A's new-look middle infield clicking

September 8, 2012, 11:43 pm
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SEATTLE -- The middle of the A's infield has undergone several in season modifications in 2012. The boldest shift came when the team acquired shortstop Stephen Drew via trade on August 20, and sent their previously untouchable second baseman Jemile Weeks to Triple-A Sacramento. As a result of the move, incumbent shortstop Cliff Pennington was shifted to second base. The large shakeup came as a surprise to many, but it has been yet another effective move by the Oakland Athletics front office. Since donning the white cleats Drew has started to turn his season around. After missing a total of 137 games with a fractured right ankle he sustained on July 27, 2011, Drew is starting to get back into the swing of things. He has reached base safely in 13 of his 15 games with the A's. "I'm feeling really good," Drew said. "It's been a long process coming back from injury overall. Now I don't even think about it, which is a good thing." Drew had been a bit rusty after missing the first 73 games of the 2012 season, but he is hitting .333 (6 for 18) in September after batting .205 in August. The A's were banking on his recovery when they pulled the trigger on the trade with the Diamondbacks. Drew, 29, is the Diamondbacks franchise leader in triples with 52, and his 776 hits with Arizona are third most all time for the organization."It's just been a lot more work not having any Spring Training," Drew said. "I didn't have that many games since I came back up here. For me I knew hitting and fielding would come, it was just more or less coming back from the injury."
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Drew has a history with A's manager Bob Melvin and bench coach Chip Hale. Their votes of confidence in the shortstop, along with the work of the A's scouts, gave the organization enough valuable information to deem his acquisition beneficial. "Early on he was hitting into some tough luck, hitting balls right at people, but still drawing some tough walks," Melvin said. "Recently the ball has been dropping for him and he's hit some balls good, his batting practices have been better, he's feeling more and more like part of the team, all those things take some time."Drew had been with the Diamondbacks his entire career after being drafted by Arizona with the 15th overall pick in the first round in 2004. He says a change of scenery benefited him. "It's a great team to play for," Drew said of his new baseball home. "We're just having fun and playing hard every day." Since Drew joined the A's, Cliff Pennington has started to turn his season around as well. The new double play tandem is turning it around together. Pennington is hitting .545 (12-for-22) over his last seven games. His 4-for-4 performance on Friday was his fourth multi-hit effort in his last seven games. Pennington insists he hasn't changed a thing at the plate. "You go through streaks and unfortunately we went through a bad one for a while," Pennington said. "Not really any changes, just trying to get good at bats and right now and they are falling in. They weren't earlier."Pennington may have been a liability earlier in the season, but he is a streaky hitter and it looks like he is heating up. He hit just .197 in 82 games before going on the disabled list with left elbow tendonitis, in the 22 games since returning from the DL he is batting a much more palatable .294. Pennington says he feels much better but the left elbow tendonitis that landed him on the DL will likely bug him until the offseason.
"He's actually been swinging it quite a bit better, especially recently," Melvin said. "To see him drive balls that means his legs are underneath him, the bat head is getting out there and he is squaring balls up. A resurgent Pennington is a big boost for the A's. Last season he ranked fifth in the American League with a .348 batting average with runners in scoring position. He paced the A's with 148 games played and obtained career highs in hits (136), home runs (8), and RBI (58). "This guy was a big performer for us last year and got big hits for us," Melvin said. "It's one thing to get hits, it's another thing to square some balls up and feel good about what you are doing."Pennington has impressed his manager and teammates with his seamless conversion to second base. He has started each of his last 11 games at that position after making his previous 439 starts as a shortstop."It's huge," Drew said of Pennington. "For him to move over there and play as well as he has, it shows how skilled he can be." Meanwhile, Jemile Weeks remains with the River Cats as they take on the Reno Aces in a best-of-five Pacific Coast League playoff series. Including his postseason stats, Weeks is hitting .303 (17-for-56), with four doubles, 9 BB, 1 HR, and 11 RBI in 13 games since being optioned to Triple-A. The River Cats are facing elimination if they lose Saturday night's game.

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