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A's rally late to keep AL West lead in sight

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HOUSTON -- The A's slipped out of Houston late Wednesday with a series win in hand, though knowing they have to play much better in the days ahead if they want any chance at regaining the division lead.

Perhaps this one gives them the momentum to do just that.

The A's 5-4 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park wasn't their prettiest, but it kept them a game behind the Angels going into a four-game series in Anaheim beginning Thursday.

"An ugly win is as good as any kind of win, I guess," said Sam Fuld, who won the game on a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth. "It certainly wasn't our best baseball game, but shoot, we can't be picky at this point. Sometimes that's the sort of win that can kind of get you going, knowing we can do it without playing our best. Hopefully, we can build on it a bit and play better this weekend."

"We didn't play to our capability, but look at the positive things," added Jonny Gomes. "We did absolutely everything it took. We're going to need to pick each other up, and that's what we did tonight."

The A's were down a run entering the ninth inning, but Gomes revived his club with a leadoff single. Pinch-runner Craig Gentry quickly stole second base, and Eric Sogard provided the game-tying hit with a soft single to center off Chad Qualls. Coco Crisp then reached on a force, setting the stage for Fuld's homer.

It was just the third homer of the season for Fuld and easily his biggest, preventing the A's from departing Houston with their second series loss to the Astros in the last month.

"I was actually trying to be aggressive and drive a ball, stray a little bit from my normal approach. … With Coco's speed, I felt confident a ball in the gap could score him, or even just a ball down the line," Fuld said. "Any extra-base hit would score him, so I thought I'd be aggressive and felt comfortable early in the count, having seen Qualls last night."

The A's have scored 55 runs in 10 games at Houston this season, 25 of which have come in the ninth inning. Qualls has given up 11 total to the Astros -- and just seven to everyone else.

"I really just can't put my finger on it," said Qualls. "I don't think I've ever had an opponent as rough as the A's."

Eric O'Flaherty surrendered a two-out solo homer to Chris Carter in the ninth but preserved the lead for his first career save, securing the A's fifth win in their last seven games.

Still, they're just 6-10 over their last 16. In that time their offense has been sporadic, as evidenced again by a six-hit showing before the ninth inning came around, with seven runners stranded.

Their defense wasn't much better, and their bullpen faltered for a second straight night following an impressive showing from lefty Drew Pomeranz, who allowed only an unearned run and three hits in his return to the rotation, walking one and fanning seven over 5 1/3 innings.

Pomeranz would have likely been given the chance to finish the inning if not for a one-out error by Sogard on a routine grounder off the bat of Jose Altuve that preceded a Carter single, leading manager Bob Melvin to turn to Ryan Cook. Altuve stole third base, and Cook's ensuing wild pitch allowed the Astros to tie the score at 1.

Crisp quickly gave the A's back their lead with a solo shot in the seventh off lefty Kevin Chapman, his ninth of the season.

But in the seventh, Cook boarded two of his first three batters, one of whom ultimately scored on Robbie Grossman's two-out bloop single off lefty Fernando Abad. Altuve's ground-ball base hit up the middle sent home what was temporarily the go-ahead run.

Fuld's was permanent.

"You want some momentum going in [to Anaheim]," said Melvin. "To be able to come back and fight like that makes for a better flight."

"It's huge," said Sogard. "Obviously, we had already gotten the run to tie it up, but we knew we weren't done that inning. We continue to battle any time we know we still have outs left.

"Obviously, you don't want to go into Houston and lose the series, so it's a big win for us, and hopefully, we can keep that momentum going heading into Anaheim."

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Gray gets call to open crucial series vs. Angels

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The American League West race won't be decided this weekend, not with a month remaining in the season and not with two of the season's best teams battling at the top, but the next four games could shape who's chasing who -- and how much ground will separate them.

Down one game in the division, the A's visit Anaheim for a four-game set against the first-place Angels, and it'll be the last time the teams meet until the second-to-last series of the season, in Oakland.

For Angels manager Mike Scioscia, however, the focus isn't so much on the playoff implications as it is on continuing to do what got his team to this point.

"The division lead is important after the last game of the season," Scioscia said. "That's when it becomes important. I think the standings are a distraction right now."

Added outfielder Kole Calhoun: "We just have to keep playing baseball. If we keep doing what we've been doing for the last month or so, I think we'll look up at the end of the season and we'll be all right. We have to take it one game at a time."

Right-hander Sonny Gray will get the ball for Oakland. He's 13-7 with a 3.00 ERA, and his previous start was a victory over the Angels, a game in which he allowed three runs on six hits in 8 1/3 innings.

Left-hander C.J. Wilson will start for the Angels, and he also last pitched against his division rival. Wilson, 10-8 with a 4.45 ERA, held the A's to just one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Wilson recognizes the importance of the series, but he's also on the same wavelength as his manager.

"When you have that many games against a competitive team, whether you're in first or second, it's always going to come down to the end," Wilson said. "You'd obviously like to win the rest of them. That's just kind of a no-brainer. But they're not going to roll over."

Athletics: Freiman sent to Beloit
The A's decision to use a sixth starter for Wednesday's series finale in Houston forced them to option first baseman Nate Freiman to the Minors before the game.

In order to make room for lefty Drew Pomeranz, Freiman was sent to Class A Beloit. He was sent there rather than Triple-A Sacramento so that he can make a prompt return to the A's on Tuesday, the day after Beloit's season concludes. Sacramento, on the other hand, is likely destined for the playoffs.

"He told me he was excited about it -- another league, another place to play, get to see some new ballparks," said manager Bob Melvin. "That's the kind of guy he is.

"That's one team you know is not going to the playoffs, and you try to get him back as soon as you can. That's the way to do it."

Angels: Saturday starter undecided
The Angels' search for a potential fifth starter took a hit on Tuesday night, when Chris Volstad was scratched from a start in Triple-A with a sore elbow.

Volstad, one of the few options the Angels had for Saturday against the A's, is not expected to be ready this weekend, seemingly narrowing the options to Double-A starters Michael Roth and Drew Rucinski and Triple-A left-hander Randy Wolf. The Halos need a starter with ace Garrett Richards out for the season.

Scioscia even mentioned reliever Cory Rasmus as a possible option. Rasmus threw a career-high 51 pitches on Monday but has never started a Major League game.

"We've got some guys that are currently on our 25-man roster that we could look to get that game done, and there are some guys in the organization we could look at," Scioscia said.

Roth appears the most likely option, having thrown seven shutout innings on Monday, which would put him on normal rest for Saturday. In 22 starts at Double-A Arkansas, he is 11-7 with a 2.62 ERA. He has appeared in two games for the Angels, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Rucinski, meanwhile, started Sunday's game for Arkansas, giving up four runs in five innings while recording 11 strikeouts. Like Roth, Rucinski has pitched for the Angels (two runs in one inning in July) and remains on the 40-man roster.

Wolf is not on the 40-man roster -- meaning the Angels would need to make room for him by potentially losing a player -- and last pitched on Sunday, for Salt Lake. The 38-year-old veteran surrendered four runs on eight hits across seven innings.

