Matt Olson

Mark Canha's defensive versatility key for A's in Matt Olson's absence

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AP

Mark Canha's defensive versatility key for A's in Matt Olson's absence

OAKLAND – Chad Pinder gets a lot of credit for being the A's most versatile player, but don't forget about Mark Canha.

The 30-year-old Cal product can play first base, third base and all three outfield positions. He likely will get playing time at most, if not all, of those positions this season.

"I think it's mental as much as anything," Canha said of his ability to play multiple positions. "It's a matter of doing the work, but it's also kind of just staying fresh and taking mental reps during the game. ... Doing that kind of physical and mental preparation, you get in there and it becomes second nature."

It's not just that Canha can play a handful of positions – he plays them at a high level. He didn't commit a single error in 122 games last season.

With Matt Olson out the next several weeks with a hand injury, Canha will likely get extra time at first base, platooning with the newly-acquired Kendrys Morales.

"I'm confident (defensively)," Canha told NBC Sports California. "I work on everything. I'm still taking reps in the outfield. I'm still doing my work at first. Just kind of staying on top of everything like I always do."

Last season, Canha tore up left-handed pitching to the tune of a .282/.337/.604 slash line with 13 home runs in 149 at-bats. But don't be fooled – he can do damage against right-handed pitching as well.

"I think when I'm going good I hit them both," Canha said. "The other night in San Francisco, I had a double and a home run off Jeff Samardzija. So, I can hit them both. It doesn't matter. It's just a matter of finding my rhythm. ... That's a big part of it for me, just staying locked in and being ready whenever my number is called."

Case in point, Canha will start in center field Saturday night against Angels right-hander Félix Peña, giving Ramón Laureano a night off. Laureano has struggled to start the season, going 2-for-17 with nine strikeouts.

[RELATED: Profar already fitting in on and off the field for A's]

Canha has also proven to be a vocal leader in the clubhouse and his on-field energy is infectious. He credits the entire roster for the team's great chemistry. 

"There's that energy, there's that good vibe in here," he said. "The excitement, youth, energy, however you want to describe it, that's certainly here."

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

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USATSI

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

OAKLAND – It really was a freak injury. One swing of the bat, a seemingly inconsequential foul ball.

But during Thursday's loss to the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Matt Olson knew right away something was wrong.

"I generally have a pretty high pain tolerance," the A's first baseman said Sunday. "I couldn't grip the bat when I came back (to the dugout) so I knew something was up."

It turned out Olson had fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He underwent hamate excision surgery Friday in Los Angeles, and will be out indefinitely.

"It sucks," Olson admitted. "The timing of it is good and bad. Good because I get five or six days here to get ahead, but it sucks because it's the beginning of the year and you work all offseason to get to this point."

A's manager Bob Melvin added: "There are certain guys who you feel like are a little more replaceable than others. He's a tough one. ... He makes everybody in the infield better. All you've got to do is get it over in his direction. He's got a wide wingspan and he picks everything out of the dirt.

"It's tough not having him out there, but that's why we have a Mark Canha, a (Jurickson) Profar, and a Chad Pinder. It gives somebody else an opportunity."

Olson was not given a timetable for his return, but he noted a wide variance in other players with the same injury, anywhere from four to eight weeks. While he's obviously disappointed, he believes the team can survive without him.

"We've got guys -- Canha, Pinder, (Franklin) Barreto, and Profar -- all of those guys are very established and have good at-bats," Olson said. "They're guys who are going to get more at-bats because of it. I don't think it's a bad thing. It sucks for me, but I'm glad these guys are going to get a little more regular playing time."

[RELATED: A's have options at first base in light of Olson injury]

Although he hasn't missed any games yet, Olson joked he has already experienced the effects of sporting a cast on his right hand in his everyday life.

"I had to go to the store today to get stuff for my apartment. I got a ton of stuff. Then I got to the apartment complex, and thought I was going to have to make like five trips because I can only carry things with one hand," he laughed.

As Olson adjusts to life with just one functional hand, the A's must adjust to life without Olson's powerful bat in the lineup and his slick glove in the field. In both cases, it will be a difficult process.

What Matt Olson injury means for A's offense, defense at first base

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AP/USATSI

What Matt Olson injury means for A's offense, defense at first base

The A's fears became a reality Friday when Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson had to undergo surgery on his right hand.

No timetable has been provided for Olson's return, but a 2018 article in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine which studied similar procedures suggests he will likely miss three to seven weeks.

This is obviously a huge loss for Oakland. Beyond Olson's terrific defense, the 24-year-old provided tremendous power in the middle of the lineup.

Last season, Olson slashed .247/.335/.453 with 29 home runs and 84 RBI. That production won't be easy to replace, but the A's do have some reasonable options.

Platoon players Mark Canha and Chad Pinder can both play first base, and carry plenty of power in their bats. Canha clubbed 17 home runs and 22 doubles last year in just 365 at-bats. Pinder, meanwhile, hit 28 homers in 580 at-bats over the last two seasons.

Another option for the A's is to move Jurickson Profar to first base -- where he played 24 games last year -- and start Franklin Barreto at second. Barreto is coming off a terrific spring, hitting .375 (12-for-32) with a home run, four doubles, three RBI, five walks, and eight runs scored.

Barreto now has a great chance to make the 25-man roster in Olson's place. The 23-year-old has long been considered one of the A's top prospects, but has never had a chance to get consistent playing time in the big leagues. Oakland moved him from second base to the outfield this spring, but now a return to second makes sense.

[RELATED: Can A's regroup after rough beginning to season?]

The A's are fortunate to have enough offensive depth to survive the loss of Olson, but the biggest impact will likely show up on defense. Olson's height and scooping ability at first base will be incredibly hard to replace.

Nonetheless, Oakland showed the ability to overcome injury adversity last season. The A's just have to do it again this year.