MLB: Athletics counting on Suzuki behind the plate
By Curtis Pashelka
Contra Costa Times
PHOENIX — Catcher Kurt Suzuki and new Oakland Athletics pitcher Ben Sheets already have found a certain chemistry after Sheets’ only two spring training starts.
There remain a few kinks to be worked out, though.
For instance, Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox, Suzuki, a Baldwin High alum, put down a sign, and Sheets shook it off. Suzuki flashed two other signs before coming back to the first one, which Sheets finally agreed to.
“Think I threw a double,” Sheets said.
But A’s manager Bob Geren doesn’t think it’ll take long for the two to get on the same page. And Sheets said he won’t necessarily throw everything that Suzuki wants at this stage of the spring, even though it might be the correct call.
That’ll happen, though. Because from the time he took over everyday catching duties 2 1/2 years ago from veteran Jason Kendall, Suzuki has worked tirelessly to earn the trust of his teammates, be they veterans with All-Star Game appearances such as Sheets or younger pitchers still getting their feet wet.
“You want them to believe in you when you’re putting down that finger. You want them to feel 100 percent convinced that this is the right pitch to throw in that situation,” Suzuki said. “That comes with building the relationship and seeing how hard you work and how much you care and want them to succeed.”
It wasn’t an accident that Suzuki won last year’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award, given by A’s players to the teammate who best exemplifies the competitive spirit of the Hall of Fame pitcher.
“When he says something, you listen as a pitching staff. He’s got his knowledge, and he knows what’s going on,” said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who’s trying to earn the final spot in the A’s rotation. “He’s not going to lead you down the wrong path.”
Overshadowed by the AL MVP season of Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, Suzuki last year hit a respectable .274 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. This year, as the likely No. 3 hitter, he will be relied upon to drive in runs with speedy Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis penciled in to bat ahead of him in the lineup.
Just as important, though, will be his underappreciated play on defense. In 135 games last season, Suzuki had 923 putouts (first in the American League), 68 assists (second) and a .995 fielding percentage (fourth).
“I get to see him every day,” A’s starter Brett Anderson said. “Being in Oakland and being on the West Coast, people don’t get to see him as much. He’s tremendous back there . . . Blocking balls, throwing guys out, doing all the stuff that catchers need to do.”
Mauer has won the past two AL Gold Gloves for catchers, but Suzuki has put his name in the conversation.
“That kind of award would mean the most to me,” Suzuki said. “But my goal is not to win a Gold Glove this year. I want to help the pitching staff, I want to do my job, and if I do that and it leads to a Gold Glove, then great.”
Notes: Dallas Braden allowed three hits, including a two-run homer to Ryan Braun, in three innings in the A’s 7-3 win over Milwaukee on Thursday at Maryvale Park. ... Outfielder Michael Taylor hit his first homer of the spring, a blast to left-center off LaTroy Hawkins in the eighth. “That was one of the longer ones I’ve ever seen. Very impressive,” Geren said. ... Jason Jennings, a nonroster invitee, allowed two hits in two shutout innings. ... Shortstop Adam Rosales went 2-for-3 with a double and a run. He’ll likely play second base today against Arizona in Tucson, Geren said. ... Anderson will start against the Diamondbacks. Also scheduled to pitch are Tyson Ross, Marcus McBeth, Jerry Blevins, Henry Rodriguez, Sam Demel and Pedro Figueroa. ... Justin Duchscherer is still scheduled to throw to hitters at Phoenix Municipal on Friday.