A's looking to halt skid against Iwakuma, Mariners

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A's looking to halt skid against Iwakuma, Mariners

No one has been tougher to get on base against in the AL than Hisashi Iwakuma.

This could present problems for an Oakland Athletics team struggling at the plate.

The Seattle Mariners right-hander will try to send the Athletics a season-high fifth straight loss Friday night in the opener of a weekend series at Safeco Field.

Iwakuma (3-1, 1.61 ERA) has been among baseball's biggest surprises, leading the AL in opponent batting average (.168) and walks plus hits per inning pitched (0.76).

He uncharacteristically walked three Saturday but yielded one run over seven innings to gain an 8-1 victory at Toronto.

Seattle (16-19) has won his last five starts at home, including three this year in which Iwakuma has posted a 0.48 ERA. His stellar season began April 2 when he allowed one run over six innings with seven strikeouts in a 7-1 victory at Oakland, winning for the first time in three starts against the Athletics.

Slugger Yoenis Cespedes is 3 for 6 with two solo homers against Iwakuma. He and the Athletics (18-18) travel west after totaling eight runs and batting .205 while being swept in four games in Cleveland, capped by Thursday's 9-2 loss.

"They're playing great and can't do anything wrong and we're struggling," manager Bob Melvin said. "That's what happens."

Cespedes homered in the first game of the series before going 1 for 11 with four strikeouts in the final three. Jed Lowrie was 2 for 15 in the series, Derek Norris 2 for 11, John Jaso 2 for 10 and Eric Sogard 2 for 9 for the A's, who have seven players on the disabled list.

Oakland is batting .218 and averaging 2.6 runs in May, and Seattle can relate somewhat to those woes. The Mariners are hitting a major league-worst .199 this month, although they are 4-2.

Seattle has been winning thanks to mound efforts like Wednesday's by Felix Hernandez, who went eight innings as the Mariners avoided a third straight loss with a 2-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

While Hernandez is the unquestioned ace of the staff, Iwakuma is developing a reputation of his own that has given Seattle confidence.

"They're unbelievable," second baseman Dustin Ackley told the Mariners' official website. "Any time you go out there, you're like, 'Let's just get a couple runs and these guys are going to cruise.' They are probably, arguably, right now the two best starters in baseball."

Oakland has won all three games started by Daniel Straily (1-0, 5.94), who takes the mound Friday after giving up three runs over 5 1-3 innings and not getting a decision in Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The right-hander yielded four runs over 4 1-3 innings in his lone start against Seattle on Sept. 29. He also yielded two homers in five 2012 at-bats to Kendrys Morales, then with the Angels.

These clubs split their season-opening four-game set in Oakland. Lowrie went 6 for 13 with four doubles while Michael Morse was 6 for 16 with four homers for the Mariners.

Oakland has taken the last four meetings in Seattle.

 

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

John Fisher has shown admirable restraint so far as he contemplates life without the Oakland Raiders in his craw. For one, he hasn’t jumped up and down on Libby Schaaf’s desk and demand that the Oakland mayor take care of the only team she ever has to worry about ever again.

Then again, that might just be prudence on his part. In her present frame of mind, she might take such an opportunity to punch him about 35 times directly in the throat.

Schaaf’s strategy to keep the National Football League from steamrolling her worked, though it came with far more irritation at the end of the process than she thought. She learned face-first that dealing with the NFL means being attacked on all fronts, including the demonstrably false fronts tossed up at the end. She may have thought foolishly that the NFL could be somehow persuaded to see Oakland's rationale for keeping the team, but found out just how well the NFL does dismissive. Frankly, she looked Monday like she’d just had a marathon run over her.

This is not an attempt at sympathy, mind you. She’s a politician in a major American city, and she knew the job was dangerous when took it.

But now that the A’s are the last turkey in the shop, it would be good for Fisher and his new public face, Dave Kaval, to take great care not to push the city too hard. Their leverage has limits, and Schaaf, having punched the NFL to a draw by refusing to budge from his original stadium proposal, knows she can take a punch.

Also, she knows that the A’s don’t have the options the Raiders had. In short, her first offer is likely to be damned close to her last offer, because she just showed that she can do that.

In other words, the A’s have only that leverage the mayor will allow them, and will have to be happy that for the first time ever, they have no impediments between them and a new stadium save their own abilities to achieve them.

You see, the A’s new stadium has been painted as a privately financed operation, and even though there is actually no such thing (the Giants got city money for infrastructure and security when they built PacSBC&TT Park, and never forget that), that’s what it has to remain.

Oakland is trying to guide the A’s toward the Howard Terminal site with all its come-hither stares, but would tolerate Brooklyn Basin or the Coliseum. The A’s want something that allows them to cash in on the land around the stadium (shops, eateries, drinkeries, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, etc.). That much is easily done.

After that, though, Fisher and Kaval need to understand that as one of the few mayors in the nation who gave and held to a take-it-or-leave-it proposal the NFL hated at the start, middle and end, Schaaf has some steel in her spine, and now has the experience to wield it. They push too hard at their peril.

