Manager Bob Melvin walked into the A’s postgame interview room at O.co Coliseum on Sunday just as a clip of Sam Fuld’s eighth-inning, head-first diving catch in right field was playing on a wall-mounted TV.
“Nice play, huh?” Melvin said. Then, as he continued to his seat behind the microphone, Melvin added: “Nice throw, too.”
The latter referenced Fuld throwing out Seattle leadoff man Abraham Almonte trying to go from first to third base on a two-out single in the second inning, keeping the Mariners’ lead at two runs in a game the A’s came back to win 6-3.
The first week of the season has been peppered with such moments from Fuld, a 32-year-old Stanford alum who signed a minor-league deal with the A’s in the offseason and made the 25-man roster out of camp as their fourth outfielder – for the time being.
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Of Fuld’s four hits so far, two are triples, including one Thursday night that nearly turned into his first inside-the-park home run (a strong relay from second baseman Robinson Cano got him at home). That same night, Fuld made a run-saving catch on a sinking Logan Morrison fly ball in left field. In three games with the A’s, he’s already played all three outfield positions.
“That’s what’s really difficult to do,” Melvin said. “It’s a lot easier to be in one position all the time, know the angles of the balls coming at you, the spin on them. To be able to do it at all three positions … that’s a unique talent.”
It would also seem to make Fuld an ideal fit for the A’s, who love versatility. But there’s the complicating factor of Craig Gentry, whom the A’s also acquired over the winter to fill the backup outfielder job. Gentry started the season on the 15-day disabled list but is eligible to return when ready, and Melvin said Sunday the speedy Gentry may be one or two rehab games away.
The question at that point becomes whether the A’s keep Fuld on the 25-man roster – something Melvin has opted not to address. Asked again after Sunday’s game, Melvin said, “I really don’t know until we get there. And this is a group decision, and whatever the decision’s going to be, it’s going to be a difficult situation all around.”
Fuld has done his part to complicate it, especially with the kind of all-out defensive play that made him something of a cult hero during his previous three seasons with Tampa Bay. Though a role player – he started no more than 76 games in any season and batted just .199 last year – his defense inspired the Rays to hold a Fuld superhero cape day in 2011 and a social media-driven “Legend of Sam Fuld.”
“Defensively, he’s as sound as you get out there,” A’s center fielder Coco Crisp said this week. “He has a Gold Glove-caliber glove and a really good arm.”
Almonte learned the latter fact in the second inning when Fuld threw him out at third on a single by Brad Miller. At the time, the Mariners had scored twice in the inning off A’s starter Sonny Gray, who had already thrown 47 pitches, and Cano was looming on deck.
“It was a sigh of relief,” Gray said. “I was kind of searching out there, and having players pick you up like that – we’ve only had a small dose of him so far, but he’s a guy that is a really, really good baseball player.”
Cano doubled and scored in the third, but the A’s tied it 3-3 in the bottom of the frame on a three-run homer by Brandon Moss. They had a 5-3 lead by the eighth – with Yoenis Cespedes adding the final run with his first homer of the year – when Fuld again dived to rob Morrison of a hit with two outs.
“He’s that guy you get the feeling that when he comes to the plate or the ball gets hit in his direction, something exciting is going to happen,” said reliever Sean Doolittle, who was pitching at the time. “He plays the game all-out with his hair on fire, and it’s fun to watch.
“It speaks to the professionalism of the kind of guy he is that he’s making the most of a weird situation.”
Fuld has been asked repeatedly about playing under the imminence of Gentry’s return and said while it’s difficult to ignore entirely, he’s trying.
“I just can control what I can control,” Fuld said. “Anytime you get an opportunity to play, you just try to make the most of it.”