A's set to introduce shortstop Nakajima

hiroyuki_nakajima_japan_wbc.jpg

A's set to introduce shortstop Nakajima

OAKLAND -- Just hours after free agent shortstop Stephen Drew was plucked off the market by the Boston Red Sox, the A's locked down his replacement. On Tuesday, Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will be introduced by the A's in a press conference at 2 p.m. in Oakland. It will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet California.

Nakajima, 30, has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $6.5 million with a club option for a third season. The financial terms were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. That's $3 million less than Drew will be getting for one season from the Red Sox. 

Oakland had expressed interest in the Seibu Lions' starting shortstop earlier in the offseason and they met with his representatives at the Winter Meetings.

Listed at 5'11" and 198 pounds, Nakajima hit .311 with 13 home runs, 74 RBI, 52 walks, and a .382 on-base percentage in 136 games last season in the Japanese Pacific League. Those numbers are on par with his career stats, as he is a career .302 hitter with a .367 on-base percentage. In 2011, the Yankees won the negotiating rights for Nakajima but couldn't come to terms on a deal and he remained in Japan.

At the Winter Meetings in Nashville, A's manager Bob Melvin said of Nakajima, "He's a hitter, he looks like a hitter." One MLB talent evaluator told me he has a dependable glove, a chance to hit for average, and should be a solid player. Watching several videos of Nakajima online, it looks like he is a spray hitter with good opposite field power.

So far, infielders from the Pacific League haven't exactly dominated in Major League Baseball. Nakajima took over at shortstop for the Seibu Lions after Kaz Matsui signed with the Mets. Matsui hit .305 with 33 homers and 84 RBI in his final season in Japan. He has a .267 average with 32 home runs, 211 RBI and a .321 on-base percentage in seven Major League seasons.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is another example of a Pacific League infielder that didn't work out.  He was a batting champion and star in Japan, but signed a three-year, $9.25 million contract with Minnesota and was released last September after hitting .215 with 14 errors in 71 games.

Like language, sometimes statistics get lost in translation. It is difficult to project how Nakajima's numbers will look in Oakland. The A's clearly like what they see in Nakajima, though. He is a relatively low risk, potentially high upside player. If all goes according to plan, Nakajima will take over at shortstop until top prospect Addison Russell is MLB-ready. Russell was the A's first round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

Now that Oakland has a guy to pencil in at starting shortstop, the reigning American League West Champions' roster appears to be close to complete. FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi were the first to report the A's and Nakajima were nearing a deal.

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

OAKLAND — Stephen Vogt made an unexpected appearance in left field Wednesday night, and his performance got approval from a pretty good outfield authority.

Former A’s teammate Josh Reddick was watching from the Houston Astros’ dugout and thought the catcher-by-trade handled himself very well.

“I was talking to (Houston manager) A.J. (Hinch) and I said, ‘It’s gonna be interesting because you know at least one ball’s gonna get to him,’” Reddick said. “You start laughing because four of the five that were hit that inning were hit to him.”

With the A’s bench short-handed, manager Bob Melvin sent Vogt to left after he pinch-hit for Rajai Davis, and indeed Vogt got a workout throughout the top of the eighth. That added a bit of levity to a 5-1 loss that otherwise provided the A’s very little to cheer about.

They were bottled up by Astros right-hander Mike Fiers and four relievers as the Astros won their ninth in a row at the Coliseum and their third straight in this four-game series. A’s starter Sean Manaea was rolling through five scoreless innings before Houston blitzed him for three runs in the sixth. The Astros tacked on a couple more late runs against Oakland’s bullpen and that was enough on a night the A’s mustered just four hits total.

After Vogt delivered an RBI groundout that scored the A’s only run in the seventh, Melvin wanted to keep Vogt’s left-handed bat in the lineup, so he asked the veteran catcher if he could handle left.

“I said yeah, absolutely,” Vogt said.

It’s easy to forget that Vogt came up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ system playing a lot of outfield, and he played more than a dozen games in the outfield in 2014 for the A’s, mostly in right.

