A’s catcher Heim learns the ropes be­hind plate

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Shayna Ru­bin

MESA, ARIZ. >> Catch­ers have spent most of the first week of camp in their nat­u­ral po­si­tion: in the squat, catch­ing some of base­ball’s nas­ti­est pitches these A’s pitch­ers have to of­fer. On Thurs­day, they flipped from pitch re­ceiver to pitch vic­tim.

“Bad draw for the catch­ers, who very rarely get to hit off live pitch­ing and they get those guys,” man­ager Bob Melvin said. “That’s the life of a catcher in spring train­ing.”

The life of the catch­ers in A’s camp this spring varies, too. Sean Murphy, the pre­sump­tive start­ing catcher, is get­ting reac­quainted with the pitch­ing staff he’s al­ready quite fa­mil­iar with. Left-handed hit­ting Austin Allen, traded to Oak­land in the win­ter, is try­ing to lever­age his bits of big

league ex­pe­ri­ence in San Diego into a backup role.

Jonah Heim is the new kid in camp, fast tracked sud­denly. He is here to prove he might be able to crack the big leagues soon. The Bal­ti­more Ori­oles drafted Heim in 2013, then traded him to Tampa Bay Rays, who held him briefly be­fore flip­ping him to the A’s in 2017 for Joey Wen­dle (who’s shined with the Rays). Heim is just 24 with a 6-foot-4 frame that cre­ates a nice wall be­hind the dish. He thrived on the merit of his glove and, last year, just started click­ing be­hind the plate.

Af­ter hit­ting .282 with the Mid­land Rock­Hounds in 2019, Heim was pushed up to Las Ve­gas and thrived, bat­ting .358 in 35 games. His plate dis­ci­pline be­tween the two teams, 45 strike­outs to 35 walks, is par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy. The A’s like a guy that can get on base.

Melvin has said that the backup catcher role is still up for grabs. Allen isn’t a lock, even if it seems he has the edge. Heim is cer­tainly in the mix, and part of the train­ing is tak­ing spring to build a rap­port with this staff.

“Big­gest thing we can do in spring train­ing is catch ev­ery guy, be­cause next spring train­ing they may come back with new stuff,” Heim said at his locker in Mesa.

He caught Mon­tas’ bullpen Thurs­day, which was a trip.

“He got me a cou­ple times, it was a lit­tle tough to see. Frankie has some elec­tric stuff,” Heim said. “He threw me a slider that started in the tree, I didn’t see it come back but it got on me quick.”

“Jesús (Luzardo) is al­ways nasty, ev­ery sin­gle guy has a pitch were you aren’t sure how they throw it. All of them to­gether, when you have to mix all of them up and all for strikes, he just be­comes nasty, and it’s fun to catch. Not great if you’re hit­ting.” FIERS SPEAKS >> Fiers and his team­mates spoke about the fears (or, non-fears) about pos­si­ble ret­ri­bu­tion in Hous­ton. That the Astros were cheat­ing to steal signs was known in the A’s club­house. And Mark Cahna said he feared speak­ing up be­cause of the pow­er­house and pro­tec­tion the Astros had built around them.

Fiers said he didn’t care much what kind of ret­ri­bu­tion he might face. He’s got­ten death threats be­fore for frac­tur­ing Gian­carlo Stan­ton’s jaw with a pitch.

He also said he didn’t fear pun­ish­ment; he came for­ward ex­pect­ing to suf­fer any con­se­quences his 2017 team­mates might face, too.

“I de­serve the same (pun­ish­ment), be­cause ev­ery­body was there,” Fiers said. “Ev­ery­one was part of it, and I was in the same po­si­tion as ev­ery­body else.” DAVID­SON SOAK­ING IN FIRST CAMP >> The Ari­zona sun hit a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for Char­lotte, North Carolina na­tive Lo­gan David­son.

“The weather here is much more friendly where it is where I’m from, the week be­fore I got here it snowed where I’m from,” David­son said.

