Notes: Byrnes smiles at trade rumors

Notes: Byrnes smiles at trade rumors

BOSTON -- Conditioned by months of trade speculation, A's outfielder Eric Byrnes occasionally pokes around searching for the latest tidbit.

The latest, according to two Washington-based sources, is that the Nationals, looking for someone to hit fifth and protect former Athletic Jose Guillen, have Byrnes on the list of players in whom they're interested.

Byrnes smiled upon hearing the rumor. In 2003, while the Nationals were the Montreal Expos, he went 5-for-13 with three homers, five RBIs and five runs scored against the Expos in Interleague Play.

"Well, I did crush them a couple of years ago, and teams you've done well against always seem to like you," he said. "Who knows? They're what, the 100th team that's supposedly interested in me?"

The Nationals' farm system is fairly dry, and there doesn't appear to be anyone on their big-league roster that would meet Oakland's current needs. Contacted by phone, A's general manager Billy Beane stuck to his policy of refusing comment on rumors.

"Where isn't Eric going?" he joked.

Said Byrnes: "Like I've said all the other times my name's come up, I just need to worry about playing baseball -- and right now that's a significant worry."

With the exception of the occasional circus catch, it's been a tough year thus far for Byrnes, who entered Wednesday's finale of a three-game series at Fenway Park mired in a 9-for-51 (.176) slump and batting .202 overall.

As usual, Byrnes is killing left-handed pitching (9-for-24 with two of his three homers) but struggling mightily against righties (8-for-60, one RBI). And he continues to be vexed by curveballs and sliders on the outside half of the plate.

"[Right-handers] are feeding him a lot of breaking balls," A's manager Ken Macha said, "and he's not making an adjustment."

Byrnes said he's aware that righties are attacking his weakness, but adjusting is easier said than done.

"Of course I know what they're doing," he offered. "They might as well tell me, 'Hey, Byrnes, when we get ahead in the count, we're gonna throw outside breaking balls.' And I'm trying to lay off it --- really, I am -- but I'm not doing a very good job of identifying the slider that starts middle-in and breaks off the plate.

"What I need to do is just stop swinging at it, period. Make them throw a called strike. I've been making it easy on them."

Not Wednesday. Byrnes, batting ninth in the order for the first time this year, hit a dramatic two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning off Red Sox closer Keith Foulke -- on a slider.

"Maybe I oughta bat him ninth from now on," cracked Macha.

Byrnes' career has been marked by dramatic highs and lows throughout, a point inadvertently made Wednesday by Red Sox manager Terry Francona when he was asked about Byrnes' spectacular diving grab of a Trot Nixon liner Tuesday night.

"I've also seen him miss the plate," Francona said, referring to Byrnes' baserunnning mistake in Game 3 of the American League Division Series here in 2003. Francona was Oakland's bench coach that year.

"Byrnesey, that was a nice catch. Byrnesey makes some catches. I've seen him dive up. One day, he dove up. When he came in the dugout, I didn't know whether to pat him on the back."

But like Byrnes' hordes of fans in Oakland, Francona appreciates the energy he brings to the game.

"You can never question his effort," he said. "I think he speeds up to hit the wall sometimes. He likes to play like a football player. He will never shortchange you on effort. He can make some unbelievable catches. He'll give you everything he has."

Cruz improves: Right-hander Juan Cruz was one of three players acquired in the trade that sent Tim Hudson to the Braves last December, and at the time Cruz was touted as a key part of Oakland's effort to upgrade its bullpen.

As recently as Spring Training, Macha and Beane talked in glowing terms about Cruz, raving about his power arm and his ability to pitch multiple innings while projecting him as a seventh- or eighth-inning setup man.

Cruz, though, brought an 8.44 ERA into Wednesday's game and was virtually buried in the bullpen. He did not have a strong spring, a sore back sidelined him for about a week early in the season and he's allowed at least a run in six of his nine outings.

Relievers Kiko Calero, Ricardo Rincon, Huston Street, Keiichi Yabu and Justin Duchscherer have all been trusted in tight, late-game situations at various times. Cruz has not.

"He hasn't pitched up to expectations," Macha said. "Right now he's not pitching well."

Macha noted that Cruz has been "pulling his head" during his delivery, which has affected his command. He's working with pitching coach Curt Young to correct the problem, and Young was pleased Wednesday after Cruz threw two scoreless innings with one walk.

"We're trying to slow a lot of things down with Juan," Young said. "We're trying to get him to work at a nice easy pace, and today was a nice step in the right direction."

Dribblers: Keith Ginter got his 13th start of the season at second base Wednesday, in part because Macha said he might start playing Ginter more often in an effort to get more power into the lineup. ... Street, who pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings Tuesday, was not available Wednesday. The A's don't want to use him on consecutive days because his velocity drops between 3-5 mph on the second day. ... Byrnes hit a young boy with a foul ball in the top of the third inning. While running out to his position in the bottom of the third, Byrnes handed the boy, who was fine, his bat. ... Fans donating $50 or more to Barry Zito's Strikeouts For Troops program will receive two View Level seats for the May 30 game against Tampa Bay. For more information, call 510-638-4627.

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.