Derek Norris knows the deal.
He is part of a strict catching platoon right now with John Jaso, which means that even when he’s the Oakland A’s hottest hitter, he can’t necessarily count on his name being in the lineup regularly.
Yet Norris was at it again in Tuesday’s 9-3 victory over the Texas Rangers. He delivered two-out doubles in each of his first two at-bats against left-hander Martin Perez. The first drove home Oakland’s first two runs. The second scored Yoenis Cespedes and opened up a 4-0 lead for the A’s.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Norris, A's bats too hot for Rangers]
Norris, owner of a .226 career batting average entering this season, is on a 13 for 27 tear that has lifted his average to a team-best .365. The key to his offensive prosperity is he’s somehow been able to stay locked in at the plate even when he’s not starting on a daily basis.
“When you’re in a platoon, you’ve just gotta make the most of your situation,” Norris said after Tuesday’s game. “Fortunately for me, I’ve been getting some at-bats pretty frequently, and I’ve just had some pretty good timing to keep myself square and stay through the baseball.”
Norris burns to be an everyday catcher. No doubt Jaso does too. So far A’s manager Bob Melvin has stuck with a pretty set rotation – the right-handed hitting Norris playing against left-handers, Jaso getting the nod against right-handers. But when Melvin says a player who starts the game on the bench may end up playing a huge role in a game, he’s not blowing hot air.
How often already have we seen Norris pinch-hit for Jaso early in a game (or vice versa) and wind up getting two or three at-bats after entering? Perhaps that’s one explanation for how Norris has been able to stay sharp. Even when he doesn’t start, he’s been playing plenty.
But to see him clicking in this manner is impressive, and you can’t help but wonder if Norris eventually starts to see the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate. If he keeps hitting, contributing to an offense that’s tied for second in the American League in runs (136), it will make sense to pencil him in more.
The question with Norris coming into 2014 was his ability to handle right-handed pitching. He hit .320 against left-handers last season but just .149 against right-handers. But for this season, Norris entered Tuesday hitting for a higher average against right-handers (.400, 10 for 25) than he was against lefties .318 (7 for 22). He’s got more at-bats against righties simply because he drew a few starts against them early on, when the A’s went a long stretch without seeing an opposing lefty.
It figures that his numbers will come down some, but Norris is showing signs that he’s become a better all-around hitter. Whether it impacts his playing time remains to be seen.
The native of Goddard, Kansas, certainly was happy to have a good game Tuesday with his mother, father and grandfather in attendance at Globe Life Park.
“They don’t get to come out and seem me very often , especially with me being on the West Coast,” Norris said. “Dallas and Kansas City are really their only two chances to do that. For them to come out and see me play and actually put together a good performance for them, it’s very special for me.”
He’s enjoying this roll that he’s on. He also knows it may not win him regular playing time. That’s part of the gig. The key is getting maximum impact out of his opportunities, and that hasn’t been a problem for Norris so far.