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Geren clears air with Fuentes ... how about rest of A's?

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Forget Brad Pitt and Moneyball. Hollywood really wants an interesting Athletics flick? Quick, go cast somebody for Bob Geren and Brian Fuentes.

Maybe as themselves?

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It's May 24, and Oakland's season is flapping in the wind like underwear on a clothesline.

Fuentes, the loquacious now-former closer, blasted his manager Monday for poor communication and "unorthodox managing." The two talked Tuesday, Fuentes said he apologized for squawking to reporters and both men said they were over it.

The team, it's evident, is not.

You can't stuff words back into a throat once they're out, and in the subdued clubhouse of a team dragging a six-game losing streak into Tuesday's game, it was clear this club subscribes to many of Fuentes' words.

"I think anybody can construe it any way they want but, in the end, whether it's the bullpen or the [position] players, I think we all want to know what situation you're going to be used in," reliever Michael Wuertz told CBSSports.com. "Bullpen roles, going into a series saying, 'Here, this is what it's going to be.' Position players probably feel the same way.

"It's hard to communicate with a 25-man roster. But in the end, what makes good teams good is that everybody knows what they're doing, everybody knows to be ready for certain situations. A player will pinch-hit here. Players who know they're going to be playing a couple of days in advance.

"But, it's our job to take care of business."

Even when attempting to clean this mess up, the communication was poor and the disconnect was clear.

Fuentes said he and his manager spoke when they passed each other in the clubhouse and "we both knew it needed to be discussed."

Geren said he asked Fuentes to come into the manager's office, saying, "I told him I'd like to speak with him."

Once there, Geren said, he told Fuentes that "until he strings together a few good outings, I would stay with Balfour [as closer] right now for the short term."

Which was a development Balfour was unaware of Tuesday afternoon.

"I kind of know when I'm going to pitch," Balfour said. "I haven't been told if I'm the closer. Right now, I'm thinking I'll probably pitch the eighth inning tonight, you know? Nobody's told me any differently. ...

"You like to know your role, you know? If it's a closer-by-committee, let us know. It's nice to know. But I can't say I have any problem. So far, I've consistently pitched in the eighth.

"If that changes, maybe he'll tell us. Maybe he won't. That's his personality. He doesn't really communicate with the players. Everyone's different. Maybe you've got to approach him."

Bob Geren claims there's no communication problem, but some A's would like to see him offer more than postgame 'attaboys.' (Getty Images)  
Bob Geren claims there's no communication problem, but some A's would like to see him offer more than postgame 'attaboys.' (Getty Images)  
Sources inside the Athletics clubhouse say the lack of communication is endemic, with few players understanding moves or their roles. Outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus were supposed to comprise a consistent middle of the order, yet two people pointed to Willingham and DeJesus each sitting for two games in a three-game stretch since May 20. Another person noted that Willingham sat Monday in Anaheim after homering Sunday in San Francisco.

"Guys start to hit, and it's almost like, we'll put him into a slump," one player said.

Make no mistake, the last-place A's are struggling and Geren, in his fifth season as manager, is trying to get them going. DeJesus is hitting .232 with two home runs and 14 RBI, Willingham .233 with seven homers and a team-leading 26 RBI.

And Fuentes (1-7) has been tagged with the loss in each of his past four appearances. He is the first reliever in Oakland history to suffer that ignominy and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first reliever to suffer seven losses before June 1 since Gene Garber with Atlanta in 1979.

"I don't think there are any issues that way, not at all," Geren said of the communication gap. "I speak to about all of the players every day."

The flip side is, how much nurturing do major-league players need? In the old days, a manager said pitch, you pitched. Didn't matter if it was the fifth, seventh or ninth inning.

"You can't say what [Fuentes] said, period," legendary Oakland Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley said Tuesday on Sportsradio 95.7 FM, the Athletics' flagship station. "He's been around the big leagues too long to act like that.

"He makes a ton of money, and he's not the greatest closer in the universe. So zip it."

Added Eckersley: "If I'm the manager, he's in my office. If that was [Tony] La Russa, are you kidding me? He'd chop my head off. I would make a formal apology."

Fuentes, who signed a two-year, $10.5 million deal in January, made no public apology to his manager, and Geren said he saw no need to call a team meeting.

"I think it's something Brian and I needed to straighten out," Geren said. "I don't think it's necessary to pull anybody else into it."

Maybe.

"It was said, and I can't speak for everybody else in the clubhouse -- how many guys really do feel that way? How many don't? -- but that's why you have team meetings," Wuertz said. "I played for Lou Piniella [with the Cubs] and he hated team meetings. You always hear about players' [only] meetings.

"I think, eventually, something's got to happen. If we do it as players, or if he does it as manager, to clear the air, get it off our chests.

"Because we're underachieving."

Whether Fuentes or Balfour closes soon will become a moot point when All-Star Andrew Bailey returns from a forearm strain, probably within a week.

Whether the A's, three games behind first-place Texas, slide any further back with starters Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross on the disabled list is problematic.

As one player said grimly, "It's make or break time."

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