A's Melhuse will take all time he can get
Catcher to do more infield work during Spring Training
PHOENIX -- You can't blame Adam Melhuse if he feels like he's heard it all before.
After hitting 11 homers in 214 at-bats in 2004, the catcher -- who will turn 35 at the end of Spring Training -- found playing time tough to come by the past two seasons, despite semi-regular pronouncements from former manager Ken Macha that he would try to work Melhuse into the lineup more.
Melhuse registered just 97 at-bats in 2005 and 128 in 2006.
However, he feels like things could be different this time around with new manager Bob Geren, himself a former big-league backstop.
"You just don't know," Melhuse said. "That's what I hope for, and we're talking about a manager I've worked with for four years that can kind of feel my pain and that's been down there in the bullpen with me."
The coach that Melhuse commiserated with is now in charge of the lineup card.
"I'd chew his ears off a little bit about how frustrated I was. so he knows where I'm coming from," Melhuse continued, "so maybe that will help, maybe it won't. I'm hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. I don't see how it could get any worse than the last two years. I'm excited regardless."
Playing time is tough to come by when you're behind Jason Kendall, who has appeared in at least 143 games in each of the past seven seasons.
"[Melhuse] will play a little bit more than last year," Geren said. "Adam can bring some offense and some power when he gets in there, so I'd like to try and get him in. It's hard to predict how much your starting catcher is going to play, but historically Jason's performed pretty well at the 140-game mark."
The late-season numbers bear that out. At a time of the year when you'd think a catcher that plays day-in and day-out would be wearing down and would have benefited from more rest earlier in the season, Kendall has thrived. Over the past three years he has hit .354 with an .830 OPS after September 1. That happens to be his highest production for any month.
"That is remarkable really," Geren said, "and to do it every year, that is pretty amazing."
"I enjoy playing and being out there every day," Kendall said. "That's my job. That's what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm disappointed when I'm not out there."
When talking about Melhuse and the playing time situation Kendall simply said "I go out and play, that's it."
However, Geren said he was planning on having Melhuse work at first and third this spring to perhaps get him some extra at-bats during the season.
"He's going to work a little bit more in the infield," the manager said. "It's hard to say how everything's going to shake down at the end, so we want to see him a bit in the infield."
Geren stressed this was probably for emergency situations only: "If you have a situation where someone isn't on the disabled list but needs a couple of days off, it's nice to have one more guy."
The infield is not entirely new to Melhuse, who played shortstop and third base at UCLA, and spent his first professional season at third before moving behind the plate, and who appeared in two games at first and three games at third last season.
"Last year it was kind of sprung on me because we needed it," Melhuse said, "and when that happens and you're not expecting it you have a little anxiety, but now I can be prepared."
Geren even referenced Melhuse's shortstop past when talking about his plans.
"Shortstop? Maybe if it was a 27-inning game," Melhuse said with a laugh. "I'm guessing if I get in there it's probably at first base."
"Adam said that he was '100 percent for anything -- I'll do whatever you want,' so he's got a great attitude," Geren said. "We don't want him to just take some grounders, but get him in some games, maybe starting a game or two or playing a few innings here and there during the spring."
Ironically, the addition of a couple of players may wind up actually helping Melhuse squeeze out a few more plate appearances. Shannon Stewart gives Geren another option in the leadoff spot if he wants to give Kendall a breather, and the presence of Mike Piazza as the emergency catcher at least allows the possibility of some pinch-hitting at-bats for Melhuse.
"You don't want to lose your DH too often, but if the situation was right, I would do it," the manager said.
All Melhuse can do now is prepare, wait and hope.
"Anytime I can get out on the field more, the better I think I'll do," Melhuse said. "I think everyone would say that it's tough to try to come off of the bench once a week and do something. If playing the infield means I'm in the lineup, then I'm all for it."
"At this point in time, beggars cannot be choosers," he finished with a grin.
Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.