A's Insider notebook: Projected lineup delivers


A's Insider notebook: Projected lineup delivers

March 13, 2011

PHOENIX -- The A's have quite happily gotten used to all the extra attention that's coming their way in the wake of general manager Billy Beane's offseason makeover, and even more happy buzz blossomed when manager Bob Geren posted his lineup for Sunday's game against the visiting Rockies at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It featured all nine of the hitters expected to start on Opening Day: Center fielder Coco Crisp led off, followed by first baseman Daric Barton, right fielder David DeJesus, left fielder Josh Willingham, designated hitter Hideki Matsui, catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and shortstop Cliff Pennington. Geren conceded that his batting order for the real opener might not mirror Sunday's; he's fairly big on alternating right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible, and Suzuki, Ellis and Kouzmanoff all hit from the right side (Pennington is a switch hitter). But that will work itself out in due time. Clearly, being able to pencil in all of his regulars on the same day struck a giddy chord with the skipper. "It's nice to get everyone out there together," Geren said. "It's been difficult with split squads and guys getting healthy, guys playing every other day for the most part here early. But you're going to see a lot more of that in these last couple weeks. A lot of them are going to start playing two or three days in a row, so we'll have everyone out there at the same time quite a bit. "It's pretty exciting, for sure." Adding to the air of excitement, the game was Oakland's first of the spring televised by Comcast SportsNet California, and several national media outlets, including MLB Network, were on hand. Living legend Peter Gammons was patrolling the grounds under the gorgeous desert skies before ducking into Geren's office for a closed-door chat before the morning workout, the venerable sportswriter's mere presence an indication of the club's status as a legitimate playoff contender. "People are pretty pumped around here, and they have been since Day One," said A's lefty Dallas Braden. "This is the first time most of us have experienced anything like this, and we're going to do whatever it takes to keep all these people coming back." That won't be difficult if the new-look lineup produces the way it did Sunday. Crisp, Barton and DeJesus singled to open the bottom of the first inning, and a wild pitch and a two-out single from Ellis gave Oakland a 3-0 lead. Barton and Matsui later homered, Matsui's being his first in green and gold, Crisp tacked on another couple of knocks to jack his Cactus League batting average to a slow-pitch softballish .519, and by the end of the fifth inning the regulars had nine runs on the board. That was a week's worth of runs at times in 2010, prompting Beane to add DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui to the middle of the order. "Dangerous," is how Braden described the improved offensive potential. "You pick up three guys like that, you know you're going to start doing some damage." RAMPING UP
As the end of camp draws closer, Geren plans to start managing games a bit more the way he'll manage during the regular season. "We haven't done a lot of hit-and-running, stealing bases, things like that," he said. "We'll be ramping that up with the regulars playing deeper into games. We might even do a little more of it than we'd do during the season, just because you need to work on things, and this is a good time to do that, when the games don't really mean anything." Another facet of the game that might get greater emphasis is one not easy to work on during camp: dealing with "sun balls," which can be a bear at the Oakland Coliseum. The A's work out every morning before their Cactus League games, the majority of which start at about 1 p.m., but as Geren noted, it's not like the outfielders can work on battling the 3 p.m. sun at 10 a.m. Thus, Geren said, outfieldfirst-base coach Tye Waller might occasionally be relieved of his game duties in the middle innings so he can take some of his charges to the back diamond at Phoenix Muni. MORNING MOVES
The A's announced a couple of roster moves early Sunday, sending right-hander Fautino De Los Santos and lefty Pedro Figueroa to minor-league camp.
NEWS: A's option RHP De Los Santos and LHP Figueroa
De Los Santos, part of the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox in exchange for a package that included Gio Gonzalez, appeared in four Cactus League games and gave up three earned runs (four total) on eight hits and two walks over 3 23 innings. A 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic who consistently touches the upper 90's with his fastball but needs work on his command, he entered camp as a darkhorse bullpen candidate. Expected to open the season at Triple-A Sacramento, De Los Santos will be closely watched by Oakland's brass and could merit a call to the big leagues if he can resolve the control issues. "When guys throw that hard," Geren said, "they can come quick." Figueroa was optioned to Double-A Midland. FOR STARTERS
Based on the current throwing schedule mapped out by new pitching coach Ron Romanick, Gonzalez, who has a 0.96 ERA in three spring starts, is in line to start on Opening Day. Last year's top starter, All-Star righty Trevor Cahill, worked Sunday and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over four innings, pushing his spring ERA to 7.59. Geren hasn't announced his rotation, and he insisted Sunday that Cahill's struggles and the recent thumping of Braden by the Texas Rangers have done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm about his gifted young starting staff. "Everyone's right where they need to be, health-wise and pitch-count-wise," he said. The competition for the No. 5 job remains open, but righty Brandon McCarthy appears to have a slight edge based on his big-league experience. Also pitching well is Bobby Cramer, who made a good impression during a late-season callup in 2010. Lefty Josh Outman, working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2009, was the early frontrunner but has struggled with his mechanics of late.

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

SAN JOSE – For at least one night, the Sharks’ depth players – most of which have been missing in action for weeks – found the scoresheet against the Rangers in a 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The Sharks were playing their first of what will surely be at least a few games without center Logan Couture, and are still in the hunt for a Pacific Division title with four of their six remaining games against Edmonton and Calgary – teams they are trying to fend off to earn home ice in the first round. And, of course, they ended a wretched six-game losing streak in which they never had a lead in any of the defeats.

Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned earlier in the week that the coaching staff had challenged the depth players to do more, especially now that their second line center is out indefinitely. The response on Tuesday included two goals from Chris Tierney (including a late game-tying score), one goal and one assist from Jannik Hansen, a shorthanded goal by Melker Karlsson, two assists from Mikkel Boedker, and an assist from Tomas Hertl.

