A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

OAKLAND — Some 10-9 records are better than others, and so it is that the A’s can hit the road for a nine-game trip feeling pretty good about themselves.

Their just-completed homestand began with Opening Night starter Kendall Graveman leaving a game early and landing on the disabled list. That was coupled with news that shortstop Marcus Semien would be lost for two months or more with a fractured wrist.

The A’s responded to those developments with a five-game winning streak that was halted by Sunday’s 11-1 rout at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.

The A’s went 5-4 on the homestand, holding their ground after a heavy dose of injury misfortune, and now the outlook changes just a bit. The focus shifts from the players joining the D.L. to those that could soon return to provide a boost.

Graveman, who has a strained right shoulder, is scheduled to throw off the mound Monday. If that goes well, expect him to be activated sometime in the early portion of the upcoming trip. Sonny Gray, who has been out since injuring a side muscle early in Cactus League games, is set to throw Thursday for Triple-A Nashville after an encouraging rehab outing Saturday for Single-A Stockton.

If Gray comes out of Thursday’s start well, look for the 2015 All-Star to join the active roster and pitch sometime against Minnesota in the final series of this road trip. Nothing can be taken for granted until both pitchers actually return healthy, but it’s a promising scenario to possibly add two starters of their caliber as April turns to May.

“I think any time you look up and you’re over .500 and you’ve had a great homestand and you’re missing your best two pitchers, that’s something to be pleased about,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Getting Kendall back is huge. And Sonny obviously did great last night, and felt great, which is more important than the results.

“We’re excited to get those two guys back but in the meantime, we’re gonna continue to keep playing the way we are because we’re playing really good baseball and we’ll just keep things rolling.”

It was clear early on Sunday that a five-game winning streak wouldn’t reach six. The Mariners led 2-0 in the third when Andrew Triggs missed location on a 1-0 sinker and Taylor Motter launched a grand slam over the wall in left-center.

Triggs, who excelled at missing the fat part of bats over his first three starts, didn’t have the feel for his cutter Sunday. When he fell behind to Motter, the cutter is normally a pitch he would have gone to had it been working for him.

“I wasn’t commanding well,” he said. “I didn’t wanna go 1-0 to 2-0. I felt better going with the sinker. I got it down, but missed location in and out. In a perfect world, the cutter would have been great to get a groundout.”

But to this point, the A’s rotation has held firm without Gray and with the short-term absence of Graveman. Perhaps the biggest test moving forward is whether an offense that is tied for the American League lead in extra-base hits can continue to produce consistently with Semien’s absence, particularly without anyone having established themselves as the regular leadoff man.

A’s manager Bob Melvin likes what he’s seen from his team in light of the injuries.

“Every game we go out there there’s an expectation to win,” Melvin said, “and when you win multiple games in a row, you get that feeling and it’s a little more significant. So hopefully we can carry that on to the road trip. As a group, we’ve been able to manage these injuries here recently, and once we start getting guys back it’s gonna be a good thing for us.”

Plouffe, A's showing some power potential in the early going

Plouffe, A's showing some power potential in the early going

OAKLAND — The individual honor belonged to Trevor Plouffe on Friday night, and he had the keepsake to prove it.

The ball he hit for career homer No. 100 was safely in his possession following the A’s 3-1 victory over Seattle that extended their winning streak to four.

However, what the A’s are doing as a team in the power department is the big-picture takeaway, after a game in which Oakland mustered just six hits but had Plouffe and Yonder Alonso clear the fence to help provide Sean Manaea his first win of the season.

“I really don’t take a whole lot of stock in personal stats, especially during the year,” Plouffe said. “But 100 is cool. It was nice that it helped us win this game.”

Last year, Khris Davis hit 42 homers and Marcus Semien 27 to lead the A’s. But the team finished 12th in the American League with 169 long balls on the season. That contributed to the A’s finishing dead last in the league in runs, as did a dreadful showing in on-base percentage.

It’s dangerous to put too much trust in April numbers. But their 22 home runs are currently tied for third in the AL, and that’s important for a team that has just one player, Davis, who can be classified as a pure slugger.

“We’ve talked about, when we’re good, and what we feel is good offensively for us, is the length of the lineup,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Multiple guys can hit homers.”

Granted, this doesn’t look like a lineup that will light up the scoreboard. The A’s are going to win more games by 3-2 scores than 9-8. But so far they’ve shown themselves to be a team that can get contributions up and down the order.

One of those players lately is Plouffe, who has homered four times in his past seven games. In his first year with the A’s after signing a one-year deal this winter, Plouffe has had a rough go of it outside of his recent power surge. He’s hitting .222 and has struck out 22 times in 16 games. That includes a three-strikeout game Thursday, though he capped that night with a three-run homer in the A’s 9-6 win.

“I’m definitely not where I want it to be,” he said. “I’m still swinging and missing too much. I’ve been able to put some good swings on the ball. I’m happy I stuck with it. I’ve had some 3 strikeout (games but) gotten some late hits. I’m happy with that because I’m not packing it in and calling it a day. When you’re struggling, it can be easy to give away at-bats.”

