Young A's focus: establishing identity for '24

Core of Ruiz, Gelof, Diaz, Noda combines for 6 doubles in 14-hit attack vs. Angels

September 2nd, 2023

OAKLAND -- Entering September with a roster that now features several promising young players, the objective for this rebuilding A’s club is to establish some momentum for 2024 by gelling together with a strong finish.

With that goal in mind, the final month of the season could not have started out much better. Kicking off a six-game homestand on Friday, the A’s came out swinging in a 9-2 win over the Angels at the Coliseum with a 14-hit offensive outburst that included eight doubles, tied for second most in a single game in franchise history.

“The at-bats were great tonight,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “The approach against [Angels starter Patrick] Sandoval was being patient and drawing some walks. He’s not a pitcher who gives up a lot of home runs, so we knew we had to put some hits together.”

Highlighting the attack on offense was the rookie quartet of Zack Gelof, Esteury Ruiz, Ryan Noda and Jordan Diaz. Together, the four combined to go 10-for-17 with six doubles, a home run and a walk. Ruiz and Diaz each matched career highs with three hits apiece. Ruiz swiped his American League-leading 54th stolen base and crushed the longest home run of his career, a 415-foot two-run shot to left in the eighth.

Performances like this from these four, along with fellow rookies Lawrence Butler and Tyler Soderstrom -- Oakland’s No. 1 prospect, who rejoined the club from Triple-A on Friday -- are something the A’s are looking to make more of a regular occurrence in what they hope to be a turnaround back into playoff contention over the coming years.

“It’s great to see these young kids taking good at-bats and passing the baton,” Kotsay said. “They’re feeding off each other right now.”

Following a historic start to his Major League career, Gelof endured his first true slump during the A’s most recent road trip, going 3-for-28 with nine strikeouts over seven games in Chicago and Seattle.

Utilizing Thursday’s off-day as a reset button, Gelof appeared to be back to his hot-hitting ways on Friday by finishing 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. His 25 extra-base hits through his first 42 career games are the most in Oakland history and second most in franchise history.

“I think it was just a combination of things,” Gelof said of his recent slump. “Playing baseball, you’re going to go through stuff like this. I’m just grinding at-bats out and trying to do everything I can to help the team win, even when I’m not feeling great at the plate. But tonight felt pretty good.”

In a short amount of time, Gelof has emerged as a leader that other young players inside the A’s clubhouse look to. Leaders usually have a vision for the future, and the 23-year-old second baseman laid out his ideal scenario for the rest of the ‘23 campaign.

“I just want to know what kind of team we are, and [that we] have an identity of coming in and just working hard,” Gelof said. “When you come out there, be really athletic and have quality at-bats. Be a tough out and just be tough out there, and have fun doing it. That’s something I want to do this last month as a group.”

That hard-working identity also applies on the pitching side, something that JP Sears continues to demonstrate. Making his team-leading 27th start, the left-hander bounced back from a pair of rough outings by blanking the Angels over six innings in his third scoreless performance of the season.

Sears has a personal goal of making 30 starts this year, which is within striking distance. Like Gelof, though, his main goal is more team-focused, looking to set the tone for next season with more all-around games such as Friday’s victory.

“For me, personally, it’s about competing and focusing on the little things each start,” Sears said. “As starters, we’re just trying to go out there and get to the sixth or seventh inning every time. Whatever the task is, just show that we’re ready for next year.”