Stephen Vogt was in uniform and on the Coliseum field about four hours before game time Thursday – though the uniform consisted of a striped shirt, shorts, high gold socks, a green headband and a whistle.
Vogt and A’s outfielder Jonny Gomes were guests Thursday on the MLB Network show “Intentional Talk,” where Vogt – a talented mimic – performed his “basketball referee” impression. It’s one Vogt, whose other hits include comedy actor Chris Farley and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, said he has honed over the last four or five years, drawing from games he’s watched involving his wife, who played basketball in college and now coaches.
Gomes said Vogt, who strutted about and assessed pretend fouls with all the officiousness of a seasoned referee, was “right on – he nailed it.” A’s manager Bob Melvin started his pregame media session by asking if any reporters had seen the “unbelievable” segment.
Said Vogt: “Just wanted to keep things light.”
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In his regular uniform, Vogt had been in one of the most acute hitting slumps of his big-league career, entering Thursday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins hitless in his last 23 at-bats. He snapped that streak emphatically in the second inning, driving a 2-2 fastball from Twins right-hander Yohan Pino over the right-field wall for his sixth home run of the season.
Asked before the game about Vogt’s recent skid, Melvin pointed out that Vogt was only one of several A’s hitters who had struggled the past week. Brandon Moss and John Jaso were both riding 0-for-17 streaks when the day began, and the A’s had scored three or fewer runs in six of their previous seven games.
“I think you press a little bit the more these things go on,” Melvin said. “You want to be the guy. (Vogt has) gone through a little bit of a stretch, and when you take a few 0-fers in a row, maybe you get a little anxious and try to hit a little too early in the count.
“But everybody goes through these stretches through the course of a season. … He’s not the only guy.”
Vogt, though, is in the relatively unique situation of having his role on the A’s altered by their July 31 trade of Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox. When the move was made, A’s management said the plan was to replace Cespedes’ significant offensive impact with a platoon – Vogt against right-handers and Gomes against left-handers.
Vogt, batting .351 at the time of the trade, had played nearly every day in June and July, but mostly in a utility role. He went into Thursday’s game hitless since the trade and with his average down to .315, and while saying he “wouldn’t say (the trade) is the reason,” Vogt acknowledged he has put some added pressure on himself in its wake.
“I definitely think when you lose somebody like Cespedes, everybody tries to step their game up a little bit more. I’m pretty guilty of that,” Vogt said.
“The natural tendency when you lose a Cespedes is to say, ‘OK, I need to do more.’ And I’m realizing that all I have to do is just be myself and keep doing things I’ve been doing the first three months of the season.”
Vogt is still batting .331 with an .835 OPS against right-handers this season, a reason the A’s felt they could withstand losing Cespedes. Gomes entered Thursday hitting .295 with an .808 OPS against left-handers, while Cespedes began the day with the Red Sox toting an OPS of .768 against right-handers and .773 against left-handers.
But comparisons are rarely so simple, and in Cespedes the A’s also parted with arguably the most feared presence in their lineup. Their recent lack of offense has coincided with the new-look lineup – but Melvin and other players have maintained that’s a matter of chance, pointing out they weren’t hitting well prior to the move, either. In their 12 games before Thursday, the A’s were batting .227 as a team and averaging 3.8 runs.
Melvin said his struggling hitters have “been around long enough to know this is going to end.” Vogt could look into his own past for encouragement – his big-league career began with an 0-for-32 streak, and between that and the beginning of his 0-for-23 skid on July 29, he had been a .319 hitter in the majors.
“It’s one of those things that, right now, I’m just pressing a lot,” Vogt said. “You have to forget about what’s happened the last few days, shut your brain off a little bit at times and just go up and hit, rather than try to do things that I’m not able to do.”
Speaking at his locker, Vogt had by now shed the striped shirt and square-rimmed glasses he’d worn for his referee impression. But he still had on the high gold socks as he added: “My effort level’s gone way up, trying to do more. But there hasn’t been anything I can say I’ve changed.
“I just need to relax and be myself.”