Gutierrez: Image A's problem, not communication


Gutierrez: Image A's problem, not communication


ANAHEIM - Bob Geren has more than a purported communication problem on his hands. The A's manager has a massive image problem.It's been there since he replaced Ken Macha following the A's run to the American League Championship Series, on Nov. 17, 2006. From that very first day, because of his close relationship with general manager Billy Beane, Geren has been seen in many corners as Beane's puppet. Real, or imagined."That was a problem at first," Los Angeles Angels starter Dan Haren told me before Wednesday night's game, an eventual 4-1 Angels victory. Haren pitched for the A's in Geren's rookie year as a manager in 2007."There was a feeling like Billy was running the team through Bob. But over time, it disappeared."
RECAP: A's fall 4-1 to Angels, back-to-back HRs
And yet, it's still percolating in the A's clubhouse. It's the kind of damning accusation that turns into condemnation, quickly. There's a lack of respect-factor at work here, and it's been there from Day 1.Beane acknowledged their relationship - Geren stood up in Beane's second wedding, after all - has become fodder for anyone wanting to criticize the hire."It comes with the territory," Beane said. "At some point, you'd think it would become redundant. But it makes for some nice filler."Even A's owner Lew Wolff, in town for the series with the Angels, dismissed the notion that the friendship between his general manager and field manager was a trouble spot."Just the opposite," Wolff said. "Billy delayed Bob's career, because he was worried about things like that, which I thought was silly. Billy's goal is to win ballgames. I don't think (their friendship) has one thing to do with it."And if you thought A's fans who want Geren's head on a platter were upset before, those same fans' heads might explode when they read how Wolff defended Geren."I think Bob's fantastic," Wolff said, when asked his thoughts on Geren as a manager. "Bob's fine, terrific. It's a tough job."Cue the exploding heads.
RELATED: A's GM Beane says Fuentes-Geren matter closed
Truly, Geren has been seen by his critics as unqualified and undeserving of the gig every day along the way. Especially since Beane puts such little stock in managers.The only way to silence the white noise, then, is to win. And win consistently. But Geren has yet to have a winning season, the 81-81 finish last year his high-water mark in four seasons.True, injuries have to be factored in, and you could say he has not had a real big league roster to work with until this year.But Geren is not going to change how he manages - by the book, with curious bullpen and pinch-hit decisions while agonizing over the daily lineup to the frustration of many A's players. So until the A's start winning on a consistent basis - they have yet to go three games over .500 and have been as low as four games under .500 - Geren will be the green and gold pinata for disgruntled fans and, yes, players.Paging Brian Fuentes and his Monday night soliloquy about Geren's lack of communication skills.
REWIND: A's Fuentes sounds off on Geren
Still"I don't remember it ever being a problem," Haren said. "He always had an open office."In my experience, those things happen almost always when a team isn't playing well or on a long losing streak."The A's were riding a season-long six-game losing streak and Fuentes had lost four straight appearances when the left-hander vented."Fuentes is a veteran player, in his first year with the organization," Haren said. "They're still learning each other."You want communication? Geren called a team meeting Wednesday before batting practice that lasted about 15 minutes. Even if, the day before, he said the matter was closed after a sit-down with Fuentes and said he did not want to involve anyone else.Maybe it was simply to clear the air in the wake of Huston Street absolutely savaging Geren in the San Francisco Chronicle?"I don't think it's my place to comment on somebody on another team," a dour Geren said, when asked his thought's on Street's diatribe in which he said Geren was his "least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27."Haren remains good friends with Street, and he was taken aback by the now Colorado Rockies closer's public admission."Bob is a good man," Haren said. "Whether someone hates him or notthere's a lot of people I don't like eitherI'm not going to throw anyone under the bus."Geren's, ahem, goodness is not in question. If he is a good baseball man, though, is and has been for a while now.Said Geren: "I prefer to speak about our own team, not on others."Confused? Well, Wolff said Geren and criticism from players, current or former, is not a concern."No, it really isn't," he said. "It's part of life. I don't like the word 'communication.' But it usually takes two people."It's a new day, every day."Even if your manager has an image problem that is not going away anytime soon.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?


Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.