Notes: Health tops Chavez's priorities
Third baseman eager to leave injury-filled 2006 behind
PHOENIX -- Although it doesn't command quite the attention that Barry Bonds' annual "The State of Me" address at the start of Spring Training gets, A's third baseman Eric Chavez's first day at camp each year is a similarly big deal.Typically, Chavez has something fascinating to reveal, such as his 2004 proclamation that he intended to be "more of a badass." No such luck this spring. Asked Tuesday at Papago Park for some "Chavvy-esque" thoughts on the coming season, he sounded borderline apologetic. "I really don't have any," he said with a shrug. "I just want to stay healthy." If you're an A's fan or in any way associated with the team, a healthy Chavez has to be near the top of the 2007 wish list. That's certainly the case for new manager Bob Geren, who, as Oakland's bench coach last season, watched Chavez struggle at the plate all year while battling hamstring, forearm, back and shoulder ailments. Despite the constant pain, Chavez still managed to win his sixth consecutive Gold Glove, but his batting average dipped to a career-worst .241, his 22 homers and 72 RBIs were his fewest since his first season as a starter (1999). "I don't like putting numbers on anybody," Geren said, "but if he puts it all together for 162 games ... he just has so much ability." Chavez, who was turned on by former teammate Barry Zito to a Bay Area chiropractor that helped keep him on the field last season, said he now has a "team" of experts charged with doing the same this season. His forearms and hamstring were still an issue for much of the offseason, but everything cleared up about three or four weeks ago, and he's ready for a clean slate. "I'm just glad it's over," Chavez said. "I've been through a lot in the first eight years of my career, so hopefully it's all out there and I know what to expect. And if it happens again, I'll know how to deal with it. It will probably be a daily thing. I still have to take care of myself. There are always going to be issues. But I feel good. I feel healthy. "My bottom line is that we figured it out. I have people that know how to correct it when things go wrong." Chavez is one of the few A's position players who didn't show up this year looking significantly bigger than at the end of last season, and that was by design. He carried 230 pounds last year, and thanks to less work with weights over the winter, he's down to 220.
"I don't know if my frame can hold 230," he said. "I think I'm a 215-220 guy. I feel strong. I feel like I still have the power I have when I was 230."He also didn't start swinging a bat until late January -- much later than usual for him. "My philosophy has always been more is better, but I'm going to reverse that. Less is better this year. I'm going to try not go up to the cage and hit for a half hour. I would wear myself out, and I can't afford to do that anymore." Another change for Chavez this season will be the absence of Ron Washington, the longtime A's infield coach now managing the Texas Rangers. Chavez said a tip that Washington gave him last spring -- Washington noticed Chavez letting the ball play him, as opposed to bringing his glove to and through the ball -- is the reason for his stellar season at the hot corner. "It changed everything, every single ball that was hit to me," Chavez said. "I just remember tons of balls last year. ... I caught about 10 or 15 balls that I can honestly say in years past, I may not have caught. You go through funks where you don't want the ball hit to you, but last year it was like, 'Go ahead hit the ball. I know I'm gonna field it.' It was pretty amazing." Chavez said he was thrilled to see Washington finally land a managing job and downplayed the impact of his loss, figuring he's learned enough from Washington to keep playing defense at an elite level. He also didn't seem the slightest bit bothered that Geren has said new designated hitter Mike Piazza will move into the cleanup spot that Chavez often manned when he was healthy. "I don't care [where I hit]," Chavez said. "Regardless of where we hit, we're gonna have the same guys in the same lineup. We have a lot of options that are going to benefit this team in winning ballgames, and winning is the only reason I play the game." Kielty in camp: Outfielder Bobby Kielty showed up looking extremely fit, and his signature red hair is as bushy as it's ever been. "Oh my," yelled veteran righty Esteban Loaiza upon seeing Kielty breeze through the clubhouse. "Ronnie Mac is back!" Kielty said he closely monitored the offseason moves that affected the outfield situation and figured the signing of Shannon Stewart moved him "down on the totem pole." Geren, however, has said he plans to get Kielty in the lineup as much as possible, primarily against left-handed pitchers. Kielty, a switch-hitter, batted .325 with seven of his eight homers against lefties last year. He batted .229 against righties. "I've always felt I should get at-bats against lefties, but I sat out some games [against lefties] last year," he said, noting that he's a "natural" right-handed hitter. "Hopefully, I'll be in there every time this year." Kielty conceded that a platoon with Stewart might be his best-case scenario for the season but bristled as the idea of giving up hitting from the left side of the plate, even after saying it's more difficult to maintain his mechanics from that side. "There's no point in [giving up switch-hitting]," he said. "I'm going to be a free agent next year. I'm not going to be an experiment here, trying to hit only from the right side. I wish people would stop talking about that. ... I'm not going to be that guy." Dribblers: The A's, whose pitchers and catchers reported to camp a day earlier than they had in the past, had a light day on the eve of the first full-squad workout. Fielding practice was cancelled, and the clubhouse was virtually empty by noon. "The pitchers have gone really hard for four days," Geren said. "We feel like their legs have had enough." ... Piazza, who already has checked in with Geren by phone, was expected to arrive in Phoenix on Tuesday night and meet with the media for the first time this spring on Wednesday. ... New lefty reliever Alan Embree continues to impress with his bullpen work, prompting Geren to say Embree was "in midseason form." ... Geren also liked what he saw out of righties Jay Witasick and Huston Street, as well as lefty prospect Dan Meyer, who still isn't all the way back from shoulder surgery but is ahead of where the team expected him to be. ... Mark Kotsay made a brief appearance in the afternoon, carrying his 2-year-old daughter, Grace, with him everywhere. Grace was rocking a homemade "jersey" -- a white t-shirt with "Kotsay 21" in sequins on the back.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.