OAKLAND – The Oakland A’s coaching staff and front office are using this time with just under four weeks left in the regular season to help determine which players can be a part of the solution going forward.
First baseman Ryan Noda, second baseman Zack Gelof, and outfielder Lawrence Butler figure into the team’s long-term plans — and could even be key ingredients for whenever the A’s are again ready to compete for a playoff spot.
Gelof was just named the American League Rookie of the Month for August and Noda has played his best baseball of the year since he returned from a fractured jaw midway through last month, helping the A’s put together a positive stretch in what’s otherwise been a forgettable 2023 season.
Those two and Butler combined for five hits and three home runs in a 10-inning, 6-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Coliseum on Monday. Noda hit his 14th home run of the season and Butler added his third and fourth bombs of the year as the A’s had their three-game winning streak snapped. Jordan Diaz, another rookie, also homered.
“We’re trying obviously to identify a group to go forward with in the future,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said before the game. “Ryan, for maybe most of the season or all season, has really done that and solidified himself as a piece here.
“Last year, I think we used 11 different first basemen and Ryan has really taken over that role and solidified the position. So, with Zack and him, it’s fun to watch two young players that have power and an (ability) to put the ball in play and get on base at the top of the lineup.”
The A’s have enjoyed some remarkably productive infields whenever they’ve made the playoffs over the past 25 years.
A generation ago, Oakland had Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada on the left side of the infield for four straight postseason appearances, not to mention first baseman Jason Giambi in two of those seasons.
A decade ago, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss manned the corner spots in three consecutive playoff years and in the most recent stretch of postseason baseball in Oakland, the A’s had the luxury of trotting out Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman, or a combination of the three.
Gelof and Noda have a long way to go before they can compare to that group of players, who have three MVPs, eight Silver Slugger awards, 12 Gold Gloves, and 20 All-Star Game appearances between them.
But given how well Gelof and Noda have played in recent weeks – and the fact that they’ll be under team control to the frugal A’s for years to come – there’s a chance they could provide that same kind of stability long-term.
“It’d be awesome if we could be here for the foreseeable future together,” Noda said of him and Gelof. “Just grind out that right side out in the infield, keep it going in the box and hopefully we can build off every day with each other.”
Since he was reinstated from the injured list Aug. 21, Noda, before Monday, was 13-for-42 (.310) with six walks and a .442 on-base percentage in 13 games. For the season, Noda led Major League rookies in walks (66) and on-base percentage (.384) and ranked seventh in OPS (.813).
Gelof is the first A’s player to be named a rookie of the month since Ryon Healy in Sept. 2016. In August, he hit 286 with eight doubles and seven home runs and had 15 RBI and a .912 OPS in 27 games.
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Still, there’s a lot to learn. Gelof, after his single in the sixth inning, stole second base but was picked off by Jays starter Jose Berrios. The mental mistake was especially tough considering it came right before Noda’s home run.
Noda was also 0-for-2 on Monday with runners in scoring position. In the eighth inning, with two outs, the score tied 3-3, and Nick Allen at third base, Noda grounded out to first base.
A’s starter Luis Medina, who was activated off the 15-day injured list Monday, allowed three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. A’s relievers Sean Newcomb and Lucas Erceg combined to throw 4 1/3 shutout innings before the Jays scored three in the 10th, with two charged to Francisco Perez.