1-on-1 with A's C Kurt Suzuki

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1-on-1 with A's C Kurt Suzuki

Kurt Suzuki is one of the earliest to arrive each morning at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. By 8:30 a.m., he'd already been in the batting cages, done a radio interview and taken care of some business matters in the clubhouse. Then he joined me for a candid conversation in the dugout. By 8:50 a.m. he was in a catchers' meeting, and then just after 9 a.m., he was on a shuttle van with his teammates heading over to Papago for his day to "begin".

Here is the full transcript of my 1-on-1 interview with Suzuki:

Kate Longworth: What was it like watching your starting rotation - and your friends - be traded away this off-season?Kurt Suzuki: It was tough. I mean that's the friendship side part of this game where you know guys come and go but you build relationships. The good part of it is you make new friends and so forth and so on, so I'm excited."KL: Any added pressure this spring as you try to get to know a new staff - especially with there being so many unknowns right now in the rotation? KS: I think we've got enough time to get to know each other. We have an idea who's going to be where, as you catch certain guys. Like I said, it's about building that relationship, and then I think everything will fall into place." KL: What are conversations like between you and Melvin as you catch some of these new guys who could fit into the rotations?KS: "We just talk about different things. You know, talk about who has what, have you caught this guy, have you caught that guy. He tells me the scouting report from what he gets from the scouts and the front office and what to watch out for. We talk a little about that, I mean nothing much... you can't really figure out what a guy's got until you catch him behind the plate. These first few weeks are going to be pretty important.KL: Take me through what you've seen from Brandon McCarthy over the past year.KS: I think he picked it up as the year went on, he started getting stronger. That just says a lot about his work ethic because that guy is working hard everyday. He's in the weight room everyday. I think he's kind of taken on that role of being one of the veteran guys, so it's good for the young guys to watch him and how he goes about his business because it's pretty impressive. His routine is pretty strict. I'm a routine guy also so I pick up on things like that. It's kind of cool to see.KL: Describe Brandon McCarthy...the player and the person.KS: Player, he's very focused, very determined and works hard, and he is committed to becoming the best pitcher he can be. I see him as just a laid back guy. I get along with pretty much everybody. He's got a dry sense of humor, but I like that. We have conversations...we never really joke around too much. We talk about baseball. We have some good conversations about certain things, but I think as the year went on we (formed) a better relationship, and it got better, better and better. This year, it's just about going in, and now we pick up where we left off.KL: Do you follow him on Twitter?KS: Smiling Oh yeah, oh yeah, I've got to! He's pretty witty!KL: How would you assess your comfort level at the plate heading into this season, knowing that last year you didn't always meet your expectations in that area and what roll do you see yourself in this year's line-up?KS: I just want to improve. I mean the last couple of years have been a little tough. I'm just kind of trying some things out, trying to learn myself a little bit better. You know, I'm excited about this year. I'm not putting any goals on anything, on any numbers. But I'm just excited to go out, perform, and show people what I can do.KL: Melvin said his message the next couple of days is that pitchers and catcher are one... a run scored affects you, as much as it does the pitcher's ERA. What did you take away from that?KS: To keep it short, it was you guys are one team, pitcher and catcher, you're a tandem. You guys need to work together, the better you guys work together, the better the team will be. That was basically his message here. You guys aren't individuals here, you guys need to work together. Basically reiterating how important it is to have that relationship. We all know, as being catchers, how important it is. But to hear that message again, being sent from Bob - the way he says it. Everything he says, he says it with such conviction and so much energy and positivity; you know you can't help but just to pick it up.KL: What it's like to watch Dallas back on the mound?It's just a testament to his toughness, his work ethic, and just his overall demeanor. The guy is a competitor. He battles. I'm excited to see what plays out because shoulder injuries are never fun and he's been out for a little bit now and I'm excited to see him come back. My expectations aren't going to be any lower than his, that guy is such a competitor out there! He's so fun to work with. I'm excited to see him back on the mound because when he's out there, it's fun to watch and it's good to play behind him because you get that energy from him, it's awesome.

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

MESA, Ariz. — Gaudy run totals in spring training usually don’t mean a whole lot once the regular season hits.

For A’s manager Bob Melvin, it’s the manner in which the A’s are going about things offensively that’s encouraging to him.

Oakland jumped on another opponent early, scoring five runs in the first Friday and rolling to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Granted, Chicago scratched starter Carlos Rodon in the morning and had to piece the game together with its bullpen.

But that only takes so much luster off the way the A’s are going about their business right now. They’ve won four in a row, and over their past five games they’ve racked up 71 hits and are averaging more than eight runs per contest in that span.

“The good thing is it’s contagious throughout the lineup,” Melvin said. “In the first inning alone we had four situational at-bats and four situational plusses. That’s something Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) really has been stressing all spring. We’ve had a lot of games where we just pass it on to the next guy, and if we’re gonna be successful this year, that’s what we’re gonna have to do is get contributions throughout the lineup.”

It’s interesting to watch how Melvin utilizes Matt Joyce. Early on he said he prefers the right fielder batting third when he’s in the lineup. But Joyce also is drawing starts at leadoff, as he did Friday, and the No. 2 spot. Increasing on-base percentage is a big need for the A’s, and Joyce entered Friday tied for the Cactus league lead with 10 walks.

He singled to spark a five-run first that included RBI singles from Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha and Chris Parmelee.

ELITE COMPANY: Melvin threw out some big-time names when asked who young third baseman Matt Chapman reminds him of.

One was Melvin’s former Giants teammate, Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.