Not because they can be forced from the city, but because they could be left in the Coliseum well beyond their four-year revenue sharing window. At that point, any losses are real-money losses, and any profits come at the expense of the product.

In short, the stadium is the A’s project alone, and though Fisher and Kaval know that and have said all the right things in mind, the temptation to poke the wasp hive of public money may be too much to decline. The smart move is to accept that they are the last team standing, Oaklandically speaking, but not to assume too much beyond that.

The A’s should view this opportunity as theirs and theirs alone. They should also view as an opportunity with limits, because the undertold story about the Raiders’ move is that Schaaf lost almost no approval rating points during the process. She made it clear that the city’s commitment to the Raiders was finite and its interest in letting the NFL turn the Coliseum into the Oklahoma Land Rush was a non-starter, and she stuck to her guns with the only cost being her exasperation level late in the process. Frankly, she might have been better off announcing on Day One that any NFL official entering the city limits would be summarily jailed, jail the first one and then dare them to send any more.

That would have been the pure Oakland play.

As for the A’s, their pure Oakland play is to own the town with their deeds. A stadium built on their own dime that people want to see, and a team with talent and attitude that makes the stadium worth having.

A's spring training Day 42: Roster longshot Decker could claim outfield spot

A's spring training Day 42: Roster longshot Decker could claim outfield spot

MESA, Ariz. — As the pieces are beginning to fit for the A’s 25-man roster, Jaff Decker may be an unlikely feel-good story come Opening Night.

A non-roster invitee this spring, the journeyman has impressed with his all-around game to the point that he might make Oakland’s club as a fifth outfielder.

There’s other factors that play into it — how many relievers the A’s carry will determine whether they keep five outfielders — but things are breaking right for the 27-year-old Decker, who’s with his fourth organization and has never made an Opening Night roster.

When Jake Smolinski went down with a shoulder injury that required surgery, it thrust Decker into the competition. Then Monday, the A’s released veteran Alejandro De Aza, who had impressed this spring but had an opt-out clause in his minor league deal. The A’s think enough of Decker that they cut De Aza loose. On Monday, Decker returned from a minor oblique issue and started in left field, going 1-for-3 in a 10-3 loss to Kansas City.

“I’m super excited,” Decker said. “I feel like I fit in well here, and I get along with the guys really well. It’s a good group of baseball minds, baseball guys. I hope I have done enough and shown I’m healthy enough to land that spot.”

De Aza hit .300 in 19 games and displayed the veteran savvy that seemed to make him a possible fit on the A’s bench. Manager Bob Melvin expressed hope that De Aza might re-sign with the A’s if he doesn’t find a big league opportunity elsewhere.

But Decker, who bats left-handed as does De Aza, is hitting .308 and has his own attributes, including a strong arm and the ability to play all three outfield spots. It’s a nice package of skills for a player who, at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, doesn’t appear the prototypical big league outfielder at first glance.

If the A’s keep seven relievers, they will take five outfielders into the regular season. The decision on a seventh reliever appears to be between lefty Daniel Coulombe and right-hander Frankie Montas. But the A’s could hang on to both and only keep four outfielders, with Mark Canha being the fourth.

Decker fun fact: His first name is pronounced “Jeff.” He’s named after his uncle, whose first name was misspelled on his birth certificate. Decker’s uncle kept the spelling.

MELVIN ON RAIDERS: Melvin, a Bay Area native who is quite tuned in to the history of local teams, weighed in on the Raiders announcing a move to Las Vegas. That news has a direct impact on the A’s, obviously, as a co-tenant of the Coliseum with the Raiders.

“It’s too bad,” Melvin said. “Like us, they have a rich tradition and unbelievable fan base. They’re well supported in the Bay Area. It’s tough to have to deal with it.”

NOTEWORTHY: In his first start since being named part of the rotation, Andrew Triggs struggled mightily against the Royals, getting tagged for eight runs and three homers in 3 2/3 innings. While stressing that now is no time for complacency in his position, Triggs also said he was approaching the game differently than if it were the regular season. He kept throwing his changeup, his fourth best pitch, in an effort to get more comfortable with it.

“If this were (the regular season), we probably would have said in the first or second inning, this wasn’t so great, and gone out there and started back-dooring cutters and working off the sinker,” he said. “But we made a concerted effort to work on a pitch, it wasn’t very good, and the results showed that.”

FAMILIAR FACE: One of the homers off Triggs came from former Athletic Brandon Moss, who connected for a two-run shot in the fourth. The outfielder signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Royals in the offseason.

ODDS AND ENDS: Coulombe had a great day, tossing three scoreless innings. That’s three outings in a row without allowing a run for the lefty after a rough patch before that. Melvin pointed out that the ability to throw multiple innings will be important if Coulombe makes the team. … Matt Chapman homered in the fifth, his third long ball of the spring. He’s hitting .261 and playing stellar defense. “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm and it rubs off on guys,” Melvin said.