Worth noting
• Jed Lowrie, nursing a fractured right index finger back to health, is back to playing catch with ease and could begin a rehab assignment as soon as this weekend.

• With a home run in the seventh inning on Wednesday, Mike Trout joined Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez as the only players with two 30-homer seasons by their age-22 campaigns.

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Two reviews benefit A's, go against Astros

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HOUSTON -- A pair of key reviews in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, both of which went against the Astros, loomed large in their 5-4 loss to the A's.

With the Astros holding a one-run lead, closer Chad Qualls gave up a jam-shot single to Jonny Gomes. Pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second with a head-first slide and touched the base just as shortstop Marwin Gonzalez applied the tag.

Manager Bo Porter challenged the safe call, which was confirmed. Gentry wound up scoring the tying run on an Eric Sogard single.

"Once I took a look at it, you look at the leverage of the play, if he is out, obviously, it clears the bases," Porter said. "If not, the tying run is now on second base. So we felt like it was a good challenge."

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Astros trailing, 5-3, Jose Altuve hit into a double play but nearly beat the throw at first base. Porter, who couldn't challenge the call following the Gentry play, asked for a review; an umpires review confirmed the call.

Chris Carter followed with a solo homer to cut the lead to one run before Dexter Fowler lined out to end the game.

"Obviously, my eyes are not too good," Porter said. "I thought Altuve beat that play, but replays showed that he didn't. It's tough, but C.C. continues to swing a hot bat."

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Freiman sent to Beloit for quick stint

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HOUSTON -- The A's decision to use a sixth starter for Wednesday's series finale in Houston forced them to option first baseman Nate Freiman to the Minors before the game.

In order to make room for lefty Drew Pomeranz, Freiman was sent to Class A Beloit. He was sent there rather than Triple-A Sacramento so that he can make a prompt return to the A's on Tuesday, the day after Beloit's season concludes. Sacramento, on the other hand, is likely destined for the playoffs.

"He told me he was excited about it -- another league, another place to play, get to see some new ballparks," said manager Bob Melvin. "That's the kind of guy he is.

"That's one team you know is not going to the playoffs, and you try to get him back as soon as you can. That's the way to do it."

In the meantime, Melvin will make do without his right-handed-hitting first baseman, instead using switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo at the position against lefties or relying on left-handers Brandon Moss and Stephen Vogt.

Freiman is batting .241 in 54 at-bats for the A's, including .256 against southpaws.

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Hammel solid, but A's fall from first on late HR

Righty goes seven, but Carter torments old team with go-ahead blast

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Hammel solid, but A's fall from first on late HR play video for Hammel solid, but A's fall from first on late HR

HOUSTON -- Jason Hammel turned in his best start in green and gold Tuesday, a seven-inning gem that was spoiled by one Luke Gregerson pitch in the eighth, launched high and far over the left-field wall by former A's slugger Chris Carter.

The three-run blast left the A's on the wrong end of a 4-2 stunner, evening this three-game set at Minute Maid Park that concludes Wednesday.

"That's baseball," Gregerson said. "One pitch can change the entire dynamic of the game."

And the standings. Oakland fell a game behind the Angels, who beat the Marlins, 8-2, in the American League West -- a reminder that there's little room for error amid such a crucial stretch.

Gregerson easily retired his first batter and nearly his second, but second baseman Eric Sogard's throw on Robbie Grossman's routine grounder was dropped by first baseman Stephen Vogt. Gregerson proceeded to hit Jose Altuve -- "I tried to quick-pitch that first one just to keep the guy at first honest and it just got away," he said -- to bring up Carter with just one out.

"It's a normal throw from Sogie, and it just hit off the thumb of my glove. It's inexcusable, obviously," Vogt said. "I wish I could say this or this happened, but just one of those things where I didn't believe it myself until after I missed it. I'd like to say, throw that ball 99 out of 100 times, obviously it's going to be caught. You shouldn't even have to say that because the ball should be caught, so obviously not thrilled with myself. It definitely changed the momentum of the inning. Big play."

"Doesn't happen very often," said manager Bob Melvin.

What Carter did next does, though. It was the second homer of the series and 32nd overall for the designated hitter, whose five long balls off Oakland are his most against any team.

Carter was once theirs, before the A's packaged him in the Jed Lowrie deal last spring.

"I was trying to throw a sinker down and away, and it started away and just ran all the way back across the plate, down and in," Gregerson said. "Not necessarily a bad location for a lot of guys, just not for him."

"Chris Carter, I'll tell you what, he's putting together some kind of season," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "And the home runs are getting bigger and bigger."

Gregerson dropped to 3-3 with the loss, while Hammel, throwing on 10 days' rest, was forced to swallow a no-decision despite a highly encouraging performance.

He's done this before, flashing the kind of stuff that is a reminder why the A's traded for him in July. He's just yet to do it consistently, though Tuesday's solid outing against the Astros likely secured him more time for an opportunity at just that.

It was just Hammel's second quality start in eight tries with the A's. The right-hander allowed a fourth-inning leadoff homer to Dexter Fowler but just two other hits and one walk. He fanned six and retired each of his final 10 batters, including four on strikeouts.

Less than a month ago, pitching on the same mound, Hammel allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings.

"I'm sure his last start here was on his mind," A's left fielder Jonny Gomes said. "Maybe that little bit of extra rest gave him some help.

"Hammel's a heck of a pitcher. He throws hard and has that big hook. He's just run into some tough luck at times. His start tonight was A-plus, excellent job. At the same time, it shouldn't surprise you, because that's the type of guy he is."

Hammel got plenty help from his defense in the one-run outing. Gomes not only saved two runs with a superb diving catch in left field to end the third -- "That's max extension for me," he said -- but also provided a pair of hits, including a first-inning RBI single to give the A's a quick 1-0 lead. Nate Freiman contributed an RBI double in the fourth.

"Definitely the best since I've been here," Hammel said. "I felt very collected, throwing with conviction, being aggressive and getting ahead of guys. That's usually a pretty good formula. Outstanding defense, too."

"That's about as well as he's pitched, certainly the later innings," Melvin said. "Good for his confidence. He's going to have some big starts for us down the stretch."

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Pomeranz prepared for pivotal start in Houston

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HOUSTON -- Lefty Drew Pomeranz will return to the A's rotation for the first time since June 16 on Wednesday in a start against the Astros that could very well dictate where he pitches next.

Although a good performance doesn't guarantee Pomeranz sticks on the roster, it can only help his chances of being a prominent September contributor when rosters expand on Monday. Whether that's in the rotation or bullpen is unknown.

"We'll take it day to day on this one, see how [Pomeranz] pitches tomorrow," said manager Bob Melvin, "and then we'll make our decision accordingly."

"I know I'm pitching tomorrow and that I want to win tomorrow, and whatever happens from there is whatever happens," Pomeranz said. "It's not worth me thinking about it."

