Homers, mindset powering Rooker's All-Star résumé

A's slugger would 'love to go back' to the ASG, and his stats are backing his case

June 10th, 2024

OAKLAND -- After hitting a key home run in a victory over the Mariners on Wednesday, A’s second baseman Zack Gelof was aware that balloting for the 2024 MLB All-Star Game had begun earlier that day. So when speaking to the media postgame, Gelof ended the session with an unprompted pitch for a teammate.

“I’m going to use this time to shout out for the All-Star Game,” Gelof said. “Make sure you vote. I want to make sure you get your votes in for him.”

Rooker represented the A’s in last year’s Midsummer Classic, and he continued building his case for a repeat All-Star selection in Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays at the Coliseum by launching his team-leading 13th home run of the season.

Like most of his long balls, Rooker’s solo blast off Toronto reliever Nate Pearson was a moonshot. He ambushed a first-pitch slider from the right-hander and sent it well up the bleachers in left-center a Statcast-projected 436 feet to get the A’s on the board in the sixth.

When it comes to hitting for power, Rooker can certainly slug with the best of them. Sunday’s homer was tagged 110 mph off the bat. It was his seventh home run with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph -- tied with the Yankees' Juan Soto for third-most in the Majors -- as well as his 15th 110-plus mph batted ball.

Mason Miller seemingly stands out as Oakland’s obvious All-Star candidate. The flamethrowing closer has garnered national attention for his dominant rookie campaign. Rooker, however, is equally as deserving.

Among qualified American League designated hitters, Rooker has the highest OPS (.897), the most RBIs (40) and the second-most homers, behind only Giancarlo Stanton. His 142 wRC+ entering Sunday was second only to the Astros' Yordan Alvarez among AL designated hitters.

Numbers-wise, Rooker is in a similar spot to where he was last year in the buildup to his first career All-Star selection. This time around, though, he feels like a completely different player. The experience of his first full big league season in 2023 helped him develop ways to avoid long slumps and figure out how to be productive even when he’s not feeling at his best, something he struggled with in the past.

"Mentally, I’m just better at handling the mini slides,” Rooker said. “From an actual baseball standpoint, if I have eight or 10 at-bats where it doesn’t go as well as I’d like them to, last year I would have panicked and gone up there just trying to hit anything. The times when you’re not feeling as good, that’s the opposite of what you want to do. This year, it’s been like, ‘OK, I don’t feel as good at the plate right now. It’s part of the game. But I’m going to have an incredibly specific plan going up there and stick to it to make sure that I can at least hit one thing.’

"I can not feel good, my swing could feel off or I might not see the ball well. But if he throws it [in a certain spot] or if he throws a certain pitch, I’m going to be all over it. I give myself a chance to have success during those times when I don’t feel as good at the plate instead of just going up there trying to hit everything.”

There’s no question Rooker would love to find himself in Arlington for the 2024 All-Star Game at Globe Life Field on July 16. Of course, getting there is out of his hands, so all he can do is maintain his high level of play demonstrated so far this season.

"It all goes down to voting or whatever that is,” Rooker said. “I’m not going to say I don’t care, because I’d be lying. It was a great experience last year, and I’d love to go back. But my goals are more internally focused things that I know I can control, and just let the other stuff fall where it may."

Rooker remains a bright spot on an A’s offense that has struggled finding that big hit. It appeared to come in the seventh inning on Sunday, when Abraham Toro’s bloop single put the A’s ahead by a run for what was their first hit with runners in scoring position since Tuesday, snapping an 0-for-31 streak in such situations. Instead, the A’s bullpen failed to hold the lead, denying a win for rookie Mitch Spence, who shined with two runs allowed in seven innings and retired his final 13 batters faced.

“I’m noticing a little bit of pressing from our offense,” said manager Mark Kotsay. “Guys are feeling that pressure. At some point, they’re going to have to relax.”