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A’s newcomers earn a split in Tokyo

by Matt Smith

Three of the A’s new recruits hit home runs off the Mariners’ bullpen to send the two teams back to the States with one win apiece from their two-game series in Tokyo.

Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick hit back-to-back jacks in the seventh inning before Jonny Gomes added a solo shot in the eighth to support an excellent A’s debut on the mound by Bartolo Colon. 

Cespedes will be the star attraction for Oakland this season and, as relatively little is known about him, many are already making judgements about his ability to hit Major League pitching with any consistency. 

He has looked susceptible to the breaking ball in these opening two games, but he’s far from the only player that could be levelled at and we’ll need to wait and see what adjustments he can make over the course of a full season.

What Cespedes has in his favour is genuine power. When he hits the ball, it stays hit, as shown by his two-run homer today. Shawn Kelly hung a slider and the Cuban centre fielder hammered it in a hurry into the seats. If pitchers want to test him with a breaking ball, they’ll have to do so knowing that if they get the pitch wrong, they won’t just be flicked into the outfield for a single. That should give Cespedes a fighting chance and his obvious athletic ability suggests he’ll turn into a good player, albeit one who may not hit for the highest batting average.

The A’s would take that as they’ve been crying out for some power in recent years. They hit the third lowest number of home runs in the American League last season (114) and only launched three long balls in a game on three occasions. Two games into the 2012 season and they’ve already done it once.

Oakland’s three homer attack came after Justin Smoak had gone deep in the top of the seventh to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. Up to that point, starters Colon and Jason Vargas had followed the lead set by Felix Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy on Wednesday by shutting down the two offences. In fairness, neither team is likely to be among the leading run scorers in the American League this year; however both Colon and Vargas showed good control and traded zeroes over the first six innings of the contest.

Colon had been perfect through 4.1 innings before Jesus Montero got a single for his first hit in a Mariners uniform. The veteran pitcher is an interesting pick up for the A’s after he made a surprisingly impressive return with the Yankees last season. There’s surely a sense that 2011 could have been his last hurrah and that may be a key reason why he ended up in Oakland rather than with a likely contender.

His showing today offers hope that the pessimism may be misplaced. Part of the Colon package is that he doesn’t necessarily look like someone who should be getting Major League hitters out. He’s never been the most steamlined of athletes and when you see him chewing away while getting the signs from his catcher, he looks more like a slightly disgruntled cow grazing in a field chomping on some grass than someone about to unleash a pitch.

Yet that’s just Colon’s way and always has been. If he can continue to spot his moving fastball at a decent, if not electric, pace and mix it with an occasional breaking ball and an outstanding change-up – as he did against the Mariners today – he can still be successful.

There’s a line in Moneyball, both the book and the film if I remember correctly, about Oakland being like an island of misfit toys. It’s a description that will fit the 2012 A’s as accurately as it has to previous teams because there are few certainties on the roster and that will likely be borne out by the standings when we enter September.

However, there will be good days along the way and Thursday was one of them.

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