The lone baserunner allowed by A’s right-hander Chris Bassitt in his spring debut Saturday was not on the bases for long. Following a two-out single, the Angels’ Efren Navarro tried to steal second base and was thrown out by a considerable margin by catcher Josh Phegley – to little surprise from Bassitt.
“I was expecting it, honestly,” Bassitt said afterward. “If he didn’t throw him out, I would have been mad at him.”
Though Navarro isn’t a speedster, Bassitt’s comment more reflected his estimation of Phegley, who with Bassitt was part of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox in December. Bassitt calls Phegley “one of the best defensive catchers I’ve ever played with,” and the A’s hope Bassitt proves a good judge of talent.
The A’s are targeting Phegley for their Opening Day roster to share time behind the plate with Stephen Vogt. Phegley, 27, has a reputation for having a strong throwing arm – a valuable tool for a team that struggled against opponents’ running games in 2014 – and the desire to use it.
“Guys get on first base,” Phegley said, “I’m hoping they take off.”
Last season, the A’s threw out just 22 percent of would-be base-stealers, third-lowest in the American League. That problem was exposed on national TV in the A.L. wild-card game, when the Kansas City Royals stole seven bases to help rally from a late deficit.
Manager Bob Melvin said his catchers weren’t solely responsible for last year’s numbers. A’s pitchers were at times just as culpable – wild-card game starter Jon Lester, for example, is known to be slow to the plate – and there also were injuries at the catching position throughout the season.
Derek Norris and John Jaso were traded over the offseason and Geovany Soto departed in free agency, leaving Vogt, who caught just 15 games last season and is coming back from foot surgery, as the lone returning catcher. The A’s want a right-handed hitter to platoon with Vogt, giving Phegley a good shot at making his first Opening Day roster.
Phegley welcomed the trade, saying he was “looking to take my career in a different direction” after last season. The White Sox had committed to Tyler Flowers as their everyday catcher, and Phegley wanted “a change of scenery.”
“They had seen what I brought to the table as far as how I play, and there was just some difference in opinion. I wasn’t the guy they were looking for,” he said. “So I was just hoping to go to a team that would want my particular skill set a little more.”
In A’s camp, Phegley has been working with Marcus Jensen, the former catcher and now the A’s assistant hitting coach. Phegley said he used to move his head a lot receiving pitches, leading to frequent drops, so he has worked in recent years to keep still and move only his glove. But that restricted his range, so now he’s trying to find a “happy medium.”
“He’s been known as a good catch-and-throw guy, (but) his blocking skills have been real good, real solid as well,” Jensen said. “The arm strength is a bonus, but you have to have quick feet, and he’s a lower-center-of-gravity guy, which allows for the quickness.”
Jensen said Phegley has been a receptive learner, and Melvin said over the weekend that his early impression of Phegley’s defense has been “really good.”
“We thought maybe the catching portion of it was a little bit of a concern,” Melvin said. “But Marcus did a good job freeing up his hands, he looks really smooth and really soft with his hands. And on top of that, he throws the ball well.”
Notable outings – Sonny Gray allowed two runs on five hits in 21/3 innings in his spring debut in the A’s 6-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. Gray, a top candidate to start Opening Day, said he was missing low with his sinker but that he “felt great body-wise and overall, so that’s a huge positive.”
Left-hander Barry Zito also allowed two runs in 22/3 innings in his second spring outing. Zito pitched two scoreless innings before Jake Lamb homered to lead off the sixth and Zito walked Yasmany Tomas, who later scored on a groundout.
Zito said he “just lost a little focus” in his final inning. Melvin said Zito appeared to leave more pitches up in the sixth, “but probably his first two innings, best stuff we’ve seen out of him.”
Crisp update – Melvin said an MRI on Coco Crisp’s right arm showed no structural problems. Crisp left Sunday’s game with a triceps strain. “It’s going to be a few days, but nothing in there that we’re structurally worried about,” Melvin said.