OAKLAND -- Kurt Suzuki has been the A's everyday catcher since he took over for Jason Kendall in 2007. A roster move early Thursday morning introduced the man who's supposed to supplant Suzuki down the road and usher in the next era of A's baseball. Meet 23-year-old prospect Derek Norris.
The move to bring up Norris came earlier than anticipated for Oakland, but as manager Bob Melvin explained, "This is our best option."
Norris said he was a bit overwhelmed with all the action in the clubhouse, but Melvin doesn't think it will affect his young backstop.
"It's about accepting yourself as a big leaguer and knowing you belong," Melvin said. "I don't think there's any fear in him in coming to the big league level."
Melvin described Norris as a tough kid who handled everything they threw at him in spring training, both literally and figuratively.
He'll be tested immediately Thursday, as he was introduced to his first MLB battery mate Travis Blackley hours before receiving live pitches from him.
Norris, Blackley and pitching coach Curt Young congregated in the A's clubhouse for nearly a half hour, establishing the gameplan as the A's look for their second sweep in the last three series.
Yes, Norris is starting Thursday, but don't think this is the end of Kurt Suzuki in Oakland. He'll be back behind the dish to receive Jarrod Parker in the A's opener against the San Francisco Giants Friday.
"There both going to get plenty of action," Melvin said. "We feel like we have a good tandem." Melvin would not admit he was establishing a platoon, only that Norris is "here to play."
Unsolicited, Melvin related the plan to 2007, when Jason Kendall was traded to the Cubs (for LHP Jerry Blevins) to make room for Suzuki as the starter.
"This is about them coexisting," Melvin said. "The guy who's your catcher at the present and the guy that's potentially the catcher of your future. It's different."
Melvin said he spoke with Suzuki before making the move, and the veteran is at peace with the plan.
"We talked a lot in spring training," Suzuki said. "He's a great guy. I'm here for whatever he needs. He understands I'm not going to hold his hand, but I'm here to help him. I want to help him."
Suzuki's help will go a long way, especially defensively. Suzuki has established himself in MLB as one of the top staff handlers, evidenced by the cavalcade of young promising pitchers that made their bones in Oakland.
"Kurt's about winning, and he's about the Oakland A's winning." Melvin said. "If this makes us better, he's all for it."
Suzuki is having a down year at the plate, and Melvin cited his heavy workload and an early-season injury to his catching hand as potential reasons.
Suzuki, 28, has played in 60 of the 69 A's games this season. He's batting .215, forty points off his career mark of .255, and he is yet to hit his first home run.
Melvin acknowledged that the left hand injury Suzuki suffered earlier this season -- he was drilled in the back of the left hand by a Daniel Bard fastball and a few days later took a Jose Bautista backswing off the same spot -- may have played a part in Suzuki's down numbers.
"As long as there's not a bone sticking out, he feels he can play," Melvin said. "As durable a catcher as there is in the league."
But durability does not always translate to productivity. And the A's desperately need productivity from the catching position. A's catchers are batting .201 this season and they have not taken one ball deep yet, forcing the front office hand in fast-tracking Norris to the bigs.
As Melvin reiterated again at the end of his pregame media conference: "This is our best option."
Norris, who was lauded as an offensive catcher, can make it a pretty good option if he emulates Suzuki's 2007 campaign. Suzuki hit .249 with seven home runs in 68 games, sending the message that Kendall was expendable.
A's fans will watch intently as Norris takes his first MLB at-bats Thursday. Though no one will admit it, they'll go a long way in determining the future of his newest mentor, Kurt Suzuki.