Oakland A's

Rickey Henderson joins A’s camp to work with Crisp, basestealers

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, shown with the A’s in 1998, believes he can not only help Coco Crisp improve on the bases, but also with his transition to left field.
Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, shown with the A’s in 1998, believes he can not only help Coco Crisp improve on the bases, but also with his transition to left field. The Associated Press file

People with cameras, wearing headsets and carrying clipboards piled into the A’s clubhouse shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday, announcing the arrival of Will Ferrell. The actor and comedian began his day of playing nine positions in five different spring training games – a joint project between Major League Baseball and HBO – with the A’s and his movements about Hohokam Stadium easily traced by the large production crew migrating in his wake.

It was far more conspicuous than the entrance of another dignitary. Rickey Henderson, the Hall of Fame outfielder, donned a green warmup jacket, white baseball pants and dark sunglasses, grabbed a fungo bat and glove and hit the field with the A’s for their morning workout, blending in with the rest of Oakland’s coaching staff.

Henderson is in camp for two weeks as a roving instructor, his role with the A’s during the regular season. The A’s have so many new players in camp that manager Bob Melvin said he asked Henderson to come to Mesa for an extended period.

“We do have some guys that run, and nobody is a better resource than Rickey Henderson when it comes to that,” Melvin said. “Also he could be a resource for Coco (Crisp), with the outfield play, going from center to left. He did that in his career, too, so I think he can help Coco, too.”

Henderson came up as a center fielder but moved to left when he broke in with the A’s in 1979. He played center for his first two seasons with the New York Yankees (1985-86) but played primarily in left for the rest of his career. Henderson said he had to cover more ground in center field but playing left was more difficult because batted balls seemed to reach him a lot faster, giving him less time to react, and the angles could be more severe.

“I always had to remember, when the ball was hit, to think about the (foul) line,” he said. “I think (Crisp) is capable of making the switch. I think if he buys into it and wants to be just as good as he was in center field, he can be a great left fielder.

“Other than that, it’s going to save him a lot of running around, backing up (plays up the middle), maybe save his legs and keep him a little healthy. And he might be able to run a little bit more. When I moved from center, it gave me a lot more opportunities when I did get on the base paths, that I was much fresher.”

While hampered by injuries last season, Crisp attempted just 24 steals – his fewest in a full season since 2005 – and he has said he wants to run more this year. Henderson said he believes a healthy Crisp, 35, still has the potential to be a force in the running game.

“I think he can get 75 (steals) or more,” Henderson said. “I think he’s got the speed, and I think he picks good pitches in good counts. He reads well.”

Henderson said he thinks Crisp is sometimes hesitant on the basepaths, a trend he sees with many of today’s players. He thinks part of the reason is the wealth of information about pitchers, such as pitch tendencies and times to the plate, that might lead players to decide whether they’re going to run before they reach base.

Henderson said he often urges players to study opposing pitchers from the dugout and trust their instincts.

“Don’t go off the time,” Henderson said. “Go off your instinct, go off what you see, what you read.”

Melvin has said the A’s may try to run more, given the makeup of their roster. The A’s were 10th in the American League in 2014 with 83 stolen bases, but they traded sluggers Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson and look more like a team built to manufacture runs than collect them via homers.

The center field platoon of Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry offers a speed dynamic that could fit second in the order behind Crisp or further down. Offseason addition Ben Zobrist is a high-contact hitter who has had double-digit steals in each of the past six seasons, and projected everyday infielders Marcus Semien and Brett Lawrie both have been touted for their athleticism.

“Right now, they’ve got to scrap,” said Henderson, who still lives in the Bay Area and said he travels around the A’s system as an instructor about 65 days during a season.

“It ain’t going to be the big banging anymore, the home runs,” Henderson said. “Now you’ve gotta create something. Guys that have the speed, they’ve gotta create something, and create (situations) to help the hitters, too.”

Notes – Left-hander Scott Kazmir made his spring debut in the A’s 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners and threw two scoreless innings before allowing two runs (one earned) in the third and leaving with two outs. Kazmir said he felt “great” and started to feel some fatigue in his final inning. “But that’s right where I need to be,” he said.

▪ First baseman Ike Davis, scratched from Wednesday’s lineup because of back spasms, still was experiencing tightness and will be held out of games at least until Sunday, Melvin said.

▪ Minor-league infielder Rangel Ravelo, acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade, is going to have right wrist surgery today after re-aggravating an offseason issue, Melvin said.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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