“The defense, Matty was as good as anybody I've seen over at third base,” Melvin said. “The power, there are a lot of similarities. That’s probably the best comp I could think of.”

Melvin also mentioned current Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves and posted back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

Not a bad couple of guys to be compared to.

“That’s exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice to have people speak well of you. Those are two guys that I’m aware of how good they are.”

NOTEWORTHY: It was another start Friday where Kendall Graveman seemed to be on auto pilot, retiring hitters with ease and holding the White Sox to one run over seven innings. All the more impressive was that A’s hitters put together some very long half-innings, where Graveman had to make sure he stayed loose.

He simply took it as a good challenge to prepare for all those cold night games at the Coliseum. Named the A’s Opening Night starter just a day earlier, Graveman also used this start to focus on his cutter, being that his sinker has been locked in.

“It was good to have some innings where you have to sit for a while and go back out there,” Graveman said.

His ERA is 2.29 through five starts. He has one more tune-up before the April 3 opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

HEALTH UPDATES: Outfielder Jaff Decker continues to progress from his oblique injury. Now the key is whether he can return to games in time to make a final push for the 25-man roster. Alejandro De Aza appears to be his biggest competition to be the fifth outfielder, if the A’s end up carrying five.

“It just depends on when he gets in a game,” Melvin said of Decker. “I mean, he’s done enough obviously to make a big impression on us. But whether or not he’s even healthy enough at the end, we’ll see.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Ryon Healy swatted his fifth homer of the spring, a two-run shot, in the second inning. Entering Friday evening, Healy was tied for the major league lead in RBI (16) with Boston’s Pablo Sandoval. … Plouffe is on a recent tear and has lifted his average to .395. … Parmelee, a non-roster outfielder, is impressing in under-the-radar fashion. The left-handed hitter is batting .367. … Melvin is having a heck of a time getting switch hitter Jed Lowrie at-bats from the right side. He purposely switched things up to have Lowrie face the lefty Rodon on Friday, only to have Rodon get scratched. The A’s face lefties each of the next two days, and Melvin also mentioned sending Lowrie over to face minor league lefties if need be.

A's Jharel Cotton among MLB's brightest prospects to watch in 2017

A's Jharel Cotton among MLB's brightest prospects to watch in 2017

CHICAGO -- Corey Seager helped the Los Angeles Dodgers make it all the way to the NL Championship Series last year. Michael Fulmer developed into a reliable part of Detroit's rotation, winning 11 games for the Tigers with a 3.06 ERA.

Here is a closer look at a group of rookies hoping to have a similar impact this season:

-OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox: There is a lot to love about the 22-year-old Benintendi, who rocketed through Boston's minor league system after the Red Sox grabbed him with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. He made it to the majors last August and hit .295 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 34 games. He also went deep in the AL Division Series against Cleveland.

-2B Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox: The Cuban slugger was acquired by Chicago in the blockbuster deal that sent lefty ace Chris Sale to Boston. The rebuilding White Sox plan to go slow with Moncada, who just turned 21 in September. But he could bring his powerful swing and athleticism to Chicago's starting lineup at some point this summer.

-RHP Jose De Leon, Tampa Bay Rays: The chance to bring in De Leon was just too tempting for the Rays, who got the right-hander in a January trade with the Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe. De Leon, who likely will begin the year with Triple-A Durham, made his major league debut in September and was 2-0 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts. He went 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 16 starts last year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he was sidelined for stretches by ankle and shoulder injuries.

-SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees: The speedy Torres was the youngest MVP in the history of the Arizona Fall League last year at age 19. He carried that success into spring training, drawing praise for his impressive skills and maturity. The Yankees appear set at shortstop for now, but Torres could make it to New York soon.

-RHP Jharel Cotton, Oakland Athletics: Cotton dazzled in his first stint in the majors last year, going 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts. He was acquired by the Athletics in the August trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers.

[RELATED: Down on the Farm: 10 A's prospects to watch in 2017]

-OF Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians: The 6-foot-5 Zimmer drew praise from Indians manager Terry Francona this spring for his bat and improvement in the outfield. Zimmer, a first-round pick in2014 from the University of San Francisco, batted .250 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in two minor league stops last season.

-RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates: The 23-year-old Glasnow struggled a bit in his first stint in the majors last year, but the 6-8 right-hander looked great this spring. He went 8-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 20 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2016.

-SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves: The Kennesaw, Georgia, native played college ball at Vanderbilt before he was selected by Arizona with the first pick of the 2015 draft. The Diamondbacks traded him to Atlanta six months later, and he hit .302 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 38 games with the Braves last year. He was slowed by back stiffness this spring, but he has the look of a budding star.

-OF Dylan Cozens, Philadelphia Phillies: The 2012 second-round pick had 40 homers, 125 RBIs and 21 steals in 134 games for Double-A Reading last season. He is expected to begin this year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his major league debut could be soon.

-OF Lewis Brinson, Milwaukee Brewers: The future of Milwaukee's outfield looks pretty good, with Brinson, Brett Phillips and Ryan Cordell slated to begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Brinson, who arrived last August in the Jonathan Lucroy trade with Texas, hit .268 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs over three minor league stops in 2016.

-OF Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: The 25-year-old Renfroe has big-time power. He was promoted late last year and connected against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner for his first major league homer on Sept. 24. He also hit the first-ever home run onto the top of the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse in left at cavernous Petco Park.

-1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: The son of former Yankees outfielder Clay Bellinger hit 23 homers for Double-A Tulsa last year. With Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at first, Cody Bellinger, 21, also could play in the outfield to speed his ascension to the majors.