San Francisco Giants

A’s reliever O’Flaherty faces hitters; June return a possibility

OAKLAND -- A’s reliever Eric O’Flaherty took another step forward in his recovery from Tommy John surgery today, throwing to hitters for the first time at the Coliseum before the A’s game against the Washington Nationals. O’Flaherty threw 20 pitches with Jake Elmore and Daric Barton standing in as the hitters and swinging away.

O’Flaherty threw all fastballs -- four-seamers and sinkers -- and said it went "great." The left-hander has been throwing breaking balls in his bullpens, but the A’s wanted to ease him in to facing hitters with an all-fastball session the first time.

"Felt just like riding a bike, I guess," O’Flaherty said.

Manager Bob Melvin said O’Flaherty showed "good downhill plane" on his pitches and that the two-seamer had good movement. Elmore added O’Flaherty’s sinker is "his bread and butter" and that, "He was starting it mid-thigh and it was ending up at the shoe-tops."

"A lot to be excited about," Melvin said.

O’Flaherty will likely throw several more sessions to hitters before the A’s would start thinking about a rehab assignment. Melvin said the timetable for O’Flaherty potentially rejoining the A’s is still hazy -- they were originally targeting the All-Star Break, but Melvin said "somewhere in June" is a possibility.

Meanwhile, Coco Crisp remains sidelined by a strained neck, with Melvin saying it’s not likely Crisp will play this weekend. Crisp could also miss part or all of the series against Chicago starting Monday -- he’d need to take batting practice without pain before Melvin would put him back in the lineup.

So it’s John Jaso leading off and Craig Gentry in center field for the second day in a row. Here’s the full A’s lineup against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark:

C Jaso

SS Lowrie

3B Donaldson

1B Moss

LF Cespedes

RF Reddick

DH Callaspo

2B Sogard

CF Gentry

And the Nationals’ lineup against A’s right-hander Sonny Gray:

CF Span

1B Frandsen

3B Rendon

DH Werth

C Ramos

SS Desmond

RF McCluoth

2B Espinosa

LF Walters

* Melvin was asked if anything has changed with his closer situation and said while Jim Johnson has put himself back in consideration for those duties, it remains a by-committee approach with Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson also in the mix.

* Fernando Rodriguez made his A’s debut and return from Tommy John on Friday night with a scoreless inning. Melvin reiterated today that Rodriguez displayed "good stuff -- downhill plane, plus velocity, had a good cutter and a good curveball." One thing that Rodriguez said he had yet to do in Triple-A was pitch back-to-back days, and Melvin said the A’s probably will stay away from using him on consecutive days at first.

* The A’s will see a familiar face Sunday in left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who pitched in Oakland from 2008-11. Asked whether that gives the A’s hitters any kind of edge, Melvin said it has probably been long enough that Gonzalez has evolved from his days wearing green and gold.

"I’m sure he’s got some tricks up his sleeve," Melvin said. "When I had him it was more breaking ball, just try to get it over the plate, where now I think he’s probably a little better about backdooring it or back-footing it. Guys that are as good as he is find some things that make them better. I’m sure that’s the case with him."

* One remarkable item from the A’s pre-game notes: A year ago today, the A’s lost to the Mariners for their fifth consecutive defeat. Since then, they haven’t lost more than three games in a row. That’s consistency.