Notes: A's focus on clutch hitting
Team struggled with runners in scoring position in Game 1
OAKLAND -- With the bizarre exception of a question about moving Eric Chavez from sixth in the batting order to fifth and moving Jay Payton from fifth to sixth, A's manager Ken Macha didn't field a single question in his press conference before Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday that didn't concern the deadly plane crash that took the life of former A's pitcher Cory Lidle earlier in the day.
Having been the bench coach for former manager Art Howe during Lidle's two years with Oakland (2001-2002), Macha knew Lidle well and did his best to address the issue, but talking tragedy isn't in anyone's comfort zone.
Back in his office a few minutes after the press conference ended, Macha was back in his comfort zone, taking baseball-related questions in a private session with A's beat writers. The mood remained somber, but with the start of a pivotal game less than three hours away, he touched on a number of issues concerning his club, which matched a playoff record by going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position while losing Game 1 to the Tigers on Tuesday, 5-1.
"We've had some troubles with runners in scoring position all year," said Macha, whose team's .243 batting average in such situations during the regular season was the second-worst in the AL. "Sometimes you drive 'em in and sometimes you don't. Last night we didn't. ... It's something [Oakland hitting coach] Gerald [Perry] has talked a lot about over the course of the year."
The A's also set an LCS record by grounding into four double plays Tuesday, but Macha seemed less concerned about that statistic when asked if he might manage any differently in Game 2 with runners on base.
"If you're getting runners in scoring position," he said, "there's no sense in hitting-and-running."
The good news: The silver lining around the cloud of Game 1 was the stellar work of the bullpen, as four relievers teamed up on 5 1/3 shutout innings of four-hit work. Three of the pitchers -- lefty Joe Kennedy and righties Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton -- did not appear in Oakland's three-game sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series.
"That bodes well," Macha said. "[It shows that] if you're making your pitches, you can get these guys out."
Particularly encouraging was the work of Blanton, who won 16 games during the regular season but was bumped to the bullpen for the playoffs.
Blanton finished the game, walking two without allowing a hit over two innings, and he'll be the first reliever up if Game 3 starter Rich Harden, who hasn't pitched in a big-league game since Oct. 1, runs into early trouble.
"There was a definite reason for what I did last night," Macha said. "[Blanton will] have two nights off, and he'll be there if we need him [Friday in Detroit]. I'm glad he pitched two shutout innings."
With Blanton unavailable for Game 2, righty Kirk Saarloos, who frequently bounced between the bullpen and rotation during the regular season, was the designated long man.
The lighter side: Macha seemed to welcome any ounce of levity that presented itself during his private session, taking advantage of a question about the forecast for bitter cold in Detroit over the weekend.
"I was told the wind-chill factor is going to be 25 degrees," he said. "So we'll have a full-squad workout [Thursday at Comerica Park], and I'm expecting everybody to be there. ... Just kidding."
Told that Harden, who grew up in Canada, had said he was used to such weather, Macha cracked, "We knew that. We had foresight."
The A's will not work out Thursday, and Macha didn't seem to think the weather would pose any great challenges for his club, but he did concede that pitchers might be given more time to get loose before being called into action.
"It might have some impact on some of the relievers, but we play in [cold weather] in April in some places, too," he said.
Macha's best line came after he was told that Tigers manager Jim Leyland's wife recently copped to having a massive crush on A's center fielder Mark Kotsay, calling Kotsay "the cutest thing going."
Asked if his wife had a favorite player, he said it was probably infielder Marco Scutaro, but more for his on-field contributions, before adding, "I know my daughter liked [former A's pitcher and heartthrob] Mark Mulder. Her and about 100 million other girls."
'Wash' in demand? According to a source in Texas, A's infield coach Ron Washington is among four candidates whom the Rangers would like to interview as potential replacements for recently dismissed manager Buck Showalter.
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The source said the Rangers are in the process of acquiring permission from any clubs that have one of the candidates under contract, and it's unlikely the A's would deny such a request. Washington interviewed for the A's vacancy during Macha's odd nine-day estrangement last winter, and the club allowed Washington to interview for the opening in Florida that eventually went to Joe Girardi.
"I just had a friend from Dallas tell me that my name was mentioned as a candidate," Washington said Wednesday during batting practice. "No one has told me anything from the A's. I'm just hearing the rumors; nothing was offered."
Washington is highly respected within the game and also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for openings with the Nationals, Giants and Cubs.
"You can't really put a price on him," A's first baseman Dan Johnson said of Washington. "He relates to you very well with his message. He makes it so easy to understand."
Washington, who has Minor League managerial experience in the Mets organization, said he hasn't been contacted by any clubs, but reiterated his desire to run his own ship.
"Of course I would like to," he said. "I would just like an opportunity."
Dribblers: Several A's, including outfielder Milton Bradley, designated hitter Frank Thomas and pitcher Barry Zito, suggested Tuesday that the three-day layoff between the end of the ALDS and the start of the ALCS threw them off. Said Macha, "When you have one day off during the season, I always look at our guys' first at-bats, first time through the lineup, and they're always a little rusty. But there's no excuses. Their adrenaline should have been sky-high. ... First baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher said he got a good night's sleep Tuesday for the first time in four days. "I've just been too jacked up," he said. ... Leaving the interview room after his press conference, Macha ran into Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, who has owned Oakland's pitching staff over the years, and said, "Take a holiday, will ya?"
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.