Oakland A's MLN: Rookies Powering A's

The Oakland A's have been propped up by rookies all season and that trend continued this weekend. We look at the weekend accomplishments of rookies A.J. Griffin, Derek Norris and Brandon Hicks, as well as all of the news and notes from around the Oakland A's system, in this edition of Oakland A's Minor League Notebook...

Rookies Help A's Avoid Sweep

Derek Norris made his first major league homerun a memorable one. The Oakland A's rookie catcher launched a 3-2, two-out fastball in the bottom of the ninth from former A's reliever Santiago Casilla deep into the left-field bleachers for a three-run, walk-off homer in the A's 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. The win capped a wild weekend series between the two cross-Bay rivals and helped A's rookie A.J. Griffin avoid a tough-luck loss in his major league debut.

Norris got the start on Sunday because he had previous experience catching Griffin with Triple-A Sacramento. Griffin was called up on Sunday to make the start in place of right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder soreness. Griffin drew a difficult first assignment, matching-up against Giants' starter Matt Cain, who threw a perfect game two starts earlier. The A's rookie was also tasked with being a stopper after Oakland lost two one-run games to the Giants to start the series.

The game didn't start well for Griffin, who was touched for a two-run homer by Giants' catcher Buster Posey in the first inning. Griffin settled down after that frame, however, allowing only one more hit and a walk over the next five innings. He finished his major league debut with a line of six innings pitched, three hits and two runs allowed, one walk and four strike-outs.

It was a quick journey to the big leagues for Griffin, who was the A's 13th-round pick out of the University of San Diego in 2010. Griffin has used pinpoint command and a solid four-pitch mix to breeze through the minor leagues. In 2010, he made the Northwest League All-Star team as the closer for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. Griffin saved 15 games for Vancouver and struck-out 27 in 21.1 innings.

Moved into the starting rotation in 2011, Griffin began the year with Low-A Burlington, but would wind-up pitching for all four of the A's full-season affiliates. In total, he went 11-7 and posted a 3.47 ERA with a 156:32 K:BB ratio in 160.2 innings. Griffin spent the bulk of his season with High-A Stockton and was with the Ports during their run to the Cal League finals. In the post-season, Griffin had a 1.29 ERA and a 28:2 K:BB ratio in 21 innings over three starts.

As good as his 2011 campaign was, Griffin's 2012 season has been even better. Armed with a cut fastball to add to his four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up, Griffin carved up the Texas League before being promoted in May to Triple-A Sacramento. In seven starts for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, Griffin posted a 2.49 ERA and he struck-out 44 while walking only seven in 43.1 innings. Texas League batters hit .201 versus Griffin. His success continued with the River Cats, as he posted a 2.81 ERA with 40 strike-outs and only seven walks in 51.1 innings. Griffin became the first pitcher in Sacramento history to throw complete games in back-to-back starts earlier this month.

Norris arrived in the big leagues a few days earlier than Griffin, making his major league debut on Thursday versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. The A's won that game in walk-off fashion, as well. Although Norris didn't contribute to that walk-off win with his bat, he did have a large role defensively, as he threw out Dee Gordon attempting to steal second in the top of the ninth inning. The A's would win the game in the bottom of the ninth on fellow rookie Yoenis Cespedes' three-run homer.

On Saturday, Norris made his second start and collected his first major league hits and his first big league RBI. The A's would fall short in that game despite a big ninth-inning comeback, losing 9-8.

The biggest hit in the A's four-run ninth inning on Saturday came from shortstop Brandon Hicks, who was called up from Sacramento on Saturday. Hicks hit a ground-rule double with the bases loaded and two-outs in the ninth inning to pull the A's to within a run of the Giants. Had his double not bounced over the wall, the A's would have tied the game. Hicks also contributed late in the A's win on Sunday, collecting a pinch-hit double in the eighth inning and making a nice running catch in the ninth.

Rookies Sean Doolittle and Jim Miller also had a hand in the A's win on Sunday. In relief of Griffin, Doolittle tossed 1.2 scoreless innings. He struck-out three and allowed two hits. In 8.2 innings with the A's, Doolittle has 17 strike-outs and only two walks. Miller earned his second win by pitching 1.1 perfect innings in relief of Doolittle. Miller has a 1.14 ERA in 23.2 innings with the A's this season.