Pomeranz could potentially supplant Jason Hammel in the rotation at some point, though Hammel proved his worth in Tuesday's 4-2 loss with a one-run, seven-inning outing in Houston. Still, he has a 5.77 ERA in eight starts for the A's, who acquired his services with Jeff Samardzija in a July deal with the Cubs.

Their arrival prompted the A's to keep Pomeranz in Triple-A after his rehab from a broken right hand, which he sustained while punching a wooden chair, even though he had given them a 3.21 ERA in eight starts.

"We talk often about the 25-man roster and then maybe 30-plus guys that you really feel like are part of your team, and he's definitely one of those guys," Melvin said. "He's really been important to us, whether it was a starting role or in relief. He's done a nice job for us. Just because of the trades we made is the only reason he got pushed out."

Pomeranz kept pace with the River Cats and focused on pitching deeper into games, posting a 3.69 ERA in eight starts. It was 2.88 before his last outing, in which he allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings.

"I made a few bad pitches, walked a few guys and gave up some runs. It happens," said Pomeranz, fresh off a plane from Nashville, where the River Cats were playing. "I feel like I've been pitching pretty much the same. I feel good, same as I did before."

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A's top two prospects lead group heading to AFL

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HOUSTON -- The A's top two prospects as ranked by MLB.com, Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson, are among those who have been selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League.

The infielders will be joined on the Mesa Solar Sox by five other members of the A's organization, four of whom have been named: right-handers Drew Granier, Austin House and Tanner Peters; and outfielder Boog Powell.

The six-week league, which has established itself as the finishing school for the game's best prospects since its inception in 1992, begins its season Oct. 7.

Former A's prospect Addison Russell, traded to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in July, has also been named to the Solar Sox roster. He wasn't the only quality shortstop the A's landed in the 2012 Draft, though.

With the club's second choice, at No. 34 overall, Oakland selected Robertson and signed him for $1.5 million. The 20-year-old is having an outstanding season at Class A Advanced Stockton, batting .312/.404/.475 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 127 games.

Olson came to the A's in the same Draft in the compensation round. The No. 47 overall pick has played mostly first base for Stockton, showcasing an abundance of power with 36 home runs in 486 at-bats. Overall, he's hitting .255 with a .937 OPS.

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Lowrie, Punto nearing rehab stints for A's

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HOUSTON -- A's shortstop Jed Lowrie played catch on Tuesday for the first time since going on the disabled list with a fractured right index finger, an encouraging sign that may mean he's close to a rehab assignment.

"Hopefully, if that goes well, then maybe we speed things up with him," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's been doing everything he can to stay game-ready with taking ground balls. I know he's been doing some one-arm swinging in the cages. So today's a big day in how fast we move forward with him."

Lowrie is eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, but it seems more likely the A's will have him back sometime next week during a homestand that begins Monday.

Another rehabbing infielder, Nick Punto, is making equally significant improvement from a right hamstring strain, which has shelved him since the beginning of the month. He, too, could be sent out on a rehab stint soon.

"Everything's going well," Punto said Tuesday. "The running is that final step. Being able to go 100 percent, that's the key. I feel like I'm pretty close, maybe 90 percent. We're trying to take it day to day, not look too far ahead, but I do feel like I'm getting close."

"If we can take a few days with him and get him running to the point where we're comfortable with potentially getting in a game or two," said Melvin, "that's something we want to do sooner than later because the month's running out here pretty quick."

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Knee no bother in Donaldson's three-hit game

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HOUSTON -- One day without Josh Donaldson is too many for the A's, who were happy to get their third baseman back in the lineup Monday after an injury scare.

Donaldson did not play in a loss to the Angels on Sunday after undergoing an MRI on his left knee, but the results showed no structural damage, and he managed just fine in an 8-2 win in Houston on Monday, collecting three hits, two of them doubles, and three RBIs. He also stole a base.

"He's the kind of guy that, even if he does have some dings," said manager Bob Melvin, "he's going to try to steal a bag."

"Most nights I'm feeling pretty dinged up, so it's not something I think about too much," Donaldson said. "It's just one of those things, you learn to play with that stuff.

"I hit third in the lineup, so I'd say that's pretty big for any team, so I try to go out there and give it everything I have every day."

Despite batting various injuries this year, none of which have put him on the disabled list, Donaldson has played in a team-high 126 games. And while his average is way down from last year -- 49 points lower -- he remains the A's best all-around player, providing spectacular defense and plenty of run production. He already has 87 RBIs, with five weeks to play, after posting 93 last year.

"I'll give him a massage on his knee if I have to just to get him in there," joked starter Jeff Samardzija, who struck out 10 in eight innings. "He's a tough dude. You can't say enough great things about Josh. Everything's already been said about him that you need to say. He's a gamer, comes to play every day. I love having him in there.

"He's such a big part of our lineup. Not only that, even if he goes 0-for-5, what he brings to the team is priceless. We want him in there every day. We also want him healthy, but it's tough to keep that kid out of the lineup."

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Samardzija fans 10 as A's return to West tie

Righty strong for eight; Donaldson logs three RBIs in return to lineup

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HOUSTON -- A reformed Jeff Samardzija manhandled every Astros player not named Chris Carter in a dominant performance at Minute Maid Park on Monday evening, quickly turning the A's ugly Sunday loss to the Angels into a distant memory.

Samardzija's efforts in Oakland's 8-2 victory, an eight-inning masterpiece minus a two-run homer to Carter, invigorated an A's team that managed to avoid the hangover of a very bad day.

Sunday was not only marred by a loss but a slew of injuries, notably to closer Sean Doolittle and catcher John Jaso, both of whom hit the disabled list. The A's then had to hop a red-eye to Houston, where they arrived close to 4 a.m. local time. But there's no rest for the weary during a critical stretch run, and the A's went back to work and returned to the win column behind a stellar Samardzija.

He got a hand from Josh Donaldson, who was back in the lineup after taking a day off to rest a sore left knee and compiled three hits, including two doubles, and three RBIs, helping the A's move back into a first-place tie in the American League West. The Angels fell, 7-1, to the Marlins in Anaheim.

"I told him there's no chance he's not starting the day I pitch," said Samardzija, grinning. "I'll give him a massage on his knee if I have to just to get him in there."

"I try to go out there and lay it on the line for those guys no matter how I'm feeling," said Donaldson, "and give it my all every day."

That included a belly flop into second base for a stolen base in the fifth inning, a rather encouraging sign for the banged-up Donaldson.

Josh Reddick contributed with a two-run homer in the fourth, and Samardzija took a 3-0 lead heading into his final inning of work.

The right-hander was in control from the start, allowing six hits and striking out 10 -- including four in a row at one point. He nearly exited the eighth with a shutout intact, but former A's slugger Carter tagged him for a two-out, two-run homer, his 31st of the season.

"That's just Carter hitting one the other way that didn't even sound like he hit it," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It wasn't even a bad pitch. That was a surprise. I thought he was going to cruise through the eighth, and then the decision was going to be whether to let him go out for the ninth, because he's the kind of guy that doesn't care about pitch counts if he's got a shutout."

