Seattle-A's: What to watch for

724898.jpg

Seattle-A's: What to watch for

Programming note: Mariners-A's coverage begins tonight at 6 p.m. with A's Pregame Live, followed by Brandon McCarthy's first pitch at 7:05 p.m on Comcast SportsNet California!

The Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners are tied atop the AL West after splitting their opening series in Japan.

RELATED: A's-M's Tokyo Box Scores -- Game 1 Game 2

The first 10 games of the 2012 season will pit the A's and M's against each other a staggering total of seven times, spanning three openers -- Japan, Oakland and Seattle.

With the Rangers and Angels in action Friday, only one team will carry the top spot into the weekend.

Here are some things to watch for in the A's 2012 home opener:

Dueling aces: It will be Brandon McCarthy and Jason Vargas alternating trips to the mound Friday night -- not exactly the star power you would expect in an Opening Day matchup.The Mariners elected to start Vargas in Felix Hernandez's stead, putting their ace on schedule to pitch in front of the hometown crowd when the Mariners finally head to Seattle next Friday -- again to face the A's. A result of the unique scheduling to start the year, the A's will have the dubious honor of facing "King Felix" three times in just their first eight games.Though the same can be said of the Mariners and McCarthy; The A's ace threw seven strong innings in Japan, giving up six hits -- only Dustin Ackley's solo home run hurt him -- striking out six and walking three. He was only at 82 pitches when he left the game.Home cookin': The A's expect a sellout for the home opener -- though tickets are still available -- and the team is excited for the support."When they're out there and cheering for us," outfielder Coco Crisp told Comcast SportsNet cameras Thursday. "It brings that excitement, that energy that is needed for our team to go out there with that extra bonus of intensity."They'll need it. The A's haven't won their Coliseum opener since 2004, dropping their last seven.Game-changers: With the exorbitant payroll differential, it will be tall task for the A's to compete in a re-tooled AL West, but they'll certainly surprise some teams with their young talent. It all starts with the trio of Yoenis Cespedes, Jemile Weeks and Josh Reddick, who established themselves this spring as potential future stars. Weeks and Reddick each hit over .300 and tied for the team lead with three home runs, while Cespedes established his batting practice as an event worthy of admission prices.
Still, it's a lot to expect from a core that only has 250 MLB games under their collective belt (Reddick -- 145; Weeks -- 99; Cespedes -- 2).Don't expect M's manager Eric Wedge to call on relief pitcher Shawn Kelly when Cespedes comes to bat late. The Cuban defector sent his seventh inning offering deep in the Tokyo Dome last Thursday, helping the A's earn a series split in Japan.Shook up shortstop: Cliff Pennington did not play in the A's final two spring training games, mostly precautionary after he left the first Bay Bridge Series game with a tight groin.Melvin has maintained that Pennington is okay, but it's something to keep an eye on. Lateral mobility is a source of defensive strength for Pennington, and if his groin is limiting at all, it's likely Melvin and the A's will play it safe.In his absence Wednesday, Eric Sogard had a few defensive miscues with his neighbors. He was unable to corral a backhanded glove-flip from Jemile Weeks for a would-be highlight-reel double play, and his miscommunication with Josh Donaldson allowed Hector Sanchez's infield fly to land safely on the infield dirt.RunsForMcCarthy: Is it possible to have "ownage" of a team with a 1-3 record? In his last five starts against the Mariners, Brandon McCarthy has pitched three complete games, maintained a 1.86 ERA, held Seattle to a .182 batting average, and registered a 101 strikeout to walk ratio. How is a 1-3 mark possible with those numbers, you ask? The A's have scored a total of seven runs in those five games. That's not going to do it.Delaying history: Last year, Ichiro failed to reach the 200-hit plateau for the first time in the past six seasons. His .272 batting average in 2011 dipped .054 points off his career average. Though he might not be the player he once was, he only needs three hits to pass Rod Carew and become the all-time leader against Oakland. With 17 more games still to play against Seattle this season alone -- including Friday night's home opener -- Carew's mark of 282 is not safe. Ichiro hits .364 inside O.Co -- the highest career average inside the Coliseum by a long shot (Derek Jeter is second, batting .348).

