Ryan Cook

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Injuries will test A’s in stretch run


OAKLAND – Depth has been a major key to the A’s success this year, and it’s going to play a huge factor over the final five weeks of the regular season.

Injuries are eating away at the A’s roster at an inopportune time, to the point where Sunday’s 9-4 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels wasn’t even the worst news of the day.

Before they took the field, the A’s absorbed the news that closer Sean Doolittle was headed to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right intercostal (side) muscle. He’s expected to miss a minimum of two weeks.

[RELATED: A’s place Doolittle on disabled list; Otero recalled]

Catcher John Jaso will join the seven-day concussion D.L. on Monday, but it’s unknown how much time he will miss. Josh Donaldson’s MRI on Sunday showed no structural damage in his left knee, but although there’s no plan to put the All-Star third baseman on the D.L., it’s unclear if he’ll return to the lineup immediately.

The A’s already were without starting shortstop Jed Lowrie and middle infielder Nick Punto, and there’s no immediate timetable for their return either. And keeping with the theme of the day, outfielder Sam Fuld wore an ice pack on his left knee after the game. He hyper-extended the knee when he landed awkwardly trying to catch Erick Aybar’s first-inning double off the wall Sunday. Fuld will be re-evaluated Monday.

Injuries are something every team contends with over the course of the season, and how the A’s compensate for the current crop of health setbacks will play heavily into whether they can outlast the Angels and Seattle Mariners in the American League West.

Oakland trails the Angels by one game with 33 left to play, while the Mariners are six back.

“I think we’ll respond well,” starting pitcher Scott Kazmir said. “Those are key guys that are out right now. We’ve got a couple other guys that are banged up too, so we know that we need to step our game up a little bit more. I think we’ll do that.”

Kazmir (14-6) lamented his lack of command after he got shelled for a season high-tying seven runs and 10 hits in just three-plus innings. The A’s were behind 8-0 by the fourth, and with the way Angels right-hander Jered Weaver was throwing, there was no climbing back into this one. “I hit maybe one spot the entire game,” Kazmir said. “There were some situations where I felt like I’d be able to take control a little bit, and I’d throw two strikes, get ahead of a guy, and then just throw a ball right down the middle.

[RECAP: Angels chase Kazmir early as A’s lose 9-4]

“I felt like I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I was kind of trying to trick people out there, throwing curveballs, sliders and changeups instead of just really focusing on my fastball and establishing that.”

Sweeping the Angels would have been quite a story, but taking two of three and gaining one game in the standings for the weekend is acceptable for Oakland. The A’s travel to Houston for three games starting Monday – they dropped two of three at Minute Maid Park last month – and then they head to Anaheim for a four-game rematch with the Angels that starts Thursday.

Donaldson’s status is critical, but the A’s also have to hold down the fort at the back of the bullpen with Doolittle out. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he has a ‘Plan B’ formulated but wanted to talk with the relievers involved Monday before announcing it. Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero have closed games this season, and Ryan Cook has closing experience from seasons past.

[RELATED: Recent health issues confronting multiple A’s]

Doolittle, who injured his side on his final two pitches of Saturday night’s game, said there’s no firm return date that he and the training staff are eyeing. Intercostal strains typically take anywhere from two to several weeks to heal.

“Timetables can be frustrating,” the All-Star closer said. “As soon as you miss one, that can be really frustrating mentally. We’re gonna take it day to day. It’s probably something we have a better handle on once we start moving around and doing some stuff later on in the week.”

Athletics place Sean Doolittle on the disabled list

Sean Doolittle
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MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports that Athletics closer Sean Doolittle has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. Doolittle apparently suffered the injury on his second-to-last pitch against the Angels on Saturday night. The Athletics have recalled Dan Otero from Triple-A Sacramento.

Doolittle, in the first year of a five-year, $10.5 million contract extension signed back in April, has had a great season. He has saved 20 games with a 2.28 ERA and an 80/5 K/BB ratio over 55 1/3 innings.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Eric O’Flaherty will likely serve as the club’s closer while Doolittle is out.

