PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A.J. Griffin and Derek Norris have become quite the tandem. Their big league success together started early when Norris hit a walk-off homer against the Giants in the game that Griffin made his major league debut.
They proved to be comfortable with each other again on Sunday.
Griffin struck out eight batters while throwing fastballs, cutters, and curveballs in the A's 7-4 win. The right-handed starter threw 85 pitches and allowed four runs in four and two-thirds innings. The runs came as a result of two possibly wind-aided homers that Griffin allowed. On a hot day like Sunday, you'd think Griffin was excited to head home to the pitcher-friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum.
"I'm excited to get better at throwing better pitches," Griffin said. "At the end of the day I have to get the ball down. I don't like to make excuses like that."
While Griffin didn't want to blame the weather and the ballpark, his catcher was quick to have his back.
"He threw the ball well," Norris said, "Obviously on this kind of day where it is warm and there's a jet stream out to right, they're going to go out."
Norris knew that first hand. He crushed a ball deep to left field in the third inning for a two-run homer. What's interesting is that he did it against a right-handed pitcher. Norris is expected to be used in a platoon role this season, but the right-handed catcher took Josh Beckett, also a righty, deep for his fifth homer of the spring.
"When it comes down to it you have to perform," Norris said of his platoon role. "You don't perform, you're not going to play."
Norris is having a scorching hot spring at the plate. He is batting .382
"He's working really hard with Chili Davis on his stroke," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He does have power to all fields so he's had a great spring at this point. He's working doubly hard on his defense."
Norris instills confidence in the pitching staff. He had to work hard to learn the A's staff on the fly last season as a rookie and a lot of pressure was placed on his shoulders when the team traded away veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"He's a great guy back there to throw to and he's got a real good feel of the game," Griffin said. "He calls a great game."
Balfour still on track for Opening Day:
Grant Balfour retired the side on 11 pitches. He struck out one batter and didn't allow a baserunner. He has looked sharp in both of his spring outings thus far. He continues to be on pace for Opening Day after undergoing a lateral meniscectomy on his right knee on February 14.
"For him knowing that there are fewer appearances to get ready for the season, he's probably a little more focused," Melvin said. "Knowing it's down to the wire a little bit more so."
The A's newest first baseman, Nate Freiman made his debut on Sunday and went 0 for 4 as the team's DH. He just missed a ball that he scorched to the left of the foul pole in left field. Standing at six-foot-eight, Freiman is an impressive looking individual.
Dan Straily and Griffin were two of the happiest people to see him arrive. According to them, Freiman single-handedly ruined their playoff run in 2011 when they were with the Stockton Ports.
"It was like a victory to get a line drive hit off you instead of a bomb," Griffin said of facing Freiman in the minors.
He will play nine innings at first base on Monday.
Middle Infield Competition:
Scott Sizemore played nine innings at second base while Hiro Nakajima did the same at shortstop. Sizemore went 0 for 2 with two walks. Nakajima was 0 for 3 with one walk.
Meanwhile, Jed Lowrie went 1 for 3 with a walk and a two-run homer. He is now batting .310 this spring. He started the game at third base.
"Lowrie can play some other positions too," Melvin said. "Jed's had a good showing and Hiro [Nakajima] has not gotten comfortable yet. We still have some games left for him to get comfortable."
Eric Sogard will play second base on Monday with Adam Rosales getting the start at shortstop. Jemile Weeks was optioned to Triple-A after the game.