Newly promoted Norris to share playing time with Suzuki
Half of the goods acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade are officially in Oakland now, with Thursday’s arrival of catcher Derek Norris coming much sooner than expected.
Norris, 23, was called up from Triple-A Sacramento and immediately inserted into the lineup to make his big league debut against the Dodgers, marking the beginning of what could be a tandem catching situation as struggling regular Kurt Suzuki garners some much-needed rest.
Norris, quickly considered the heir apparent to Suzuki after being traded to the A’s alongside Tommy Milone and Minor League pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole in the deal that sent Gonzalez to Washington, was batting .273 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in his first year at the Triple-A level. Suzuki, meanwhile, is hitting just .215 with zero home runs and 16 RBIs through 60 games.
“I probably ran Kurt down a little more than I should,” Melvin said. “I think that probably plays into some of the offensive woes he’s having right now. He would probably never admit to that, but this is our best option. Make no mistake, with him here, he’s going to play some. They’re both going to play. It’s going to give me an opportunity to rest Kurt more, and we feel like we have two very good options and a great tandem at this point.
“The catcher of the present and the guy that’s potentially your catcher of the future have to coexist together. It’s different, but we feel like as an organization we’re best suited doing it this way at this point.”
The timing of the move, which sent Josh Donaldson to Triple-A, is reminiscent of the one that occurred in 2007, when Suzuki made his Oakland debut June 12 and spent five weeks as Jason Kendall’s backup, before starting 56 of the final 70 games at catcher following the trade of Kendall to the Cubs on July 16.
Suzuki, who is slated to make $6.45 million next season in the final year of a four-year contract that also includes a club option worth $8.5 million, could potentially be a trade option for the A’s as July 31’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline nears. Such a possibility, which could be affected by Suzuki’s hitting woes, also hinges on Norris’ production in the coming weeks. It was just last June when Jemile Weeks took over second base for an injured Mark Ellis, turning a temporary situation into a permanent one with his play and forcing the A’s to trade Ellis.
Melvin, though, insisted Wednesday that Norris’ presence is in no way about creating trade bait.
“Suzuki and I were talking about when he came up when Kendall was here,” he said. “Now this is a different situation. Kendall left shortly thereafter. That’s not something we’re looking to do.”
“I’m here, and I want to win here,” Suzuki said. “I’m looking to get back on track. I feel like I’m one of the better catchers in the game. Obviously I’m not hitting the way I want to, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
The A’s catcher hasn’t hit above since .250 since 2009, when he compiled a .274 average to go along with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. In 2010, he hit just .242 and, last year, posted a career-low .237 mark. Yet since his first full season in 2008, he’s tallied 573 starts — most among all Major League catchers — and has deservingly garnered an admirable reputation with his pitching staff.
In that regard, Melvin holds an equal amount of respect for Suzuki as do his battery mates.
“Kurt’s about winning,” the A’s skipper said. “He’s about the Oakland A’s winning. You don’t get many guys like that that are all about the team. He doesn’t worry about stats. What he worries about is the win-loss record, first and foremost, and handling the pitching staff. If this makes us better and gives us the opportunity to rest him a little bit more, then he’s all for it.”
Suzuki will play in Friday’s series opener against the Giants, and Melvin will make ensuing lineup decisions on a day-to-day basis.
For Norris, the chance to jump right into action was exhilarating. His mother, Jacque, was in the stands for her son’s debut.
“As much as it’d be nice to get out there and see the game, see how it’s done, this is what I’ve always dreamed of doing,” he said. “Get out there and do my best to put together a good game and try to win some ballgames.”
“For anybody, when you get here, it’s accepting yourself as a big leaguer and knowing you belong,” Melvin said. “He’s a tough kid. Out of Spring Training, you could tell everything we threw at him he handled beautifully. I think there’s a shorter learning curve with a guy like that who’s a tough kid and believes in himself. I don’t think there’s any fear in him coming to the big league level.”
Norris was told of the promotion by Sacramento manager Darren Bush on Tuesday night, but not before tricked into thinking he was going to be making an appearance in Oakland as a mascot.
“I asked him, ‘Really? I have to go do it?’ he said. “And then they finally told me I was being called up.
“Just trying to focus on my breathing right now, trying to not let it get too bad. This is what I’ve dreamt of my whole life, and I’m here, and not much else I can do but go out and try to play my game.”