scored a run since Saturday, a disheartening stretch of 18 innings without one, their longest such streak of the season. And since July 30? Well, only 10 runs have crossed home plate. All the while they’ve left 45 men on base and are 4-for-41 with runners in scoring position.

That includes an 0-for-6 showing on Tuesday, with seven left on base, while starter Dan Straily struggled to gain any sort of rhythm in yet another short outing.

Oakland’s right-hander gave up two runs on six hits, including Jay Bruce’s second-inning solo shot, with one walk and three strikeouts in four innings, marking not only the third straight start he hasn’t completed five frames but also the fifth time in his last eight tries.

Straily didn’t put up a clean inning until his last, and by the time it ended, he was already at 75 pitches, leading to lefty Jerry Blevins’ entrance at the start of the fifth.

Blevins proceeded to allow a leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo, his issues with first batters — a staggering 44 percent of them have reached base this season — continuing. Only more trouble awaited the lefty, who threw Derrick Robinson’s ensuing sacrifice bunt into right field, allowing Choo to score and Robinson to safely reach first.

Blevins stranded Robinson and the Reds didn’t score another run, but neither did the A’s, who watched righty Mat Latos toss 7 1/3 scoreless innings.

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