A's lineup: Alonso returns, batting fifth vs Yankees

A's lineup: Alonso returns, batting fifth vs Yankees

The A's get a big back back in the lineup Sunday in New York as they look to win a series against the Yankees.

Oakland A's (22-26)

1. Mark Canha (R) CF
2. Stephen Vogt (L) DH
3. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Ryon Healy (R) 3B
7. Josh Phegley (R) C
8. Matt Joyce (L) RF
9. Adam Rosales (R) SS
Andrew Triggs -- RHP

New York Yankees (28-18)

1. Brett Gardner (L) LF
2. Gary Sanchez (R) C
3. Matt Holliday (R) DH
4. Starlin Castro (R) 2B
5. Aaron Judge (R) RF
6. Didi Gregorius (L) SS
7. Aaron Hicks (S) CF
8. Chris Carter (R) 1B
9. Ronald Torreyes (R) 3B
Michael Pineda -- RHP

Despite solid start, Cotton admits to thinking about no-hitter: "It just bit me'

Despite solid start, Cotton admits to thinking about no-hitter: "It just bit me'

NEW YORK — Keep peeling away the layers of Jharel Cotton’s start Saturday, and there are several different ways to view it.

The A’s rookie pitched into the sixth inning despite enduring big-time command issues and giving up a run in the first.

He took a no-hitter into the sixth despite not having the feel for his best pitch, the changeup.

He was on the verge of completing six mostly dominant innings before losing a handle on things in the sixth, allowing a two-out rally that culminated with Matt Holliday’s two-run homer. That blast wound up being the difference in Oakland’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.

It was an eventful 5 2/3-inning outing for Cotton in his return from the minors. He admitted he was very aware he had a no-hitter going, though it also must have registered that with his pitch count at 88 entering the sixth, he wasn’t going to get a chance to complete history.

“I wanted to just go out there and get (through) the sixth inning with no hits,” Cotton said. “I guess I thought about it too much and it just bit me.”

Taking the mound for his first big league start since being optioned to Triple-A on May 11, Cotton was also making his first start at Yankee Stadium. He couldn’t find the strike zone in the first, allowing a walk, a hit batsman and a wild pitch that led to Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly and an early lead for New York.

But then he settled down and found a groove, retiring 15 out of 16 hitters for a stretch from the first all the way until the sixth. That was all the more impressive given that Cotton did not have the effective changeup that’s usually the centerpiece to his game plan.

Catcher Josh Phegley said he was encouraged by Cotton’s effort in his first start back from Triple-A.

“He was kind of sporadic at the beginning, so I was just calling a lot of cutters because that was our strike pitch,” Phegley said. “You’d like to have the changeup because it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. But he’s got the stuff to do without one of his pitches and still compete and put us in a good position.”

The game turned when Cotton couldn’t slam the door in the sixth after retiring the first two hitters. He walked Gary Sanchez and then caught too much plate with a 1-0 cutter to Holliday, who signed a one-year $13 million contract with New York in the offseason. He drilled a two-run homer to left-center, and Cotton was lifted after Castro singled on his next batter.

“I didn’t want to walk that guy,” Cotton said. “You don’t wanna put guys on base with free passes and I did that, and it came back to haunt me.”

With Cotton’s pitch count crossing 100 in the sixth, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had no second thoughts about not going to his bullpen earlier. Cotton was charged with three runs on just two hits with three walks and five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

“I was fine with him to get through the inning. That probably would have been it,” Melvin said. “You don’t take a guy out just because he’s got 100 pitches. He was pitching well.”

Cotton will be an important factor for the A’s moving forward given the injuries to starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, with the former going on the 10-day disabled list Saturday and the latter expected to join him in the next day or two.