A's notebook: Sizemore, allergies, the Oscars

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A's notebook: Sizemore, allergies, the Oscars

Scene Setter: There are a lot of red, swollen eyes this morning at Papago Park. No, this isn't a result of Moneyball being shut out at the Oscars, but rather the aftermath of one of the worst allergy days in Arizona. From Bob Melvin, to media members and positions players, folks in the desert are combating running noses and itchy eyes, but it didn't stop the A's from smiling pretty.Say Cheese: Players arrived at Phoenix Municipal at 7 a.m. for their team photo. The newest and youngest to the Green and Gold, also had individual shots taken, in hopes they'll make the cut and that these pics will find their way to the Coliseum JumboTron for Opening Week.
Missing in Action: Scott Sizemore
Scott Sizemore reported to the hospital Monday morning for an MRI on his knee. Right now, the team has labeled it a 'left knee sprain' pending results. Sizemore went down Saturday, in the team's first full squad workout during fielding drills. He had to be helped off the field, as he could put no weight on the knee. I saw him later that day at the facility on crutches.The Aftermath: With the A's projected third baseman shelved at the moment, Melvin has some thinking to do when it comes to the hot corner. Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard will still be used as utilities, while getting looks at thir4d base. And backup catcher Josh Donaldson will exclusively get time behind the plate and at 3rd. I talked with Melvin early last week about Donaldson when I observed him taking grounders the first few days of camp, and Melvin explained how versatile Donaldson is, saying it makes him very valuable in this evaluation process.Melvin expanded on Donaldson this morning, commenting on how impressed he is with his bat, and noting that the 26-year-old has a little extra 'bounce in his step' the past couple of days, recognizing the opportunity at-hand. Donaldson spent extra time at the ballpark yesterday, and was one of the first in the cages this morning. 0 for 6: Not the results the A's had hoped for, as their historic win-streak played out on the big screen in front of a national audience. Up for six Academy Awards, Brad Pitt's Moneyball and portrayal of Billy Beane's underdog ways, struck out at the Oscars last night. Melvin admitted he was disappointed. Perhaps even more upsetting was the fact that for the first time ever, Melvin watched the entire awards show all the way through, in hopes of seeing a cameo of his boss and good friend, but to no avail. Beane was spotted though, during the best actor introductions of the broadcast. Beane attended the ceremony with his wife and eldest daughter, and will return to the team in the next 24 hours.

Melvin ponders where Semien fits best in A's batting order

Melvin ponders where Semien fits best in A's batting order

MESA, Ariz. — Marcus Semien provides the A’s a luxury as a shortstop with great home run power.

With that, an annual question surfaces:

Where is the best spot to hit him in the batting order?

Semien led American League shortstops, and finished second on the A’s, with 27 homers last season, yet he spent the majority of his time hitting seventh or ninth. Given Oakland finished last in the American League in runs last season, would it make sense to move him up higher?

The early indications are that manager Bob Melvin will keep Semien hitting in the bottom third of the order, even though Semien has bounced around in exhibitions so far.

“He and I were talking about that yesterday,” Melvin said Wednesday morning. “I hit him third yesterday. I’ll have him hit second, I think, tomorrow. But boy, it’s a nice little security blanket (hitting him down in the order). And it seems to be that the ‘7’ spot is where (he hits with) some guys on base. It’s nice to have a guy down in the lineup that is that productive.”

Expect Melvin to continue experimenting with different batting-order combos throughout spring training before honing in on a more steady look as late March rolls around. And where he bats Semien will be based, partly, on how Semien’s teammates are performing offensively.

The A’s signed Rajai Davis to be a speedy table-setter from the leadoff spot. They added Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe to add some punch through the middle of the lineup. If those three, plus cleanup man Khris Davis, Stephen Vogt, Jed Lowrie and Ryon Healy are producing, it makes more sense to save Semien as a lower-lineup headache for opposing pitchers to deal with. The shortstop’s nine home runs from the No. 9 spot tied for the major league lead in 2016.

