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A's seeking to improve pinch-hitting numbers

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OAKLAND -- The A's had back-to-back late-inning wins on Friday and Saturday, and Saturday's walk-off win improved their record to 9-1 in games decided in the last at-bat, but the team's late-game heroics seem to have come in spite of its inability to succeed in pinch-hitting situations.

A's pinch-hitters entered Sunday 5-for-54 (.093) in a Major League-leading 62 plate appearances this season, tying them for second-worst in baseball.

Eric Sogard said he was alerted five minutes before he was inserted for Adam Rosales in the eighth inning to face right-hander Jesse Crain, but that he's become accustomed to subbing in for Rosales and vice versa.

Sogard, who bats left-handed, is often inserted into the lineup for Rosales against right-handed pitchers, and is often replaced by Rosales late in games against left-handed pitchers.

"We're getting pretty used to that," said Sogard, who struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. "They really won't tell you too early, but I was prepared and I knew there was a good chance that I could get in there."

Sogard acknowledged that easing into a game with multiple at-bats as a starter is preferred over being placed immediately into high-pressure situations, but said he relishes opportunities to make an impact.

"You're probably a little more comfortable if you're out there playing the whole game, but it's still exciting nonetheless. It's a position I want to be in, whether it's my first at-bat or my fifth."

Coco Crisp was relieved of his starting duties in center field Saturday, but he was called on by manager Bob Melvin to pinch-hit for Seth Smith in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied and runners on second and third. He said his approach at the plate doesn't differ depending on when he hits.

"You always have to prepare yourself to be ready to come in the seventh or sixth inning," said Crisp, who was intentionally walked by White Sox reliever Hector Santiago to set up the matchup with Sogard. "It's a little different in the National League, where you have to get ready a little bit earlier, but you know to prepare to play toward the end of the game."

The A's pinch-hitters saw an improvement Saturday, reaching base twice in five plate appearances. Brandon Moss nearly won the game for the A's in place of starting first baseman Nate Freiman in the bottom of the 10th, but his liner toward right field with the bases loaded was speared by White Sox second baseman Jeff Keppinger, which brought up Josh Reddick, who drew the go-ahead walk for a walk-off 4-3 win. Moss' near walk-off hit was just another scuffle in a 2013 campaign that has seen the first baseman struggle with a .230 batting average and 59 strikeouts after batting .291 with 21 home runs a season ago.

"I bring him in for some of the tougher at-bats in the game and he ends up facing the left-hander all of the time," Melvin said in an attempt to explain the left-handed batter's woes. "He probably feels like he hasn't faced a right-hander in two weeks. Yet those were some pretty impressive at-bats yesterday."

Moss was down 0-2 in both at-bats Saturday before drawing a walk in the ninth and lining out in the 10th.

"I see the fight that he's putting up," Melvin said. "There's nobody who's had a more difficult assignment than he has. Once he gets back to the groove, once he gets hot, a lot of it ends up being home runs. He'll get hot again."

Jed Lowrie had no trouble getting on base in place of Crisp at the top of the order. The A's infielder reached base five times in Saturday's extra-innings affair with a double, three singles and a walk.

Lowrie's success should improve Moss' spirits. Lowrie said his approach wasn't any different than when he bats in his usual No. 2 spot in the lineup. He was just able to make good contact where Chicago's defenders weren't.

"The day before [Friday], I hit a ground ball back up the middle and a ball to the wall," Lowrie said. "I easily could've had two hits that game. They just fell yesterday.

"There's seven defenders behind the pitcher and they're Major League defenders. They're going to make good plays sometimes and sometimes you hit a ball right at a guy and there's not a whole lot that you can do about it."

Lowrie's performance brought his average to .310 after falling under .300 the day before in his second leadoff start of the season.

So should normal leadoff man Crisp be worried?

"I'm not a leadoff guy," Lowrie said with a smile, "but I feel like I can moonlight it every once in a while."

Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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