Mark Canha’s emergence represents a silver lining as the A’s enter the home stretch of a disappointing season.
He leads all American League rookies with 54 RBI and is making a case to be Oakland’s everyday first baseman heading into next season. It’s plain to see that the San Jose native is growing in confidence on the field.
Less known is how much Canha struggled earlier in the season with a respiratory illness that had doctors scratching their heads. He first began feeling symptoms of fatigue at the end of spring training, and his condition worsened over the first couple months of the regular season.
“I’ve never had anything like that in my life, so I didn’t know what was going on,” Canha said. “It kind of caused me some anxiety even at some points, just because it was so frustrating to not know what was going on with you. You’re asking doctors and nobody knows what’s going on. It was to the point where I’d be out of breath just from walking up a flight of stairs. Yeah, it was a really bad situation.”
The effects were similar to Valley fever, a condition that affected A’s teammate Ike Davis over multiple seasons when Davis was with the Mets. But Canha wasn’t diagnosed with Valley fever.
“To this day we can’t pinpoint and say, ‘It was this.’ Or it was Valley fever,” Canha said. “We don’t really know what it was. It was just a respiratory thing.”
Though Canha never went on the disabled list, he was listed as having a respiratory infection, and there were days when he wasn’t available. He was sent back to the hotel before one game in Houston during a mid-May road trip. Canha said the team had him visit respiratory specialists and pulmonary specialists. Blood work was done, but a clear diagnosis was tough to come by.
Needless to say, it was a hurdle that the 26-year-old Canha couldn’t have anticipated in his first crack at the major leagues. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he entered the season needing to stay on the A’s 25-man roster all year or else be offered back to the Miami Marlins, his original club. After five seasons spent in the minors, the former Cal standout was frustrated that he wasn’t feeling in peak physical condition as his big league career began.
“At first you don’t realize anything is really wrong with you until day after day after day you just feel drained,” Canha said. “And I’m like, ‘Is this just the wear and tear of baseball?’ … This game is hard enough as it is. When you have no energy every day, it just makes it way harder. Baseball’s not the most physically demanding sport obviously, but it’s frustrating. You have to be there mentally to be successful.”
As the calendar turned to June, a visit to one particular respiratory specialist led to Canha trying two different inhalers as treatment. The first one didn’t work, but the second one “zapped it”, in Canha’s words. He began feeling better almost immediately.
With his health restored, all the attention now is focused on Canha’s production. He hit .309 in August with 21 RBI in 25 games. Twice in his last 10 games he’s notched four RBI. He’s hitting just .247 overall with 11 homers, but he ranks among AL rookie leaders in doubles, extra-base hits and total bases in addition to being the top RBI man.
Davis is out for the season following hip surgery, and there’s no guarantee the A’s tender him a contract for next season. So Canha is looking more and more like a candidate to be the full-time starter at first in 2016.
“I think he can be a regular at first base or the outfield, the way his bat plays,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s definitely making a name for himself, and he’ll definitely factor into our plans next year.”
Canha impressed Melvin with his willingness to put in extra work even when he wasn’t playing regularly. First base and left field are his main positions, but Canha often takes grounders at third, and he’s talked of his desire to make himself an option there.
“The more you’re prepared and the more you take care of your work, the more confident you’re gonna be.”