Help is on the way for A's offense

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Help is on the way for A's offense

The A's suffered their eighth shutout loss of the season Sunday as they were swept by the Yankees. They are currently suffering through a season-high five-game losing streak. When will the suffering end? Perhaps soon. It is no secret the A's biggest problem is their offense. They have scored an American League-worst 158 runs. After Sunday's 2-0 defeat, their ninth-straight loss to the Yankees, a welcomed face appeared in the clubhouse -- former All-Star third baseman Brandon Inge.
RECAP: Pratt's Instant Replay -- Yankees 2, A's 0
Inge will be activated by the A's on Monday. He is fresh off a two-game rehab stint with the Sacramento River Cats in which he went 6 for 7, with two homers, and eight RBIs. Hopefully for Oakland he packed his bats. "It's not like I'm a savior or anything like that," Inge said while laughing. "I'm about a career .220 hitter, I'm not giving anyone tips, they need to have fun and relax. Hitting is hard enough as it is." Inge will be the first of three A's hitters to return on their upcoming road trip. He will be followed by Manny Ramirez, who is eligible to return from his 50-game drug suspension on May 30 -- which is coincidentally his 40th birthday. And according to Manager Bob Melvin, Yoenis Cespedes could return June 1."It's always a plus when you get guys of their caliber to come back and join your ballclub," Coco Crisp said. "I believe everybody from inside the clubhouse, to the fans are looking forward to Manny being Manny, Cespedes coming back, and definitely Inge. He did a fantastic job when he was here."Previously Melvin said he would take a wait-and-see approach on Manny Ramirez's return. But based on the A's recent struggles, he is likely licking his chops at the thought of how Ramirez -- who has 555 career home runs -- might impact the lineup. "We'd like to see the at-bats get better, we'd like to see him drive some balls," Melvin said. "We had targeted that date for a reason, but based on the fact we aren't swinging the bats in the fashion that we would like, maybe that expedites a little bit." On Monday in Sacramento, A's fans will get a sneak peak at what the heart of the lineup could soon look like. Yoenis Cespedes, who took batting batting practice with the team on Saturday and Sunday, is going to be in the River Cats lineup. Batting beside him will likely be Manny Ramirez. According to Melvin, Cespedes will play three games for the River Cats. If all goes according to plan, the team will use their off-day on May 31 to give Cespedes time to travel from Sacramento to Kansas City.
The big question is if the team will give Ramirez some extra at-bats in Sacramento, and have he and Cespedes travel together. It all depends on how desperate they feel offensively. Even a rusty Ramirez should help."His veteran presence in the lineup is going to make us more intimidating," Coco Crisp said. "He is one of the hardest workers I have ever played with." Aside from the injured players that are soon to return, the A's hitters are pressing at the plate. How else do you explain Sunday's eight-inning, four-hit shutout at the hands of Hiroki Kuroda?"I think we are beyond pressing at this point," Melvin said. "We've got to relax. We are trying too hard we've got to try easier.""Each guy is trying to hit a five-run home run, which is impossible," Inge said. "The more you press the worse you get, they got to go out there and have fun."What could be more fun than adding a guy with first-ballot Hall of Fame numbers, a guy that was on pace to win the Rookie of the Year award when he got hurt, and an all-star third baseman that had four homers and 16 RBIs in his first 11 games with the team? Yeah, the A's likely don't have to look too far for solutions. Help is on the way.

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

TEMPE, Ariz. — Rather than join his minor league teammates for workouts like usual, Logan Shore got word Tuesday morning he would take the ball for the A’s against the Los Angeles Angels.

A few hours later, Shore was striking out Mike Trout to highlight his impressive four-inning outing. What an experience it was for Shore, a right-hander drafted last summer in the second round out of the University of Florida.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There’s not really any words to describe that.”

The A’s scratched No. 5 starter Raul Alcantara, opting to throw him in a minor league game rather than let a division opponent get another look at him for scouting-report purposes. That presented Shore with a surprise opportunity.

He responded with four innings of one-run ball, holding the Angels to two hits. The game would take an ugly turn as the A’s bullpen got lit up in a 14-3 loss. But Shore’s outing was a glimpse of what Oakland might have to look forward to with the 22-year-old. The righty didn’t come out of college with the same hype as Florida teammate A.J. Puk, who the A’s drafted sixth overall last June. But he’s thought to be more polished than Puk at this stage.

Shore went 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts with short-season Vermont in his pro debut. This spring, he’s been grouped with high Single-A Stockton, but he hasn’t received his official regular-season assignment yet.

“That’s the kind of lineup that gets your attention a little bit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He had great command of his fastball, a backdoor sinker, good changeup, good slider. He probably got a little bit tired at the end, but he was very impressive. That’s the first time I got to see him throw.”

Shore pitched in relief for the A’s earlier this spring as a minor league extra, so that helped him keep his nerves in check Tuesday. Still, it was a different challenge tackling what closely resembled the Angels’ regular-season lineup, which features Trout and Albert Pujols in the meat of it.

Trout struck out and flied to right against Shore. Pujols flied to right and singled.

