Melillo has a .409 BA in the 1st inning this year.
Second baseman Kevin Melillo is off to a strong start as the lead-off hitter for the Sacramento River Cats. Melillo has scored 21 runs and has driven-in 21 in 30 games and he has a .376 on-base percentage. We spoke to Melillo this past weekend about his first month at Triple-A, his thoughts on the lead-off spot and more.
OaklandClubhouse: Now that you’ve had a month at Triple-A, do you feel like it is a lot different than Double-A?
Kevin Melillo: I wouldn’t say a big difference, but you see a difference with the quality of the pitchers. The control, the pitch selection, that they will throw anything in any count. It’s just a lot better level of play.
I know from [the River Cats’] standpoint, we’ve played a lot of sloppy games, but have found a way to win. We’ve had a lot of errors so far, but we’ve found a way to win. If we can just fine-tune our defense a little better, I think we’ll get a lot closer to that big league level where everyone on the team is ready to make that jump.
OC: You guys have had a lot of extra-inning games and late inning comebacks. Is that something that builds the confidence of the team to have those kind of games in the early going?
KM: Oh, yeah, definitely. When you do that early in the year, it really sets the tone for the rest of the season. You really learn a lot about your team chemistry and resiliency when you are able to bounce back from things like that. It makes it a lot more fun when you can do those things early in the year. It makes you battle-tested. Hopefully if the playoffs roll around, you will feel like you are really prepared.
OC: I know last year you mentioned that you are normally a slow starter, but you seem to be off to a good start this season. Is that just one of those things or did you change anything about your preparation this season?
KM: A little bit of both, actually. I have changed my approach a little bit. I have been working with Mac [Brian McArn], our hitting coach, in the cage. Just kind of doing some things to get a little more focused and maybe get jump-started a little bit earlier this year because May always gives me some trouble and then June and July roll around and I am my old self again. Hopefully, I can keep things going and keep myself around that .300 mark and finish the season strong. There is so much time left in the season. Someone could be hitting .450 right now and finish up .250, so there is a lot of the season left.
OC: You seem to have settled into that lead-off spot this season. Do you enjoy that spot in the line-up?
KM: Yeah. Tony [DeFrancesco] and I talked about it this spring because he was looking for a guy for the lead-off spot, who could be that catalyst-guy, get on-base, score runs and that is what I have been trying to do. The first game of the year kind of set the tone for me. I went 2-3 with three walks and I had a walk-off walk in the bottom of the ninth and I was like, okay, I can get used to this approach.
I have always been a guy who likes to see a lot of pitches. I have had 80-plus walks both years. That lead-off spot is just really comfortable for me. I see a lot of fastballs. I have a guy like J.J. [Furmaniak] hitting behind me, who is good with the bat and who can protect me if I am trying to steal, so there are a lot of benefits to being the lead-off hitter on this team.
OC: Have you guys been doing a lot of hit-and-run plays and that sort of thing?
KM: We’ve kind of shut that down the last couple of weeks. We were kind of playing that small-ball at the beginning of the season, stealing bases, hitting and running and that sort of thing. But we’ve kind of gotten on a tear offensively lately. Guys have been swinging the bat really well, so Tony has been cautious about running so that we don’t make outs on the bases when guys have been hitting well.
OC: Adam Melhuse was here in April. Is it fun to play with someone who has so much major league experience?
KM: Adam was here for only about four or five days or so. It seemed pretty brief. He showed up while we were in Salt Lake and by the time we left Salt Lake, he was gone again, but it was good to have him around. Guys like [Brad ] Halsey have been in the big leagues and then we’ve had Dallas Braden go up and come back down. It’s awesome to know how close we are to the big leagues. A lot of guys around us get the opportunity to go up there and then they come back and then there is a guy like Melhuse who has been up there for a number of years now. There is a lot to learn from those guys.
OC: Speaking of guys with major league experience, have you been working with Antonio Perez at all?
KM: Not really. Lou Merloni has been a guy who I have learned a lot from. He has always been that versatile infielder guy who is known for his glove and Lou is one of those guys who will go out of his way to say something to you or something to the pitcher. Even though he has never seen the mound a day in his life, he still goes up to the pitcher and says ‘hey, we are up by this much in this inning, so you should throw this pitch in this count.’ He is like another coach on the field. It is awesome to have a guy like that who has so much big league experience who is so willing to take the time to help other guys out.
OC: It seems like you handle left-handers pretty well for a left-handed hitter. Is that something you spend a lot of time working on?
KM: My success against left-handers goes back and forth. Last year, I know I hit lefties better than I hit righties, because I wound up looking at that to see how I did against lefties last season. It is one of those things where I either have a great day against them or a bad day. I feel like I’ll either go 3-4 with a couple of knocks or 0-4 with two strikeouts. It’s just one of those things where if I am seeing the ball well, it doesn’t really matter who I am facing.
OC: Now that you’ve had a chance to travel in the PCL and spend some time in Sacramento, how do the cities compare to cities in Double-A and so forth?
KM: I love it. Sacramento is a great town. Nothing against Midland at all because it was fun to play there, but this is a totally different city and there is a big atmosphere change. I grew up in Orlando and live in Charlotte, so I am a big city guy. This has been a perfect place to play.
It has been warm here; the weather has been great. We go on the road to Tacoma and Portland and it is freezing and raining and we come back here and it is great. I have a great apartment set-up and it has been a great place to play.