And keep in mind, Semien is likely to bat higher against left-handers. He’s a .288 career hitter with a .493 slugging percentage against lefties, compared to .229 and .380 against right-handers. Last season, he made 24 starts in the No. 2 spot.

But where he hits has no bearing on his approach, Semien said.

“I don’t want to try and change what I do based on where I am in the lineup necessarily. I want to become a better hitter no matter what spot I’m in. There was power production from the ‘9’ hole (last season). I hit second a lot against lefties. Either way, whatever is the best chance to win with that lineup that day is what we’ve gotta do.”

A's spring training Day 15: Cotton, teammates pile up K's

A's spring training Day 15: Cotton, teammates pile up K's

MESA, Ariz. — Jharel Cotton took the mound to begin Tuesday’s game and promptly struck out the side in order.

It would establish a theme for the day, as first-round draft pick A.J. Puk also punched out the side in his first outing and Oakland pitchers rang up 14 strikeouts total in a 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Hohokam Stadium.

For Cotton, more important than putting up gaudy spring numbers is simply cementing his place in the A’s starting rotation. His first outing was a step in the right direction, though the Indians got to him for a run in his second and final inning when his command deserted him a bit.

“Cotton, I thought was really good,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Strikes the first four guys out. His command was off a little bit later with runners on base, but his stuff was really good.”

That fourth strikeout, to lead off the second, came with an asterisk. A third-strike wild pitch allowed Abraham Almonte to get all the way to second. Before long, Cotton had the bases loaded and no outs thanks to a walk and hit batter, but he got a big lift when first baseman Yonder Alonso made a diving stop to begin a 3-6-1 double play. The Indians would score only one run off him.

“I got in some trouble but I got out of it,” Cotton said. “I limited the damage so I was happy about that.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Puk said he felt first-game jitters while warming up, but he sure didn’t show it once he took the mound in the sixth. Showing command of his full repertoire, Puk struck out Erik Kratz, Lonnie Chisenhall and Almonte in order for a memorable first outing in big league camp.

“I was a little anxious in the bullpen to get going,” the 6-foot-7 lefty said. “Then I finally got my name called and got ready and just tried to throw strikes and see what happens.”

Puk was pleased to get a swing-and-miss with his curve, a pitch he’s getting reacquainted with for the first time since high school. But Melvin was most encouraged by his changeup. “It’s something we asked him to work on and he brings it right into a game,” Melvin said. “To do that and use a pitch he may not be as familiar with in his first time on the mound, it shows you he’s pretty coachable too.”

LIGHTER SIDE: Third baseman Trevor Plouffe’s first hit with the A’s ended up being a homer off vaunted Indians closer Andrew Miller. The towering blast easily cleared the left field wall and wound up ricocheting off a startled fan who was sprawled out on the grass, apparently trying to squeeze in a nap. The fan was OK and kept waving to everybody afterward just to prove he was awake.

Plouffe expressed relief that the fan was OK, adding with a smile: “As long as it’s not a kid. A grown man should be watching the game.”

FAMILIAR FACE: A’s center fielder Rajai Davis went 1-for-3 in his first game playing against the team he helped lead to the World Series last year. As he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, he gestured toward the visitor’s dugout in respect.

“Just to be able to see them again, it’s like a family reunion,” Davis said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Marcus Semien connected for his first homer of the spring, showing opposite-field power with a two-run blast to right off Mike Clevinger in the first. … Minor league first baseman Rangel Ravelo broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth with the A’s third homer of the day, as Oakland evened its Cactus League record at 2-2. … Fifth-starter candidate Andrew Triggs went two innings and allowed an unearned run on two hits. He struck out three in a row to end the top of the fourth. … Matt Olson drew the start in right field and tripled to deep to center in the second, scoring on Josh Phegley’s sacrifice fly.