Athletics

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

OAKLAND — Stephen Vogt made an unexpected appearance in left field Wednesday night, and his performance got approval from a pretty good outfield authority.

Former A’s teammate Josh Reddick was watching from the Houston Astros’ dugout and thought the catcher-by-trade handled himself very well.

“I was talking to (Houston manager) A.J. (Hinch) and I said, ‘It’s gonna be interesting because you know at least one ball’s gonna get to him,’” Reddick said. “You start laughing because four of the five that were hit that inning were hit to him.”

With the A’s bench short-handed, manager Bob Melvin sent Vogt to left after he pinch-hit for Rajai Davis, and indeed Vogt got a workout throughout the top of the eighth. That added a bit of levity to a 5-1 loss that otherwise provided the A’s very little to cheer about.

They were bottled up by Astros right-hander Mike Fiers and four relievers as the Astros won their ninth in a row at the Coliseum and their third straight in this four-game series. A’s starter Sean Manaea was rolling through five scoreless innings before Houston blitzed him for three runs in the sixth. The Astros tacked on a couple more late runs against Oakland’s bullpen and that was enough on a night the A’s mustered just four hits total.

After Vogt delivered an RBI groundout that scored the A’s only run in the seventh, Melvin wanted to keep Vogt’s left-handed bat in the lineup, so he asked the veteran catcher if he could handle left.

“I said yeah, absolutely,” Vogt said.

It’s easy to forget that Vogt came up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ system playing a lot of outfield, and he played more than a dozen games in the outfield in 2014 for the A’s, mostly in right.

He sure got tested. The Astros’ first four hitters of the eighth all hit balls in Vogt’s direction. He got a routine fly from Brian McCann, a difficult low liner off the bat of Yuli Gurriel that he smothered for a single, a double from Alex Bregman that he did a good job cutting off and a sacrifice fly to the warning track from Jake Marisnick.

“I had the adrenaline shot run up and I was loose and ready to go,” Vogt said. “Obviously I was a little more focused than probably your average outfielder out there. I’m glad the first one came to me, otherwise I would have been sweatin’ it for a while.”

Vogt has lost time recently behind the plate against right-handers to Josh Phegley, who has done an effective job controlling the running game. And though you shouldn’t by any means expect to see Melvin running Vogt to the outfield often, you also shouldn’t assume it won’t happen at all.

At some point, the A’s figure to call up catcher Bruce Maxwell as part of the crop of young players they’re trying to give more time too. If the left-handed hitting Maxwell were to share catching duties with Phegley, and if the A’s were to trade Yonder Alonso (again, we’re talking ‘ifs’ here), it’s conceivable Vogt’s left-handed bat could be put to use at spots other than catcher, perhaps at first base or, in a pinch, even the outfield.

His old teammate thinks he could pull it off.

“I remember him playing in right in ’14 when I was (injured),” Reddick said. “He did a pretty good job out there, it’s not like he’s foreign to it. He knows what he’s doing.”

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.

As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.

A’s manager Bob Melvin admits it’s probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.

“It’s just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more,” Melvin said. “The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up.”

As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team’s improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.

Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.

Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.

Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.

And then there’s Chapman. The A’s third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.

[RELATED: Chad Pinder making strong case to be in A's everyday lineup]

To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A’s improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

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AP

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

OAKLAND -- After Shawn Kelley's stellar stretch run with the A's last season, it seemed likely he would return to Oakland as a free agent.

The 34-year-old right-hander appeared in 19 games last August and September, registering a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. But while there was initially mutual interest in a reunion, the A's decided to go in a different direction and Kelley signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

"We talked from the very end of (the season) about getting something done," Kelley told NBC Sports California. "I think when they got (Joakim) Soria and gave him that money (two years, $15 million), my agent called right away because we were kind of worried. We had been talking to (A's general manager David) Forst. Both sides were like, 'Yeah, let's get something done.' When Soria signed, we kind of saw the writing on the wall. And then (Forst) wished me luck in whatever decision I made. He said, 'We spent a little on a couple of guys and so we wish you the best and thanks for everything you did coming over, but we're out of money.'"

Kelley says he carries no hard feelings toward his former squad, as he understands the business side of baseball. He still has a great relationship with his old teammates and manager.

"I talked to all the guys when they came to Texas and I talked to them (Tuesday)," Kelley said. "I went over and gave BoMel a big hug and told him, 'Man, I'm sorry. I wanted to be here. It just didn't work out.' That's part of it. It wasn't for a lack of effort. There was obviously genuine interest from me and definitely some genuine interest from their side. Things just go different ways sometimes in free agency."

Kelley has carried last year's success into this season with the Rangers. He is already 3-0 with a save and a 1.80 ERA, as well as a 0.80 WHIP. He has notched nine strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a single walk.

"It's been great," Kelley said. "It's a good group. It kind of reminds me of what we had over there last year (with the A's), as far as a good mix of young guys with some veterans, a lot of energy, and a lot of will to not give in and keep fighting. It's been a good experience."

Kelley is extremely thankful for the opportunity the A's gave him last season, especially after the Nationals let him go following his now infamous -- and probably overblown -- glove-slamming incident. He believes his time in Oakland rejuvenated his career.

[RELATED: Versatile Pinder forcing way into everyday starting role]

"I had fun when I went over there and saw a renewed energy and passion for just going out and having fun and enjoying it, and it not feeling like work every day," Kelley said. "It was a great experience. I loved it."

For now, Kelley is happy to be a Texas Ranger, although he doesn't rule out a return to Oakland down the road.

"Hey, you never know," he smiled. "One day, I may be back."