Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A's Weeks ahead of schedule
By Jerry Crasnick
NEW YORK -- David Forst, assistant general manager of the Oakland A’s, was checking out batting practice before Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets and ticking off reasons for the team’s recent surge when the conversation turned to rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks.
A brief scouting report on Weeks: He’s a burner on the basepaths, a doubles-and-triples slasher type of hitter and a high-energy player who is still refining his game around the second-base bag.
Does the kid have plate discipline?
“Absolutely,’’ Forst said. “He’s a first-round draft pick of the A’s. He better have it.’’
As if on cue, Weeks proceeded to draw two walks, steal two bases, mix in a single and score three runs to help the resurgent A’s beat New York 7-3 at Citi Field. It was Oakland’s sixth straight victory and kept the A’s within 5½ games of first-place Texas in the equal opportunity American League West.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in Oakland -- and we’re not just talking about the trailer for “Moneyball’’ finally making the rounds. The A’s have weathered a rash of injuries, and they’re hoping things will continue to round into shape with pitchers Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy moving closer to returning from the disabled list.
The players’ collective mood has already shown a noticeable improvement since general manager Billy Beane fired manager Bob Geren and replaced him with Bob Melvin. The last time two Bobs were linked this closely, there was workplace havoc in the movie “Office Space.’’ But the managerial change has clearly had the desired impact since one Bob left the premises and another took his place.
The A’s found their stride over the weekend with a three-game sweep of San Francisco in the Bay Bridge Series and were so wary of upsetting team karma that they’ve continued to wear their Fort Knox gold jerseys on the road. Steve Vucinich, Oakland’s equipment manager, packed the home jerseys for the trip after consulting the Major League Baseball style guide and finding they’re permissible in away games under the rules. Gold jerseys don’t blend very well with the A’s road-gray pants, but when a team is on a 6-0 run, clashing hues can make for sartorial elegance.
“It’s not our best look,’’ Weeks said. “But it’s part of our winning right now, so I guess we’ll keep it until it wears itself out.’’
The A’s don’t hit much even in the best of times, and they ran out a nondescript lineup against New York. With team home run leader Josh Willingham bothered by a sore Achilles and the slumping David DeJesus forced to the bench by designated hitter Hideki Matsui’s outfield cameo, Melvin did some nifty improvisation. Center fielder Coco Crisp made his 11th career start in the No. 3 spot in the batting order. And Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney -- who have combined for one homer in 277 at-bats this season -- hit in the fifth and sixth spots.
Oakland’s table setters alleviated any concerns by setting the tone from the outset against Mets starter Dillon Gee. Weeks and shortstop Cliff Pennington reached base seven times in their first eight plate appearances and scored five runs, and that was more than enough offensive support for A's starter Josh Outman.
Weeks now is hitting .362 with a .400 OBP since his arrival from the minors June 7 and is showing some admirable selectivity at the plate.
“He looks like he’s been leading off for 15 years,’’ Melvin said. “He takes changeups just off the plate in two-strike counts, and he takes pitches when it’s 3-1. A lot of young players are going to want to swing there because that’s a good count to hit. But he just makes them throw another strike.’’
Barely a week into his new job, Melvin already has a big decision to make. Veteran Mark Ellis, whose hamstring injury prompted the A’s to call up Weeks from Triple-A Sacramento two weeks ago, is eligible to return from the disabled list Wednesday. The A’s aren’t saying precisely how they plan to resolve the traffic jam at second base. But Weeks sure isn’t playing like a kid who’s interested in seeing more of the Sacramento skyline.
“I’m certainly not going to do anything until I talk to the players,’’ Melvin said. “It’s a great problem to have. One of them is up-and-coming and probably our best prospect. And the other guy has probably meant as much to this organization as anybody in the last 10 years. It’ll be nice to have them both on the team, but it’ll be a difficult proposition either way.’’
Regardless of what happens in the short term, Weeks is carving out an identity beyond that of “Rickie Weeks’ little brother.’’ While Rickie sneaked up on people at Southern University before going to Milwaukee as the second pick in the 2003 draft, Jemile is a product of a baseball factory at Miami. At a rock-solid 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Rickie looks as if he should be blowing up offensive backfields on a safety blitz. Jemile, in contrast, is a scant 5-9 and 160 pounds. But when he’s raising havoc on the bases, with those braids spilling out from beneath his cap, he can certainly look intimidating.
Jemile has already earned an ardent following in a short time in the Bay Area. When Hall of Famer and stolen base king Rickey Henderson recently showed up to work with the Oakland position players on base stealing and pronounced Weeks “exciting,’’ it was enough to make a rookie’s head spin.
“It was just flattering,’’ Weeks said. “You just sit back and say, ‘Wow. Rickey Henderson said that about me.' It’s just a great feeling. I can’t really put it into words.’’
Two weeks and 47 at-bats into his tenure with the A’s, Jemile Weeks doesn’t need many words to express himself. His game is speaking quite eloquently on his behalf.
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.
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