A's drop eighth consecutive home opener

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A's drop eighth consecutive home opener

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OAKLAND -- For the first time in 2012, the A's took the field at the Oakland Coliseum Friday night, but Brandon McCarthy could not maintain his dominance over the Mariners in front of an announced sellout of 35,067, as he was chased after five innings.Yoenis Cespedes provided A's fans something to cheer for, but Oakland never posed a serious threat after the Mariners' four-run third inning.The A's lost their eighth consecutive home opener by a score of 7-3, and fell to 1-2 on the young season.Co-Players of the Game: Batting eight and ninth for the Mariners, center fielder Michael Saunders and shortstop Brendan Ryan went a combined 4-for-7. They were catalysts for all four of Seattle's scoring rallies and amassed four runs between them.Turning point: After Brendan Ryan's double to lead off the third inning, Chone Figgins laid down a sacrifice bunt. Charging hard, Josh Donaldson threw off balance to first base. His throw sailed right and nailed Figgins between the numbers. Ryan scored, Figgins advanced to second, and the Mariners' four-run inning was in motion.Where he left off?: In his last five starts against the Mariners, McCarthy has been dominant to the tune of three complete games, a 1.86 ERA, a .182 Mariners batting average, 30 strikeouts and three walks.The first two innings went as McCarthy expected. Aside from a couple of base hits -- one from Dustin Ackley who homered off McCarthy in Game 1 -- the Mariners looked innocuous.The third inning was a different story. It started double-error-single-walk. All four base runners scored.In Game 1 this season, it took McCarthy just 82 pitches to get through seven innings of one-run ball against Seattle. He threw 59 strikes. Friday, McCarthy had to wind and throw 95 times to get through five innings. He threw 58 strikes.G-G-G-G-Get the tape!: Before the game, Bob Melvin said, "You want to make a great first impression on the fans."That's exactly what Yoenis Cespedes did with the A's trailing 5-0 in the fourth inning. His mighty hack connected with a 2-1 pitch from Jason Vargas and sent fans, media, and the Twitter world into a frenzy.Cespedes' shot may have dented the concrete facade above the luxury suites in left center field, a solid 40 feet above the 388-foot sign in left-center.Cespedes, who sent an almost identical shot in BP, now has two home runs in three MLB games. He looks awfully comfortable in that trot.When asked about hitting in the cold Oakland weather before the game, Cespedes said through a translator that when he hits it well, it's gone.He wasn't lying. It measured 462 feet.Squandering the sixth: The A's got a break in the sixth inning when, following Coco Crisp's leadoff single, Jason Vargas threw Josh Reddick's comebacker into center field.With two runners on, none out, and Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes and Kurt Suzuki coming to the plate, things looked good for the A's.But Oakland's extensive foul ground victimized a visibly frustrated Gomes, Cespedes struck out after corkscrewing himself into the ground and visiting with trainers, and Kurt Suzuki grounded out to third to end the threat.Squeeze it: Every so often you see an infielder drop a ball transferring the ball to his throwing hand. Rarely do you see it happen to an outfielder.In the third inning, with the bases loaded and nobody out, Mariners cleanup hitter Justin Smoak skied a ball to left-center field. Coco Crisp stood under it, but Yoenis Cespedes came flying in, called off Crisp, made the catch, and squared to home.Cespedes' reputation was enough to keep the speedy Figgins from attempting to tag up, but had he broke for home it would have been an easy score as the ball slipped from Cespedes' glove on the transfer.A batter later, Jesus Montero flied to right, where Josh Reddick waited. He made the catch, but as he prepped to throw, the ball slipped out of his glove. Figgins, who was tagging this time, scored easily, and the Mariners' big inning continued.Both Cespedes and Reddick attempted their catches with one hand.In the pinch: Seth Smith was called upon in the bottom of the eighth inning, pinch hitting for Jonny Gomes, who might have still been fuming from his pop-out with two runners on two innings prior.Smith fouled off two pitches in a 1-2 count before roping on a 96-mph fastball to right field.Jemile Weeks scored, Coco Crisp advanced, and Bob Melvin gained a little trust in Smith.Delaying history: Ichiro Suzuki, batting third for just the 16th time in his career, went 0-for-5. He still needs three hits against the A's surpass Rod Carew as the all-time leader.The A's still have 16 games against Ichiro's Mariner's this year.

A's spring training Day 38: Alonso's offense comes to life

A's spring training Day 38: Alonso's offense comes to life

MESA, Ariz. — Yonder Alonso’s value usually gets discussed in terms of his defense, but the A’s first baseman is putting together a very impressive spring with the bat.

The A’s poured it on the Milwaukee Brewers in a 15-5 rout Thursday, and Alonso led the parade with two homers and three RBI. Both shots came off Junior Guerra, and the first would have cleared the right field wall had it been pushed back 30 feet farther.

