As Hiro Nakajima bounded through the A’s clubhouse Tuesday collecting gear for the team’s away game in Peoria, Ariz., he stopped at Josh Donaldson’s locker to greet the third baseman. Donaldson slapped Nakajima’s hand – then wrapped him in a hug.
Manager Bob Melvin said top shortstop prospect Addison Russell will likely miss a week of games after straining his right hamstring Monday, opening the door for Nakajima to join the A’s from minor-league camp, where the Japanese infielder has spent his spring.
Nakajima arrived with some fanfare when the A’s signed him out of Japan at the end of the 2012 season, giving him a two-year, $6.5 million deal ostensibly to be their starting shortstop. But after battling injury and showing some defensive shortcomings last spring, he spent the first month of the season on the disabled list with a hamstring issue and the rest of it at Triple-A Sacramento.
Nakajima was not even invited to big-league camp this spring, and Melvin acknowledged it will likely take some infield injuries for Nakajima to be called up this season. Still, this gives Melvin and the major-league staff a chance to evaluate Nakajima after a year in the organization. It’s still unclear where the 31-year-old is best suited defensively – he was a shortstop in Japan, but played second and third base mostly last year in Sacramento.
“Everything that I heard, he was terrific,” Melvin said. “For him to come back and just be a minor leaguer this year, it’s pretty impressive he wants to do that. I’m sure he could’ve gone back to Japan and played, but he wants to prove himself here again. It’s nice that we are able to bring him over.”
In 90 Triple-A games last year, Nakajima batted .283 with four home runs and 34 RBIs. He said Tuesday morning it was a valuable experience and that he “learned a lot about American baseball.”
“I got used to everything, not only on the field, but off the field,” Nakajima said through an interpreter. “I want to stay here and play baseball.”
Nakajima entered the A’s 6-5 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday in the seventh inning and played the final three innings at shortstop without an at-bat. The A’s typically bring in players from minor-league camp to fill in late innings.
Russell is not expected to make the 25-man roster out of camp but is getting a long look from the A’s, appearing in 12 games and going 7 for 25 so far.