A's new-look middle infield clicking

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A's new-look middle infield clicking

SEATTLE -- The middle of the A's infield has undergone several in season modifications in 2012. The boldest shift came when the team acquired shortstop Stephen Drew via trade on August 20, and sent their previously untouchable second baseman Jemile Weeks to Triple-A Sacramento. As a result of the move, incumbent shortstop Cliff Pennington was shifted to second base. The large shakeup came as a surprise to many, but it has been yet another effective move by the Oakland Athletics front office. Since donning the white cleats Drew has started to turn his season around. After missing a total of 137 games with a fractured right ankle he sustained on July 27, 2011, Drew is starting to get back into the swing of things. He has reached base safely in 13 of his 15 games with the A's. "I'm feeling really good," Drew said. "It's been a long process coming back from injury overall. Now I don't even think about it, which is a good thing." Drew had been a bit rusty after missing the first 73 games of the 2012 season, but he is hitting .333 (6 for 18) in September after batting .205 in August. The A's were banking on his recovery when they pulled the trigger on the trade with the Diamondbacks. Drew, 29, is the Diamondbacks franchise leader in triples with 52, and his 776 hits with Arizona are third most all time for the organization."It's just been a lot more work not having any Spring Training," Drew said. "I didn't have that many games since I came back up here. For me I knew hitting and fielding would come, it was just more or less coming back from the injury."
RELATED: Bottom of order surging
Drew has a history with A's manager Bob Melvin and bench coach Chip Hale. Their votes of confidence in the shortstop, along with the work of the A's scouts, gave the organization enough valuable information to deem his acquisition beneficial. "Early on he was hitting into some tough luck, hitting balls right at people, but still drawing some tough walks," Melvin said. "Recently the ball has been dropping for him and he's hit some balls good, his batting practices have been better, he's feeling more and more like part of the team, all those things take some time."Drew had been with the Diamondbacks his entire career after being drafted by Arizona with the 15th overall pick in the first round in 2004. He says a change of scenery benefited him. "It's a great team to play for," Drew said of his new baseball home. "We're just having fun and playing hard every day." Since Drew joined the A's, Cliff Pennington has started to turn his season around as well. The new double play tandem is turning it around together. Pennington is hitting .545 (12-for-22) over his last seven games. His 4-for-4 performance on Friday was his fourth multi-hit effort in his last seven games. Pennington insists he hasn't changed a thing at the plate. "You go through streaks and unfortunately we went through a bad one for a while," Pennington said. "Not really any changes, just trying to get good at bats and right now and they are falling in. They weren't earlier."Pennington may have been a liability earlier in the season, but he is a streaky hitter and it looks like he is heating up. He hit just .197 in 82 games before going on the disabled list with left elbow tendonitis, in the 22 games since returning from the DL he is batting a much more palatable .294. Pennington says he feels much better but the left elbow tendonitis that landed him on the DL will likely bug him until the offseason.
"He's actually been swinging it quite a bit better, especially recently," Melvin said. "To see him drive balls that means his legs are underneath him, the bat head is getting out there and he is squaring balls up. A resurgent Pennington is a big boost for the A's. Last season he ranked fifth in the American League with a .348 batting average with runners in scoring position. He paced the A's with 148 games played and obtained career highs in hits (136), home runs (8), and RBI (58). "This guy was a big performer for us last year and got big hits for us," Melvin said. "It's one thing to get hits, it's another thing to square some balls up and feel good about what you are doing."Pennington has impressed his manager and teammates with his seamless conversion to second base. He has started each of his last 11 games at that position after making his previous 439 starts as a shortstop."It's huge," Drew said of Pennington. "For him to move over there and play as well as he has, it shows how skilled he can be." Meanwhile, Jemile Weeks remains with the River Cats as they take on the Reno Aces in a best-of-five Pacific Coast League playoff series. Including his postseason stats, Weeks is hitting .303 (17-for-56), with four doubles, 9 BB, 1 HR, and 11 RBI in 13 games since being optioned to Triple-A. The River Cats are facing elimination if they lose Saturday night's game.