“I grew up watching all those guys, so it’s kind of cool to get to pitch against them,” he said.

HEALTH UPDATES: Left fielder Khris Davis and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, both nursing minor injuries, won’t return to the field until the Bay Bridge Series which starts Thursday night at AT&T Park, Melvin said. Plouffe has missed the past few games with a groin injury and Davis has a right quad issue.

“We’ll just bubble wrap them right now and send them home,” Melvin cracked.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt took another step in his Tommy John recovery with a 30-pitch session that included two sets of 15 pitches, simulating two innings with a break in between.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s play their Cactus League finale Wednesday on the road against the Cubs, but most of the game will feature minor leaguers. All of the players who are heading north to face the Giants will be leaving for the airport sometime in the latter stages of the game.

On that topic, the A’s announced the 43 players that will make up their Bay Bridge roster. It includes 30 players from the 40-man roster, six non-roster invitees and seven extras from minor league camp. Oakland officially has 36 players still in camp, with Saturday the deadline to cut down to the final 25-man roster.

ODDS AND ENDS: After Shore left the game, the Angels struck for five runs in the fifth against Liam Hendriks. … The next inning, highly touted prospect Grant Holmes gave up five runs (four earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Holmes was one of three righties acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade. Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas were the others.

 

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

TEMPE, Ariz. — The A’s moving truck has already left the desert, and the team will be bolting for the airport after Wednesday’s Cactus League finale.

Spring training is quickly drawing to a close, with only the three-game Bay Bridge Series remaining before the games start to count. To mark that reality, here’s a look at the five most burning questions Oakland faced back when camp started in mid-February, and what kind of answers have materialized since …

1) Does Sonny Gray return to his old self?
The A’s absorbed their first major injury blow early when Gray, their potential Opening Night starter, went down with a strained lat muscle after a March 7 start. It wasn’t exactly what the right-hander had in mind coming off a 2016 season that sent him to the disabled list twice. Encouraging news came last week when Gray was allowed to start throwing again one week ahead of schedule.

When exactly he returns is tied to how soon he gets back on the mound. He’s been playing catch out to 105 feet, but manager Bob Melvin stressed the A’s aren’t going to rush things with Gray. Until further notice, the assumption is still that Gray will miss most of April.

2) Can a ‘healthy’ outlook be sustained?
Given what you read in the above item, obviously things haven’t gotten off to a great start in this department. Jake Smolinski, a candidate to make the team as an extra outfielder, showed up to camp with a sore right shoulder and required labrum surgery. Second baseman Joey Wendle, who was ticketed for Triple-A to begin with, also has been set back by a shoulder injury. But the focus, from an injury standpoint, is on Gray. If he were to miss just the first month of the regular season, that’s an absence the A’s should be able to cover. Any longer than that, and his presence really will be missed.

After last year’s roster-wide rash of injuries, better health is the most important first step in the A’s escaping the American League West cellar.

3) Who wins the closer’s job?
Six weeks of spring training has yet to reveal an answer here. If Melvin knows who his closer is, he isn’t saying publicly. Lefty Sean Doolittle, one of the veteran anchors of the relief corps, said Melvin hasn’t discussed roles yet with the relievers themselves. Expect more news on that during the Bay Bridge Series, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Of the four assumed ninth-inning candidates — Doolittle, John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Ryan Madson — none has been lights-out in Cactus League games.

The guess here is Madson, the A’s main closer last season, gets the first crack at the role this year as well.

“I don’t even think it’s on anybody’s radar,” Doolittle said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things that makes our bullpen effective. We’re not as attached to those roles as people might think.”

4) Where does Ryon Healy fit into the puzzle?
He fits in a little at first base, a little at third base and a little at DH. What we know is that Healy’s bat will be in the lineup regularly, it’s just a matter of where. Melvin spread his time pretty evenly between all three spots. Healy responded with a terrific spring at the plate. Entering Tuesday, he ranked third in the Cactus League with 16 RBI, the most spring RBI by an Athletic since Kevin Kouzmanoff also had 16 in 2010. Healy will play first base against lefties, platooning with Yonder Alonso. He’ll spell Trevor Plouffe at third. But it stands to reason a large chunk of his time will have to come at DH.

“I think he’s handled it well,” Melvin said. “It’s not easy, especially for a younger guy that was originally a first baseman. He worked as hard as anybody last year to make himself a third baseman. Now, it’s a little bit different for him and he knew that coming into camp. I think he’s handled his time wisely, worked hard at both positions, and he knows he has to move around a little bit this year.”

5) Can the A’s get their mojo back?
If a positive clubhouse vibe plays any part in a team turning around its on-field fortunes, the A’s are off to a good start. The early indications are that newcomers Plouffe, Matt Joyce, Casilla and Rajai Davis — those latter two are in their second stints with the A’s — all add some nice leadership qualities and mesh well with the returning vets. True, you can’t really read too much in spring training, when everyone always gets along in the spirit and optimism of a new season. But the A’s do seem to have better components up and down their roster to lead to a healthier season-long chemistry.

Just as you’ve read in the past, getting off to a strong start in the standings is the most effective way to maintain that chemistry.