Yoenis Cespedes took mostly easy swings for the first few rounds of batting practice Thursday at Raley Field before ramping up on his final three swings. All produced laser home runs – over the left-field fence, onto the roof of the clubhouses in left-center and onto the grassy berm beyond the 403-foot sign in right-center.
"Just let him come down and hit BP in Reno," River Cats infielder Grant Green said as the group left the batting cage. "I just want to see it."
Cespedes began a rehab assignment with the River Cats on Thursday as he recovers from a strained muscle in his left hand that put him on the disabled list April 13. The A's outfielder – and River Cats designated hitter Thursday night – said before the game his hand is "not 100 percent, but a lot better," and that he thinks he'll be ready to return to Oakland when he's eligible to come off the DL on Sunday.
Cespedes said he's having no problems gripping or swinging a bat, and the issue now is getting his timing back at the plate. He said he wanted to start his rehab assignment on Thursday, a day earlier than originally projected, because he "wanted to see pitchers."
Asked how long it might take to regain his timing, Cespedes said: "Can be later, can be quickly. Right now it feels good."
River Cats manager Steve Scarsone said the plan is for Cespedes to play left field tonight and DH on Saturday, and play nine innings "unless I get notice of something different." Cespedes went 1 for 4 with a single, an RBI and two strikeouts Thursday night in the River Cats' 6-5 victory over Salt Lake.
Of Cespedes' batting practice session Thursday, Scarsone said: "He looked like he was a touch tentative. But as the round went on, it seemed like he got much more aggressive and delivered some pretty good swings."
Scarsone had a pretty good view as the pitcher who served up the final three shots.
"I didn't see where they ended up," he said. "But I know they left the bat very, very quickly."
Cespedes was injured April 12 when he slid awkwardly into second base against the Detroit Tigers. He said his spike got caught in the infield dirt, causing him to roll over and jam his left hand against the ground.
Though he was hitting just .200 at the time, with three home runs and seven RBIs in 11 games, the A's were 9-2 with Cespedes in the lineup. They are 5-8 when Cespedes isn't starting, continuing a trend from last season, when they went 82-46 in games he started and 12-22 when he didn't.
While eager to get back, Cespedes said he wasn't as frustrated by this early DL stint as the one for a hand injury during his rookie year, which sidelined him for the second half of May.
He accompanied the A's on their recent trip to Boston and Tampa Bay, where he was able to spend three days with family members who arrived in the United States earlier this spring after a long ordeal fleeing Cuba. The A's went 1-5 on the trip.
"But it doesn't say anything," Cespedes said. "It's a long season. The team is still good."
No doubt the A's eagerly await Cespedes' return. Last year he came off the DL on June 1 and went 10 for 25 in his first seven games back – before then missing nine of the next 10 games with a separate injury.
Thursday, Cespedes was asked if he thinks he may need to play more conservatively in order to stay in the A's lineup.
"I can't," he said. "That's the way I play."