He sure got tested. The Astros’ first four hitters of the eighth all hit balls in Vogt’s direction. He got a routine fly from Brian McCann, a difficult low liner off the bat of Yuli Gurriel that he smothered for a single, a double from Alex Bregman that he did a good job cutting off and a sacrifice fly to the warning track from Jake Marisnick.

“I had the adrenaline shot run up and I was loose and ready to go,” Vogt said. “Obviously I was a little more focused than probably your average outfielder out there. I’m glad the first one came to me, otherwise I would have been sweatin’ it for a while.”

Vogt has lost time recently behind the plate against right-handers to Josh Phegley, who has done an effective job controlling the running game. And though you shouldn’t by any means expect to see Melvin running Vogt to the outfield often, you also shouldn’t assume it won’t happen at all.

At some point, the A’s figure to call up catcher Bruce Maxwell as part of the crop of young players they’re trying to give more time too. If the left-handed hitting Maxwell were to share catching duties with Phegley, and if the A’s were to trade Yonder Alonso (again, we’re talking ‘ifs’ here), it’s conceivable Vogt’s left-handed bat could be put to use at spots other than catcher, perhaps at first base or, in a pinch, even the outfield.

His old teammate thinks he could pull it off.

“I remember him playing in right in ’14 when I was (injured),” Reddick said. “He did a pretty good job out there, it’s not like he’s foreign to it. He knows what he’s doing.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's third straight loss to Astros

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's third straight loss to Astros

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — As swiftly as the A’s appeared to grab some momentum by sweeping the Yankees, it was snatched from their grasp.

The Houston Astros have taken the first three games of this mid-week four-gamer at the Coliseum, and the A’s will have to win Thursday afternoon’s finale to avoid being on the other end of a sweep.

They generated barely a whisper offensively in a 5-1 loss Wednesday night, advancing just one runner as far as third base. Mike Fiers (5-2), who’s come on strong for an Astros rotation that’s been decimated by injuries, held Oakland to three hits over six innings. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in four June starts.

Sean Manaea (6-4) was rolling along for the A’s until the sixth, when the Astros broke a scoreless tie with five hits and three runs off the lefty. Manaea wound up taking his first loss since May 15.

Striking quick: It was 0-0 when the Astros opened the sixth with three consecutive singles. Jose Altuve got things going, then Carlos Correa singled to center and advanced to second on Jaycob Brugman’s throw that went through to third, putting two runners in scoring position. Evan Gattis drove both home with a single to center, and he would score on Jake Marisnick’s single. That was all the offense Houston would need.

Alonso provides a spark: Yonder Alonso, in a fierce fight to win the All-Star vote and be the American League’s starting first baseman, doubled in the seventh and scored on Stephen Vogt’s groundout for the A’s only run.

Outfield arms: The A’s started Rajai Davis in left and Matt Joyce returned to the lineup in right after missing Tuesday with back tightness. Joyce did well to hold Brian McCann to a single in the fourth, retreaving his drive to the right field corner and firing it back to the infield. Davis kept a run from scoring in the third when he fielded Nori Aoki’s single and fired it back to the infield to keep Marisnick from scoring. That sequence was noteworthy given how often opponents have been taking the extra base on Khris Davis when he plays left.

Chapman still day-to-day: As the A’s look to avoid a four-game sweep Thursday, it’s unclear if they’ll have third baseman Matt Chapman back in the lineup. The rookie missed his third game in a row with an infection in his left knee. Manager Bob Melvin said the swelling in Chapman’s knee has gone down, but Melvin was non-specific on Chapman’s return.

“If it’s not tomorrow, hopefully it’s (the) Chicago (series this weekend).”

Stephen Vogt, Mr. Utility: The A’s were working with a two-man bench with Chapman out, which led to catcher Stephen Vogt making his first appearance in the outfield in three seasons. After pinch-hitting for left fielder Rajai Davis in the seventh, Vogt assumed left field duties in the top of the eighth and was immediately put through a workout. The first four Houston batters of the inning all hit balls toward left field, and Vogt more than held his own, including retreating to the warning track to haul in Jake Marisnick’s sacrifice fly and cutting off Alex Bregman’s double.