David­son may get to soak up that Mesa sun a whole lot more in the fu­ture. The A’s see a lot of po­ten­tial in the 22-year-old. He was a steal in last year’s draft; the A’s snatched the switch-hit­ting Clem­son short­stop at 29th over­all.

It’s not too rare to have first-rounders get spring train­ing in­vites in their first pro­fes­sional year, but David­son is notic­ing the way it can stream­line his growth in the mi­nor leagues.

“The main dif­fer­ence is that the things we’re learn­ing are things that have been proven from play­ers and guys that have been per­form­ing right now, not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing that may work,” David­son said. “I feel like in col­lege a lot of things are bounced around un­til you find some­thing, but there aren’t al­ways con­crete rea­sons be­hind it.”

David­son wants to work on con­sis­tency at the plate, like any young hit­ter might. But he’s also pick­ing fel­low short­stop Mar­cus Semien’s brain for as much ad­vice and knowl­edge he can get. Plus, he’s work­ing with new as­sis­tant hit­ting coach Eric Martins, who was one of his coaches in in­struc­tional league. SIT­U­A­TIONAL HIT­TING LES­SON >> An un­fa­mil­iar drill took place hours be­fore the A’s took on the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card game last Oc­to­ber.

The A’s were prac­tic­ing their bunting. Even amid the stress of post­sea­son base­ball it drew some chuck­les from man­ager Bob Melvin back then.

De­spite the drill and the early deficit to the Rays in that wild card game, the A’s didn’t flip into any sit­u­a­tional hit­ting to chip away. It looks like that re­sis­tance might loosen this year. The team will run some sit­u­a­tional hit­ting drills on Fri­day.

“I’m sure as I speak, and this is writ­ten a lit­tle later, my front of­fice will…yeah,” Melvin joked. “But there’s times in the sea­son, es­pe­cially with our pitch­ing and de­fense, there are times where we can do that, get guys over, get them in. We’ll be a bet­ter club for it.”

How do you prac­tice some­thing like sit­u­a­tional hit­ting? “It’s an aware­ness right away, and that’s what we’re try­ing to do in this camp.”

Sit­u­a­tional hit­ting has gone by the way­side in this mod­ern, all-out ap­proach era. The Amer­i­can League’s em­ploy­ment of the des­ig­nated hit­ter re­moves lineup re­stric­tions that might force some bot­tom of the lineup sit­u­a­tional hit­ting. But with some speed in their lineup (Tony Kemp, Ramón Lau­re­ano) and some suc­cess­ful bunting in their past (Matt Ol­son beat­ing the shift), there might be op­por­tu­nity to flip the script and chip away de­spite the slew of slug­gers up and down the or­der.

“It should be some­thing guys are think­ing about more than just one game, so we’ll try to put a lit­tle bit more em­pha­sis on it,” Melvin said.

NICK ALLEN’S MAG­I­CAL GLOVE >> Allen isn’t a top prospect, yet. But the short­statured short­stop has wowed with his glove since Day 1. Melvin raved about him to­day.

“When you see him in plain clothes you’re not 100 per­cent sure he’s a base­ball player, but he is a base­ball player,” Melvin said.

He wanted to get Allen, who the A’s drafted in 2017, into games this spring — but a trou­ble­some shoul­der could de­lay that. But A’s fans should be ea­ger to see him nav­i­gate that stretch.

“He’s one of our bet­ter prospects and I don’t know that we have a bet­ter de­fender in de­vel­op­ment,” Melvin said. “You watch him take ground balls, and what­ever hop he gets ... vet­eran guys try to get the big hop, but there isn’t a hop he’s afraid of, he has clean hands, soft hands, one of those guys that doesn’t come around too of­ten as far as he looks de­fen­sively. It’s not just rou­tine stuff, he makes the great plays and he’s fun to watch. He’s unique.”


A’s man­ager Bob Melvin watches as play­ers run the bases dur­ing spring train­ing prac­tice on Thurs­day in Mesa, Ariz.

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