The A’s tried it the Ben Zobrist way 12 months ago. Now they’re trying it the Chris Coghlan way.
Zobrist is the dean of baseball’s utility players, as at home in right field as at shortstop or second base. As Coghlan, who looks up to Zobrist, says, “there were others before Zo, but he was the one who made it look sexy and cool.’’
Oakland traded Zobrist to Kansas City at the trade deadline last July, and he wound up with the Chicago Cubs in free agency, meaning he and Coghlan, another jack-of-all-trades, were teammates this week for the first time. Then the A’s traded for Coghlan Thursday so `it was cool to play with him … for two days,’’ he said
Coghlan said he can’t wait to step into the role of playing here, there and everywhere that Zobrist had last year with the A’s. And while not everyone embraces the phrase “utility man,’’ he does.
“When I was younger, I was like ‘I want to play one position,’’’ he said. “But as you grow, to be able to play different positions really helps the team so I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s funny, they always compare me to Zo, and finally playing with him….that was the dude I always tried to model myself after because he helped the team in so many ways.’’
Zobrist, who got a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs, texted his congratulations to Coghlan on the move, although he’d been hoping they’d play together. Coghlan said the Cubs’ Zobrist, Addison Russell, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and former Cub and current Giant Jeff Samardzija all got in contact to tell him how much he’d enjoy playing for A’s manager Bob Melvin.
Coghlan doesn’t have the same contract aspirations in next year’s free agency as Zobrist, but he’d like to fill his shoes in Oakland.
“Zo set the bar,’’ Coghlan said. “Before (being a utility player) mean you weren’t an everyday guy. Now it’s the cool thing. So mad props to him.’’
–The A’s had their first live batting practice of the spring Friday, although for many of the hitters, they chose to keep their swings to a minimum and mostly worked on tracking the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the plate.
Through it all, Melvin said lefties Sean Manaea and Sean Doolittle and right-hander Ryan Dull stood out among the pitchers.
Of the rookie Manaea, Melvin said “it feels like he gives hitters a real uncomfortable at-bat, while he said Doolittle was throwing “with a certain style’’ that was reminiscent of Doolittle at his best.
“It was night and day,’’ Melvin said. “He looks like the Sean Doolittle of the past.’’
The manager gave high marks to Doolittle for using this time to work on adding a split-finger pitch he can use as a changeup. The idea is to give hitters (and the scouts who tell hitters what’s coming) something new to think about.
And then there’s Dull, who came up last year in September and did not allow a run in his first 11 innings.
“Dull threw really well, which is no surprise,’’ Melvin said. “We didn’t know much about him before he came up last year and we had a chance to see him. He came to camp in great shape, and he’s way ahead of the curve now.’’
–One of the hitters Melvin threw batting practice to was Khris Davis, of whom the manager said “the ball comes back to you in a hurry’’ when Davis connects.
–Catcher Stephen Vogt, who is being held out of BP after having elbow surgery late in January, is taking lots of soft toss swings, and he’s impressed the coaches and medical staff. “It’ll be us trying to hold him back,’’ Melvin predicted. Vogt is due to be held out of games for the first half of the Cactus League season, give or take.
–Melvin was impressed by how smoothly the first full day of camp went with bench coach Mark Kotsay in charge. “If you’ve done that job, you have sleepless night before hoping everything will go well. But we were on four fields, and all four ended at the same time, so that was impressive.’’
–Movie buff John Axford has taken time from his bullpen work with the A’s to take part in ABC’s Good Morning America Academy Awards predictions panel. You can check it out at: abcn.ws/1XPSBju
–For his annual first-full-day-of-camp talk, Melvin used a prop, Matt Foley, better known as Stephen Vogt. The catcher has a career in standup or improv, and Melvin has used him two years’ running now to lighten the mood a little.
–The manager also broke out the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie’’ to introduce owner Lew Wolff. Before the meeting Wolff said for him, his talk “is always upbeat. I just want them to know our expectations are all about playing hard.’’ Wolff said that his one-time fraternity brother Bid Selig had a bit of advice for him when Wolff and John Fisher bought the A’s. “Bud told me once never to fall in love with your players, because it will break your heart when they leave. But these are good guys and I really like them.’’
–Double-A pitching coach Rick Rodriguez, the Castro Valley High product who has spent three decades in spring training camps as player and coach, isn’t too held back by the complete right knee replacement he had three months ago. He takes a break every now and then, but then soldiers on. And while he hasn’t, at doctor’s orders, thrown batting practice yet, that should happen in a week or so.
–Jed Lowrie had a goatee his last time through with the A’s in 2013-14. As he returns for this season, however, he’s clean shaven. And with a reason: “I’m on the wrong side of 30. I have a baby face. It’s time to look younger.’’