Samardzija finished at 116 pitches, and the A's posted a five-spot in the ninth before Eric O'Flaherty tied the bow on the win, snapping the A's five-game road losing streak.

Samardzija had allowed a combined 11 runs in his previous two starts spanning just 10 innings, including seven runs in his last outing against the Mets, leading to a lengthy meeting with pitching coach Curt Young. The two worked on keeping the pitcher's hands closer to his body at the start of his delivery.

They also put in work on his split-finger fastball, which Samardzija turned to often mid-count for a strike Monday.

"Those two things combined, it got me back in the zone," he said. "I took that last one pretty personally and wanted to come out and have a good one and get back into my groove and how I do things.

"I gotta give a lot of credit to Curt. After that last start, I kind of wanted to overhaul a lot of things, and Curt brought me back and was like, 'Hey, it wasn't that bad. There are a couple things we need to work on.'"

It's the second time this season Samardzija totaled double-digit strikeouts, having accomplished the feat May 26 in San Francisco with the Cubs.

"He really went out there and established the heater and had his split in the back pocket when he needed it," Donaldson said. "He can't be a very comfortable at-bat."

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Pomeranz start lines up A's big four in Anaheim

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HOUSTON -- Plenty of speculation was made in recent days about lefty Drew Pomeranz making a spot start for the A's on Wednesday. Now it's confirmed.

Manager Bob Melvin made the announcement Monday afternoon, making official what the Angels probably don't want to hear, that they'll now have to see the A's top four starters this weekend.

With Jason Hammel and Pomeranz starting the final two games in Houston, the A's will head to Anaheim with Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija in line to face the Halos in a crucial four-game set.

"Also, it's about giving some guys that we've been leaning on a bit harder a little bit of extra rest," Melvin said. "Drew's done a nice job for us, so it's definitely a combination of things, but certainly we don't take [the Astros] lightly because they beat us two out of three last time here, and it's a much better team that has given us fits this year."

Pomeranz was 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts for the A's before he punched a wooden chair and broke his right hand in June. The lefty rehabbed with Triple-A Sacramento, where he remained once healthy, and is 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in eight starts for the River Cats.

Pomeranz has already faced the Astros once this year but in a relief role, firing two scoreless innings on April 24.

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Soto joins A's eager to work with rotation

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HOUSTON -- Veteran catcher Geovany Soto joined the A's in Houston on Monday, just a day after his trade from the Rangers in the wake of John Jaso's concussion symptoms, and is anticipating his first start in green and gold Tuesday.

"It's been a little crazy," said Soto," but I'm looking forward to the opportunity and I'm really glad to be here. I was surprised, but really happy."

That's because he's going from an injury-ridden, last-place Texas club to an A's team that's within range of its third consecutive American League West title.

Count Soto among the army of Rangers players who hit the disabled list this year, having needed surgery on his right knee in Spring Training to repair a torn meniscus. He returned in July, only to suffer a groin injury within days and return to the DL.

Now?

"At this point," he said, "I feel great."

When Soto catches starter Jason Hammel in Houston on Tuesday, it will mark just his 11th game of the year. The rest of it has been spent watching from the sidelines, where he's kept an eye on the A's.

"They always play hard, never take an inning off, they're always coming after you," he said. "They just find a way to get on, find a way to get runs, find a way to win. Very impressive."

Soto also raved of the A's pitching staff, saying, "It's the core of this great team. It's going to be special working with them."

Upon Soto's arrival, Jaso was officially placed on the seven-day concussion DL, as expected.

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O'Flaherty could get call as A's interim closer

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HOUSTON -- Injured A's closer Sean Doolittle's temporary replacement was not mentioned by name on Monday, but there's good reason to believe another lefty, Eric O'Flaherty, is the guy for the job, particularly after he warming up for a potential save situation on Monday.

That ended when the A's upped their lead, but O'Flaherty was still brought out for the ninth in an 8-2 win over the Astros.

"Either way, it was good to get him in the ninth inning today," manager Bob Melvin said. "We're still dealing with a guy that's a year-plus off from Tommy John, so you don't want to pump-fake a guy like that in that situation. But just to get out there in the ninth inning and have that feeling is good for him."

Before the game, Melvin hinted that he'd like to keep certain relievers in their set roles. So while setup man Luke Gregerson may have appeared a deserving candidate to assume ninth-inning duties, it seems Melvin would prefer to keep using his services in the eighth.

Moreover, fellow right-handers Ryan Cook and Dan Otero have been handling the sixth and seventh innings with ease, and it's O'Flaherty who has been called on to handle any one of them, depending on the day.

"I'm not going to say who is going to close at this point," Melvin said before Monday's game, "but I do have a guy in mind, and we want to keep some guys in their roles as much as possible. So I'm not prepared to say this is my closer, but we have an idea. I've spoken to the group. They're comfortable with it, and we'll wait and see how today's game plays out."

O'Flaherty has not allowed a run over his last 12 games, a scoreless streak spanning 11 1/3 innings, and he's only given up runs in one of his in 15 total appearances since returning from the disabled list July 3. He has no closing experience and hasn't recorded a save in nine big league seasons, but he is equipped with the ability to get both lefties and righties out, a la Doolittle.

Doolittle was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a right intercostal strain, leaving the A's without their All-Star closer for at least two or three weeks.

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Kazmir's tough night sets tone as A's fall to Angels

Oakland finishes series one game back of Halos in AL West race

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Kazmir's tough night sets tone as A's fall to Angels play video for Kazmir's tough night sets tone as A's fall to Angels

OAKLAND -- Sunday, any way you slice it, was not a good day for the A's.

For starters, they were saddled with a flurry of injuries. Closer Sean Doolittle hit the disabled list with a strained right intercostal. Catcher John Jaso is headed there, too, with concussion symptoms, and third baseman Josh Donaldson underwent an MRI on his left knee.

As if that weren't enough, the A's were topped by the Angels, 9-4, in their first home appearance on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in almost nine years. In the process, the Angels regained a one-game lead in the American League West with 33 regular-season contests remaining.

The A's will have plenty of chances to change that, including seven more showdowns with the Angels, but for now, they need to do it without some important pieces.

"I think we'll respond well," said Scott Kazmir, who gave up seven runs Sunday while recording just nine outs. "I think we just have to step up. 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's seven earned runs matched a season high, and Oakland had few answers for Angels right-hander Jered Weaver, who tossed 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball.

Weaver, as well as anyone, understood the significance of avoiding a sweep.

"I think they're playing well against everybody everywhere," Weaver said. "They're a scrappy club, and they don't quit, just like us. Obviously, coming out of there with a win is a lot better than getting swept. It's nice to come out of this series on top of the American League West."

Kazmir, who played for the Angels from 2009-11, lost his touch after a six-pitch first inning, allowing 10 hits, including a two-run homer by Josh Hamilton. Following back-to-back singles to start the fourth, manager Bob Melvin had seen enough.

"Just a matter of getting some balls up and some location today," Melvin said. "You've got to give him a little bit of a break the way he's pitched for us. It's just a rough one."

