Change of scenery finds Bleday living up to pedigree

May 10th, 2023

NEW YORK -- The A’s believed in the immense potential of , so much so that they were willing to send the Marlins their former top overall prospect in A.J. Puk, who has emerged as a quality closer with Miami since the one-for-one player swap in February.

One week into his first stint with the A’s, Bleday is showing just why Oakland was so intrigued. After getting off to a strong start at Triple-A Las Vegas, Bleday’s success has translated in the Majors, continuing with a home run and a double in Wednesday afternoon’s 11-3 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Bleday extended his career-best hitting streak to seven games, with the two-hit effort his fourth multihit game of that stretch. Through eight games with Oakland, the 25-year-old outfielder is 11-for-29 (.379) with three homers and three doubles.

“It’s good to see JJ come here and have an impact,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “He’s got his opportunity to really solidify himself here. There’s tons of upside to JJ. We knew that when we acquired him. It’s good to see him get off to a good start here.”

With Ramón Laureano landing in concussion protocol after colliding with the right-field wall on a leaping catch in Monday’s series opener, Bleday has been thrust into the middle of the A’s lineup. On Wednesday, he was slotted into the cleanup spot, which he took as a signal of the club’s confidence in him.

“Being able to get at-bats right away and carry what I was doing in Triple-A to here is huge,” Bleday said. “It’s tough playing only every couple of days and trying to manage that. I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity.”

Bleday was selected fourth overall by Miami in the 2019 MLB Draft, and it wasn’t long ago that he was heralded as one of baseball’s elite prospects. He received his first call to the big leagues last season with the Marlins, but underwhelming numbers at the plate over 65 games led to his availability via trade.

Aiming to rediscover the swing that made him the 2019 SEC Player of the Year at Vanderbilt and one of college baseball’s premier hitters, Bleday spent the offseason back at his alma mater developing a new hitting routine in advance of this season. Between that and the experience gained from his first taste of big league action with Miami, Bleday feels much better prepared for his second Major League chance to live up to his offensive profile of a power hitter who also brings elite plate discipline, which fits right in with Oakland’s philosophy.

“I feel like I’ve been able to accomplish what I was doing in Triple-A,” Bleday said. “Staying aggressive and within myself. Don’t try to hit a four-run bomb every single at-bat. Just get a good pitch to hit, stay aggressive and stay short to the ball.”

“A lot of it is just focus,” Bleday continued. “Knowing who you are as a player. Take what they give me and do my best not to get out of my routine and approach.”

While Bleday has been on the upswing in the past week, the A’s finished their road trip on a rough note. It was a six-game trek that began promisingly with consecutive victories in Kansas City, but that was followed by four straight losses and ended with a sweep in New York.

Pitching continues to be an issue, with crooked numbers by the starters a common theme against the Yankees. On Wednesday, it was Kyle Muller who labored through a four-run first inning on 32 pitches.

“The trend right now with the starters seems to be just having a bad inning and not being able to overcome it,” Kotsay said. “Still, we had our chances to get back in this game today, and we couldn’t capitalize.”

Muller, who was Oakland’s Opening Day starter, fared well over his first two starts as he allowed just three runs in 10 2/3 innings. Since then, however, the left-hander holds a 9.22 ERA over six outings, with 27 walks in 27 1/3 innings.

“I feel like the last couple of outings, I’ve had that big inning,” Muller said. “A couple of guys get on and then I give up a homer. Solo home runs are fine. But when you’ve got crooked numbers going up on the board, it’s tough. It’s kind of demoralizing for the offense when every time we score, I give some up.”