MESA, Ariz. – The A’s are going to experiment with Coco Crisp in left field in an effort to keep the longtime center fielder healthier.
Manager Bob Melvin said he has Crisp penciled in to start in left on Thursday against the Chicago Cubs, which means either Sam Fuld or Craig Gentry will play center field regularly, depending on which is in the lineup.
Crisp, 35, missed a big chunk of time last year dealing with a neck strain he suffered after a collision with the center field wall while chasing a fly ball. It was one of a few times he banged against the wall in 2014 while aggressively pursuing a ball.
“He’s been taking fly balls in left and we’ll see how it goes,” Melvin said Wednesday morning. “In center field you have to deal with the wall more. There’s a little more diving involved. Every ball that’s hit, you’re moving. We think we have a chance to maybe take a little off him as far as the physicality of it.”
This was an issue talked about between the front office and Melvin during the offseason, as the A’s analyzed defensive data that indicated where balls are most likely to be hit. Melvin said he approached Crisp about it shortly after Crisp reported to camp. Crisp wasn’t immediately available to the media after Melvin chatted, as the A’s had already taken the field for pregame activity before they play the Giants in Scottsdale.
Melvin said Crisp didn’t resist the idea but did have questions about it.
“He’s going to do the best he can for the team, and he’s handling it like a pro,” Melvin said. “And there’s also a pride factor involved for a guy that’s one of the premier center fielders.”
The A’s also asked Crisp to shift to left in spring 2012 after Oakland signed Yoenis Cespedes, who was accustomed to playing center in Cuba. That experiment didn’t last long into the regular season, as the A’s decided their best alignment ultimately had Crisp in center and Cespedes in left.
As for the biggest adjustment in left field, Melvin said: “It’s probably the toughest outfield position as far as reading spin on the ball. You get a lot of top spin. With left-handed hitters you get a lot of slice. As you saw with Ces, it took him a little time and then all of a sudden one day he got it. And Coco is farther along probably than Ces was because Ces had only played center up to that point.”
The plan is to play Crisp in left regularly during the spring, as Melvin said the last thing he wants to do is bounce the veteran back and forth between left and center.