OAKLAND –- On a team that’s sprung a leak defensively in many areas this season, A’s shortstop Marcus Semien certainly isn’t alone with his adventures in the field.
But he does play the most demanding defensive position on the diamond besides catcher. And given that the A’s went out on a limb installing him as their starting shortstop despite his big league inexperience at the position, his play was guaranteed to be under the microscope this season.
Right now the errors are coming in rapid fashion for Semien, a Bay Area product who’s getting his first shot at extended playing time in the majors. He’s made five in his past five games, including his eighth-inning throw to first base Wednesday that sailed high on Dustin Pedroia’s grounder and allowed the Red Sox to tack on an insurance run in a 2-0 Boston victory.
Semien’s 11 errors overall are tops among all major leaguers. And even though error totals aren’t always the most accurate gauge of a shortstop’s effectiveness, when the mistakes have a direct impact on a game, they’re tough to ignore. And doesn’t it seem like every A’s miscue in the field winds up hurting them this season?
Semien’s have come in a variety of ways. Some fielding, some throwing. Some plays more difficult than others.
“The major leagues is a grind,” A’s infield coach Mike Gallego said. “Everyone’s got to be tough mentally in dealing with the ups and downs of the game. For the most part, I think he’s done a hell of a job. Sure, he’s discouraged when he makes an error and they score a run off it. There’s no doubt. But he looks like he’s ready for the next ball, and that’s how you’ve gotta handle it.”
The impressive part is that even as his defense has been erratic, Semien has continued thriving at the plate. He’s hitting .353 with 10 multi-hit games over his last 21 contests. The former Cal standout is batting .307 overall and is tied for third in the American League in total bases (73), tied for fifth in hits (43) and tied for ninth in stolen bases. His 20 runs scored leads the A’s, and he’s taken a particular liking to the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Semien’s offensive production alone is enough to keep his bat somewhere in the lineup. Will he eventually find his footing at short?
He secured the everyday job there with an impressive showing in spring training, when he displayed excellent range. But the regular season is a different dynamic. It’s a daily grind, as Gallego noted, and one that takes steadiness and consistency. Sometimes it looks like Semien is operating in fast-forward on his fielding errors. At times it appears he’s aiming his throws to first.
“It’s been relay plays, it’s been plays in the hole, all different kinds of plays,” Semien said. “My focus just needs to be hitting that guy in the chest and work harder to do that.”
Manager Bob Melvin raves about Semien’s work ethic and overall attitude. He was acquired as the anchor of the four-player package the A’s received from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Semien will face his former team when Chicago visits the Coliseum for a weekend series starting Friday.
Gallego expresses faith that Semien will settle in defensively.
“You can talk about mechanics, but at this point in the game you gotta let it flow and not think about mechanics,” Gallego said. “Trust your ability and don’t let the errors linger in the back of your mind. It’s easier said than done. But we’re gonna find out what type of a player he really is. If I’m a bettin’ man, I keep running Marcus Semien out there.”