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Five Quick Questions - Yamamura

This week's edition of Five Quick Questions features Kevin Yamamura, formerly the A's beat writer for the Sacramento Bee. Kevin is actually leaving the beat, and he's taking the time to share some insights here in AN.

Kevin used to be a big Giants fan, but after hanging around the A's for a couple of seasons, I think AN may officially have a convert.

Without further ado, here's Kevin's FQQ:

1. What do you think is the major problem with Barry Zito? He seems to keep saying it's confidence, but do you think the league has figured him out? Has anyone ever asked him why it takes him until at least the third inning nearly every game to break out his curve ball? Is he just unlucky this season? This is probably the biggest mystery in Athletics Nation right now.

The list of reasons grows game by game: lack of confidence, being too fresh early, tipping his pitches, poor mechanics, missing Rick Peterson, not locating his curve, weaker changeup, and on and on. Every time he thinks he's found The Reason, he tries to adjust. But nothing's really worked. Some of the old reasons we heard in April (tipping his pitches) are cropping up once again. It might not be fair to say that Rick Peterson would, in fact, have been the answer, but you look at that Mets pitching staff now, and you've got to wonder whether things wouldn't be different for Zito. If anyone on that staff were to miss Peterson, it would have to be him, considering how Mulder and Hudson seem unfazed by almost anything.

2. The A's are in unfamiliar territory right now, sitting on top of the AL West heading into the All Star break. And they've done it without Eric Chavez for a month, Tim Hudson for a couple of weeks and a bullpen that has just been awful. What do you think are some of the key reasons why the A's have done so well despite these unexpected occurences?

I think the A's are doing what they've done every recent season, so perhaps they're only on top of the A.L. West because none of their division rivals has jumped out to a dramatic lead as before. Consider that the A's in 2003 had the same 46-35 mark at the halfway point as this season, as well as in 2000 and 2002. Now as to answer why the A's can still pull off a decent first-half start despite key injuries and a bad bullpen, you can point to luck (Kirk Saarloos' five SHO innings) and a few players who have stepped up in Chavez's absence. Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay went on a tear in June after Chavez's hand was broken. Dye hit six HRs in June after hitting only two in May. The bullpen has blown several games in recent weeks, but perhaps that only proved that the A's should be better than their 46-35 record showed (the equivalent of a 92-win season).

3. Who are the best A's to interview? Who are the easiest to work with? Would you classify any of them as being difficult to work with (you don't have to name names)? Do you have any funny or interesting stories you can share from around the clubhouse?

Most of the guys are easy to work with, particularly compared to some of the other clubhouses. I've particularly enjoyed Bobby Crosby, who agreed to meet me last winter in Long Beach for a profile and has made every effort this season to make himself available. He's got a ton of energy, he's polite and he's never refused to talk to reporters, even after the toughest of games. Chavez, of course, is a media favorite because he gives honest assessments and great quotes. Kotsay has been a welcome addition. Hudson plays the leader role well. I could go on and on, really. As for the flip side, some players who feel like they've been isolated from the team's success can be more difficult, which seems natural. No funny stories in particular, but when Chavez bought a full-size retro arcade machine a couple months ago, it was amusing to watch grown men hover around, playing the old "Track and Field" game and punching buttons in rapid succession like neighborhood kids at a pizza parlor.

4. Since I know that you were a baseball fan before you started this beat, what affect has being around the Oakland Athletics on a regular basis had on your outlook on the sport?

I appreciate the sport, as a whole, much more. And by the same token, I have a new appreciation for the American League (I was, as you know, a lifelong Giants fan, but don't hold that against me). I will say, however, that it has dampened my love of the sport. I used to go to the ballpark to relax, but when it becomes your workplace, you can't really use it as an outlet anymore. I'm going back to covering state politics for the Bee starting this month, so hopefully I can be a baseball fan again.

5. I've asked this of a few other A's beat reporters, but do you think Billy Beane has anything else up his sleeve heading toward the July 31st trading deadline? Will he make another move in the pen, or try to secure another bat?

Beane's sleeves are never empty. As much as he says the trade deadline is an "artificial date," I think this one could go down to the wire because so many teams are still in contention. The Brewers, for instance, are only one game back of the presumed N.L. World Series entry Chicago Cubs. And even the Astros, buyers last month, could become sellers if they remain deep in fifth place through July. There has been talk of trying to unload Rhodes and Karros, but their contracts are problematic. The bullpen has plenty of holes, even more so with the recent round of injuries, so more help there could do some good. Another bat always seems like a luxury for the pitching-heavy A's, but then again, Beane last season rented Jose Guillen at the deadline.

Thank you, Kevin. We greatly appreciate your time. I can almost see Hudson and Mulder pounding away on the buttons to Track and Field now. Man, I loved that game.