For A's Donaldson, switch to third base begins to pay off

05/03/2013 12:00 AM

05/05/2013 2:48 PM

OAKLAND – As thrilled as Luke Montz was over his first big-league call-up since 2008, the news Wednesday might have been just as welcome to new A's teammate Josh Donaldson. For now, the presence of another catcher on the A's roster probably means no more moments like the seventh inning last Sunday, when Derek Norris pinch hit for starting catcher John Jaso, leaving Donaldson next in line to catch behind Norris.

"I kind of reluctantly went to one of the bat boys and was like, 'Hey, can you go tell one of them to run up (to the clubhouse) and get my catching gear?' – just in case something happens," Donaldson said.

Donaldson toted that gear from the day he was drafted in 2007 until last spring, when the A's, needing a third baseman, decided to give Donaldson a try.

Even though Donaldson will bring the gear on the A's 10-game trip that begins today in New York against the Yankees, he's still an emergency option at catcher, manager Bob Melvin said this week.

"But we like what Josh is doing over at third," Melvin added. "Hate to have to put him behind the plate."

While a late-April hitting stretch earned Donaldson the American League Player of the Week honors announced Monday, it's his consistent defense at third that often gets noticed, especially for a player who before last season hadn't been a regular there since college.

Already this season Donaldson has a couple of highlight-reel catches ranging into foul territory behind third base. In Monday's game against the Angels, he robbed Albert Pujols of a hit with a backhanded stab in the fourth inning, leapt to his backhand side to snare a Howie Kendrick line drive in the eighth and, in the 19th inning, made arguably the play of the game by charging a Mark Trumbo roller, fielding with his bare hand and flipping a throw to first base.

On Tuesday night, he ranged far to his left for a grounder, wheeled – and sailed a throw about 10 feet above the head of first baseman Brandon Moss.

It's all part of an ongoing reacquaintance with the position for Donaldson, who bounced between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento last season before joining the A's for good in mid-August.

Donaldson batted .290 in his final 47 games as a regular. But what impressed Melvin was how Donaldson, when not hitting so well earlier in the year, didn't carry those struggles with him onto the field.

"His defensive numbers at the end of the season were very good," Melvin said of Donaldson, who made 12 errors in 71 games at third. "He brought that into spring, worked as hard as he did last year when he had to move, and continues to work hard."

A's infield coach Mike Gallego recalled times last spring when he had to coax Donaldson off the practice field. He said Donaldson has since made his pregame defensive routine more "about quality, not about quantity," but still plays each repetition "almost game speed," and unlike some infielders prefers to throw to a base rather than back to the fungo hitter, which drills his footwork.

"He's one of those Little League ball hogs, if you want to call it that," Gallego said. "He wants every ball hit to him. There's no fear in his play whatsoever, and that definitely makes the transition that much easier."

In his second year at the position, Donaldson said he knows more about how to position himself against opposing hitters – and against the elements. He said Gallego preaches "focus (at the point) where the ball's going to be hit, always try to pick the ball up, and at every park it's different" because of differing backdrops and seating.

"At third, you have to constantly remind yourself before the play happens what you want to do with the ball," Donaldson said. "Position is always key. And second of all, it's just reaction. Your first reaction's got to be quick, and it's got to be right."

Donaldson said his favorite play to make is a backhand. That doesn't surprise Gallego, who said Donaldson "works like crazy" on the play.

"For me, a major-league infielder, if they trust their backhand as much as their forehand, you're going to make huge strides defensively, and that's what he's done," Gallego said. "It's impressive what he's done over a short period of time."

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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