PHOENIX -- While much of the talk around A’s camp today focused on the talent show organized by new closer Jim Johnson (which revealed some serious talents -- more on that later), one player who chose to take the option given to all players with more than a year of service time and buy out of the show was righty Dan Straily, who started Sunday’s game against the Chicago White Sox.
"I don’t think they really wanted to watch me play ‘Call of Duty’ in front of everybody," Straily said. "That probably would’ve been my talent."
Fortunately for Straily, he’s able to make a living on the mound, where he pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in his second spring outing, which ended as a 2-2 tie between the A’s and White Sox after nine innings. Straily said he felt more "in control of my body" and his fastball Sunday than in his spring debut, when he was frustrated by allowing several hits in two-strike counts.
Last spring was Straily’s first in big-league camp, and he said the experience in terms of using the time to prepare himself for the season was "completely foreign to me." He said this year he has a better idea of what benchmarks he’d like to hit along the way. Sunday, for example, he pointed to little things like throwing a first-pitch curveball for a strike and getting a double play on a changeup as signs he’s on the right track.
Straily did issue three walks, including one after getting ahead in the count 0-2, but wrote that off to early-season wildness. Still, he said his goal for his next outing is to "eliminate the walks. That is frustrating, because more often than not those guys end up scoring."
They didn’t Sunday, thanks in part to a slick double play started by second baseman Eric Sogard, who ranged to his right to field the ball and glove-flipped it to Jed Lowrie at the bag. "If you’re going to work on that, now’s a great time to do it," Straily said.
Manager Bob Melvin said he always gets a little leery when he sees a glove-flip, but that Sogard "practices it and does it very well."
Infielder Jake Elmore was the surprise winner in the contest, judged by several veteran players, after performing a series of songs in different genres -- country, rap and pop -- with corresponding headwear.
Catcher Stephen Vogt, an early favorite after word spread of his ability to impersonate manager Joe Maddon and others while in the Tampa Bay organization, placed second, while shortstop prospect Addison Russell came in third with a dance routine that included a standing back-flip.
"I’ve been to several of those over the years, but I can’t remember a time when there was actually talent involved," Melvin said. "Usually it’s more laughing and booing somebody off the stage. This was a very talented group, each and every guy."
The show was closed to the media, but apparently other acts included pitcher Andrew Werner performing a song about Sogard, outfield prospect Billy Burns juggling a series of items including bats, and pitcher A.J. Griffin playing guitar and singing in Spanish. Straily said outfielder Michael Taylor also "played the world’s smallest keyboard and was pretty good at it."
Elmore, whom the A’s only acquired this spring, seemed to take quite a few people by surprise with his singing voice and his boldness. Straily described Elmore’s act like this: "He grabs these pens and starts hitting them on the table and you’re like, what is this guy doing? Then he starts singing, and it was the same beat (with the pens) the whole time for three songs. It was really cool."
Melvin also cited Elmore as the biggest surprise of the show for him. "I had no idea that he had that kind of a singing voice, let alone several different genres," Melvin said. "So we’ll give him a start tomorrow just for that."
That last part was probably a joke. But Elmore was in the lineup posted for tomorrow’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing second base and batting ninth.
Russell’s back-flip, Melvin acknowledged, was "a little unexpected," especially for such a prized prospect, from whom landing on his head probably wouldn’t go over well with team brass. "But he pulled it off pretty easily," Melvin said.
Straily’s verdict on the dance routine from Russell, who’s fairly shy: "Unexpected and phenomenal."
Melvin said the show lasted about 45 minutes altogether. Only the top three were tallied, so Griffin’s quip that he came in last couldn’t be confirmed. Burns didn’t place with his juggling act, but outfielder Coco Crisp made a point of commending Burns on his effort while Burns was talking to a reporter Sunday morning.
"He started with bags but it was a little windy, so it was like, scrap that," Crisp said. "Then he went to balls, and you’re like OK, probably everybody out here can do the balls. And then he went to the bats and we were like, ‘Aaaall right.’"
The tone was obviously light-hearted, and Melvin said that can be beneficial at this point in spring with camp near its midpoint and days possibly beginning to run together. For a roster with a handful of new faces, Melvin said, it can be "a bonding type of deal," too.
First baseman Brandon Moss came up for his first at-bat with the White Sox infield playing a shift and dropped a bunt down the third-base line for a single.
"If he can get that down, he’ll see some defenses kind of shift around more," Melvin said of Moss. "And that’s the most comfortable we’ve seen him trying to do that. He didn’t stab at it, he wasn’t running out of the box too quick."
The A’s now have 50 players in camp, including 10 non-roster invitees.