A’s facing bullpen decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakajima ruled out of Giants series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakajima out with hamstring strain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosales DL-bound with intercostal strain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sizemore suffers left hand bruise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson named Opening Day starter

A’s manager Bob Melvin came with news Thursday morning, and he didn’t waste any time delivering it.

“Let’s go ahead and say Brett Anderson is our Opening Day starter,” Melvin said, smiling.

The news isn’t so much surprising as it is rewarding for the 25-year-old Anderson, who is entering his fifth season with the A’s.

Thrust into a playoff run upon his August return from Tommy John rehab last year, the southpaw responded beautifully, winning his first four starts while posting a miniscule 0.69 ERA while walking just three in 26 innings.

Anderson lost his next two starts and suffered an ill-timed oblique strain, before making a seemingly miraculous comeback in short time to pitch Game 3 of the American League Division Series. He allowed two hits in six shutout innings in Oakland’s 2-0 win over the Tigers, saving the team from elimination.

“Based on the guys that we have and how successfully he came back for us last year, we really feel like he’s the man to lead the staff,” Melvin said. “He worked hard to get back and put himself in a position to compete with us at a time of the season where there’s no easing into things. You gotta be good right away, and he was. Then he gets hurt and we think he’s done, and he works just as hard to get back and pitch in a playoff game.”

Though limited to 38 starts over the last three seasons due to four stints on the disabled list, Anderson finally appears primed to compile at least 30 this year, so long as good health remains on his side. To that end, Anderson put in hours of work to allow for such endurance, shedding 25 pounds during his rehab and keeping off the weight this winter.

“There’s never a better time to change when you can’t do anything else,” Anderson said earlier this month. “It’s never fun to be hurt for an extended period of time, but in my case it was probably a blessing in disguise, where it took something like that to realize I should probably make some changes.”

Anderson will be making his spring debut Thursday against the Cubs, and he jokingly asked Melvin if he was sure he wanted to openly announce Opening Day plans without having seen the lefty pitch in a game.

“To say he jumped up and down and all that, probably not, but he took it in stride,” Melvin said of the mellow Anderson. “He said, ‘Every guy aspires to be an Opening Day starter,’ so he was excited, as excited as he gets.”

Anderson is expected to be followed in the rotation by Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily — all 26 years old or younger. Veteran Bartolo Colon, who still has five games remaining on his drug suspension, is eligible to rejoin the team after the first week of the season.

In other news, A’s closer Grant Balfour (right knee) is scheduled to see a doctor today. He made 35 throws from flat ground on Wednesday, and his next step could be throwing off a mound, should his doctor give him the green light.

Michael Ynoa threw a bullpen yesterday, and he’ll throw one more before facing live batting practice. That doesn’t put him too far off from game action.

Sizemore takes turn at second base

Another day, another lineup. Here’s who the A’s are bringing to Tempe today to face the Angels:

Crisp CF, Young RF, Smith DH, Cespedes LF, Lowrie SS, Sizemore 2B, Barton 1B, Norris C, Rosales 3B, (Blackley P)

Of note, this is the first start on the field for Sizemore – he was at DH yesterday – since September 2011, when he was playing third base. So, combined with the fact he missed all of 2012 while recovering from a torn ACL, there’s probably going to be a bit of an adjustment period for him this spring. Still, the A’s have no doubt he’ll be able to keep up with Jemile Weeks in battle for the second-base job.

Weeks enjoyed a productive spring debut yesterday, as you can read here. And tomorrow it’s Jed Lowrie who gets the start at second base against the Indians, so it does seem like he’ll be moving around the infield quite a bit, as the A’s suggested.

Lowrie’s a guy that will probably move around a lot in the batting order, too. And on Sunday morning, Bob Melvin said the same goes for most everyone else, aside from Crisp and Cespedes, who, for the most part, will remain in the leadoff and cleanup spots, respectively.

Not surprisingly, that’s where they’re slated to be in the lineup for Monday’s home opener:

Crisp CF, Lowrie 2B, Reddick RF, Cespedes DH, Moss 1B, Nakajima SS, Jaso C, Donaldson 3B, Taylor LF (Werner P)

Tomorrow the A’s will also get their first glance of the spring at Sonny Gray, Evan Scribner, Hideki Okajima and Jordan Norberto, all scheduled to pitch against the Indians.

A’s ready for Cactus League play

Here’s the first of approximately 200 lineups I’ll be posting this year, this one to be used Saturday for the A’s Cactus League opener against the Brewers in Maryvale:

Weeks 2B, Nakajima SS, Reddick RF, Moss 1B, Smith LF, Young CF, Jaso C, Donaldson 3B, Sizemore DH

Right-hander Jesse Chavez gets the start on the mound, with Justin Thomas, Bruce Billings, Mike Ekstrom, Arnold Leon and Fernando Rodriguez also scheduled to pitch in the game.

This is the first opportunity to see Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima in a game as a big leaguer, so the A’s are eager to see how his skill set translates from workouts to game action. Can he be a threat on the base paths? How can he handle an at-bat with runners on base? There are a lot of unknowns with him, so the evaluation process is about to ramp up a bit.

His double-play partner on Saturday, Jemile Weeks, will also be watched closely this spring, as the team waits to see if he can regain the form he showed in 2011. Bob Melvin has always said spring numbers usually don’t matter much, but Weeks’ will to determine whether he’s the best fit at second base by camp’s end. Same goes for Scott Sizemore, batting for the same job.