For the first time all season, Kazmir's ERA rose above 3.00 -- from 2.73 to 3.08.

"I hit maybe one spot the entire game," Kazmir said. "I feel like 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. By the time I'd get to that pitch, it wasn't there -- it'd be up and away, it'd sail on me."

Jesse Chavez relieved Kazmir and was charged with two runs in three innings of work.

But there were a few silver linings for the A's. Donaldson's knee has no structural damage, and he could potentially start Monday in Houston. Dan Otero, whom the A's reluctantly optioned to Triple-A on Thursday, returned to the roster and tossed a scoreless frame.

Plus, the A's took two of three in the series to keep the division race tight, and they are now 8-4 in 2014 vs. the Angels, 5-1 at the Coliseum.

Even with the team down big in the late innings, a sold-out Coliseum crowd maintained a raucous, playoff atmosphere.

"They were just waiting to get going," Melvin said about the crowd. "We just didn't get enough early to get them in the game. They're trying to will you even closer. We appreciate that, we really do."

Oakland showed signs of life in the seventh, when Alberto Callaspo launched a two-run shot off Weaver and Andy Parrino went deep for the second time in his career to make it 9-3. The A's touched up Jason Grilli for a run in the ninth, but it was far from enough.

Sunday was a day to forget, and the A's will try to do just that as they fly into Houston. After three games against the Astros, they meet the Angels once again for four in Anaheim.

"Overall, I feel like two out of three is good," Kazmir said. "I feel like we're where we need to be: striking distance. Take care of business in Houston and then see them again."

Doolittle is confident the injuries won't slow the A's momentum. 

"I think it's another one of those scenarios where it gives guys chances to step up, maybe, in slightly different situations than they're used to," Doolittle said. "That's been one of the things that's made us a successful team over the past two, three years. I don't see any reason why that won't continue to be the case."

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Doolittle hits DL with right intercostal strain

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Doolittle hits DL with right intercostal strain play video for Doolittle hits DL with right intercostal strain

OAKLAND -- The A's are suddenly drowning in injuries, chief among them a right intercostal strain to closer Sean Doolittle, who had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list in advance of Sunday's series finale against the Angels.

Right-hander Dan Otero was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento in time for the game, a 9-4 loss that didn't require manager Bob Melvin to pick an interim closer. He's expected to speak to his bullpen come Monday before he announces who that will be while Doolittle is shelved. Right-handers Luke Gregerson and Ryan Cook are likely the top options.

"There are a number of guys who have experience pitching in late-game situations," said Doolittle. "You look at the versatility, the way we can match up, and the experience, I think they are more than capable of figuring out a way to get the job done."

Doolittle's injury can require as few as two or three weeks of recovery time and up to several months, depending on the severity, but even he isn't aware of a timetable at the moment.

"Right now, they haven't been real specific, which is good. I've dealt with a lot of injuries in the past, and timetables can be frustrating," he said. "Even if you're setting benchmark goals for yourself along the way, as soon as you miss one, even if it's by a day, that can be really frustrating mentally. So we're going to take it day to day. It's something you kind of treat based on how you feel, so it'll probably be something we have a better handle on when we start moving around and doing some stuff later in the week."

The All-Star closer has a 2.28 ERA and a 80:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 appearances this season. He'll remain in Oakland while the team travels to Houston and Anaheim this week and said he may receive a cortisone shot to help along the rehab.

"I mean, I'm [upset], mainly because I can't be out there helping the team," said Doolittle. "But, on the other hand, coming down the home stretch, there's really no time to be [upset] or disappointed. We have to figure out a game plan of how we're going to treat this thing and how we're going to overcome this and get back on the field. That's where I've been focusing all of my energy at this point, talking with the trainers, and if there's a chance that any little thing can help, we're going to do it."

{"content":["injury" ] }
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A's acquire catcher Soto as Jaso hits 7-day DL

Oakland sends cash to Texas, picks up Minors backstop Anderson from Reds

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A's acquire catcher Soto as Jaso hits 7-day DL play video for A's acquire catcher Soto as Jaso hits 7-day DL

OAKLAND -- Not too long ago, the A's boasted a three-headed catching monster. On Sunday, they were down to one backstop, prompting the acquisition of Geovany Soto from the Rangers.

Soto, obtained for cash considerations, will join the A's in Houston on Monday and take the roster spot of John Jaso, who is headed to the seven-day concussion disabled list.

Soto will essentially serve as a backup to Derek Norris, who will assume the majority of starts behind the plate. Stephen Vogt, still dealing with a bone bruise in his right foot, will only be used at catcher in an emergency situation.

The 31-year-old Soto has only appeared in 10 games this season because of multiple injuries, notably a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery. He's 9-for-38 with one home run in his limited time at the plate this season, and a .248 career hitter with 92 homers in 666 games with the Cubs and Rangers.

"He's a two-way guy, not one you would say is a defensive specialist or just an offensive guy," said manager Bob Melvin. "He's able to do both, and based on the last couple years, going from an everyday role to a non-everyday role, knows how to deal with that."

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Soto, the A's transferred first baseman Kyle Blanks to the 60-day disabled list.

Jaso, who missed the entirety of the second half of the 2013 season because of concussion symptoms, began experiencing them again -- including fuzziness, headaches and nausea -- two weeks ago when he took a hard foul ball to his face mask. The latter two have dissipated, but the fuzziness is very much still there.

"I've just kind of been muscling through the games and trying to power through, but the symptoms have kind of escalated these past few days, and it got to the point where it was a little iffy if I could keep going back there behind the plate and catch," said Jaso. "I think we're going to give it a little bit of time to calm down."

Jaso will keep in touch with concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins, who treated him last year. But both are confident that the catcher's current symptoms are not nearly as bad as what he endured before.

"It was definitely worse last time," Jaso said. "We're more knowledgeable about it now, so we know when to let the symptoms calm down and go away, rather than going back there and wearing another one and then maybe being out the whole year. It's all about avoiding that."

"It's something that we have to be very careful of," said Melvin. "Now that he's actually come out and said that it's been an issue for him, we have to be proactive with that. It's not something we should mess around with, especially with his history."

In a separate deal, the A's also acquired Minor League catcher Bryan Anderson from the Cincinnati Reds for international money. 

Anderson began the season at Double-A Pensacola, where he hit .343 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 21 games. He was promoted to Triple-A Louisville on May 5 and hit .302 in 52 games with the Bats. The 27-year-old left-handed hitter was batting .315 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs in 73 games overall. Anderson made his Major League debut with St. Louis in 2010 and also played with the Cardinals in 2012 and the White Sox in 2013. He is a .210 career hitter in 35 games in the Majors.

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{"content":["transactions" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }

Donaldson has MRI on knee; wanted to play Sunday

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Donaldson has MRI on knee; wanted to play Sunday play video for Donaldson has MRI on knee; wanted to play Sunday

OAKLAND -- A's third baseman Josh Donaldson underwent a precautionary MRI on his left knee on Sunday after experiencing discomfort with it in his final at-bat the night before.