Consider the challenge met.

“We want to score. All the depth guys know, and talked about stepping up,” Tierney said. “It's good that we broke through tonight, especially with Logan out of the lineup. We're going to have to keep doing it throughout the playoffs."

DeBoer said the internal challenge “didn’t involve much more than just ‘Hey, we need some contributions from you.’ We can’t always look to the big guys to get the job done. We got that tonight. Those guys got on the board. It’s never a lack of effort with that group, but we’re the sum of our parts. We need those guys to get on the board for us on a regular basis and they did that tonight.”

It was also surely welcomed that one of their big guys – perhaps their biggest – got the overtime winner. Brent Burns had been mired in a 16-game drought without a goal, but his slap shot got through Henrik Lundqvist half-a-minute into an overtime power play.

While the depth guys will need to continue to produce, the Sharks are going to need more from Burns, too, as the postseason approaches. The defenseman had been kept off of the scoresheet in nine of 10 games from March 5 – 21, but now has one point in each of his last three games. That’s a good sign.

Getting a goal was particularly nice, as was ending the losing skid.

“Yeah on both accounts,” Burns said. “That was a big win, especially coming back, staying resilient, getting that big goal there at the end.”

Still, with all that went right, the game was far from perfect. The Sharks allowed a 3-1 second period lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit in just a span of five minutes and seven seconds, indicating they’re still a bit fragile. Derek Stepan made it 3-2 late in the second with a power play goal, Jesper Fast scored on a deflection early in the third, and J.T. Miller gave New York its first lead of the night less than five minutes into the final frame.

“There’s still room for improvement, definitely,” Joe Pavelski said.

Still, the Sharks fought back for Tierney’s late game-tying goal with less than two minutes in regulation, setting up Burns’ overtime heroics. 

The captain sensed some displeasure from the home fans due to the blown lead, something he surely understood, but indicated that the energy level on the Sharks’ bench was still high.

“Whether you think, like, ‘Here we go again’ or not – I’m sure someone in this building thought that tonight,” Pavelski said. “Guys just kind of stuck with it, and we believed we would tie it up tonight.”

Getting that extra point in overtime brought a sense of relief.

“When you lose six straight, it's obviously a relief when you win one,” Martin Jones said. “But win or lose, we played a lot better tonight.”


Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid

Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid


SAN JOSE – Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the Sharks found a way to tie their game with the Rangers late and win it in overtime, 5-4, to end their losing streak at six games.

After New York had turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, Chris Tierney knotted the score with just 2:15 left in regulation. Mikkel Boedker’s shot from high in the zone rattled around the slot, and Tierney was there to flip it home for this second of the night.

Brent Burns ended a 16-game goal drought with a power play goal at 3:10 in overtime, overpowering Henrik Lundqvist with a slap shot.

After Tierney had given San Jose a 3-1 lead earlier in the second period the Sharks kept up the pressure, recording seven of the next eight shots. But Patrick Marleau’s interference penalty on Jimmy Vesey gave New York a late power play and turned the game in their favor.

Derek Stepan – who was stopped on a partial breakaway midway through the first period – brought the Rangers back to within 3-2. Mats Zuccarello hummed a seam pass through Justin Braun to Stepan, who had an open net to deposit his 16th of the season in the final minutes of the second period.

In the third, Jesper Fast redirected a Brady Skjei floater at 1:24, tying the game at 3-3. A Burns tripping minor during four-on-four play offered a power play to the Rangers, and they capitalized on a J.T. Miller one-timer at 4:44, his second of the night.

The Sharks remain two points back of Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and are tied with Edmonton for second.

For the first time in eight games the Sharks struck first. A newly configured third line of Tomas Hertl, Boedker and Jannik Hansen scored on its first shift together, as Hansen chopped in a loose puck at 1:44. Boedker and Hertl both got assists, ending pointless streaks of 10 games and 12 games, respectively.

Hansen’s first goal as a Shark also gave the team its first lead in more than two weeks, as it never led throughout its six-game regulation losing streak.

The Rangers tied it at 13:30 of the first on a goal by Miller, who took the puck from Paul Martin along the wall and lifted a perfectly placed wrist shot over Martin Jones’ near shoulder.

Melker Karlsson, returning from an eight-game absence, put the Sharks ahead 2-1 late in the first period with a shorthanded score. He whizzed a wrist shot past countryman Lundqvist at 18:01 while on a two-on-one with Tierney.

Tierney increased the lead to 3-1 in the middle frame, taking a shot from the slot and following up his own rebound at 11:38. It was just his second goal in the last 22 games, and eighth of the year.

The Rangers won the only other game of the season series back on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. The Sharks finished the season with a 21-7-4 mark against Eastern Conference clubs.

The Sharks were without Logan Couture, who is out indefinitely with a facial injury.

Special teams:
Two of New York’s goals came on the power play, on three opportunities. The Sharks are 11-for-15 on the PK in the last six games.

San Jose had just one power play before overtime, failing to score. Karlsson’s marker was his second shorthanded score of the season, and the Sharks’ seventh as a team.

In goal:
After allowing a career high seven goals-against on Saturday in Nashville, Jones made 24 saves on 28 shots.

Lundqvist suffered the loss with 30 saves on 35 shots.

Micheal Haley served a one-game suspension for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday.

Tierney (upper body) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (flu) both returned after missing Saturday’s game with the Predators. Marcus Sorensen came out of the lineup for Kevin Labanc, who was recalled on Tuesday morning and skated on the top line.

New York’s Skjei had three assists.

Up next:
The Sharks have six games remaining in the regular season – two each against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

A three-game road trip against each of those division rivals begins on Thursday with the Oilers, as the clubs battle for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and continues on Friday against the Flames and Sunday versus the Canucks.