Consider Plouffe a key man for the A’s, especially with Semien expected to miss two-plus months with a fractured wrist. The A’s need a group effort in the power department to support Davis, who is tied for the league lead with seven homers. Plouffe, 30, is an eight-year veteran with two 20-plus homer season under his belt. That track record suggests he can be counted on for power — if he stays healthy. He played in just 84 games last year due to injuries to his ribs, oblique and hamstring.

Looking to avoid the disabled list, he put an emphasis on flexibility last winter.

“That was a major part of my offseason, was making sure I corrected a lot of things that plagued me last year,” Plouffe said.

On Friday night, he got to celebrate the A’s fourth straight victory as well as his own milestone homer.

“It’s a nice round number,” Plouffe said. “Ninety-nine looks cool, but 100 looks better.”

Confidence flowing throughout A's lineup during three-game win streak

Confidence flowing throughout A's lineup during three-game win streak

OAKLAND — You have to go back nearly three years, to the days Yoenis Cespedes was still anchoring the batting order, to find the last time the A’s had a better two-game offensive stretch than their current one.

They scored nine runs for the second consecutive day in turning back the Seattle Mariners 9-6 on Thursday. It’s their first time scoring nine or more runs in back-to-back games since July 23-24, 2014, roughly a week before Cespedes was dealt to the Boston Red Sox.

For all of the offense Thursday night, it figures that the first player manager Bob Melvin mentioned in his postgame press conference was … a pitcher?

Melvin credited starter Cesar Valdez for not letting things spin out of control after a rough beginning to Valdez’s first start in the bigs since 2010.

Melvin could have just as easily singled out Ryon Healy for his three hits and two RBI, Trevor Plouffe for a three-run homer that gave the A’s breathing room or any number of relievers that took care of business on a night that Oakland had a lot of people chip in for the team’s third win in a row.

“We’ve got a lot of confident guys right now putting really good swings on the baseball,” center fielder Rajai Davis said. “We’re not missing mistakes, we’re hitting them.”

The one damper on the evening was the news of what Melvin called a mild left hamstring strain for Davis, who was replaced on defense for the top of the ninth. He won’t be in Friday’s lineup, Melvin said, and there should be a better read on his status when he shows up to the ballpark.

Davis said he felt his hamstring grab when he extended to the first-base bag while trying to beat out a sixth-inning grounder. He hobbled down the line in the eighth when he hit into a double play.

“I think I hit first base awkwardly, lunged for it,” Davis said. “I just grabbed it. I don’t think it’s too serious though.”

A better sign for the A’s is the revival of Healy at the plate. He’s 7-for-9 over the past four games and looks more comfortable at the plate after a 6-for-40 stretch that prompted Melvin to sit him for two games.

“It wasn’t a concern,” Melvin said. “Everybody goes through these things. Sometimes it’s a little harder for younger guys to go through them. But he swung the bat really well” Thursday.

Valdez, making a spot start in place of the injured Kendall Graveman, gave up three runs over the first two innings but then delivered two scoreless frames and left with the score tied 3-3.

“Valdez got it under control after giving up 3 quick runs,” Melvin said. “We’re in a tie game and he really does his job.”

The only previous big league experience for the 32-year-old Valdez came back in 2010, when he posted a 7.65 ERA over nine games (two starts) for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Since then he’s pitched in the Pirates’ and Astros’ organizations as well as for two teams in the Mexican League to go with a stint in the Venezuelan Winter League. He signed a minor league deal with the A’s this winter, and he had just finished a bullpen session earlier this week when Triple-A Nashville manager Ryan Christenson delivered the unexpected news of his promotion.

“It was something unbelievable, I couldn’t explain it,” Valdez said. “But for me it’s kind of been that road. Ever since my Dad passed away in 2015, I’ve kind of used that strength guiding me to keep moving forward. That has helped me channel all this energy to get to this level.”

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The A’s received the unfortunate news that minor league right-hander Daulton Jefferies needs Tommy John surgery. Jefferies, who played at Cal, was a sandwich pick (No. 37 overall) between the first and second rounds of last summer’s draft, joining A.J. Puk and Logan Shore as part of a promising trio of college pitchers the A’s took high in the draft. Jefferies had made two appearances for Single-A Stockton this season, one starting and one in relief.

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The A’s have a private workout scheduled with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert on Friday in the Dominican Republic. The 19-year-old Robert has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball and made eligible to sign with any club, according to a tweet Thursday from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. MLB.com reported that May 20 is the earliest Robert can sign.

Baseball America rated Robert one of the five top players coming out of Cuba back in January, and the White Sox also are among several teams expected to go after him. The A’s shelled out $3 million to sign another highly rated Cuban outfielder last summer in Lazaro Armenteros, but their farm system could use a further infusion of outfield talent. Since the A’s have spent more than their allotted bonus pool for signing international players for this signing period, and have already incurred the max penalties for that, they could feel inclined to make a run at Robert.