OAKLAND – A’s manager Bob Melvin went an unconventional route with Tuesday’s lineup, and the way his team has swung the bat so far this season, why not?
Catcher Josh Phegley draws his first start hitting in the No. 2 spot against Angels left-hander Hector Santiago. He’s gotten off to a 4-for-8 start but has played in just three of eight games so far.
“We’re trying to play a hot hand and some matchups,” Melvin said. “He’s got a little bit of a history off this guy and he's been swinging the bat well. So you try to get him in there as many times against the starter as you can.”
Phegley, who is 3-for-5 against Santiago with a double and homer, said his elevated spot in the order doesn’t change anything for him.
“I’m going to have the same approach I always do,” he said.
Billy Burns is back atop the lineup and playing center for the first time since Friday, and Billy Butler is back at designated hitter after five days on the bench. How strict the A’s remain with their platoon regarding Butler – Melvin has told the veteran he’s likely to only play against lefties for the time being – will be interesting to watch.
The A’s are simply not swinging the bats well as a team coming out of the gate, hitting .229 with the American League’s lowest on-base percentage .276. That’s led to a paltry 2.8 runs per game.
To this point, the right-handed hitting Khris Davis is getting every chance to hit his way out of an early slump. Davis enters Tuesday night’s game hitting .185 and is still search for his first RBI, but he’s drawing his eighth start in the first nine games (7 in left field, 1 at DH). He’s struck out a whopping 13 times in 27 at-bats.
Melvin suggested the outfielder is pressing early on.
“I haven't talked to him about this, but sometimes you're trying to impress a little bit when you go to a new team,” Melvin said. “You watch his batting practices, he's hitting the ball the other way, he's doing all the right things that you want a guy to do during batting practice. He's just struggling a little bit right now. We have a few guys that are struggling. For a power guy he's struck out some, but I don' t think he'll continue, certainly along the numbers that he's striking out right now.”
Butler isn’t the only player going long stretches between starts. The right-handed hitting Mark Canha, playing first base Tuesday, is drawing just his third start in nine games.
The A’s platoon heavily, but Melvin has acknowledged more than once the challenge of spreading the at-bats around given the pitching matchups the A’s are facing. They faced five righties in a row before Tuesday, and then go right into a stretch where they face four more in a row through a weekend series against Kansas City.
“It's a little uncomfortable when you're sitting out four or five days or whatever it was,” Melvin acknowledged. “The schedule early on was all lefties and then all righties for a while.”
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez threw 30 pitches against hitters in Stockton on Monday. His next step will be a simulated game at an undetermined date. There’s still no word on when Alvarez, coming back from shoulder surgery, will begin a rehab assignment. His timetable to return remains late May or early June.
Infielder Eric Sogard (neck strain) will play his second rehab game for Stockton on Wednesday before moving on to another level, most likely Triple-A Nashville.