OAKLAND – Coco Crisp took a step toward returning to the A’s lineup this afternoon, taking batting practice on the field. Manager Bob Melvin spoke before batting practice and said that if Crisp were to come out of the session feeling good, he may be available off the bench for tonight’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Crisp, the leadoff hitter and center fielder, has missed the last seven games with a neck strain, in which the A’s have gone 3-4 and scored a total of six runs in the four losses. If he can play tonight, it gives the A’s a full four-man bench for the first time in a week, but Melvin said, "More than anything we’re looking forward to getting him in the lineup."
The best statistic for explaining why: In 37 games this season when Crisp scores at least one run, the A’s are 32-5. He changes the A’s lineup, which looked stagnant for most of their last series against the Kansas City Royals, when they scored eight of their 10 total runs in one inning Saturday and the other two on a pair of solo homers by Josh Reddick on Sunday.
Barring a setback, Melvin said Crisp could be back in the lineup Tuesday. Here’s the A’s lineup for tonight, with Sam Fuld still in the leadoff spot:
And the Rays’ lineup behind right-hander Alex Cobb:
• A’s right-hander Sonny Gray was named A.L. Pitcher of the Month for July today, not much of a surprise given his numbers in five starts. Gray went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 35 innings, earning his second such award of the year. He’s the first A’s pitcher since Barry Zito in 2001 to earn pitcher of the month honors twice in a season.
"It’s really exciting to get it," Gray said. "It was really nice to have a good month, especially after struggling the month before a little bit. It’s just really nice to get back on track."
Struggling, for Gray, is somewhat relative, but he did go 2-2 in five June starts with a 5.40 ERA. He said a big difference was regaining good feel of his curveball, and also developing more trust in his changeup, which he’s throwing more often now to keep hitters off-balance.
"For the most part I was putting the ball where I wanted to, forcing contact early and being able to get deeper into games," Gray said. "That was very important. And it was awesome to bet the support in July, so overall it was a pretty good month."
The news did come as a surprise to Melvin -- but only because of the way he found out. Melvin didn’t know Gray had received the honor until he was asked about it in his pre-game press conference.
"I’m going to have to go over and congratulate him," Melvin said.
• It was also a big day for another A’s starting pitcher -- Jarrod Parker, who played catch briefly today for the first time since undergoing his second Tommy John surgery earlier this season. Parker threw from out to 45 feet, and Melvin said the right-hander had a "big smile on his face" afterward.
"I asked him if he threw any sliders today, and he said no, probably wait on that," Melvin said. "But just to be able to get out there and actually throw a baseball for the first time gives you some satisfaction, based on the hard work you’ve been putting in to get to this point. It’s nice. It put a smile on everybody’s face."
Fellow rehabbing starter A.J. Griffin also took a step forward today, making some throws with a rolled-up sock. It’s less glamorous than throwing a baseball, but as Melvin said: "It’s a step. It’s a really big step. So he was in a good mood, too."
• It was pointed out to Melvin that the A’s hitters seemed a little more aggressive than usual in the Royals series -- something he said may have been a product both of Kansas City’s pitching and the A’s recent offensive struggles.
"They were pretty aggressive in trying to get strike one," Melvin said of the Royals. "Two, I think if you’re struggling some, you can’t help but try to maybe be a little too aggressive at times."
The A’s are usually known for taking opposing pitchers -- especially starters -- deep into counts, and are at their best when drawing walks and driving up pitch counts. So it’s something to keep an eye on for this series, whether they can get back to doing that.
• Kyle Blanks (calf), who had been scheduled to run bases Wednesday and Friday, had his schedule moved up a day. Blanks will run bases Tuesday and Thursday, after which he’ll start a rehab assignment barring any setbacks.