OAKLAND — A’s manager Bob Melvin spotted Joey Wendle during batting practice Friday and figured he should relay some important news to the rookie.
“You’re leading off today,” Melvin alerted him.
“Oh, I saw,” Wendle assured him with a smile.
Ready to contribute in any manner needed. That’s Wendle’s approach in the infant stages of his major league career.
He may not be the prototypical leadoff man, but he was one of the few bright spots for the A’s in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners. He shot an opposite-field single to left to open the bottom of the first and later singled up the middle for a two-out RBI in the fifth that got Oakland on the scoreboard.
Afterward, his debut atop the order got a thumbs-up from Melvin, who admitted before the game he’s searching for an effective leadoff man on a roster that doesn’t have an obvious candidate.
“We’ll use him in that leadoff spot for now,” the manager said of Wendle. “He did a good job.”
Overshadowed in the hype department by several of the A’s other high-quality infield prospects, the 25-year-old Wendle paid his dues to receive his first big league opportunity. He spent nearly two full seasons with Triple-A Nashville after being acquired in the deal that sent Brandon Moss to Cleveland.
Wendle led the Pacific Coast League in hits last season but word was his defense still needed some work. He returned to Nashville this season but got off to a very rough start at the plate. He was hitting .197 as late as May 25, but third baseman Ryon Healy, who spent time playing alongside Wendle with Nashville in the first half, said he never saw Wendle’s spirit get broken.
“Just talking with him, getting to know mentally where he was at, he was still very confident,” Healy said. “I think he kind of rode out the negativity of it and worked through it.”
Wendle gradually turned things around, saying he simply began stringing together more consistent, quality at-bats. He was hitting .335 since the Triple-A All-Star break when the A’s promoted him Aug. 31 upon their trade of Coco Crisp.
As for Wendle’s defense, Melvin has been very impressed so far, citing his good range, especially when Wendle has had to break to his left to corral a grounder.
“The reports were maybe (he was) more bat than field” when the A’s got him, Melvin said. “We look at our analytics, he’s plus-plus in the field. And we’re seeing that first hand now.”
Wendle is 6-for-21 (.286) with four RBI in seven games with the A’s. He’s come through with a couple of clutch hits, providing a spark for a team that’s averaging fewer than three runs over the past 13 games.
Incumbent second baseman Jed Lowrie will be working back from foot surgery next spring. Beyond him, a number of younger players could push for playing time at second, including Wendle, Chad Pinder, Max Muncy and perhaps Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect. And don’t forget about Eric Sogard, who’s missed the entire season because of knee surgery but is looking to make a healthy return in 2017.
Wendle isn’t getting caught up in the numbers’ game.
“Everybody’s out here, we all have separate roles, but for everybody, the role is to help the Athletics win baseball games. That’s what we’re all here for.”
Wendle is making the most of his time with the A’s, on and off the field. He and his wife, Lindsey, spent Thursday’s day off exploring San Francisco for the first time. They took a ferry ride and rode the cable cars.
It took some time to earn his first big league promotion, but to hear Wendle tell it, the journey was necessary.
“To be honest, I didn’t really play well enough to force the Athletics’ hand,” he said. “I think some players just develop at different rates. I’m thankful for my time in Triple-A. I definitely think it helped prepare me.”