The MRI revealed no structural damage, so Donaldson is essentially day to day.

"It'll just be based on how he feels," said manager Bob Melvin. "I wasn't going to use him today at all, so we'll see how he does in pregame tomorrow."

The A's could surely use a dose of good news, having already placed closer Sean Doolittle (intercostal strain) on the disabled list on Sunday. Catcher John Jaso will join him Monday because of concussion symptoms.

Infielders Jed Lowrie and Nick Punto are already on the DL.

"I think we'll respond well," said Scott Kazmir. "Those are key guys, and we have a couple other guys that are banged up, too. We know we have to step our game up, and I think we'll do that."

"It's just something you have to deal with," said Melvin. "Regardless, we feel like every time we take the field, no matter who we run out there, we feel like we're going to win."

Donaldson has avoided the DL all season, despite being banged up occasionally with minor issues. He's played in a team-high 125 games, batting .247 with a career-high 25 home runs and 84 RBIs.

{"content":["injury" ] }
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Fuld day to day after banging left knee on wall

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Fuld day to day after banging left knee on wall play video for Fuld day to day after banging left knee on wall

OAKLAND -- Sam Fuld banged his left knee into the center-field wall at O.co Coliseum on Sunday night as he attempted to catch what ended up being a two-run double by the Angels' Erick Aybar in the second inning.

Fuld remained in the game, which the A's lost, 9-4, but he was icing the knee afterward.

"We'll just kind of see how it goes," Fuld said. "Not too worried about it. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

The A's have caught the injury bug, and they can only hope that Fuld is not next in line.

On Sunday, closer Sean Doolittle went on the disabled list with a strained right intercostal, and catcher John Jaso will be placed on the seven-day concussion DL on Monday.

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Bay Area earthquake 'pretty crazy' for A's Sogard

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Bay Area earthquake 'pretty crazy' for A's Sogard play video for Bay Area earthquake 'pretty crazy' for A's Sogard

OAKLAND -- Early Sunday morning, the Bay Area experienced its strongest earthquake since the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which postponed the World Series between the A's and Giants.

Sunday's was considerably weaker, though -- magnitude 6.0, as opposed to 6.9 in '89 -- and while it inflicted serious damage throughout the Napa area, several of the A's players around the Bay slept right through it.

Among them was Stephen Vogt, who lives in Orinda.

"I've slept through a lot of earthquakes," Vogt said. "Everybody in Walnut Creek said they felt it, so I feel like I should have felt it. But I didn't."

Eric Sogard, whose family recently moved to Pleasant Hill, was jolted awake.

"I don't know if I woke up from the earthquake or [my wife] shaking me to wake up," Sogard said. "Once she woke me up, I still felt it for a good 15 seconds. My whole room was swaying. It was pretty crazy."

For longtime California residents like Vogt and manager Bob Melvin, though, the experience was nothing new.

"My wife and daughter felt it," said Melvin, "but they had the cat and the dog walking around underneath, and I'm in bed the whole time. I didn't feel it as much as they did. I also grew up here."

"You've been through one, man," said Jonny Gomes. "Just letting the land surf, that's all it is."

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A's pounce on wild pitch to grab share of first

Lester turns in seven strong innings; Doolittle records 20th save

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A's pounce on wild pitch to grab share of first play video for A's pounce on wild pitch to grab share of first

OAKLAND -- The Wild Wild West was plenty wild Saturday, and the fun has only just begun, for the A's and Angels will enter Sunday's series finale deadlocked for first place in the game's best division.

That the A's even have a chance to exit the weekend with a three-game sweep of the Halos and sole possession of the American League West lead is significant, given their recent struggles. But those are becoming a thing of the past following their second straight win Saturday, a 2-1 decision in front of a sold-out Coliseum crowd.

"I think that's the biggest thing," said Sean Doolittle. "We can't get caught up in the standings or the playoff picture. We have to get back to playing for the day, and I think we did a good job of that today, not coming in too high off of last night's win and getting right back down to business and winning a hard-fought ballgame. That's going to be key for us tomorrow. As corny and cliché as that sounds, that's what we're going to have to do. Obviously we have that big-picture goal, but we have to take it step by step in order to accomplish anything."

It was easily the A's biggest game of the year, guaranteeing they exit the weekend no worse than a game back of first place, following an ugly 2-8 stretch that resulted in a two-game division deficit amid the Angels' 8-1 surge.

And the two teams still have two more series together on the schedule.

"We knew kind of where we were at coming into last night, but that being said, we've just got to worry about playing good baseball," said Jon Lester, "and not worry about who's on the other side, just continue to grind out at-bats and grind out pitches and play good defense, and see where we're at in the end. Past two nights have been good."

Lester was better than good, allowing just one run in seven innings in his fifth start in green and gold, while masterfully mixing his pitches -- 109 total.

But it was one wild pitch thrown by Angels reliever Joe Smith with two outs in the eighth inning that decided this one.

Smith allowed a leadoff base hit to Coco Crisp, who advanced to third on back-to-back groundouts. Smith then hit Derek Norris with a pitch, bringing pinch-hitter Brandon Moss to the plate. Moss popped out, but not before Smith unleashed the wild pitch that easily allowed Crisp to score.

"Fastball up and away," said Smith, who has a 21.60 ERA in Oakland this year. "I threw it too high and it went to the backstop."

"At this point in the season, when you've got two teams that have been playing so well all year long, you almost know it's going to come down to something late in the game," said Doolittle. "Tonight was a wild pitch. That's what you expect when you play the Angels -- close games, hard-fought games. It's a matter of which team can step up late in the game."

Luke Gregerson was superb in a scoreless eighth, and Doolittle pitched the ninth to lock down his 20th save. The lefty also experienced a cramp-like pain in his right side in the outing but was already feeling better after the game and didn't express much concern over the potential injury.

That's good news for the A's, who can't afford any kind of loss right now -- player or game.

They did lose a potential sixth-inning run off C.J. Wilson when Josh Donaldson was called out on a close play at the plate running from first to home on a Norris double. A replay review upheld the ruling, and the Angels tied the game in the next frame on Erick Aybar's RBI knock off Lester.

But that's all they would get off the southpaw, who simply continued to solidify his big-game reputation in the seven-strikeout performance.

Lester was not afforded the win, but his efforts, which included seven strikeouts next to just one walk, yet again guided one. The A's are 4-1 in his starts.

"No matter what type of expectation, or anything else that people put on me, I'm sure it's not going to be as high as what I put on myself," said Lester. "I expect myself to go out there every time and throw nine shutout."

"He's been terrific," said manager Bob Melvin. "Really felt like he was in complete control the whole way. He expects to pitch in the form like he did tonight."

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Lester's impact on point for A's stretch drive

Oakland acquired ace lefty for AL West race as much as for postseason

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Lester's impact on point for A's stretch drive play video for Lester's impact on point for A's stretch drive

OAKLAND -- Yes, the A's get excited thinking what the addition of Jon Lester to the rotation could mean in the postseason.

