Notes: Loaiza deemed safer for Game 2

Notes: Loaiza deemed safer for Game 2

OAKLAND -- Naming ace lefty Barry Zito as the Game 1 starter in the American League Championship Series was pretty much a no-brainer for the A's.

Settling on the Game 2 starter who will face the Tigers required the work of 10 brains.

Ten members of the organization met in manager Ken Macha's office to discuss the decision Sunday morning, and they were split down the middle: five on the side of going with steady veteran righty Esteban Loaiza, five with recently mercurial righty Rich Harden.

The winner? Loaiza, who started Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Twins.

"There was a lot of debate," general manager Billy Beane said Sunday during Oakland's informal workout at McAfee Coliseum. "It wasn't an easy decision."

Loaiza, 34, who gave up two runs on eight hits over five-plus innings against the Twins last Wednesday, got the nod in part because he's more of a known quantity at this point.

Harden, 24, missed the bulk of the season with back and elbow issues and hasn't pitched since allowing six runs on six walks and three hits over 3 2/3 innings on the final day of the regular season.

Macha stopped short of announcing the pitching plans beyond Game 2, but the decision to go with Loaiza means Harden likely be held back until Game 4 in Detroit on Saturday, giving him 12 days between starts.

Righty Dan Haren, 26, who pitched six strong innings in Game 3 of the ALDS to help close out a three-game sweep of the AL Central-winning Twins, is expected to get the ball Friday at Comerica Park.

"As much as anything," Beane said, "the ultimate result was kind of knowing what you're going to get."

"The three guys who have gone out there and pitched in the playoffs for us, we know what we're going to get," agreed Macha, who said the pros and cons of going with Harden over Loaiza were laid out in the meeting.

"The pros [for Harden] are that Rich can go out and be a dominant pitcher, and whoever pitches in Game 2 will be pitching in two games in the series," Macha said. "The cons were that each start Rich has given us [since coming off the disabled list Sept. 21] hasn't really been an indication that he's the Rich Harden we know."

Added Beane, "Obviously, when Rich is in midseason form and healthy, he's as dominant as anyone in the league. ... The question is, where is he now?"

The answer to that question, were it asked Monday, would be Phoenix, Ariz.

Harden, who went 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts (seven earned runs of seven hits and eight walks with 15 strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings) after coming off the disabled list, will travel to the desert with A's pitching coach Curt Young and throw in a game at the team's Minor League complex.

Before the Game 2 announcement was made, Harden vowed to play the loyal soldier role no matter what the club decided. But he wasn't particularly pleased that Macha said that Harden's command in the second of his two bullpen sessions since his start in Anaheim on Oct. 1 -- he threw Tuesday in Minneapolis and Thursday in Oakland -- was of some concern.

complete coverage
Home  |  News  |  Video  |  Audio  |  Photos
"The first one was phenomenal; the best I've felt in a long time," Harden said. "But the second was very good, too. Did I hit every spot? No. I was a little bit up with some pitches, but you don't expect to be perfect in the bullpen every time. All you're looking for is a good feel. If a pitch is a little high, but it's a well-thrown baseball that you're getting behind and have good mechanics on, that's OK. Guys who paint with 85 [mph], those are the guys who need to be perfect and hit every spot.

"I'm not one of those guys, so that was frustrating to hear. The bottom line is I feel great about all of my stuff and the way I'm throwing the ball. I want to get out there as soon as possible."

Bullpen catcher Brandon Buckley caught both bullpen sessions and saw the issue from both sides.

"His first was definitely better overall; he had better command," Buckley said. "But the main thing for Rich is how he feels, so how can anybody outside of Rich Harden characterize how he feels? When he feels good, he has got amazing stuff."

In for a day: The A's will be adding a middle infielder to the ALCS roster to replace second baseman Mark Ellis, who suffered a fractured finger on his right hand in Game 2 of the ALDS, and Mark Kiger appears to be the leading candidate.

Kiger, who split the 2006 season at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento, was brought in for Sunday's workout to be evaluated by infield coach Ron Washington.

"He's here for a look-see," Macha said. "I trust Wash and value his opinion highly."

Oakland's fifth-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Florida (also Ellis' alma mater), Kiger batted .307 in 58 games with Midland and .233 in 61 games at Sacramento. Those numbers likely won't factor into the decision, however.

"I like defense," Macha said.

Asked to assess the defensive work of the other top candidate, Keith Ginter, who spent part of the 2005 season with the A's but spent all of this season at Sacramento, Macha paused for a few seconds before offering, "Average."

Kevin Melillo, a 2004 draftee who spent the 2006 at Midland and, like Kiger and Ginter, has been working out in Phoenix, no longer appears to be an option.

"His name wasn't even mentioned in today's meeting," Macha said.

Kiger, who was coaching youth baseball in Temecula, Calif., when he was told to report to Arizona in the wake of Ellis' injury, said he was "shell-shocked" by the invitation.

"You don't think, after three weeks [of the offseason] you're gonna get a call and find yourself here in October," he said. "I'm just trying to stay out of things. These guys worked their butt off all year to get to this point. This is their season."

Kiger said he was heading back to Arizona after Sunday's workout. The player added to the roster won't join the club until the morning of Game 1 on Tuesday.

"Ultimately," Beane said, "we'll rely on the Minor League people who have seen these guys the most."

Ginter declared for Minor League free agency after Sacramento's season ended, but because he hasn't signed elsewhere and was in the A's organization on Aug. 31, he's eligible to replace Ellis if he signs a contract for 2007 before Tuesday.

Thomas shrugs off 'Comeback' snub: White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome, who batted .288 with 42 homers, 109 RBIs and a .598 slugging percentage this year, beat out A's DH Frank Thomas, who batted .270 with 39 homers, 114 RBIs and a .566 slugging percentage, in the online voting for American League Comeback Player of the Year.

Thomas seemed to have mixed feelings about the news.

"I'm kind of shocked, but I'm not really that shocked because [Thome] had a great year, too," he said. "I thought we both deserved the award, but I learned a lot of years ago that life isn't always fair. We both had good seasons. I guess he has more fans than I do."

Added Macha: "I think there were a lot of people in Chicago voting for Thome."

Dribblers: Zito joked that he and third baseman Eric Chavez, who suffered four consecutive first-round playoff exits from 2000-2003, might commemorate their first trip to the second round. "We're thinking of having 'ALCS' tattooed on our foreheads," he said. ... Macha said speed won't be a factor in deciding which infielder to add, noting that utilityman Hiram Bocachica will be the first pinch-runner off the bench. ... Macha also noted that backup catcher Adam Melhuse would probably be the first option at third base should Chavez go down or have to slide over to shortstop in an emergency. ... Most of the relievers on the active roster who didn't appear in the ALDS -- lefty Joe Kennedy and righties Kirk Saarloos and Chad Gaudin, along with non-roster lefties Brad Halsey and Ron Flores and righty Jay Witasick -- pitched in a simulated game after batting practice Sunday. Righty Joe Blanton, who won 16 games during the regular season and will serve as Oakland's long man in the ALCS should a starter get knocked out early, threw in the bullpen. ... Macha said the club's roster for the ALCS will be the same as it was for the ALDS with the exception of swapping the infielder in for Ellis.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.