Allen, Díaz remain in competition for A's shortstop role
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Offense will dictate a lot of the A’s lineup this year. It has to, considering last year’s run production woes.
Oakland last year ranked second-to-last in the Majors in runs scored with 568, or about 3.5 per game. Only Detroit scored fewer. And the A’s ranked dead last in team batting average (.216).
One of the spots still up for grabs opening the final full week of Spring Training is shortstop, where Nick Allen and Aledmys Díaz have emerged as the top two contenders based on their hot hitting during spring. Allen got the start Sunday in Oakland’s 6-3 win over the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch.
Allen sports a hefty .375 average in 11 spring games. Díaz, who signed as a free agent in January after picking up three pennants and a World Series title in Houston, is batting .357 in 11 games.
Having two hot bats up the middle infield is a new and welcome problem for second-year manager Mark Kotsay, who hasn’t yet named an Opening Day starter at shortstop.
“You look at the production offensively last year, we evaluate that,” Kotsay said. “Obviously, we evaluate our offense last year as a group. We didn’t score enough runs, and that’s a necessity this year. We look to improve that offensively and try to get the best lineup out on the field as well as the best defense.”
Allen helped his cause Sunday with an RBI and two sweet plays on defense.
In the second, Allen -- who made his big league debut last year and got into 100 A’s games -- started a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and maintain Oakland’s 2-0 lead. Two innings later, Allen snagged a line drive to his left for one out, and flipped the ball to Zack Gelof to double up L.A.’s Max Muncy, who was on second base but broke on the line drive.
His glovework is there, but Allen’s offense is also much improved this spring, compared to his .207 batting average in 2022.
“Just being calmer in the box, and finding a way to be [swinging] on time more often,” Allen said of his hitting adjustments in the offseason. “Focusing on my zone and be ready to hit good pitches, that’s the big thing.”
However the lineup shakes out, Kotsay wasn’t committing to his middle infield on the second-to-last Sunday of Spring Training.
“You could see Díaz at shortstop. That’s kind of been a trend this Spring Training. That’s not set in stone,” Kotsay said. “Aledmys can play in left, we have the opportunity to DH as well. So there’s a ton of combinations that we can put together that we feel good about. We’re still evaluating and nothing is set in stone. And even when we open the season with the Opening Day lineup, things can change.”
Righty Shintaro Fujinami made his fourth start of the spring Sunday. The outing against the Dodgers was his longest of Spring Training, where he threw 4 2/3 innings and allowed one earned run on one hit while striking out four. But he struggled with control again at times, walking five, including three in a row to open the bottom of the third inning.
Fujinami has fanned 17 in 12 2/3 innings this spring and hit 97 mph on his fastball Sunday, striking out both James Outman and Freddie Freeman looking back to back in a perfect first inning. But the 6-foot-6 28-year-old has also walked 13 batters this spring.
“The third inning, fourth inning was all over the place, and I feel like the left side, glove side was kind of flying open,” Fujinami said via a translator of the mechanic that was giving him fits. “My top toward the glove side was a little bit lower than other angles.”
Kotsay was more impressed with what worked, including when Fujinami worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with just one run scoring on no hits.
“In the first inning, he came out with good command of the fastball and then he kind of lost it,” Kotsay said. “Overall, I think he just got fed up. He felt like he was rushing his front side, so he’s aware of what’s going on, which is great. Now, the next step will be to make that in-game adjustment.”