Athletics

A's looking to halt skid against Iwakuma, Mariners

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A's looking to halt skid against Iwakuma, Mariners

No one has been tougher to get on base against in the AL than Hisashi Iwakuma.

This could present problems for an Oakland Athletics team struggling at the plate.

The Seattle Mariners right-hander will try to send the Athletics a season-high fifth straight loss Friday night in the opener of a weekend series at Safeco Field.

Iwakuma (3-1, 1.61 ERA) has been among baseball's biggest surprises, leading the AL in opponent batting average (.168) and walks plus hits per inning pitched (0.76).

He uncharacteristically walked three Saturday but yielded one run over seven innings to gain an 8-1 victory at Toronto.

Seattle (16-19) has won his last five starts at home, including three this year in which Iwakuma has posted a 0.48 ERA. His stellar season began April 2 when he allowed one run over six innings with seven strikeouts in a 7-1 victory at Oakland, winning for the first time in three starts against the Athletics.

Slugger Yoenis Cespedes is 3 for 6 with two solo homers against Iwakuma. He and the Athletics (18-18) travel west after totaling eight runs and batting .205 while being swept in four games in Cleveland, capped by Thursday's 9-2 loss.

"They're playing great and can't do anything wrong and we're struggling," manager Bob Melvin said. "That's what happens."

Cespedes homered in the first game of the series before going 1 for 11 with four strikeouts in the final three. Jed Lowrie was 2 for 15 in the series, Derek Norris 2 for 11, John Jaso 2 for 10 and Eric Sogard 2 for 9 for the A's, who have seven players on the disabled list.

Oakland is batting .218 and averaging 2.6 runs in May, and Seattle can relate somewhat to those woes. The Mariners are hitting a major league-worst .199 this month, although they are 4-2.

Seattle has been winning thanks to mound efforts like Wednesday's by Felix Hernandez, who went eight innings as the Mariners avoided a third straight loss with a 2-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

While Hernandez is the unquestioned ace of the staff, Iwakuma is developing a reputation of his own that has given Seattle confidence.

"They're unbelievable," second baseman Dustin Ackley told the Mariners' official website. "Any time you go out there, you're like, 'Let's just get a couple runs and these guys are going to cruise.' They are probably, arguably, right now the two best starters in baseball."

Oakland has won all three games started by Daniel Straily (1-0, 5.94), who takes the mound Friday after giving up three runs over 5 1-3 innings and not getting a decision in Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The right-hander yielded four runs over 4 1-3 innings in his lone start against Seattle on Sept. 29. He also yielded two homers in five 2012 at-bats to Kendrys Morales, then with the Angels.

These clubs split their season-opening four-game set in Oakland. Lowrie went 6 for 13 with four doubles while Michael Morse was 6 for 16 with four homers for the Mariners.

Oakland has taken the last four meetings in Seattle.

 

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

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USATI

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

Don’t count out top prospect Franklin Barreto as a possibility for the A’s in center field.

It’s long been speculated that the middle infielder might eventually get a look in center, and the idea has at least been discussed in team circles. It’s tied partially to whether the A’s exercise their $6 million club option on Jed Lowrie and bring him back as their regular second baseman in 2018.

Regardless, the battle to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder will be one of the A’s most intriguing storylines next spring. Grady Fuson, a special assistant to general manager David Forst who spends much of the season evaluating the team’s farm system, discussed several of the team’s center field options in the latest A’s Insider Podcast.

So much revolves around the health of 22-year-old Dustin Fowler, one of three prospects the A’s received from the Yankees for Sonny Gray. He’ll spend the winter continuing to rehab from a devastating knee injury suffered in his very first major league game in June while still with New York.

The A’s are hopeful he’ll be ready for spring training and believe he can be a solution in center.

“Fowler certainly is the guy we made this trade for, and I think everybody, top to bottom, in the system is counting on him taking that spot,” Fuson said. “But we all know he’s been hurt. How he comes back, who knows? Boog (Powell’s) been doing a very good job for us. And there’s other options.”

The 21-year-old Barreto, who has split time between second and short this season at Triple-A and with the big club, played some center in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. He’s always talked with enthusiasm about the idea.

The A’s experimented with another highly touted young infielder, Yairo Munoz, in center field in the minors this season.

“(We’ve) had discussions about taking Munoz out there, which we’ve done,” Fuson said. “We’ve had discussions about maybe Franklin Barreto, depending on what happens at second here at end of the year, over the winter, and early in camp.”

Lowrie has enjoyed a very strong season with Oakland, and A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has said the team is seriously considering picking up his option. Having Barreto be an option in center could be a way to keep him in the majors in 2018 even if Lowrie returns at second base.

Fuson stressed that the idea of Barreto in center hasn’t advanced past the early-discussion phase. No decisions have been made.

What’s interesting is that, in a short time, the A’s have gone from scarce few center field options to suddenly having several. Powell and Fowler may enter the spring as front runners, but Munoz, Jaycob Brugman, Chad Pinder, Jake Smolinski and, perhaps, Barreto may all have a shot too.

The A’s also used their first-round pick in June on high school center fielder Austin Beck, who represents another option down the road.

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

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USATSI

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell has a history with foul tips and concussion concerns, so there was cause for concern after he took a direct shot during Wednesday's game against the Tigers.

With one out in the ninth inning, Tigers shortstop fouled a ball square into Maxwell's facemask. The A's catcher immediately fell backwards. As manager Bob Melvin and the team trainer checked on him, he appeared dazed and rubbed his eyes. In an attempt to try to stay in the game, reliever Liam Hendriks tossed two warmup pitches. Maxwell missed the first one, but even after he caught the second one, it was clear he wasn't right and was removed from the game.

Afterwards, Melvin was asked about Maxwell's status.

"He went through all the protocol. It doesn't look like a concussion at this point. We'll probably know more in the next couple of days," Melvin told reporters in Detroit. "Took a pretty good shot. More sore on his face because of where the impact was, which was right in the middle of his face."

Josh Phegley replaced Maxwell for the final two outs of the game. Hendriks managed to close out the 3-2 win for the A's.