Will the second half bring more of the same for the MLB-leading A’s?

cespedes getty

The A’s reached the halfway mark of their season Sunday, and it’s tough to find too much fault with what took place over the first 81 games.

They lead the majors with a 51-30 record after a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins that capped a three-game sweep for Oakland. The A’s also find themselves at or near the top of the big leagues in many significant statistical categories. But what’s that sports cliché about the danger of reading your own press clippings?

Perhaps the A’s biggest second-half challenge will be not to lose the competitive edge that got them to this point in the first place. If they need motivation, they need only look at the teams chasing them in the American League West standings.

The Los Angeles Angels trail Oakland by 5½ games for first, but they’re playing good baseball and have climbed to 10 games above .500. One spot back, the Seattle Mariners are 44-38. And both clubs surely will be looking to bolster their rosters as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

The A’s don’t show signs of a team that’s on the verge of a nose-dive, but even so, it’s probably a healthy thing that they’ve got a couple teams in their rear-view mirror that appear to pose a threat.

“We’ve been playing tremendous baseball,” starting pitcher Tommy Milone said. “Obviously that’s what we expect of ourselves. The goal now is just to keep it up. We can’t get soft. We’ve gotta continue to play good baseball. It’s not gonna be hard for us. We’re gonna go out and battle.”

Sunday’s victory at Marlins Ballpark exemplified a lot of what’s gone right for the A’s. They entered the season wondering if they could make up for season-ending injuries to starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. To this point, the rotation has answered the bell, despite some shaky outings over the past week-and-a-half.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Milone, Freiman help A’s edge out Marlins]

Milone, one of the pitchers who entered the rotation when Parker and Griffin went down in spring training, came through Sunday on an afternoon when the A’s had just three relievers rested and ready.

He delivered seven sharp innings, allowing just four hits and three runs (two earned), and he added some fine defensive work to aid his cause. Milone is 6-3 with a respectable 3.79 ERA, a solid contributor at the back of a rotation that’s had its depth sternly tested. The A’s 3.16 overall ERA is second in the majors to Washington’s 3.07.

Jim Johnson’s first-half struggles threw a wrench in the bullpen plans, but the A’s have improvised in that department too. Sean Doolittle is proving to be a very reliable closer, and with Doolittle unavailable Sunday, Ryan Cook notched his first save of the season. One thing to watch from this point forward is whether Cook works his way back into a prominent late-inning role after injuries set him back in the first half. Can Johnson be a contributing factor, or might the A’s swing a trade if they find a taker?

[RELATED: Francis hero on not-so-perfect day for A’s]

First baseman Nate Freiman, who took a redeye flight Sunday morning to join the A’s from Triple-A when Josh Reddick joined the disabled list, hit a three-run homer to sink the Marlins and clinch a sweep. Oakland has proven there’s safety in roster numbers. Is there another major league team that effectively utilizes so many different players, including those who might be lingering in the minors?

Josh Donaldson (61 RBI), Brandon Moss (59) and Yoenis Cespedes (55) headline the offense, but Derek Norris has emerged as a solid run producer, leadoff Coco Crisp has enjoyed some big moments and John Jaso and Stephen Vogt have also come through while splitting catching duties with Norris.

[REWIND: Cespedes delivers in front of ‘home’ crowd]

One player the A’s could use a stronger second half from is shortstop Jed Lowrie, who is hitting .217 after being one of the A’s top hitters in 2013.

But Oakland has scored a major-league high 418 runs, and if the final 81 games play out similar to the first 81, the A’s will be in fine shape as they take aim at finally advancing past the American League Division Series.

“It’s certainly a good first half,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We seem to have gotten a little stronger here. We seem to have gotten some of the bullpen roles ironed out and we’re better for it. But it’s only the halfway point.”