Manny Ramirez dominated the headlines for nearly a month in Sacramento, but his time with the team ended Friday when he requested his release from the Oakland A's organization. Ramirez had been hitting well after coming back after coming out of retirement and dealing with a hamstring issue that caused him to miss a handful of games.
"He was very happy with the opportunity he got - very sincere. He worked hard every day. I don't have one negative thing to say," Sacramento manager Darren Bush said.
Ramirez ended up with a .302/.348/.349 slash line in 17 games with the River Cats, including a seven-game hitting streak where he went 11-for-27. But the A's brass didn't believe Ramirez was doing enough to warrant a promotion and take away a roster spot from someone already on the 25-man roster. The 19-year veteran had just three extra-base hits – all doubles – and only walked five times with 17 strikeouts.
It looked like a promotion for Ramirez was a sure thing until the calendar changed to June and the team suddenly turned things around at the plate. With the help of interleague play, the A's have led baseball in runs and have the second-best OPS at 830 in June. With that type of production, making a drastic change like adding Ramirez to the roster and taking away someone already there just wasn't something the club was willing to do.
But Ramirez wasn't the only player with a major league history who has played well for the River Cats this month. The pitching staff has gotten strong contributions from the likes of Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross and Erick Threets en route to a 3.55 team ERA and .236 average against in June's first 14 games.
At the plate, the team has a very solid 885 OPS this month, thanks to 20 home runs and a .406 team on-base percentage. After losing two games to Tacoma over the weekend, the River Cats are 2.5 games back of Fresno for the division lead. Sacramento had led the division as recently as June 13 the first time since April.
So far, most of June has been characterized by a 12-game road, three-city road trip that saw the team go 7-4.
"We started out that road trip hot. At the end we kind of looked like we played tired for a day or two," Bush said. "Guys are playing really hard every day."
Comings and Goings
In just a matter of weeks, the first base position that was occupied by Chris Carter at the beginning of the year has gotten much more crowded. Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue have been added to the mix, putting at-bats and defensive work at a premium for the position.
Barton has played very well and resembles the player the A's had been so high on for so many years. His .277 average with Sacramento since his demotion doesn't tell the whole story. He has managed to get on base at a .493 clip and has three home runs after hitting just one in the big leagues since 2010.
Barton struggled the majority of last season with the A's and was demoted to Sacramento in June. He didn't fare much better, until it was uncovered that he had been dealing with a torn labrum that ultimately required season ending surgery. He got off to another slow start in limited duty this year with Oakland, compiling a 592 OPS.
"I don't know if he's coming in here with a chip on his shoulder. But he's coming in here with a very good outlook and very good outlook since coming down here," Bush said.
"Hopefully he can continue with what he's doing – get some consistent and quality at-bats and just go from there."
Ka'aihue cleared waivers on Saturday and was outrighted to the River Cats. He should join the club sometime this week, although Bush said he wasn't sure when the left-handed hitting power threat would arrive. The former 15th-round selection of Kansas City was one of the A's biggest producers in March and April when he hit .289. But in May and June, he struggled hitting just .205 combined before being designated for assignment June 6.
Tyson Ross bounced back and fourth from Sacramento over the weekend. The hard-throwing right-hander was promoted to make a start for the A's on Saturday after Brandon McCarthy was scratched after feeling pain in his oft-injured throwing shoulder. McCarthy is scheduled to return to the rotation Tuesday.
But the A's got more bad news when Bartolo Colon left Sunday's game with an oblique injury. After the game, A's manager Bob Melvin said Ross could be Colon's replacement just hours after he was optioned to Sacramento. Ross had been solid with the River Cats this month, going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his two starts. Saturday in Oakland, Ross threw six innings and allowed two runs with six strikeouts.
Utility infielder Eric Sogard was optioned to Sacramento May 21 and played well enough to earn a promotion back to the A's on Saturday, swapping spots with Adam Rosales. Sogard hit .304/.429/.406 in 18 games for the River Cats while playing at third, shortstop and second base.
Reliever Evan Scribner was promoted to Oakland for a 10-day stint before being sent back down to make room for Ross to make his start on Saturday. The right-hander made just two appearances, throwing 4.1 innings without allowing a run. He recorded his first big league save in his second appearance.
When Ross was sent back to Sacramento on Sunday, the A's selected lefty Pedro Figueroa to take his place on the roster. Figueroa already made his major league debut with the A's earlier this season and stayed with the club for nearly a month between April and May. In eight appearances with Oakland he allowed just two earned runs on six hits over nine frames. He threw three scoreless innings on Sunday in relief of Colon.
Graham Godfrey tops the list with a 3-0 record and 1.25 ERA in his three starts – two of which were complete games. Since struggling with his command earlier in the year with Oakland, Godfrey has been one of the PCL's best pitchers during his stint with the River Cats, which began on May 22.
Bush believes Godfrey has the ability to become a good major league pitcher and cited experience as the leading factor to his struggles.
"He did the same thing when he went from A-ball to Double-A, Double-A to Triple-A and Triple-A to the big leagues," Bush said.
"Every transition he's made, he's struggled early. He was up in Triple-A, sent back to Double-A. He perseveres. He's a competitor and a very good pitcher. It just takes time."One day he's going to up there and adjust something and he's going to feel very confident. He's going to put together quality starts and he's going to put together quality outings up there on a consistent basis. That's all we can ask."
Grant Green and Michael Taylor have also played well this month. While the rest of the lineup was on fire in April, Green was a slower starter, but has become one of the team's most consistent hitters over the last month and a half.
For the season, Green's line of .303/.344/.475 shows he's not far off from a possible appearance in the big leagues at some point before the end of 2013, if not sooner. His approach at the plate continues to be a work in progress. He came to Triple-A as a free swinger and is working to become more selective, a notion exacerbated by being put in the lead-off spot in the River Cats' lineup.
Green's eighth home runs on the season with Sacramento is a sizeable improvement from the nine he hit with Double-A Midland in 127 games last year. He's fully aware of the importance placed on the ability to knock the ball out of the park, but it isn't changing the type of hitter he is to hit more long balls.
"I feel that if a pitcher puts a ball in a spot where I can damage with it, it's going to happen. If I have a quality AB and hit a ball that I just miss, I know it's a slight time thing or something like that," Green said.
"The more quality ABs I have, the more chances I have to hit for the power that I want and everyone else wants to see."
Green's power production might come under more scrutiny now that he's made a move back to the infield after spending less than a full season as an outfielder. Green moved from shortstop to center field with Midland last July and has been asked recently to convert back into an infielder. He said it was to add versatility to his game and make him a more valuable commodity. But there's also a strong possibility the A's are looking to convert him to third base full time, where the team has struggled to find any organic major league talent within the organization in recent years.
If that were the case, many would expect Green to add more weight to his lanky frame and to help him develop as the power threat Oakland is looking for.
Taylor has continued his strong season with the River Cats and is starting to resemble the player the organization was so high on when they acquired him before 2010. In June, he's hitting .361/.467/.443 with a home run and nine driven in. For the season, he has an OPS of 884 with the River Cats and has appeared in four games earlier in the year for the A's.
Taylor is at an intriguing point with the A's. The club spent its offseason acquiring a bevy of outfielders that figure to be around for awhile, leaving Taylor blocked from the major leagues for the time being. But unlike years past, the 6'5" outfielder hasn't tinkered with his approach in order to hit for more power and it has paid off. But without the type of power many projected him to have, he may not be able to force the A's hand.
The A's handling of Taylor for the rest of the season should be telling. If the team is out of contention and he doesn't get an extended look in the big leagues, then he might have more value to another organization.