Melvin ready to turn guys loose to see what they do

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 - 12:27 am | Page 2C

PHOENIX – It's too much to say that baseball becomes real today with the start of the Cactus League for the A's.

It's not too much to say that the level of baseball gets pushed up several notches, however, as the competition for regular-season jobs begins in earnest with a road game in Maryvale against Milwaukee.

Will John Jaso be the starting catcher? Will Scott Sizemore have many chances as the designated hitter after doing it today?

Will anyone supplant Brandon Moss at first base and Josh Donaldson at third base?

These questions and more will play out over the course of the next five weeks in the lead-up to the regular season.

"Don't play too much into this lineup," manager Bob Melvin said Friday. "You've got to stagger it, have at least four starters in every game."

What Melvin wants to do is to turn his players loose, at least to some degree, and have them show what they do best and don't do best.

"You try to put guys in situations to see what they can do, especially guys you don't know," Melvin said.

Among those will be Hiroyuki Nakajima, new to North America after a career in Japan; Jaso, who was with Seattle in 2012; and Jed Lowrie, a shortstop who has played in Boston and Houston and who is now being asked to play second base and third base in addition to short.

Second base will be the most hotly contested position with Jemile Weeks, Lowrie, Sizemore, Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard all looking to catch Melvin's eye.

"Performance in games is all you have to go on," the manager said. "Sure, some have track records, but now you get a chance to see guys when they know they're in competition."

The lineup: Weeks, second base; Nakajima, shortstop; Josh Reddick, right field; Moss, first base; Seth Smith, left field; Chris Young, center field; Jaso, catcher; Donaldson, third base; Sizemore, DH.

Jesse Chavez will start and is scheduled for two innings or 35 pitches. Those totals will be the same for the next two games when Travis Blackley, then Andrew Werner will get the starts.

Notes – Yoenis Cespedes told Melvin he was going to homer off him during batting practice – with a doughnut weight still attached. He did, and on the first try. "I think it was borderline taunting," Melvin said good-naturedly. "He was like Babe Ruth, calling his shot."

• Starter Tommy Milone and reliever Pat Neshek were the only two pitchers to face hitters. The A's are trying to limit the number of throws made by their returnees from last year. Most starters will not appear in the first week of the Cactus League season.

• Melvin, who has worked in the past with Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, hasn't learned much Japanese. The one phrase he has learned is "Wakarimasu ka." It means "do you understand?" "It's a key one; it comes in handy," the manager said.

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