OAKLAND -- Much of Craig Breslow's year has been highlighted by off-the-field accomplishments, most recently as cover boy of this week's Sporting News for his nod as the smartest athlete in sports.But inside the A's clubhouse, Breslow's Yale-educated mind isn't valued so much as his overall worth to a team that views him as "the one constant in the bullpen," according to hurler Brett Anderson. "He's been phenomenal," Anderson said. "He's filled all kinds of roles it seems like, whether it is as a closer or to get a lefty out. Anything he's been asked to do, he's done it and done it well." Breslow's workload has spanned 71 appearances, third-most among American League relievers. He's tallied 69 1/3 innings and is just one out away from matching his 2009 total. All the while, he's compiled a 3.12 ERA and has allowed just six of 32 (18.8 percent) of his inherited runners to score, which ranks second in the AL. High-ranking numbers are great and all, but none would be tallied without health, something Breslow has been able to maintain throughout the season, give or take a couple of days due to a bruised forearm as a result of a line drive that came back at him. "Breslow has been remarkably consistent all year," manager Bob Geren said. "If you look at the body of work he and guys like [Michael] Wuertz and [Andrew] Bailey did, they've all been outstanding. The difference is Breslow has been consistently healthy all year. He's been so valuable in that bullpen. All those guys have done a great job, but if you look at a combination of performance and availability, he's been the guy." Breslow has never found himself on the disabled list, an even bigger accomplishment in Oakland, where the A's have sent 23 to the DL this year. "There's something to be said for that, especially the way he's been used this year," Anderson said. "He's been one of the few that's maintained health throughout the year. It seems like every time we look down there, asking ourselves who is up, the answer's Breslow. He works hard, and it shows in his consistency and resiliency out on the mound." "He's got a very resilient arm, a resilient body, and he's mentally tough," fellow reliever Brad Ziegler said. "He knows that he can go out and be successful at any time. That's something we've come to depend on him for. The players are counting on him to give us innings night after night because he can do it. You hope long-term it's not doing any damage to him, but I think for right now he's throwing the ball well. "There's a couple of nights where he's been down there and unavailable, and he's thinking how much he wants to get out there and pitch. He just has that drive."
Home sweet home for Carter
OAKLAND -- Home has certainly been sweet to Chris Carter.The 23-year-old Oakland slugger, who went 0-for-32 on the road to start his career, has since hit in all four home games on the current stand, going 5-for-10 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored. "The games are a lot more fun now that I'm actually contributing and helping the team out, instead of just going 0-for every game," Carter said. "Now I'm not thinking about this 0-for streak I had. Now it's gone. It's all past. I can just keep going after this." But Carter's biggest adjustment hasn't come in the batter's box, as he is trying to make the move from his natural position of first base to left field. In 13 of his initial 15 big league games, Carter has played in left, while he's played designated hitter in the other two contests. First-base coach Todd Steverson has been working with Carter before games to improve his defense. "Only time is going to tell how good he'll end up being out there," Steverson said. "For a relative newbie in the outfield, he's doing all right. He goes after ball OK. It takes a while to really understand your feet in the outfield, in terms of your breaks and your moves. ... He's a good enough athlete to catch the ball, it's just a matter of getting to the right spots." Carter said he will be going to Venezuela this winter, marking the second straight season he's headed south for winter ball. Last season, Carter played in Mexico, but he missed about two weeks of action due to illness. This time around, Carter's main focus will be on defense. Carter will be playing for the Tiburones de La Guaira in Caracas, while fellow A's Jeff Larish and Henry Rodriguez will be playing for the Leones de Caracas, another Venezuelan team based out the same stadium. In all, Carter has only played about a month of left field between his time in Triple-A Sacramento and Oakland. "It takes a while to make the adjustment with your eyes from the infield to the outfield and learning how read balls off the bat," Steverson said. "If the season ended and he was never to show up again for Spring Training, he would probably still be behind as an outfielder. But him going to winter ball, that's going to help him quite a bit."
Gross making most of limited time
OAKLAND -- Gabe Gross paused and smiled when asked on Friday about his performance this season, knowing it's rather difficult to judge when playing time with the A's has been sparse and erratic."I think up and down probably would be a good description," Gross said. "I think I've played really well at times, and there have been other times where I've felt I could have done a lot more, which is probably the attitude of almost every guy in this clubhouse." But Gross isn't like every guy in the clubhouse. He'll be 31 in October and has already played for four teams in seven Major League seasons. Nevertheless, he's been around the block and realizes his recent lack of playing time -- his Thursday start marked his third straight after going 24 games without one -- is partly the result of the A's wanting a look at the younger crowd. "You've definitely seen that toward the end of the year, but at the same time I guess my job responsibility has been to remain ready, and I feel like I've done that," he said. "I feel like when there were long stretches where I wasn't playing and the opportunity popped up for me to play, I was prepared. The couple times I've been put in following those stretches, I think I've done my job well." Gross, signed by the A's as a free agent to a one-year contract in February, admits he didn't have many expectations heading into the year. He hit .278 with 12 RBIs in 24 Spring Training games and entered the season on the bench following a 2009 season with the Rays that saw him start 71 games while platooning with Gabe Kapler in right field much of the time. He came into Thursday's contest batting .167 (10-for-60) since the All-Star break after hitting .309 over his first 37 games. "I didn't really have any idea what this was going to hold," he said. "I didn't really know exactly the role I was going to play. I knew I wasn't coming into a situation where I was going to really get that chance to play every single day. I didn't know all they had going on. Looking back on it, it's been kind of a wild ride, so to speak. There's been stretches where I've played for a week straight or five days in a row, and then there have been stretches where I haven't played for three weeks at a time." Through it all, Gross admits he thought about the possibility of being moved or designated, but is thankful the club has "obviously kept me here for some reason." Thus, despite his looming free-agent status, he wouldn't mind returning to Oakland again next year. "Definitely," Gross said. "I don't know what's going to happen these last 10 games, but these guys, I think there's a good foundation here to win and contend for the playoffs next year. On top of that, I've enjoyed being around these guys. I kind of have my nose to the ground, trying to keep my head in these last games. But whatever happens in the offseason, I'll just deal with it when it gets here."
To land a spot on the 2011 roster, Gross will have to compete with guys like Chris Carter, Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, Conor Jackson and possibly Coco Crisp, whose option for next season is likely to be picked up.
Davis remains unavailable
OAKLAND -- Rajai Davis was unavailable for a second straight night Friday, when both he and A's manager Bob Geren again declined to give a reason other than to say it involved a "non-baseball-related issue."Davis, however, took part in batting practice before the club's contest against the Rangers, thus continuing speculation about his lineup absence. He was a late scratch before Wednesday's game and insisted the matter is "personal." With Davis out of the mix, Geren again placed Mark Ellis in the leadoff spot and played an outfield boasting Chris Carter in left, Gabe Gross in center and Jeremy Hermida in right.
A's lefty Jerry Blevins, batting a shoulder strain, has yet to resume throwing, and there is still no timetable for his return. ... Right-handed reliever Brad Ziegler, who entered Friday's contest having either appeared in or warmed up in the club's last seven games, was unavailable Friday. ... Thursday's one-hitter against the Rangers marked the fourth time in Oakland history the A's had a no-hitter and one-hitter in the same season and the first time since 1975.
Alex Espinoza is an associate reporter and Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.