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MESA, Ariz. – Much has been written about all the new players the A’s are incorporating, but a key change on the coaching staff might also be a big factor this season.
Darren Bush has shifted from his role as bullpen coach last season to hitting coach, replacing Chili Davis, who left to take a three-year contract for the same position with the Boston Red Sox.
At first glance it might seem an unusual transition to make, but Bush, 41, came up through the coaching ranks as a hitting instructor before he began a six-year stint managing at every level in Oakland’s farm system.
He has some sizable shoes to fill. In Davis’ three seasons as hitting coach, the A’s twice finished in the top five in the majors in runs. He also earned high marks for his rapport with players. But an advantage for Bush is that he’s no newcomer being imported from a different organization. He’s been on manager Bob Melvin’s staff for the past two seasons so many players are familiar with him, and that should help build his relationships as he takes over hitting coach duties.
“For us hitters, that’s the coach we get to know the most for just about every one of us,” outfielder Sam Fuld said. “It’s a huge part of how we grow and how we learn as players.”
Bush says he studied A’s hitters from afar the past two seasons from his seat in the bullpen. He took his mental notes and tried to absorb as much as he could.
“You want them to have success, so you’re watching everything they do,” Bush said. “And Chili always talked hitting, so we were there talking hitting anytime. You throw batting practice to them, you watch them. You don’t say anything because Chili had it covered. But you’re always watching.”
Second baseman Eric Sogard, who played under Bush at Triple-A Sacramento, said Bush differs in personality from Davis, but that he’s looking forward to working with him as a hitting coach.
“Bushie’s a little more laid back, a quiet kind of guy,” Sogard said. “I haven’t worked with him too much yet, but we have a great relationship going back to the minor leagues. He’s an easy guy to talk to. He’ll work on whatever you want with him.”
When the A’s first announced Bush as their hitting coach in late October, one of the biggest benefits seemingly was that he had history with several hitters going back to their minor league days. But since the announcement, three of those players he managed in the minors – Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris – have been traded.
Nine of the 19 position players currently on the 40-man roster are in their first year with the A’s. That’s a lot of batting stances and a lot of individual hitting mechanics and tendencies to learn. But Bush points out that part of his job as bullpen coach was preparing scouting reports on opposing hitters such as Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist. Now those three wear A’s uniforms.
“The guys we have coming in, the majority of them I’ve already scouted,” Bush said. “I’ve been watching them on the other side, trying to figure out how to get them out. So I felt very comfortable with them already. As far as how much homework I did, I just read my notes.”
Bush will have help this season, as the A’s joined the growing number of teams that now employ an assistant hitting coach. Former major league catcher Marcus Jensen will serve as Bush’s right-hand man on the hitting side as well as be the full-time catching instructor.
“Four eyes are better than two,” Bush said.
One of Bush’s most intriguing pupils will be right fielder Josh Reddick, a player who has had trouble replicating the offensive success he had during his 32-homer season of 2012. He’s had some injury setbacks, but at age 28, Reddick should just be entering the prime of his career. Should he be able to combine good health and consistent run production with his Gold Glove-caliber defense, it would equate to one dynamic player.
Reddick enjoyed a strong relationship with Davis going back to 2011, when Reddick was in Boston’s system and Davis was the hitting coach with Triple-A Pawtucket.
“It is some big shoes to fill,” Reddick said. “Chili did one heck of a job out here. … But with Bushie, I think it’s gonna be just as easy because of having him these past two years. It’s just about figuring each other out.”