7/20/2013 2:54 A.M. ET
First-place A's are fine working from the shadows
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Only the Red Sox, at 58-39, had a better record in the American League going into the All-Star break than the A's, who lead the West with a 56-39 record.
While the club was disappointed with only two All-Star Game selections -- starter Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour -- the A's clearly have grown accustomed to the relative anonymity of the Bay Area with the reigning World Series champion Giants as their neighbors.
"We don't need that," said A's rookie starter Dan Straily. "We don't lose sleep over the fact we're not the headline on ESPN."
Starter Jarrod Parker believes the A's can only benefit from their second-half success last year.
"Certain components are going to roll over and change, but the core guys are here," Parker said. "With what we've gone through, we know who we are. We had our struggles early. It's all about being confident as a group.
"We know we haven't done everything right. We can be a lot better in some aspects. We can pitch and field better. In the second half, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think we'll start playing our best baseball."
The A's have charged to the front in the West without consistent contributions from Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, their big guns last season. Cespedes is hitting .225 and Reddick .218.
"Different guys seem to step up every night," Straily said. "It's not about one or two guys. It's really a team in this clubhouse. Guys who come from other clubhouses say it's different here.
"It honestly feels like 25 guys who are friends and go out and play baseball every night."
Catcher John Jaso played for the Rays and Mariners before moving to the A's in January in a three-team swap involving the Nationals and Mariners.
"I don't want to compare it to other clubs I've been on," Jaso said, "but what I see with the chemistry here is very good. A team can get in trouble when you have cliques, guys complaining about this guy playing and this guy not playing. None of that happens here. [Good chemistry] creates opportunities to succeed."
A's send impressive Gray back to Triple-A
ANAHEIM -- The A's optioned 23-year-old right-hander Sonny Gray to Triple-A Sacramento after Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Angels in order to make roster space for Dan Straily, their starter on Saturday night at Angel Stadium.
Gray has not allowed a run in four Major League innings. He made his second big league appearance on Friday and was just as impressive as he was in his debut, going two scoreless innings against the Angels. He allowed one hit and a walk, striking out three.
In his debut against the Pirates before the All-Star break, Gray gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, striking out three.
"There's no reason to have him pitching out of the bullpen now," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Gray, the team's first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt. "He's going to be a factor, whether he's in the rotation or the bullpen.
"Now he's going down knowing, 'I can get people out there [in the Major Leagues].'"
A's catcher John Jaso sees a bright future for Gray.
"I think I caught him once in Spring Training," Jaso said. "He's got great life on his pitches."
Derby champ Cespedes scratched with sore left wrist
OAKLAND -- Yoenis Cespedes, winner of the Chevrolet Home Run Derby on Monday night in New York, was a late scratch from the A's lineup on Friday night at Angel Stadium with soreness in his left wrist. He was on the disabled list last season with a muscle strain in his left hand.
A's manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes was day to day after Oakland's 4-1 loss. "I wouldn't think so," Melvin said when asked if the wrist ailment was connected to the Derby. "You would think he'd have felt it then, and he didn't. It came up today in batting practice. Before the game he was taking swings in the cage and still felt it."
Replacing Cespedes in left field, Chris Young made an excellent running catch of an Albert Pujols drive toward the foul line with two on and none out in the first inning.
Cespedes, a Cuban defector who finished second to the Angels' Mike Trout in the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, is hitting .225 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs. He is in the midst of a 19-game homerless drought. He had 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, hitting .292.
While playing 129 games last season, Cespedes, 27, struggled with various ailments. Along with the injury to his left hand, he had a strained left hamstring that took him to the disabled list.
Cespedes launched 17 homers in the first round of the Home Run Derby at Citi Field, followed by six in the second round and nine in the finals. He defeated the Nationals' Bryce Harper in that final round to join Mark McGwire (1992) as A's who have won the Home Run Derby.
"I've seen it," Melvin said before the game of Cespedes' power display. "This is the first time the baseball world has seen it. It's exciting for all of us. I think it even pumped him up. He's a remarkably talented guy and definitely showed it off that night. I think it was good for him to be there."
Jaso's experience is invaluable to A's young staff
ANAHEIM -- Nothing is more essential to a team's success than the bond between pitchers and catchers. It has been a relatively seamless transition for backstop John Jaso in his first season with the A's following a winter deal with the Mariners.
"When I came in, it was really easy to get to know the guys here," Jaso said on Friday night as the American League West leaders engaged the Angels. "There are some guys you need to calm down, some guys you want to get going [emotionally].
"The personality thing is something I picked up on in Triple-A, actually. There are times when you'll go out there, grab the resin bag and toss it in the air, and say, 'I just jammed my thumb on that pitch. I need some time.' Really, what you're doing is giving your pitcher some time to calm down. It's part of the job, knowing your guys and doing what you can to bring out the best in them."
According to A's manager Bob Melvin, Jaso's experience with the Rays and Mariners has eased his transition.
"I think he's done a nice job," Melvin said. "He's been with several teams before and caught high-profile guys."
While veterans Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour lead the rotation and bullpen, the A's have one of the youngest pitching staffs in the Majors. They stormed to the 2012 AL West title behind a rotation that featured four rookies. Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin are all back, along with Colon.
"They're still in the development process, and it's exciting to be part of it," said Jaso, who has shared catching duties with Derek Norris while also starting 13 games as the designated hitter.
A's starters finished the first 95 games on a roll, allowing three or fewer runs in 11 consecutive games with a 2.28 overall ERA. Over the past 53 games, the rotation is 27-8 with a 2.99 ERA, allowing a .227 opponents' batting average.
• The A's love the night time (Major League-best 38-20) and flourish in one-run games, going 19-11 (.633) while winning five of their past six one-run games. They're also 7-3 in extra-inning games, pointing to the depth of their bullpen. The A's have had a stranglehold on the Angels, going 5-1 this season with victories in 10 of their past 12 games at Angel Stadium. Over the past three seasons, the A's are 26-18 vs. the Angels.
• Manager Bob Melvin said he hopes southpaw Brett Anderson, sidelined since May 1 with a sprained right ankle, will join the team in Houston after the weekend series against the Angels. Anderson is 1-2 with a 8.18 ERA in three starts. There is no target date for his return. Starter Jarrod Parker, dealing with a hamstring issue, threw a bullpen session on Friday.
• Josh Donaldson has been the team's iron man with 93 starts, all at third base. Jed Lowrie is next with 89 games played, two more than Brandon Moss. Donaldson leads the club on the road with his .322 average and 32 RBIs, while Yoenis Cespedes leads the team with 10 road homers.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.