John Jaso homered in the final game he played in last season, a July 24 win over Houston in which the A’s catcher sustained a season-ending concussion when a foul tip struck him in the mask.
Tuesday, in his second game behind the plate this spring, Jaso hit his first homer, a solo shot on the first pitch of his third at-bat.
“I was actually talking to (center fielder Coco Crisp) on the bench like, ‘I just want to feel what it’s like to square up a ball again,’ ” Jaso said. “ ‘I don’t care if somebody catches it.’ ”
Jaso, who struck out in his first two at-bats, said the more significant thing Tuesday was catching six innings of the A’s 6-4 split-squad win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I don’t feel behind,” Jaso said about his defense, despite his long layoff. “I feel like I just kind of hopped right back into it.”
That’s encouraging because Jaso wants to make the A’s 25-man roster this spring as a catcher. The A’s also have floated the idea of using Jaso primarily at designated hitter – particularly if they break camp with three catchers in Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt – though manager Bob Melvin has said if Jaso is fully back to normal he’ll be looked at as a catcher first. Melvin said Jaso likely will catch every other day in the Cactus League.
Jaso said his top priority is making the roster, though “I definitely don’t want to lose that catcher position as far as my repertoire is concerned. I know I’ve always been able to hit, and that’s what’s been able to get me this far and really keep me up here. But I do take pride in catching.”
Jaso said one area of focus this spring is throwing to bases. Before his injury last season, opposing runners were successful on 28 of 32 stolen base attempts against Jaso, a 13 percent caught-stealing rate.
“He had trouble putting some guys away with two-strike pitches, got some fastballs up late in the count,” Melvin said. “He’ll probably be a little more refined next time out.”
Straily said he was encouraged by how he felt throwing 40 pitches, mixing his fastball, changeup and slider. He would seem to have the inside track on the fifth rotation spot after going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA last season and starting Game 4 of the American League Division Series, but he demurred when asked if he feels like he’s battling for a spot.
“I feel like that’s way above my pay grade, a question for Bob and (pitching coach) Curt (Young),” Straily said. “I’m here to go out there on the mound and do my job.”
• The A’s away team lost 6-4 to the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Ariz. Tommy Milone started for the A’s and allowed three runs and five hits in three innings.
• Yoenis Cespedes made his defensive debut against the Brewers and made a nice catch on a hard-hit line drive on the game’s opening play. Maybe more impressive, he refrained from throwing home on an RBI single later in the game – team orders.
“The training staff doesn’t want him to air it out right away,” Melvin said. “He was cocked and ready to go, but you could see him think twice about it.”
Bumgarner allowed a ground single and a bloop single and struck out one. He’s thrown five shutout innings this spring.
Ryan Vogelsong followed Bumgarner and allowed one run and three hits in three innings. Ryan Wheeler’s double in the sixth scored the first run allowed by four of the Giants’ projected starters in 14 innings. And the foursome of Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson have allowed just one walk.
Matt Cain – the missing guy from that group – will make his first spring start today against the Los Angeles Angels. Cain’s first scheduled start was rained out.
• Brandon Belt had a double and single Tuesday after sitting out Monday because of neck stiffness. He is 6 for 10 this spring.