Hitters playing small, long ball

Published: Saturday, Apr. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 9:24 am

OAKLAND – Brandon Moss came up in his final at-bat Wednesday in Los Angeles knowing he needed a double for the cycle. And yes, he said, he wanted that double. With the A's up by six in the ninth inning, and Moss in a full count, a swing would have been understandable, even expected. Moss looked at ball four.

As a younger player, the A's first baseman said Friday, "I wouldn't have gotten to three balls." Last year, he said he might have swung early, too, but for a different reason than youthful exuberance.

"There were a lot of times last year when even when I didn't feel right, I would go up there and try to do too much," Moss said. "This year, the thing I'm trying to cut down on is when I don't feel right, you just have to lock in and grind out at-bats for the team.

"You can't go up hacking at three straight pitches just because you're trying to (be aggressive and hit the ball hard). Try to hit a single, try to find a hole, try to get on base, try to win a game."

Returning Friday from a trip on which Oakland swept the struggling Astros and the touted Angels, A's manager Bob Melvin and hitting coach Chili Davis said it seemed other hitters on the team were thinking along similar lines through the first 10 games.

Before Friday night's 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in 12 innings, the A's had jumped out to the American League's best record behind an offense that led the majors in nearly every major category, including runs (66), hits (103), extra-base hits (45) and walks (39). This despite relatively quiet starts from Yoenis Cespedes (.211) and Josh Donaldson (.231), and Josh Reddick, the club's home run leader last year, missing three games with a wrist injury.

"We're getting great at-bats right now," Melvin said before the game. "It's only a 10-game snapshot to this point, but after the first two games, we've been not only very timely, but the at-bats have been good. Even if we haven't scored early in games, we're making pitchers work and taking advantage of it a little bit later."

No team had more at-bats before Friday with runners in scoring position than the A's (96), and their .302 average in those situations ranked seventh in baseball. That average rose to .347 with two outs. Notably, a team that led the majors in strikeouts last season had struck out just 13 times – and drawn 21 walks – with a man on second or third.

During spring training, Davis emphasized more conservative approaches with two strikes to try to cut down on the unproductive outs. So the fact that the A's were striking out at the second-lowest rate in baseball (14.2 percent of plate appearances) through the first 10 games showed progress – right?

"Are they?" Davis said. "That's good."

Davis said his impression has been less about strikeouts and more about execution.

"I'm seeing guys bear down with runners in scoring position," Davis said. "More focused at-bats, guys sticking their nose on the baseball, staying on pitches. The focus was there in spring training,; the focus is there now. But it's not about home runs. I think a lot of people expected us to come in here and be a homer-type team. No, guys are just squaring the ball up, just taking what they can get."

But surely Davis was aware that the A's, who hit the most home runs in baseball in the second half last year, again led the majors entering Friday with 18 – matching the most ever by an A's team in its first 10 games?

"I didn't know," Davis said. "I just look at performance, man."

Along with Moss (.367, team-high 10 RBIs before Friday), the A's saw torrid starts by Coco Crisp (.318, four homers), Jed Lowrie (.410, three homers) and Seth Smith (11 for 22, six doubles), among others.

"You can feel the energy right now," Davis said. "The energy we had last year … is carrying over into the beginning of this year."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball/. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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