Other News and Notes

- Griffin wasn't the only A's prospect on the move this weekend. As is often the case at the midway point in the season, the A's moved several players to different affiliates this weekend. A's 2011 third-round pick B.A. Vollmuth was promoted from Low-A Burlington to High-A Stockton. The third baseman is taking All-Star Miles Head's place on the Stockton roster. Head was promoted to Double-A Midland earlier in the week.

Reliever Arnold Leon also received a promotion this weekend. He was sent from Midland to Sacramento to take Evan Scribner's spot in the River Cats' rotation. Scribner was promoted to Oakland on Sunday, taking the place of Eric Sogard on the A's roster. Sogard was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. Leon, in his first regular action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2010, has a 3.77 ERA and a 43:8 K:BB ratio in 31 innings for Stockton and Midland this season. Leon had a 2.30 ERA for the Rockhounds.

Reliever Tanner Peters was promoted to Low-A Burlington after a two-game stint with short-season Vermont. Peters struck-out seven in three innings with the Lake Monsters and struck-out four in 1.2 innings in his debut with the Bees. The right-hander was a 16th-round pick of the A's last season and saved 11 games for the Lake Monsters. He was slowed this spring by an injury and spent the first half of the year at extended spring training.

- A's 2012 supplemental first round pick Matt Olson had a special professional debut. He homered on the first pitch he saw as a pro and finished a triple short of the cycle in his first game with the Arizona Rookie League A's. Olson had two doubles and a single, drove-in four and scored four runs in the Rookie A's 12-9 win. The AZL A's are 4-0 to start the year.

- A's 2012 second round pick Bruce Maxwell is also off to a fast start as a pro. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs for the AZL A's on Sunday and is 11-for-16 on the season. A's 2012 top pick Addison Russell picked up his first stolen base of his career and had three walks and a hit on Sunday.

- The Vermont Lake Monsters needed only five hits to score seven runs on Sunday in their 7-2 victory over Lowell. The A's short-season squad used three pitchers in the win. Chris Lamb allowed one run on five hits in four innings as the starter. He struck-out five. Logan Chitwood earned the win with three innings of relief work, allowing a run on four hits and two walks. Tucker Healy finished off the game with an impressive two-inning stint. He didn't allow a base-runner and he struck-out four in his third pro appearance. John Wooten, Jacob Tanis and Chad Lewis each had two RBIs in the win.

- The Burlington Bees swept the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, finishing the sweep wiht a 5-4 win on Sunday. In his professional debut, A's 2012 fifth-round pick Max Muncy homered and drove-in three runs. He also added a single. The first baseman is the first member of the A's 2012 draft class to play above the short-season A ball level. Rashun Dixon had two RBIs and had a double and two walks in the win. Since being demoted from High-A Stockton, Dixon is batting only .214, but he has an 811 OPS thanks to a .368 OBP and a .443 SLG.

- Despite a homer from Max Stassi off of Rockies' prospect Tyler Matzek, the Stockton Ports fell to the Modesto Nuts, 5-3, on Sunday. It was a tough series for the Ports, who dropped an 18-inning decision to Modesto on Saturday night. Outfielder Josh Whitaker earned the loss in that game. The homer on Sunday was Stassi's sixth of the season. He is batting .268/.317/.440 on the year.

- Errors by the normally sure-handed Dusty Coleman and Tyler Ladendorf led to two unearned runs and the Rockhounds managed only one run of their own in a 5-1 loss to the San Antonio Missions on Sunday. Gary Daley, Jr. earned the loss despite allowing only one earned run in 4.2 innings. He did walk four, but struck-out six. Shawn Haviland threw two scoreless innings in relief of Daley with three strike-outs. Midland managed only five hits in the game, two of them coming from Conner Crumbliss, who doubled and stole his 18th base of the season.

- Travis Banwart returned to the starting rotation for Sacramento after Griffin was promoted to Oakland and celebrated that return with a solid outing on Sunday. Banwart allowed only a run on six hits in six innings to earn his fifth win. He struck-out four and didn't walk a batter. Pedro Figueroa (two innings) and Erick Threets (one inning) combined to shut-out the Las Vegas 51s over the final three frames in the 6-1 victory. Chris Carter (12), Daric Barton (4) and Stephen Parker (6) all homered for Sacramento. Barton also added a double. Kila Ka'aihue, Carter, Michael Taylor and Adam Rosales each had two walks. Ka'aihue played left field before being replaced late in the game defensively by Grant Green, who moved from third to left. Parker took over at third for Green and homered in his only at-bat. Ka'aihue had a throwing error in the game. Carter played first base and Barton DHed.

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