When A’s first baseman Brandon Moss came up for his first at-bat against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, he saw something that hadn’t happened this spring but was all-too-familiar last season.
The White Sox brought their shortstop to the right side of second base and their third baseman to the shortstop area, employing an infield shift often seen against left-handed hitters with a tendency to pull the ball.
Last year, Moss said, he saw “a ton” of those shifts – but he rarely attempted what he did Sunday. On the first pitch from right-hander Erik Johnson, Moss squared around and dropped a bunt single down the third-base line. With no defender in the vicinity, he likely could have jogged to first base and still had a hit.
Moss isn’t known for his finesse with the bat. He has slugged 51 home runs in 229 games over the past two seasons as the A’s primary first baseman, but in parts of seven years in the majors he doesn’t have a single sacrifice bunt. With opponents catching on to his pull-hitting tendencies, though, he said he figured, “Why not branch out?”
“There were times (last season) I really got frustrated with it because I could’ve bunted it as hard as I wanted and nobody could’ve had a chance to throw me out,” Moss said. “But I wasn’t comfortable squaring around. I tried one time and completely missed the pitch, and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m done with that.’ ”
Moss said he came to camp this spring wanting to make the bunt a part of his game. He worked early on with bench coach Chip Hale, who suggested he set his feet differently in the box when he squared around. The result was a “much more comfortable” feeling, Moss said, which showed on his attempt against the White Sox.
“The shifts that teams put on him are pretty dramatic and take away a good third of the field,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “So we’re trying to shift that around a little bit for him.
“He looked a lot more comfortable with it than we saw a couple times last year. So it’s all about trying to get him a little bit more of the field to hit to.”
Moss, who hit .256 with 30 homers and 87 RBIs in 145 games in 2013, said having the bunt in his arsenal could come in handy when he’s in a slump or leading off an inning in a late-game situation where the A’s need a baserunner.
Those scenarios aside, though, there’s little reason to expect a changed hitter this season. Moss, 30, has attributed his power surge over the past season and a half – accompanied by 230 strikeouts in 711 regular-season at-bats – to he and the A’s embracing his natural tendencies as a pull hitter and aggressive swinger.
Moss also has benefited that most of his at-bats in that time have come against right-handers, against whom he hit .268 last season compared to .200 against left-handers. That’s a function of the A’s platoon at first base, which Melvin said he’ll continue this year despite not having a clear-cut right-handed half at this point in camp.
Moss had 88 plate appearances against left-handers last season, with 16 hits (including four home runs) and 38 strikeouts. He said he feels he can hit left-handers, but he hasn’t lobbied for the opportunity to do so as an everyday player.
“I don’t really care – it sounds bad, but I’ve had the seasons I’ve had the past two years because I’ve been put in a really good position to succeed,” Moss said. “Am I capable of hitting left-handed pitching? Absolutely. But there are people on this team that are more capable of it and do a little better against it, and right now, in the position we’re in as a team, it’s about putting the best lineup out on the field.”
Moss is off to a strong start this spring, with a .500 average (9 for 18), one homer and five RBIs following Oakland’s 6-5 loss to San Diego on Tuesday. This offseason, he said, he spent time with his family in Georgia and “hunted a lot.” The latter included an 11-day pack-in hunt in the snow in Montana, which involved climbs of 2,000 to 3,500 feet on some days.
“It was tough, but it was amazing,” Moss said. “A little more demanding than bunting.”