Programming note: Mariners-A’s coverage starts tonight at 5:30pm with A’s Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area..
OAKLAND – Plenty of incentive remains for A’s players as the season dwindles down.
Just ask Danny Valencia.
“A lot of jobs are probably opening up come next year, so it’s a good opportunity for a lot of players to come in here and open eyes and play well,” he said. “This is a month that can set you up good for next year.”
Valencia steered clear of discussing his own situation. But when it comes to those in the A’s clubhouse who stand to gain by playing well through the finish line, Valencia is front and center.
He continued to impress in Friday night’s 11-8 loss to the Seattle Mariners, drilling a grand slam in the bottom of the first. He’s hit .308 since joining the A’s off waivers from Toronto on Aug. 3, and he’s driven in 22 runs in 22 games.
Surely, he isn’t an ideal cleanup hitter. And the fact that Valencia – with just 49 career homers entering the night -- is hitting fourth for the A’s shows just how much things have veered off course for this team. But the point is, he’s filling a void. He’s providing a spark and playing like a man with something to prove.
That’s not surprising for a guy who is with his sixth organization in a six-year big league career.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's edged by Mariners in high-scoring affair]
He might grow some roots in Oakland though. It’s clear that the A’s are considering Valencia to be their everyday third baseman in 2016. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have started 19 of his first 22 games there. Brett Lawrie wouldn’t be seeing regular time at second base.
And speaking of Lawrie, he continues to thrive as well, going 3-for-5 Friday. He’s hitting a robust .385 with five homers, 10 RBI and 13 runs over his last 13 games.
Melvin was asked before the game if this is a trial run for Lawrie as the A’s everyday second baseman in 2016. He played second substantially for Toronto before coming over in the Josh Donaldson trade.
“Certainly could (be),” Melvin said. “Third base is a position he can still play very well, and the way we do things, versatility helps you get out there a little more often. But we like what both of these guys can do. And hopefully going forward both of these guys add some power and a little different dynamic to the team than we saw earlier.”
Valencia’s power seemed to surprise even himself with his first-inning slam, an opposite-field liner that cleared the right field wall. He became just the fifth cleanup man in Oakland history to hit a first-inning grand slam, a difficult feat that obviously relies on the first three batters ahead of him reaching base but not scoring.
“I was trying to hit a sac fly, stay in the middle of the field, at least get one guy in,” Valencia said. “Fortunately, I got enough of it. I thought it might hit the wall, but I didn’t think I was that strong.”
And the A’s couldn’t have thought they were getting a player who would be this productive and force his way into an everyday role at third base.
The A’s final 27 games aren’t likely to provide compelling theatre from a team standpoint. But there’s quite an interesting story developing with Valencia, and it might significantly impact the look of the A’s infield next season.