OAKLAND -- A's shortstop Cliff Pennington has been one of the weaker bats in a lineup that, before the team's recent offensive surge, has struggled mightily for most of the season. The 28-year-old is hitting just .222 for the year with a .282 on-base percentage.
But just as Oakland's offense has heated up in the last two weeks, averaging 6.4 runs over the team's past 14 games, Pennington, too, has been swinging a better bat. He's hitting .375 with six extra-base hits in his last 11 games after going 3-for-41 in the 13 games before that.
In the first two games of the series against San Diego, Pennington, who's mostly hit last in the order, has reached base in seven of eight plate appearances, including a 3-for-3, two-RBI performance on his birthday Friday. A's manager Bob Melvin said on Sunday that the shortstop's recent success has helped the whole lineup.
"He's a guy that we expect to produce," Melvin said. "He's done it in the two-hole, and he can do it down in the lineup, too. When you have a guy doing that in the nine-spot, your lineup's pretty deep, and at this point in time, the way we're swinging the bats now, we are a deep lineup.
"We feel like we have a chance to score every inning, not just at the top of the lineup or [when] the middle of the order's up."
Melvin said Pennington works as hard as any other player on the team but that sometimes he may put a little too much pressure on himself to perform, which has led to his hitting struggles. But Pennington compensates with steady defense.
"As far as the streaks go, sometimes you talk yourself into those, but he always brings his glove," Melvin said. "At shortstop, that's very important. Depending on the makeup of your team, your roster, some teams do rely on their shortstops to be production guys, but first and foremost he's a defender for us and a leader in the infield."
A's send down Ross, call up reliever Figueroa
OAKLAND -- Right-hander Tyson Ross gave the A's "all we expected and more" in his start on Saturday, in the words of manager Bob Melvin, but with no spot in the rotation, the team optioned Ross back to Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday. Left-handed reliever Pedro Figueroa was called up to replace him.
Ross allowed just one hit -- a home run by San Diego's Carlos Quentin -- over six innings and received a no-decision in Oakland's 6-4 win Saturday. Ross was starting in place of Brandon McCarthy, who's been sidelined with shoulder soreness, but McCarthy appears ready to rejoin the rotation on Tuesday.
"Certainly made it a little bit difficult on us to send him down, giving up only one hit," Melvin said. "Did a lot of the things that we've wanted him to work on. Maybe the ball-strike ratio wasn't his best, but certainly the performance ended up being great. Gave us a chance to win."
Figueroa, 26, was previously with Oakland from April 21 to May 22. While he had a 2.00 ERA in eight games, the lefty also walked nine batters in his nine innings. In seven games for Sacramento since being sent down, Figueroa has recorded a 3.18 ERA and has shown improved control. Melvin said the team chose him specifically for a callup based on the advice of the organization's development staff.
A's manager Bob Melvin reiterated on Sunday that right-hander Ryan Cook will be his first option in the ninth inning, but he also won't hesitate to use Cook earlier in the game should a situation require it.
Reliever Jordan Norberto, out since June 4 with a strained shoulder, was scheduled to throw a bullpen session before the game against the Padres on Sunday. The left-hander is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy was also scheduled to throw a bullpen and is expected to start Tuesday.
Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.