Inside Pitch: Offense, Calero Continue Struggles

After a gift-wrapped win on Friday, the A's stumbled on Saturday and Sunday, failing to score a run in either game against the Yankees. Making matters worse for Oakland, reliever Kiko Calero has suddenly hit a bump in the road in his season. How will the A's address their current struggles? Could help from the minor leagues be on the way?

Offense Continues to Stagnate

The A's set out this off-season to improve their offense and with the addition of All-Star Jason Kendall, slugger Keith Ginter and the expected growth of Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby, the A's figured to score more runs in 2005. So far, the 2005 season has been a nightmare at the plate for Oakland.

After 31 games, the A's are on pace to score a measley 564 runs. The total would be the lowest, in a non-strike season, since the A's moved to Oakland in 1968. Almost to a man, the A's offensive players have struggled. However, none moreso than Eric Chavez, who was expected to lead the A's offense. He has appeared to be pressing to carrying the entire offense and the result has been a batting average under .200 and very little power numbers.

The A's could look to the trade market to help their stagnant offense, although A's GM Billy Beane rarely trades this early in the season. Beane could also dip into the A's farm system to find offensive help. Some of the candidates for a call-up could include reigning PCL MVP Dan Johnson, DH Jack Cust, outfielders Matt Watson and Shawn Garrett and perhaps an even bigger reach for AA outfielder Andre Ethier.

Johnson struggled through the last two weeks of April, perhaps disappointed to be back in AAA after his outstanding 2004 season. However, the left-handed slugger has been on fire as of late. He has raised his batting average to .292 and his on-base percentage to .390 after letting both numbers fall well below his norm. Johnson has also been a hot hitter with runners in scoring position and already has 20 RBI on the season. Johnson has been blocked by Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo at the major league level, but neither player has been driving in runs, so Oakland may look in Johnson's direction to jump-start the offense.

The A's may also look to old favorite Jack Cust to help raise the A's power numbers. Cust is an old fashioned slugger who strikes out a lot but has a good eye and hits with authority. Cust has a .294 batting average and a .523 slugging percentage. He is at a disadvantage to Johnson because he doesn't play defense very well, but Cust does have major league experience and probably has more power than anyone on the A's current 25-man roster, save Chavez.

Matt Watson and Shawn Garrett have been steady forces near the top of the River Cats' line-up all season. Watson, in particular, has shined this season. The former New York Met is hitting .336 on the season and has walked more times than he has struck out (18-16). Watson drove 100 runs for Sacramento last season and, while not being a classic power hitter, is someone who always seems to find himself in the middle of a rally.

Shawn Garrett is a switch-hitter who can play all three outfield positions. Garrett has kept his average around .300 all season and has decent speed. Unlike Watson, Garrett does not yet have great command of the strike zone, so he may need a little more time in the A's system. Garrett was in the Colorado system last year.

The last potential candidate to get the call is the least likely person to be recalled: Andre Ethier. Ethier has been destroying Texas League pitching to the tune of a .414 batting average and a .703 slugging percentage. He has already crushed seven homers and has 29 RBIs in 28 games. Ethier is more likely to get a promotion to AAA than the major leagues, but he is someone the A's will watch throughout the season and he could find his way onto the Oakland roster later in the year with a strong showing in AAA.

Calero's Woes Continue

Reliever Kiko Calero hasn't looked like the same pitcher since returning from a two-week absence due to elbow tendinitis and manager Ken Macha is admittedly concerned.

"He keeps telling me he's fine," Macha said. "He says no pain."

But after going eight innings without allowing a run to begin the year, Calero was rocked on May 4 and May 8, and was shaky in getting two outs for a save May 6.

Calero allowed nine runs in his last three outings, retiring just three of his last 12 hitters. He gave up a walk, single, then back-to-back home runs Sunday to Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada on May 8.

The elbow tendinitis developed because Calero was dropping his arm angle too much and "leading" with his elbow.

"I needed to change (my delivery) a little, but I don't know if that's the reason I didn't make good pitches," Calero said. "I'm going to keep working. I need to come back. Maybe I did change something. I need to go to my CD and see how my mechanics are right now."

Pitching coach Curt Young said he doesn't see anything dramatically different in Calero's delivery. Sometimes, Calero will overstride a couple inches. They have it measured and plan to work on it in bullpen sessions.

Macha doesn't think the slider is the problem, noting that Calero threw two good ones that Alex Rodriguez whiffed on (before singling) and a good backdoor slider to Hideki Matsui the A's dugout thought should have been strike three (before he walked).

Middle reliever Juan Cruz has also struggled this season, leaving rookie Huston Street and second-year man Justin Duchscherer as the A's most reliable (and most frequently worked) set-up men. Should the A's try to bolster the set-up man position, they could have some options in the minor leagues.

Reliever Jairo Garcia, who made his big league debut last season in August, has been pitching very effectively in AA-Midland. Garcia has struck out 27 in 15.2 innings pitched and has walked only nine after struggling with his control at the end of 2004. Garcia is a hard thrower who could be a nice compliment for the finesse pitcher, Duchscherer, in the late innings.

Another option would be Tim Harikkala. Harikkala is a major league veteran who is currently with AAA-Sacramento. Harikkala pitched well for the Colorado Rockies last season and has been the River Cats' top reliever this year. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but he keeps the ball down and has a WHIP of 1.00 so far this season.

The A's could also turn to Sacramento starter John Rheinecker if they wanted another lefty reliever. After two down years, Rheinecker is back to pitching well for Sacramento and has the results to show for it. He won his fourth game of the season on Sunday and has an ERA of 1.77 on the year. Although many experts believe that Rheinecker's stuff is better suited for middle relief, the A's could turn to him to fill a starting rotation spot if Kirk Saarloos continues to struggle.

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