As for the regulars missing in the lineup (think Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie and Derek Norris), they’ll all play Sunday against the Angels.

Cespedes addresses media shortly after arrival

Yoenis Cespedes made his way into A’s camp on Sunday looking right at ease, emitting a sense of comfort that was missing at this time last year as he prepped for his first season in the Major Leagues. Cespedes was facing plenty unknowns yet, as we know, handled everything very well and turned out to be pretty good on the field, too.

The A’s are anxious to see just how much more he can do with a full season under his belt and nagging health issues hopefully behind him. Cespedes said the bone bruise on the bottom of his right foot has fully healed and that the extra stretching he incorporated into his offseason workout routines should help his body withstand the rigors of a 162-game season.

Cespedes was asked about the legal issues that may have bothered him toward the end of last season — he was dealing with a financial lawsuit in the Dominican Republic and worry over his family’s safety, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported — and how resolve of some of those problems have helped to put his mind at ease going into a new season.

He said through translator Ariel Prieto, “I tried to be focused every single day when I went to the field. It weighed on my mind sometimes, yes. It could’ve been a distraction but I tried not to worry about it too much and tried to put all of my mind on the field, to be my best on the field.”

Manager Bob Melvin was well aware of everything Cespedes was going through at the end of the season and couldn’t have been more impressed by the way he continued to go about his business day in and day out, all with a heavy heart.

“He was very communicative with me, so I knew what was going on with him,” Melvin said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he came to the ballpark, it was pretty easy to see what kind of mood he was in on that particular day. He always found a way to go out on the field and perform. Any time your family’s situation is involved and you’re not with them, it’s very difficult, and there were days I was going to give him the day off but he refused and said, ‘I want to play.’ He’s a tough makeup kid.”

Cespedes wants to play every day this year, and he’s not too thrilled about the possibility of DH’ing every once in awhile other than on days when he really needs a day off his feet in the outfield. Melvin, upon hearing this, smiled and said, “I appreciate the fact that he’s taking that attitude. I love that. We want all our guys to play and be out there on the field. We did see last year that it was the first time he played 162 games so we DH’d him some, especially at the end. He plays awfully hard. It’s not like he goes out there and paces himself.”

The big question facing Cespedes today, on whether he was going to grow a beard, was met with a resounding “No.” He could only shake his head upon mention of Josh Reddick’s beard.

All players are taking part in the club’s first full-squad workout right now. This morning they were engaged in the annual introductory meetings and rah-rah talks, with Melvin offering his squad a simple message as they set out to defend their AL West title:

“You take pride in that, that’s for sure,” he said. “You want to carry that forward but also understand that this is a new year, and you have to let that go. But once you let that go, you have to reflect and ask yourself, ‘What made us good?’ What made us able to win the West?’

“We have a lot of guys that have had success here, and they’ll lead the way as far as how we go about our business on the field.”

Position players join the fold

Today’s the official reporting day for A’s position players, which has turned out to be just as anticlimactic as expected, with most everyone having already been working in camp for several days. Still, a few big names had yet to make their arrival as of early Saturday morning: Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and Jed Lowrie, along with 2012 first-round Draft pick Addison Russell. All are anticipated for an on-time arrival in advance of Sunday’s first full-squad workout.

This is where things get fun. The A’s have so many moving parts between the outfield and infield, and this is when we finally get to see how they come together. Second base should draw the most attention throughout the duration of camp, with Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore in battle for an everyday job, while the A’s also hand out playing time to Jed Lowrie, Grant Green, Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard there too. Bob Melvin reiterated on Saturday that Lowrie will bounce around the infield, but I suspect he’ll see plenty time at second base, just like all of the other guys mentioned, so that he has time to develop a relationship with shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

Lowrie, a natural shortstop, is understanding of his rover role, as it allows Nakajima to solely focus on adjusting at one position. There’s a lot being thrown at him as is, and the A’s don’t need him worrying about fielding at multiple spots right now — though Melvin said Nakajima has told him he’d be willing to do anything for the team, a gesture that further speaks volumes to his character.

As for Sizemore, who played third base for Oakland in 2011, he’ll spend the majority of his time at second but will also get some reps at the hot corner, since he’s the best insurance option there in the event Josh Donaldson experiences injury or prolonged struggles.

In the outfield, Chris Young will play the role of rover, despite having never moved from center field — a spot reserved for Coco Crisp in Oakland — in his career. He’ll see time in all three outfield positions this spring, and Melvin, already very much familiar with Young’s work ethic from their time together in Arizona, is confident that he’ll be able to smoothly handle the changes. Still, he understands “it’s going to be hard,” he said.

“The first time he has to go into another position, there’s a lot of pride that comes into play, especially considering how good of a center fielder he is,” Melvin explained. “Therefore, I know how difficult it’s going to be his first couple of times out there, not only in a game in a different position but doing work at a different position. I’m very understanding of that but he knows what’s expected.”

Bottom line: Don’t expect to see the same lineup trotted out back-to-back days not only during preseason games but regular-season games, as well.

“We have a good group here,” Melvin said, “and we’re going to find the right combinations. With this time here, we’re able to figure out where everything fits, and then come up with some kind of formula going into the season that works for everybody.”


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