Alonso is hitting .382 with four homers in Cactus League play. He says the extra work he’s putting in with hitting coach Darren Bush is paying off, and manager Bob Melvin likes what he sees from a player who hit .253 last year and knocked just seven home runs for the entire regular season.

“He’s had a great approach from the minute he got here,” Melvin said. “He and Bushy had a plan. He’s using the whole field a little bit more, which keeps him on breaking balls, which allows him to track fastballs a little bit more. He’s hit a couple balls good to left-center as well.”

The A’s love the defense they get from Alonso at first, but getting more thump from him offensively would be a boost for Oakland, which finished last in the American League in runs last season. His on-base percentage dropped to .316 last season, well below his career average of .334. That’s where a more patient approach could pay off, and that’s another focus with Alonso this season.

Right now, the plan is for the left-handed hitting Alonso to platoon at first with Ryon Healy, who will also see time at DH and third base.

“I think every day I’m coming in with a plan,” Alonso said. “Mentally and physically I feel fine. I’m ready to roll. I’m ready to continue to battle and continue to grind and have solid at-bats.”

CAMP BATTLE: A day after Andrew Triggs looked very sharp, another rotation candidate responded with his best start of the spring. Raul Alcantara gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Brewers, very much keeping his hopes alive for one of Oakland’s two open rotation spots. His outing was easy to overlook on a day the A’s hit four home runs and collected 18 hits total. But it was a timely effort for Alcantara, who is batting Triggs and Jesse Hahn for rotation jobs. Hahn’s next start is Saturday.

“His breaking ball, he struggled throwing it for strikes early and then found it, which is an attribute you want to see,” Melvin said of Alcantara. “It ended up being his best outing for us.”

Melvin said he thinks the battle for the Nos. 4 and 5 starter spots will go down to the wire.

NOTEWORTHY: Lefty Daniel Coulombe, trying to nail down a spot in the bullpen, threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After surrendering at least one run in each of his first five appearances, Coulombe has held opponents without a run in each of his last two outings (4 1/3 IP).

ODDS AND ENDS: Trevor Plouffe and Max Schrock hit the A’s other home runs along with Alonso’s two shots. Plouffe’s was an opposite-field blast to right. He’s hitting .361. Schrock was borrowed from minor league camp and went deep to right-center. … Ross Detwiler couldn’t shut the door in the ninth, retiring just two of the eight hitters he faced and allowing two walks and three runs. … Second baseman Joey Wendle, sidelined by a sore right shoulder, was scheduled to play catch for the first time in more than a week Thursday. He underwent an MRI a week ago that he said showed no significant damage. … Outfielder Jaff Decker (oblique) did all activity except take full batting practice. He seems to be progressing well and may still have a chance to battle for a roster spot.

Graveman takes to leadership role while Gray is sidelined

Graveman takes to leadership role while Gray is sidelined

MESA, Ariz. — Kendall Graveman feels comfortable with the leadership role that comes with being the A’s Opening Night starter, but he pointed out how all the starters will carry the load together.

“I told BoMel this morning when he told me, I said ‘I’m the No. 1 starter for Opening Night, but then whoever is the second guy is the No. 1 starter for us the next night,’ and that’s the way we have to go about it to be successful,” Graveman said Thursday afternoon.

That’s a message that Graveman says he’s already trying to spread to Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton, the starters who will follow him in the rotation. Oakland’s final two rotation spots are up for grabs.

With Sonny Gray sidelined by injury for what’s expected to be most of April, Graveman — with all of 52 major league starts under his belt — becomes the veteran leader of the A’s staff in the interim. Manager Bob Melvin gave Graveman the official word Thursday morning that he would take the ball April 3 against the Angels at the Coliseum. But shortly after Gray went down with a strained lat muscle March 7, Melvin approached Graveman about being his likely Opening Night guy.

It’s a natural fit. Graveman went 10-11 with a 4.11 ERA last season, and while those aren’t eye-catching numbers, they don’t tell the story of how valuable he was as the A’s lost starter after starter to injury.

Graveman has improved his mental preparation and his physical conditioning since coming over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. He’s become a meticulous studier to get ready for his starts. He’s picked the brain of veterans such as Gray and Barry Zito, who he played alongside with Triple-A Nashville for part of 2015.

And, not to be overlooked, his stuff and pitch arsenal have improved since he first arrived to the A’s. Though he’s a sinkerballer who relies more on location than velocity, the A’s clocked Graveman as high as 98 miles per hour on the radar gun in his last start.

“He’s kind of on a mission to be one of those guys that pitches at top of the rotation for many years to come,” Melvin said.