That, however, was not what drove general manager Billy Beane to give up left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to acquire Lester from the Red Sox shortly before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Beane, as much as anyone, knows not to take anything for granted.

This, after all, is a franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1989 and hasn't even played in one since 1990. Oh, the A's have had their chances. They have advanced to the postseason eight times in the last 23 years. They, however, were eliminated in the first round seven times, and the one time they advanced, they were swept by Detroit in four games in the 2006 American League Championship Series.

Oh, and then there was that 2004 season when the A's finished one game back of the division-champion Angels, who won 10 of the 19 regular-season games between the two teams that year.

And so for all the media hype about Beane being focused on October when he landed Lester, the truth of the matter is Beane and the A's were more concerned about August, at least for the time being.

As manager Bob Melvin put it, "we're trying to get there" to the postseason.

"There are some really good teams in our division," he said. "We were trying to get the best mix we could."

Lester is awful good, and he made a statement in the AL West race on Saturday night, pitching seven strong innings, which allowed the A's to pull out a 2-1 victory against the Angels. The A's, rebounding from a 1-7 road trip that knocked them out of the division lead, have now won back-to-back games and head into Sunday's series finale tied for first place with the Angels.

Lester had a no-decision on Saturday -- reliever Luke Gregerson was credited with the victory when Coco Crisp scampered home from third on a Joe Smith wild pitch with two out in the eighth to break the 1-1 tie -- but the A's are 4-1 in the five quality starts he has made for them and he does have a 2.60 ERA in that span.

No surprise.

Yes, he is 6-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 11 career postseason starts, 3-0 in the World Series, including winning two starts and allowing one run in 15 1/3 innings in the Red Sox championship effort against the Cardinals last year.

That, however, is not the whole story. The 30-year-old left-hander is 42-22 in August/September during his big league career. The A's also have won all three games he has started for them at O.co Coliseum this month, during which he has allowed four earned runs in 22 2/3 innings.

"He brings total tenacity," said Melvin. "He keeps guys on their toes. He works quick. You can feel the intensity behind him. When you have a big game, he's the guy you want on the mound."

What is even more important is that when a team has a big game, Lester is the guy who wants to be on the mound.

"No matter what the expectations are that people put on me, they are not going to be as high as the expectations I have for myself," said Lester. "I expect myself every time out to throw nine shutout innings, whether it's April or October."

He came close on Saturday.

With the help of several big defensive plays, Lester carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, having allowed only one Angels player to get into scoring position -- Erick Aybar bunting for a two-out single in the second and advancing on a walk to Chris Iannetta. Lester then struck out Gordon Beckham, looking.

After David Freese was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff single in the top of the seventh, Howie Kendrick doubled and scored on Aybar's ensuing single before Lester finished his night by getting a groundout from Iannetta and fly ball to center from Beckham.

"After the game is over with, it is fun," Lester said of the emotions of pitching in a meaningful August game. "But when you are going through it, you are competing and trying not to make mistakes like I did in the seventh. Obviously, I was able to minimize the damage there."

But then that's why he is in Oakland, to minimize any damage.

The A's had made the first significant trade of July when they sent a package of prime prospects to the Cubs on July 5 for right-handed starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Samardzija has given the A's a chance in the bulk of his nine starts -- they are 6-3 even though he is 3-3 -- but Hammel has struggled, going 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts with the A's, and he could find himself moved out of the rotation down the stretch.

That's why the A's were willing to make that additional headline-grabbing move on July 31.

They know there is a pennant at stake. They know they need help to claim it.

And Lester is happy to be the guy they turned to.

Being in a pennant race was a blast last year, and it hasn't lost any of the excitement this time.

"You don't have the distraction of losing," he said of how winning helps ease the adjustment to a new team. "These guys obviously have a good thing going. As the new guy coming in you don't want to mess it up."

Don't worry.

Lester hasn't.

Quite the contrary.

He has enhanced the good thing the A's have going.

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A's expected to juggle rotation for Anaheim trip

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A's expected to juggle rotation for Anaheim trip play video for A's expected to juggle rotation for Anaheim trip

OAKLAND -- Nothing is official, but the A's are expected to tweak their rotation next week to ensure that each of their top four starters pitch against the Angels in a crucial four-game set down south.

Right-hander Sonny Gray was in line to make his next start in Houston on Wednesday, but the A's are instead anticipated to pitch him the following day in Anaheim and call on a sixth starter to face the Astros. Those duties will likely fall on lefty Drew Pomeranz, who last pitched for the A's on June 16, the same day he punched a wooden chair out of frustration and broke his right hand.

Pomeranz was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento at the end of his rehab and has since gone 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in eight starts for the River Cats. He was 4-3 with a 3.21 in eight starts for the A's.

This allows Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija to follow Gray in Anaheim, marking the A's final regular-season meeting with the Halos at Angel Stadium this year. The Angels will visit Oakland once more, Sept. 22-24.

Los Angeles led the A's by one game in the American League West heading into Saturday's contest.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Doolittle not too worried about pain in his side

A's closer able to complete stretching exercises with trainers following game

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Doolittle not too worried about pain in his side play video for Doolittle not too worried about pain in his side

OAKLAND -- Protecting a one-run lead Saturday night with two outs and a runner on first in the ninth, A's closer Sean Doolittle felt a sudden pain in his right side, near his back.

Doolittle initially experienced it while delivering an 0-1 pitch to the Angels' Erick Aybar, and he took some deep breaths before mustering another offering. His side tightened up once more, but he managed to induce a comebacker to the mound to seal a 2-1 victory.

Moments later the pain had subsided, and Doolittle proceeded to successfully complete a series of twisting and stretching exercises with the training staff.

"If I was not able to do some of the stuff they asked me to do, it'd be a different story," Doolittle said. "I probably wouldn't be out here talking to you guys. [The trainers] were encouraged by that, and I think early signs are pointed in the right direction."

Doolittle noted that, while he's never felt anything like this before, it felt "kind of like a cramp."

"We'll know more [Sunday]," he said. "They didn't feel the need to do anything more than ice, so I think I'll just ice it and let it calm down for the night."

After pitching back-to-back days, Doolittle likely would have been unavailable for Sunday's series finale anyway.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["replay" ] }

A's lose challenge on tag play at home plate

Out call stands on Donaldson's attempt to score; Angels win earlier review

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A's lose challenge on tag play at home plate play video for A's lose challenge on tag play at home plate

OAKLAND -- Following a replay challenge by A's manager Bob Melvin on Saturday, Josh Donaldson was still out at the plate in the sixth inning against the Angels at the Coliseum.

With the A's leading, 1-0, Donaldson tried to score from first on Derek Norris' double to left field. Donaldson slid into home and reached for the plate with his left hand, while catcher Chris Iannetta received the relay throw from shortstop Erick Aybar and applied the tag.

Plate umpire Chad Fairchild called Donaldson out, and Melvin instantly ran out to challenge. Not only was it tough to tell whether Donaldson beat the tag, but it was also unclear whether Iannetta might have illegally blocked the plate with his left foot.

