Instant Replay: A's 4, Dodgers 1

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Instant Replay: A's 4, Dodgers 1

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OAKLAND It's been a banner week for Travis Blackley. He recorded his first MLB win since his debut almost eight years earlier last Friday, and he went toe-to-toe with the reigning Cy Young Award winner on Thursday.Blackley threw a career-high eight innings and faced just two batters over the minimum, but he would not factor into the decision.The decision would go to Ryan Cook, who benefited from solid defense in the top of the ninth and a self-induced rally by Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom. Lindblom walked Coco Crisp to lead off the inning, and sent Crisp to second on a wild pitch.The A's saved some dramatics for the ninth inning. They earned the 4-1 walk-off win -- and the series sweep -- on Yoenis Cespedes' first career walk-off home run. It was their second sweep in the last three series and their eighth win in the last nine games.Starting pitching report:After going almost eight years without an MLB win, Travis Blackley had a chance to win back-to-back starts Thursday. He was fast out of the gate, striking out two in the first inning and retiring the first 10 Dodgers he faced in order.Elian Herrera's solid fourth-inning double to left center broke up his roll, and Juan Rivera's subsequent single that clung to the first base line foiled the shutout and evened the game at one.Blackley wasn't fazed. He threw an incredible 67 of 87 pitches for strikes, recording first-pitch strikes 21 out of a possible 26 times. Blackley finished with eight innings pitched, three hits and one run allowed, no walks and six strikeouts.Bullpen report:Ryan Cook replaced Blackley in the ninth inning, and mistakenly walked the leadoff batter. But thanks to defensive help from Brandon Inge and Derek Norris, he only needed to face three batters to get out of the inning.At the plate:It looked good right off the bat when Coco Crisp beat out a weak roller to third base, but the first inning went awry. Jemile Weeks failed to do his job, popping up his sacrifice bunt attempt to first base. And Coco Crisp took off on Clayton Kershaw's first move and was -- for the first time in 37 tries -- cut down trying to steal.Instead of allowing Kershaw to settle in, though, the A's went right after him in the second. Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a double that bounced before caroming off left fielder Elian Herrera. After Gomes advanced to third on a wild pitch, Brandon Inge sent two balls deep to left field. The first clanged off the facade of the second deck about 12 feet left of the foul pole. The next, hit in fair territory, was barely corralled by Herrera at the track and Gomes trotted in to score the game's first run and register Inge's 31st RBI in his 31st game with Oakland.For the second time in as many days, Yoenis Cespedes sent a ball high and deep into the Oakland air, only for it to fall harmlessly to a Dodgers outfielder near the wall. His fourth-inning blast off Kershaw had the right sound, but it came down just in front of the CSN California sign, about 370 feet out in left center.Inge was seeing Kershaw well. In the seventh inning he sent another ball deep to left. He and Kershaw thought he got all of it; Kerhsaw lept off the mound and Inge began his trot to first base. But Herrera was there to make another Inge out on the warning track.In his first major league at-bat Derek Norris grounded into an inning-ending double play. He hit a ball well to left-center field in his next at-bat, but was put away by Tony Gwynn Jr. In his third at-bat, he smoked a liner down the left-field line, but Juan Uribe was perfectly positioned for the put out.Yoenis Cespedes ended the game with an exclamation mark. His blast to left barely tucked in over the 330-foot sign down the left field line, and if you blinked, you didn't see it sear the 55-degree Oakland air.In the field:In his start last Friday, Travis Blackley showed a dangerous pickoff move to first base in which his planted right foot flirts with the 45 degree boundary. It was on display again Thursday, as Blackley ended the fourth inning by catching Juan Rivera leaning.In the seventh inning, Brandon Moss dove to his right to snag Andre Either's ground ball. He threw on to Blackley to record the out. The A's had some defensive concerns about a converted outfielder taking on a new position, but Moss has just one error in 96 attempts entering Thursday. After the play, he turned to Jemile Weeks to confer about whose ball it was. Weeks seemed to be in position to make the play and nodded to whatever Moss asked him.The A's put together a gutsy defensive ninth inning. Brandon Inge opted for the high-risk, high-reward option on Dee Gordon's two-strike sacrifice bunt. The A's reward was high when his throw barely beat catcher Matt Treaner to the bag. It left Gordon on first base in a steal situation. After Ryan Cook threw over to first at least four times, Gordon tried to steal. Making his first career start, Norris came up big, throwing a frozen rope to cut down Gordon at second, clearing the bases and ending the Dodgers' ninth-inning threat.On the bases:Coco Crisp's franchise record of 36 consecutive successful steals came to end in the first inning when he took off for second on Clayton Kershaw's first move and the Dodgers went 1-3-6 to cut him down. Ichiro Suzuki's A.L. record of 45 is safe, and so is Vince Coleman's MLB record of 50.
Attendance:Tough to tell what the split was, but it looked like a sea of blue at the Coliseum, where Thursday saw an announced attendance of 23,337. The streaking A's are drawing right now; they've only had one game this homestand with a paid attendance under 20,000. Up next:The final and most exciting series of the A's sweep through the NL West is up next. Due to a rotational adjustment to protect young Jarrod Parker's arm, it will be he who takes the ball in Game 1 of the Bay Bridge Series.Parker (3-3, 2.82) faced the Giants in Game 1 of the first interleague matchup between the A's and Giants, and got rocked. He lasted all of two innings, allowing six earned runs on four hits and four walks. It was the only time he failed to record a strikeout in a start this year, and his only start in which he did not complete five innings. His loss contributed to the Giants' 2-1 series victory.Opposing Parker will be Tim Lincecum (2-8, 6.19), who is searching for himself amidst a stretch of nine starts in which the Giants are winless.

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.