A's lineup: Healy to DH, Plouffe back on the hot corner vs Astros

A's lineup: Healy to DH, Plouffe back on the hot corner vs Astros

Bob Melvin is making no changes to his lineup in Game 1 against the Astros, but the manager did make one defensive change.

Oakland A's (10-12)

1. Jaff Decker (L) CF
2. Matt Joyce (L) RF
3. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Ryon Healy (R) DH
7. Stephen Vogt (L) C
8. Trevor Plouffe (R) 3B
9. Adam Rosales (R) SS
Jharel Cotton -- RHP

Houston Astros (14-8)

1. George Springer (R) CF
2. Josh Reddick (L) RF
3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
4. Carlos Correa (R) SS
5. Carlos Beltran (S) DH
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Evan Gattis (R) C
8. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
9. Norichika Aoki (L) LF
Charlie Morton -- RHP

Graveman delivers in front of 'Blue Moon' Odom, rest of A's can't

Graveman delivers in front of 'Blue Moon' Odom, rest of A's can't

ANAHEIM — The A’s collection of individual highlights during their visit to Angel Stadium shouldn’t have equated to a three-game sweep for their opponent.

Jesse Hahn fired eight one-hit innings Tuesday, the same night Josh Phegley delivered a pinch-hit homer in the 10th before the A’s lost in 11 innings. On Thursday, Kendall Graveman turned in perhaps the defensive play of the 2017 season by a pitcher, recording an unassisted double play that was the first by an A’s pitcher in 46 years.

All great moments to relive in the clubhouse afterward, but surely they ring a bit hollow given the final outcomes. The A’s were swept by an Angels team that, like Oakland, has been hit hard by the injury bug. Los Angeles is without key relievers Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, Cam Bedrosian and Mike Morin, not to mention starter Garrett Richards among others.

Yet the Angels pitching staff twice held the A’s to one run over the three-game series, including Thursday’s 2-1 defeat, when the A’s mustered just three hits.

“We’re a little streaky right now,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “… Give them credit, they pitched really well, and they really are down a lot of guys in the bullpen. We would expect to do a little more damage.”

They couldn’t Thursday, and that it made it tough to savor Graveman’s incredible play the way they should have.

With runners on the corners and no outs, he fielded Juan Graterol’s comebacker and caught Ben Revere in a rundown between third and home. Graveman ran him down and after applying the tag, hurdled Revere and made the tag on Cliff Pennington, who was trying to advance from first to third in the chaos.

“That’s probably the best play I’ve ever seen a pitcher make, hurdling over an (opponent) to get the second out unassisted,” Melvin said. “I didn’t even know how to put that one down on my card.”

Graveman, one of the A’s better overall athletes, was asked if he’d ever recorded an unassisted double play before.

“Never. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one,” he said. “(Ryan) Madson said he’s never seen one and he’s watched over 2,000 games.”

Incredibly, the last A’s pitcher to pull off an unassisted double play previously was in attendance Thursday night. John “Blue Moon” Odom did it back on July 11, 1971, also against the Angels. Odom attends most of the A’s games in Anaheim, and he’s struck up a friendship with Graveman over the years.

“Every time we come here and even in spring training, I try to catch up with Blue Moon Odom and see how he’s doing,” Graveman said. “He and Wash (former A’s infield coach Ron Washington) are friends so we always cut up about Wash. He’s a great guy. He sits in the front row. He came in and saw me right before stretch and told me ‘I’m gonna be front row watching you.’ That is pretty neat that that happened.”

A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso said he’s never surprised to see Graveman make a great defensive play.

“The guy’s a pitcher, but it feels like he’s a shortstop playing the position.”

Graveman was visited by trainers after the fifth-inning play, but Melvin said it was mainly to give the pitcher a breather and let him get his adrenaline under control. Neither Graveman nor his manager revealed anything specific that bothered Graveman. Seeing him stay in the game and complete six innings of two-run ball had to be encouraging for Melvin.

“The first thing I asked him was ‘What’d you fall on?’” Melvin said. “He said, ‘My butt.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re all right then.’ But you’re not gonna see that play again probably.”

The A’s are giving their manager and fans some accomplishments to marvel over. As they move on to Houston trying to halt a four-game losing streak, they just need to figure things out on the scoreboard.