"We thought he got his hand in there," Melvin said after the game. "I still haven't seen the replay. I saw the one on the scoreboard, and it looked like he was safe."

The A's did not score in the inning, and the Angels tied the score in the seventh, but Oakland pulled ahead in the eighth to win, 2-1.

In the third inning, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was successful with his challenge on an out call at first base, rewarding Albert Pujols with an infield single.

Pujols was out in front on a Jon Lester breaking ball, hitting a blooper in front of second base with some backspin. Second baseman Alberto Callaspo, shifting to the left side against Pujols, ranged to his left, fielded the ball cleanly and fired to first, but Pujols hustled down the line and made it just ahead of the throw.

First-base umpire Mike Everitt called him out, but Pujols urged Scioscia to challenge the play, and umpires ultimately reversed their decision. The Angels are now 15-for-26 in challenges this season.

Pujols was stranded on first after Josh Hamilton struck out to end the inning.

{"content":["replay" ] }

Achilles injury shuts down Blanks' rehab

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Achilles injury shuts down Blanks' rehab play video for Achilles injury shuts down Blanks' rehab

OAKLAND -- An MRI on Friday revealed left Achilles tendinitis for Kyle Blanks, another setback to throw the first baseman's rehab efforts off course.

Blanks will be shut down "for a while," A's manager Bob Melvin said Saturday, and there is no timetable for his return.

The tendinitis comes on top of Blanks' left calf strain, which sent him to the disabled list on June 23. He went 9-for-21 (.429) in seven games on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento, but he started experiencing soreness in both feet this week.

Oakland received Blanks in a trade with the Padres on May 15, and he has hit .333 with two home runs in 45 at-bats for the A's. Now, there is no telling whether he might return by the end of the season.

"[Blanks] came up and did really well for us there," said Melvin. "Looked like a calf strain and hopefully just the 15-day DL period, but it has not been that."

Nate Freiman has capably stepped in to the A's righty first baseman role, entering Saturday with an .860 OPS in 20 games.

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Hammel to rejoin rotation after lengthy break

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Hammel to rejoin rotation after lengthy break play video for Hammel to rejoin rotation after lengthy break

OAKLAND -- Jason Hammel is slated to take the mound Tuesday for the A's in Houston, manager Bob Melvin confirmed Saturday, which would give the scuffling right-hander 10 days off between starts.

With two off-days this week, the A's opted to skip Hammel's turn in the rotation to put their best foot forward in a crucial three-game set against the Angels. Though Hammel would prefer to be pitching, he believes the extra rest could help him get back on track.

"Sometimes when you skip a start, mentally, it's even better than physically, just to take a break and take that kind of pressure off of yourself," Hammel said.

The additional time has allowed Hammel to throw what Melvin characterized as "aggressive" side sessions, working on mechanics with a focus on fastball command and downward plane.

"I'm usually a guy that establishes fastball and then pitches off that," said Hammel, "so I've been throwing a lot of fastballs, just trying to get comfortable over the mound again instead of trying to do too much. Instead of being a thrower, I'm trying to get back to pitching."

Hammel was available out of the bullpen, and though he has substantial experience as a reliever, Melvin did not foresee using him unless absolutely necessary.

"Today's probably the last day for that," Melvin said Saturday of Hammel's availability in relief.

Since the A's acquired him in a trade from the Cubs on July 5, Hammel is 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA. His most recent outing was a debacle in Atlanta on Aug. 15, when he gave up five runs and three home runs in three innings.

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Coco proves to be driving force in A's offense

In opener of key series, leadoff man answers Angels' HR with one of his own

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Coco proves to be driving force in A's offense play video for Coco proves to be driving force in A's offense

OAKLAND -- Coco Crisp is the familiar face on the A's roster, the only player remaining from when Bob Melvin took over as manager back on June 21, 2011.

There's a bond between the two on this team that has gone from a club that suffered through five consecutive non-winning seasons into one that is in the midst of a run for a third consecutive postseason appearance.

And while the strong arms of the A's pitching staff get most of the attention, Crisp is as every bit a critical factor in the success of the franchise.

With apologies to Yoenis Cespedes and all the sky-is-falling moaning that his trade to Boston for lefty Jon Lester has been Oakland's undoing, what the A's really have been missing of late has been Crisp doing what he does best -- creating offense at the top of the lineup.

"It starts with him," Melvin said. "You can't put the pressure on him that he has to play well for us to win, but when we played well, he is a big part of it."

A big enough part that he is going to be around a few more years. Just before the start of Spring Training, the A's signed Crisp to a two-year, $22.75 million extension for 2015-16 with an option on '17, and not just because general manager Billy Beane claims that Crisp is the favorite player of his twins.

Get the picture?

Focus on this.

During the A's 1-6 trip to Kansas City and Atlanta, a team that had enjoyed the best record in baseball for most the season suddenly found itself in second place in the American League West, behind the surging Angels. The A's scored three or fewer runs in the six losses on that trip, and Crisp was 2-for-23. He struck out only once, but he also scored only once and drove in only one run.

And since the A's returned home?

Well, on Friday night, in the opening game of a three-game AL West showdown with the Angels, Crisp provided the offensive impetus for a 5-3 win after he had gone 3-for-10 with four RBIs in a split of a two-game series against the Mets at O.co Coliseum earlier in the week.

"Everybody is going to go through ups and downs, and this was our first," Crisp said of the recent road trip. "I still think that things are going to work out for the best."

Things were a lot better on Friday night, thanks in large part to Crisp.

Mike Trout provided the Angels a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Friday night -- his eighth career home run in the park -- but Crisp answered leading off the bottom of the first with a game-tying home run off Angels starter Hector Santiago.

"That was big," said Melvin. "They get off 1-0, and Trout has been trouble in this park before. [Crisp's home run] is like, all right, we're on the board."

And after the Angels took the lead again when Josh Hamilton homered off Sonny Gray in the fourth, it was Crisp who created the game-tying run in the fifth, doubling with one out and scoring on shortstop Erick Aybar's errant throw in an attempt to complete a double play.

The A's took control with two runs in the sixth when Sam Fuld tripled home Alberto Callaspo and scored on Andy Parrino's sacrifice fly, and Stephen Vogt added a solo home run in the eighth.

"My responsibility is to play as hard as I can," said Crisp. "I try to be as consistent as possible, but when you go through those [slumps], you have to keep your head up. You have to keep working."

Crisp never quit, not even with a recurring neck problem that sidelined him July 27-Aug. 3 and still flares up.

His bat, however, is starting to warm up. He's 5-for-15 with five RBIs the last five games, and his multihit efforts on Tuesday and Friday were his first since July 8.

It's all a part of the job.

"As a leadoff hitter, when you get on base to start the game it's a positive note," he said. "You're going to help the morale [of the team]. ... In a situation like Trout's home run, and you come up and answer with a home run, that's a real morale builder."

It was the foundation for the A's to build a win on Friday night.

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