OAKLAND -- From his press box seat high above the field, Ron Washington watches the game and quietly hopes that grounder after grounder makes its way toward A’s shortstop Marcus Semien.
Washington, working with the A’s as an infield instructor, runs Semien through a range of defensive fundamental drills before every game. Then he heads upstairs and is eager to see how Semien applies those lessons once the first pitch is thrown.
“I’m with him every day and I see the progress he makes,” Washington said. “I’m sitting up there wanting balls to go to him because I want him to play the ball.”
Anyone watching Semien on a daily basis right now can notice the same progress. Semien still leads the majors with 22 errors, but he’s looking more relaxed and more natural in the field. The routine plays are starting to truly look routine for him, and the natural abilities that drew attention during spring training are starting to shine through as the season approaches the halfway point.
“We all know he has the ability to do it, and he’s showing more consistency,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He just looks more confident, and I think success breeds confidence.”
All the fundamental work in the world wouldn’t make much difference if Semien didn’t show the resiliency to roll with the punches. The errors have come in bunches in the first two-plus months of this season, his first shot as an everyday big league shortstop. But after making a whopping 12 errors in May -- throws to first seemed to give him the most trouble -- Semien has made just four in 18 games in June. He’s whipping the ball over to first with more zip and more accuracy.
The work with Washington has paid huge dividends. But Semien also benefits from a strong support system away from the field. His father certainly knows about competing on the big stage.
Damien Semien played wide receiver at Cal from 1990-93, catching five touchdowns as a senior for a team that won the Alamo Bowl. In addition, Semien’s girlfriend, Tarah Murrey, was an All-America volleyball player at Cal at the same time Semien was starring in baseball.
Damien Semien could tell his son was pressing at shortstop earlier in the season.
“I kind of just told him, ‘Marcus, you belong here. You know you belong here,’” the elder Semien said. “’Keep your confidence level up and just learn to slow down and learn the speed of the game.’”
Semien says his father and mother, Tracy White, instilled in him from an early age the importance of not getting down on himself. Semien impressed Melvin as he emerged as one of the A’s hottest early-season hitters even as he struggled defensively.
The errors aren’t something Semien has dwelled on.
“You pay attention to it, everybody does,” he said. “But you just have to move on, be mentally tough and want the next ball hit to you no matter what. … That’s the professional mindset. That’s what we’re here to do, is bounce back from mistakes.”
Washington, an excellent infield coach with the A’s before managing Texas from 2007-14, has made an immediate impact with Semien. His pregame fielding routine begins by taking grounders with a “flat glove.” Rather than a soft pocket, it has a flat surface, which forces a player to field the ball with soft hands. Semien fields balls to his left, then his right with the flat glove. Only after that does he slip on his regular glove.
Washington, who can’t sit in the dugout during games because he isn’t on the official coaching staff, sees Semien’s overall defensive game rounding into form.
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“He’s starting to relax,” Washington said. “He’s starting to learn how to use his feet. He’s learned when you’ve got to put something on the baseball. He’s starting to learn certain areas of the field where you catch the ball, what needs to happen. With all of that comes confidence.”
A’s infield coach Mike Gallego has worked with Semien on anticipation, reading hitters’ swings and anticipating where the ball’s going to be hit. Combined with Washington’s work on fundamentals, Semien appears to be putting it all together.
Sunday brought a special moment, as Damien Semien threw out the ceremonial first pitch -- along with Randy Vogt and David Canha -- as part of Father’s Day festivities at the Coliseum.
Damien Semien said his advice for his son is simple now.
“Just continue to be a sponge and enjoy it,” he said. “I keep telling him, remember, you’re doing something that you love to do. And you’re a blessed young man. Continue to feed your blessing by working hard.”