In a tumultuous season for the A’s, one relative constant for manager Bob Melvin has emerged at the top of the lineup.
That has been the 1-2 combination of rookies Billy Burns and Mark Canha. Burns makes his 107th start in the leadoff spot Thursday against the Texas Rangers. Canha is hitting in the second spot for the 49th time, most on a team that has rotated players through the No. 2 spot for much of the season.
It’s one positive development from a lost season in Oakland: Burns wasn’t expected to contribute much at the major-league level this year and Canha was a Rule 5 draft pick the A’s intended to platoon at first base and in the outfield. Both, however, have emerged as everyday players and arguably the A’s most consistent hitters in the second half.
Burns enters Thursday hitting .297, leading A.L. rookies in hits (143) and stolen bases (26), and ranking second in runs (66). Canha is hitting .294 with 28 RBIs in his last 31 games and leads A.L. rookies in RBIs (66).
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Melvin has said both players are already staking claim to significant playing time next season -- but he indicated Thursday that they probably won’t be a regular 1-2 punch in 2016. Burns, Melvin said, "looks to be leadoff guy." But Canha’s spot in the lineup is less determined.
Melvin has hit Canha fourth without hesitation at times in the second half, and he said Thursday the right-hander "can hit anywhere in the lineup." That Canha has constantly batted second recently is as much a product of circumstance as his numbers. The A’s might prefer the speed and on-base combination of Burns and Coco Crisp atop the lineup, but Crisp has been injured most of the season and hasn’t hit much when healthy.
That could still be a look, though, the A’s try next season, when Crisp is presumably back healthy enough to make regular starts. Canha’s numbers the last month show he can drive in runs for the A’s, who as a result wouldn’t mind seeing him up in more situations with runners on base.
"He’s versatile where he can hit in the lineup," Melvin said of Canha. "But I wouldn’t say he’s going to be a number two hitters his whole career. I think he’s a guy that can hit in the middle of the lineup, and be a serious run producer."
Thursday, at least, Canha remains in the No. 2 spot. The A’s lineup does not feature Stephen Vogt, who made his first start in the field Wednesday night at first base since taking a foul ball to the groin area on Sept. 6. Melvin, though, said his plan is to catch Vogt on Friday night in the series opener against the Giants.
"He wants to get back there with Sonny (Gray)," Melvin said. "I think the fact that he did play a full game yesterday, we’ll give him a little bit of a break today. I think all things point to him being ready for tomorrow’s game."
So it’s rookie Carson Blair catching Chris Bassitt in the right-hander’s first outing since Aug. 26. Bassitt, who has missed time with a shoulder strain, will be on a lower pitch count than normal Thursday, Melvin said, but he didn’t reveal the number.
The A’s lineup behind Bassitt:
And the Texas Rangers’ lineup behind left-hander Cole Hamels:
* Another day, another award for Vogt. After being named the recipient of this year’s Dave Stewart Award for community service on Wednesday, Vogt on Thursday was announced as the recipient of this year’s Jim "Catfish" Hunter Award, probably the most prestigious recognition given out by the A’s.
The Hunter Award recognizes an A’s player for both play on the field and conduct in the clubhouse and is voted on by teammates, coaches and A’s staff. Vogt becomes the first player to win the award in back-to-back years, and the second to win it twice (also Mark Ellis in 2005 and 2007).
"In a season when things haven’t gone your way, to handle yourself the way he has is exceptional," Melvin said. "It’s really what you find out about people in the clubhouse that goes along with this award. The right man got it."
Vogt was named an All-Star for the first time this season via player balloting and enters Thursday hitting .267 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs. He will be honored for the Hunter Award in a pregame ceremony Friday. Along with the Dave Stewart Award, Vogt is also the A’s nominee for MLB’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.
"I think this one’s the biggest to me," Vogt said. "It’s the one your teammates vote for you. I’m honored to win it. It’s just really cool to have your teammates and your peers think of you in that regard."
* A couple other short notes: Melvin said reliever Edward Mujica (hamstring) threw off of a mound Wednesday for the first time since his injury and hopes to pitch again this season. Also, Melvin said infielder Max Muncy intends to play winter ball in Mexico and get time in the outfield and at second base, hoping to increase his versatility.
The A’s are trying to avoid the ignominy of locking up last place in the A.L. West on Thursday. They’ve already clinched at least a share, and with a loss to the Rangers would assure themselves sole possession of the cellar.