Keiichi Yabu threw three innings on Thurs.
PHOENIX – In a game filled with booted groundballs and pop-ups lost in the sun, it was a defensive gem that was the play of the day in the Oakland A’s 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. With two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning, Cubs prospect Angel Echeverria sent a screaming line-drive out to left field that seemed destined to be an RBI double. Out of nowhere, A’s left fielder Hiram Bocachica dove head long across the warning track, snaring the ball an inch off of the ground.
Hiram Bocachica’s catch not only elicited a standing ovation from the capacity Phoenix Municipal Stadium crowd, it also garnered rave reviews from the Chicago Cubs. A group of the Cubs were doing sprints out in left field when Echeverria’s drive headed over Bocachica’s head.
“I didn’t see the ball great off the bat but I knew it was going be an in-between sort of thing so I just sprinted back and dove and hoped for the best,” Bocachica said. “I was just concentrating on the ball and not thinking about the [Cubs players doing sprints behind him]. I knew I caught the ball when I heard their reactions of ‘oohing, ahhing’ over the catch. They were definitely surprised I caught the ball. That was a lot of fun.”
Bocachica signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent during the off-season. The former Montreal Expos first round draft pick spent last season as a member of the Seattle Mariners. He has also spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers. Bocachica was originally a shortstop, but he spent most of his time with Seattle last season in the outfield. He came into camp this year expecting to play both in the infield and the outfield, but has so far played exclusively in the outfield.
“I am fine playing whatever they want me to play, so if all they want me to play is in the outfield, then that is okay with me,” Bocachica said.
Bocachica feels that the outstanding play of infielder Mark Ellis has influenced the A’s decision to play him only in the outfield.
“I think the team has been really caught up with Mark Ellis’ recovery and watching him play. I think they have been very surprised to see how well he has been playing,” Bocachica said. “It is great that he is able to play so well after what he went through last year, and I definitely I think the team is surprised that he is able to perform [at that high level].”
Because Bocachica has been limited to playing only in the outfield, he has found at-bats to be few and far between this spring. He has mostly been limited to one or two at-bats late in games and has yet to get fully on-track at the plate. In 10 games, he has had only 17 official at-bats and is currently hitting .235. However, he has shown good patience at the plate, walking five times and compiling a .409 OBP.
“Physically I feel great right now. It is kind of hard for me to get going [at the plate] right now only getting one at-bat a game. This week we have a couple of split-squad games so I am hoping to have a chance to get a few more at-bats. I think all I really need right now is a few at-bats to get on track,” Bocachica said.
With the start of the regular season only two weeks away, Bocachica knows that his time is running out to make a good impression on the A’s coaching staff.
“I have no idea really where I stand with the team right now. I am kind of confused at the moment [about what the team thinks of him],” Bocachica said. “I just have to take it one game at a time and hope for the best.”
With the exception of Bocachica’s outstanding defensive play, the A’s had a rough day with the leather on Thursday. Second baseman Keith Ginter and third baseman Bobby Smith committed errors on the infield and left fielder Nick Swisher booted a ball in the outfield. Ginter has struggled lately with the glove and appears to be pressing in the field as the competition for the starting second base job heats up. He did have an RBI sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 5th.
Swisher continues to struggle from the left-side of the plate. He struck out three times from the left-side on Thursday and has now struck out four straight times batting left-handed.
Keiichi Yabu had arguably his best outing on Thursday. He went three innings and allowed only two hits, one walk and an unearned run. He also struck out two. Yabu fell behind batters at the beginning of his outing, but he improved his control as he got deeper into the game.
Rich Harden’s line wasn’t pretty (he allowed four earned runs in five innings), but he fell victim to a number of seeing-eye singles and bloop hits. He struck out five in five innings pitched and has struck out 13 hitters in 12 innings this spring. He has walked only one batter.
The A’s collected seven hits over five innings against Greg Maddux and scored four runs. Three of the A’s runs came after misplays in left field by the Cubs off-season acquisition Jerry Hairston. Hairston saw a Mark Kotsay line drive nick off his glove for a double in the third and a Bobby Kielty double bounce in front of him after he lost it in the sun in the fifth. When Hairston finally handled a fly ball without incident, the effort was met with a derisive cheer from the Cubs fans sitting in left field. Hairston responded to the jeers by doffing his cap at the crowd.
The A’s travel to Merryvale on Friday to take on the Milwaukee Brewers. Dan Haren is scheduled to take the hill for Oakland.