MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Jake Smolinski will undergo surgery Friday for an injured right shoulder that hasn’t responded well to a throwing program.
Dr. Doug Freedberg, based in the Phoenix area, will perform the surgery, though A’s manager Bob Melvin said the recovery period won’t be known until Freedberg goes in and finds the extent of the damage.
It’s obviously a tough setback, as Smolinski arrived at spring training seemingly with the inside track to be the fifth outfielder should Oakland keep five on its roster. But Smolinski’s shoulder was already bothering him when he reported, and he had yet to play a single game in the field.
“He’s a guy we really feel has a high ceiling and has not hit his potential yet,” Melvin said. “Last year he did a nice job for us in center field and a guy we were targeting for quite a few at-bats against left-handed pitching.”
With Smolinski sidelined, veteran Alejandro De Aza — in camp as a non-roster invitee — becomes the favorite to make the club if the A’s keep five outfielders. He’s hitting just .238 in nine games but has had several good moments both offensively and defensively.
However, another non-roster outfielder is still in camp and has quietly impressed. Jaff Decker, signed to a minor league deal in November, has caught Melvin’s attention with the bat and glove. He’s hitting .300 (6-for-20) and can handle center field. That’s important as the A’s need someone who can serve as a capable backup to Rajai Davis. They’re getting a glimpse of Mark Canha in center, but they could ultimately decide to keep a fifth outfielder who has more experience at the position.
“Decker’s looked really good, and as comfortable as anybody we’ve had in center field (except for) Raj,” Melvin said. “Center field is obviously a spot, we have Raj and then we’re looking at Mark, but to have somebody else who’s experienced in center and handles it is something we’re looking for.”
The 27-year-old Decker, a left-handed hitter, has appeared in 60 big league games with the Padres, Pirates and Rays, hitting .162 with one homer and four RBI. San Diego drafted him as a sandwich pick (No. 42 overall) in 2008 out of Sunrise Mountain High School in nearby Peoria.
To answer the question on everybody’s mind, Decker’s first name is pronounced “Jeff.”
Chris Bassitt, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw 30 pitches Tuesday and mixed in changeups for the first time along with his fastball. The session got a big thumbs-up from Melvin, though Bassitt still has a long way to go. It’s still unclear if he’ll be back before the All-Star break or after.
“There’s no timetable but it’s exciting because we really felt like he was on his way to becoming a consistent starter” before the injury, Melvin said. “Really, for me, he’s a guy that at the very least is a middle-of-the-rotation guy with the upside of being even higher than that.
“With the setback he had to go through, I don’t know that I’ve been around a guy that worked harder in his rehab to get to where he is right now.”
Left-hander Felix Doubront, who was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this week, is on a similar rate of recovery from his Tommy John procedure as Bassitt.