As Thursday’s Cactus League lineup suggested, Josh Donaldson is looking at a new role for the A’s in 2014.
He drove in a team-best 93 runs for the A’s last season, mostly batting third, fourth, fifth and sixth. He was in the lineup batting second against the Brewers Thursday, and that’s likely to be where he fits in for Oakland moving forward.
The No.2 slot isn’t typically where teams put their most prolific RBI bat, so it says something about both the A’s and about Donaldson that this is the current thinking regarding the third baseman’s role in 2014.
He’s flexible enough to fit most anywhere in the lineup, and if it means moving up in the order to give the club more right-handed punch near the top, so be it.
“I feel comfortable wherever Bob (Melvin) puts me,’’ Donaldson said Thursday morning. “He put me there last year some toward the end of the season and it seemed to work.’’
For much of the year, Jed Lowrie and John Jaso hit second for the A’s, but with the lineup struggling and Jaso out for the final two months, Melvin did an about-face and put Donaldson in the No.2 spot on Aug. 27.
Donaldson, hitting .291 at the time, hit .343 the rest of the way to get his final average to .301. The A’s went 22-8 in Donaldson’s final 30 starts, 23 of which were made when he was batting second.
There are some upsides for the third baseman in that spot. He’d come to the plate a lot with Coco Crisp on first base, at which point the opposing pitcher and catcher would have to devote some of their time to prevent Crisp from stealing second. And if Crisp remains at first base, that means a huge gap between first baseman covering at the bag the second baseman pulled toward second, the better to shoot a ball to right field.
“I’m always going to give Coco a chance to run if I know he wants to be aggressive like that,’’ Donaldson said. “There were a number of times last year when he’d get to second base and I’d get a hit to bring him home,
“And I’m comfortable driving the ball to right field, so hitting into the hole there is OK.’’
Asked if he’d rather hit 3-4-5, where he had 44 RBIs in 83 games last season, Donaldson demurred.
“I’ll leave that call for Bob,’’ Donaldson said. “He’s been very good for me here. I’ll probably start the season in the 2 hole, but no one knows where I’ll finish the season hitting.’’