Oakland A's

Ailing Coco Crisp carving out niche as a pinch-hitter

Athletics’ Coco Crisp, right, swings for a two-run double off Houston’s Josh Fields in the sixth inning on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Oakland, Calif.
Athletics’ Coco Crisp, right, swings for a two-run double off Houston’s Josh Fields in the sixth inning on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. AP

OAKLAND -- First it was a slow build as Coco Crisp walked to the plate, pinch-hitting with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of a tied game. Then the noise level at the O.co Coliseum reached a crescendo as Crisp hammered a double off the base of the right-field wall, driving in two runs. Crisp clapped his hands emphatically as he pulled into second base, and saluted toward the A’s dugout.

"Yeah, they got loud, didn’t they?" Crisp said of the crowd. "Yeah, I felt that. I like that energy."

Crisp’s double sparked a six-run inning for the A’s and was a key hit in their 10-9 win over the Houston Astros on Monday. It was the kind of game-influencing play that Crisp has rarely been a part of this season as various injuries, including a recurring neck issue, have limited him to 33 games.

Crisp is batting .173 in those games, and manager Bob Melvin has said Crisp’s ability to start right now is a day-to-day prospect. His last start came Aug. 29. However, he seems to be finding a niche in coming off of the bench -- Monday’s double was Crisp’s fourth consecutive hit in pinch-hit appearances.

"We know we’re limited in how we can use him," Melvin said. "So we’ve discussed how we’re going to use him and he’s ready for those situations."

When he knows he could enter a game in the later innings, Crisp said, he’ll try to prepare by hitting in the cage around the third inning and warming up his legs in the fifth. He said he’s on board at the moment with his role as a reserve.

"I’m pretty banged-up right now," Crisp said. "So I think it’s best to get some guys out there that can go out there healthy and give you the best opportunity to win.

"I just try to prepare myself for those late innings, and stay on top of my injuries and hopefully get better before the end of the season and maybe go out there for some starts instead of the role I’m in now. But like I said, I’m fine with it. Just trying to go out there and help the team."

Asked if returning to an everyday role is a goal for him over the next month, Crisp said: "Whatever happens, happens. I’m doing everything that I can to get healthy as soon as I can, I guess. That’s a time thing. I just have to kind of wait it out and go through the motions and do what the trainers ask me."

This season started with the A’s moving Crisp to left field in spring training, hoping that would mitigate his injury problems and keep him on the field. Crisp ended up missing the first month of the season following elbow surgery, returned to hit .044 in 13 games in May, and went back on the DL with a neck strain that caused him to miss 65 games.

Melvin has said the neck issue is likely something Crisp will have to manage for the rest of his career. The A’s still have Crisp under contract for next season, when he will be 36 and coming off his first season since 2010 playing fewer than 100 games. Teammates on Monday expressed hope that Crisp’s two-run double was a glimpse of Crisp getting back to feeling like his normal self and a sign of things to come.

"It’s been a rough season," Crisp said. "But I just go up there and continue to do my best. Today it just ended up working out. Hopefully I can build on that, start hitting some hard. I’ll take (hits) any way they come, really. But it felt good."

* Sean Doolittle, another A’s player who has battled injuries all season, had his own big day Monday, notching his first save in nearly a year. The story on that can be found here. One thing that didn’t make it in was Crisp’s reaction, which was this:

"It was exciting," Crisp said of watching Doolittle retire the heart of the Astros’ order on five pitches. "He’s a big part of our team, and we need him out there. And it’s good to see the velocity up -- I think that was something he was working toward when he came back. To see him up there throwing 94, 95, makes you feel confident out there in the outfield that the job’s going to get done."

Doolittle, meanwhile, was one of the A’s players encouraged by Crisp’s contribution.

"That’s been one of his trademarks since he’s been here -- he has a knack of coming up with that big hit late in clutch situations," Doolittle said. "I’m really happy for him and it’s definitely a good sign for us."

* Catcher Josh Phegley probably did the best job of summarizing Monday’s 10-9 affair.

"That was a grindy game," Phegley said.

The A’s had leads of 8-2 and 10-6, and still had to ask Doolittle to protect a one-run lead in the ninth. On a warm afternoon at the Coliseum, the ball was flying, and the two teams combined for five home runs. Mark Canha hit his 13th of the year for the A’s and Phegley hit a two-run shot in the seventh that ended up being the difference in the game.

"We stuck with it, our offense responded and our pitchers hit some bumps in the road but managed to keep us in the game," Phegley said. "It was long. It was a long game."

It was three hours and 53 minutes, officially. Melvin said he was happiest with the way the A’s lineup did not let up, knowing the capability of the Astros -- who rank second in the majors in home runs -- to close the distance on you quickly. He also noted that some of the A’s less tenured players -- like Phegley, Canha (who’s batting .330 in his last 25 games) and Billy Burns (.364 in his last 12 games) -- are closing the season strong.

"This is where you really take stock of what we’re looking for for next year" Melvin said. "There are a couple young guys that are really making a mark for themselves and creating next year’s situations for themselves, whether it’s on the team or (as) starters."

* Felix Doubront departed before most of the action occurred Monday, but still earned the win after allowing four runs on eight hits in six innings. Doubront started the seventh having allowed two runs, but after sitting through the A’s six-run inning, he gave up a home run to pinch hitter Jonathan Villar and a single to Max Stassi before departing.

"It was a long inning," said Melvin, who described Doubront’s overall outing as "great." Melvin pointed out Doubront was facing an Astros lineup made entirely of right-handed hitters, and that he did a decent job keeping Houston’s aggressive running game in check.

"At times he can be a little slow to the plate, when he has to slide-step he gets a little out of rhythm," Melvin said. "But he did a good job with that."

* The A’s snapped a five-game losing streak and helped the Texas Rangers pick up a game in the standings on the Astros, who now lead the West by just two games. Though they’re well out of it, the A’s can still have a hand in the playoff race. They have five more games against the Astros, six against the Rangers and three against the Angels, who are hanging around at five games out.

Tuesday game features old friends Sonny Gray (12-7, 2.36) and Scott Kazmir (7-9, 2.50) opposing each other at the Coliseum. First pitch at 7:05 p.m.

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