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  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / Bee file, 2012

    Jemile Weeks (2), now with the River Cats, was a first-round pick of the A's in 2008 and hit .303 as a rookie in 2011.

  • Jemile Weeks

Weeks gives center field a try for River Cats

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 4:59 pm

Jemile Weeks posted the following message to his Twitter account late Sunday night: "Centerfield is not bad, I enjoy the new challenge. Just pushing to be the best i can be and 'not let the changes break me but HELP me.' "

He followed it with another message: "Love the challenge though."

Weeks, the onetime second baseman of the A's, made his third consecutive start in center field for the Triple-A River Cats on Monday night before leaving the game for precautionary reasons after being hit by a pitch on the right foot in the third inning. His first start in center field on Saturday was the first of his professional career and, Weeks said Monday, his first at any level.

"Felt pretty good," Weeks said. "It was a relief just to get behind (the first fly ball) and actually make that first catch, kind of an 'OK, here we go' type of feeling. Came a little more natural after that."

Weeks said the idea of trying the outfield was first suggested by the A's earlier this year. Until this season, Weeks had played exclusively second base since the A's made him a first-round pick in 2008. But the presence of Grant Green, Andy Parrino and Hiroyuki Nakajima in the River Cats infield creates few at-bats, and Weeks has started 30 games already this season at designated hitter.

"I was willing to try it since I wasn't getting a lot of playing time in the infield," Weeks said. "And I want to be out there on the field to help affect the game in other ways than just the bat."

River Cats manager Steve Scarsone said Weeks originally "was not overly excited about the prospect," but opted to "give it a run" after the idea was broached again a few weeks ago. Weeks began taking outfield work at the beginning of the team's current homestand, said Scarsone. He handled all 10 of his putout chances in his first two games as an outfielder.

"A couple were a little bit of a run in the gaps, and I really feel like his jumps were right on and he took good angles toward the ball, good routes," Scarsone said. "We've been impressed."

Scarsone said Weeks will still see time in the infield and at DH, but the plan is to "pile a couple games (in center) back to back so he has some repetition to build off of while it's still fresh and new." Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson recently was in town working with River Cats players, and Weeks picked his brain on some of the nuances of outfield play.

"He was just telling me to make sure I always get behind the baseball, error on the side of aggression early on, make sure I hit my (cutoff man)," Weeks said.

Monday, Weeks handled the first two outs of the game, drifting to his right for the first and coming in on a high, shallower fly ball to make a one-handed catch for the second. A's manager Bob Melvin said this weekend he believes that, "Athletically, (Weeks) could probably play anywhere in the outfield." Weeks said he, too, feels aspects of his game translate to center.

It wasn't long ago that Weeks seemed entrenched at second base in Oakland as an exciting and speedy leadoff hitter who batted .303 in 97 games as a rookie in 2011 with 22 stolen bases. But those numbers plummeted in his second season, and Weeks was hitting just .220 when the A's sent him to Triple-A last August.

Weeks came to spring training this year ostensibly trying to win his job back, but a right shoulder bruise early in camp hampered those plans, and he started the season in Triple A. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported the A's are open to trading Weeks, who began Monday hitting .264 with a .382 on-base percentage and 11 steals in 12 tries.

Weeks has said his struggles last season were mostly mental, and that he tinkered too often with his swing while experiencing failures to an extent that was largely new to him.

"Right now I'm good," he said Monday. "I'm just at a point where I'm up for the challenge. On top of that, I'm at a point where I still believe I have major-league opportunity in me. So I'm tinkering with things to make sure when I do get that call, I'm prepared."

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

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