Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play

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Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play

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.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 4-2 loss to Blue Jays

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USATSI

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 4-2 loss to Blue Jays

BOX SCORE

The A’s collected hits in bunches over the weekend in New York.

They should have saved some of them for north of the border.

They managed just two hits total in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday that began a four-game series at the Rogers Center. And while the offense wasn’t the only area that contributed to this defeat, it’s tough to cover up for such a lack of offense.

Oakland has dropped three of the first four on this seven-game road trip, and Bob Melvin remains one victory away from reaching 1,000 for his managerial career.

The A's racked up 33 hits in a three-game series against the Mets, their most in any three-game series this weekend.

Still searching for that ‘W’: Chris Smith made his third start for the A’s and turned in his third consecutive quality start, going six innings and giving up three runs. You could argue he’s pitched well enough to win all three games, but the 36-year-old journeyman still is searching for his first major league win since 2008. Russell Martin homered in the first after the A’s gave Smith an early lead. Then Toronto added two more in the fourth, helped along by a Josh Donaldson double and two walks issued by Smith.

Chapman on a roll: Rookie third baseman Matt Chapman blasted a 435-foot homer for his third long ball in as many days, and that wasn’t his most impressive moment of Monday’s game. Chapman made a terrific stop in the seventh to start an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to keep Oakland in the game at 4-2. He also showed some athleticism with a leaping catch with the A’s in the shift. Chapman basically was playing shortstop in that alignment, and the catch was persuasive evidence of why the A’s briefly experimented with him at shortstop in the minors. Overall, the A’s played strong defensively, with Khris Davis making a couple of nice plays in left field.

Axford struggles again: A tough season for reliever John Axford continues, as the veteran entered to begin the seventh and promptly loaded the bases with no outs before being pulled. He walked two and allowed a single before Melvin called on Josh Smith, called up just Monday from the minors. Axford has issued 17 walks in 21 innings this season.

Rotation thoughts: With Kendall Graveman seemingly nearing a return from a shoulder injury, Smith is basically auditioning to stay in the rotation each time he takes the mound, though a trade of Sonny Gray wouldn’t make things such a tight squeeze. From that standpoint, Smith helped himself again with a strong outing, and he also turned in a couple bare-hand plays defensively to aid his cause.

No Montas: With Frankie Montas stuck in New York because of a visa issue, the A’s recalled Josh Smith from Triple-A Nashville to fortify the bullpen. First baseman/outfielder Matt Olson was sent down to clear a roster spot.

A's use three solo shots to avoid sweep vs Mets

A's use three solo shots to avoid sweep vs Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Rookie Matt Chapman quickly atoned for a baserunning blunder by hitting a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning that sent the Oakland Athletics over the Mets 3-2 Sunday, ending New York's four-game winning streak.

With the July 31 trade deadline nearing and far back in the NL wild-card race, the Mets now start a 10-game trip, and there's no telling whether veterans such as Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda will remain on the team when it returns to Citi Field.

Marcus Semien and Khris Davis also homered for Oakland, helping Bob Melvin post his 999th victory as a big league manager. Semien connected on the sixth pitch of the game, and Davis hit his 28th home run in the fourth.

Michael Conforto hit his 19th homer of the season and fifth of the Mets' 6-4 homestand that followed the All-Star break.

Oakland led 2-1 when Chapman opened the fifth with a double and moved up on a wild pitch by Rafael Montero (1-7). But with no outs, Chapman wandered too far from third base and was picked off by catcher Rene Rivera.

After the Mets tied it on an RBI grounder by Jose Reyes, Chapman launched a drive with two outs in the seventh. Chapman showed pop in the minors, and has homered four times since making his major league debut last month, including a drive Saturday night.

The Athletics made another mistake on the bases in the ninth when Jed Lowrie tried to steal second — with pinch-runner Rajai Davis already there, resulting in an out.

Rookie Daniel Gossett (2-5) gave up two runs and five hits in six innings. He snagged a line drive by Curtis Granderson just above his head in the fifth, preserving Oakland's one-run lead.

Santiago Casilla, a possible trade target in the next two weeks, worked the ninth for his 16th save in 21 chances. After Wilmer Flores singled with one out, pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes hit a flyball that got fans hollering it might leave the park, but it was caught way short of the warning track.

The A's improved to 3-10 in interleague play, still the worst mark in the majors. The start of the game was delayed 61 minutes because of rain.

Despite the defeat, it was not a total loss for Montero. He was 0 for 28 at the plate in his major league career before lining a two-out single in the fifth. He broke into a big smile and the ball was thrown into the Mets dugout for safekeeping.

Montero then scampered to third when Conforto struck out on a wild pitch that bounced toward the New York bench. Granderson's bid for a tying hit was caught by the right-handed Gossett, who took off his glove, rotated his left shoulder to work out a kink, spit, tilted his hat and shook his head as he slowly walked off the mound.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Athletics: Righty reliever Ryan Dull (strained knee) could rejoin the A's for the finale of the upcoming four-game series in Toronto. ... 1B Ryon Healy didn't start for the second straight game after getting hit in the head by a bad hop Friday.

Mets: Cespedes and INF Asdrubal Cabrera didn't start, with manager Terry Collins saying the veterans told him they could use a day off.

UP NEXT

Athletics: RHP Chris Smith (0-0, 2.77 ERA) starts in Toronto vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (5-5, 6.15). Smith made his first major league start earlier this month at age 36.

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (11-3, 3.37) has won seven straight starts. He has a 1.51 ERA in that span, striking out 50 and walking 10. He'll face Padres LHP Clayton Richard (5-10, 5.35).