The clock is ticking on Ka'ai Tom’s bid to make the A’s Opening Day roster.
After a late start to camp due to an oblique issue that popped up over the offseason, Tom, who was selected by the A’s in December’s Rule 5 Draft, finally made his spring debut in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Indians in Goodyear, Ariz. The outfielder roped a single down the right-field line as part of a 1-for-3 day.
“I felt amazing. It’s been about a year since I’ve been in a game,” Tom said. “Just being back on the field and having fans was a tremendous experience. Having this opportunity now, I feel really good and I look forward to the journey.”
Tom, 26, is part of a group of outfielders in A’s camp vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster as the club’s fourth outfielder. The oblique injury did him no favors, but the left-handed-hitting outfielder is going to get a chance to catch up in the position battle with plenty of playing time over the next two weeks. With versatility that allows him to play all three outfield spots, he drew the start in right field and batted leadoff Monday.
“I want to try to get him some at-bats here,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We had him up in the lineup today, even against a left-hander. With the time off he’s had and being a Rule 5 pick, we want to get as hard a look as we can at him.”
Tom must make the A’s Opening Day 26-man roster and remain there all season, or be offered back to his original club, the Indians, for $50,000. The selection of Tom came with an initial cost of $100,000 for Oakland.
Already playing with an increased sense of urgency as he aims to impress the A’s in a short amount of time, Tom was aided with the added incentive of playing against his former club. He was a fifth-round selection by Cleveland in the 2015 Draft and spent five seasons in its Minor League system.
“It’s a little funny that I spent the last five or so years here and now I’m back at the stadium as a guest,” Tom said. “It was a different point of view. It’s definitely an extra fire. I always give it my best, but there was definitely a little extra motivation there.”
The A’s are most intrigued by Tom’s batted-ball profile. Though he appears to be smaller in stature -- listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds -- Tom has racked up plenty of hard-hit balls over his Minor League career. He also gets on base at a high clip, which is something the A’s place an emphasis on, with a career .360 on-base percentage over five Minor League seasons. Spending time at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, Tom combined to hit .290 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs in 132 games.
Bassitt fans five
Making his second Cactus League start, Chris Bassitt continued a solid start to camp as he approaches a potential Opening Day assignment for the first time in his career. The right-hander struck out five, in his 3 2/3 innings Monday, allowing one run on four hits. He did not issue a walk.
His one run allowed was partially due to experimentation gone wrong. Already feeling good about command of his fastball, changeup and curveball, Bassitt has been trying to develop a new slider in camp, even seeking help on how to grip it from newcomer Sergio Romo, who is considered to have one of the best sliders in baseball. Bassitt said he left a poor slider up in the zone against Jake Bauers in the second, and it was crushed for a double. One batter later, Bauers was driven home on a triple by Andrés Giménez.
“I just didn’t have the slider today,” Bassitt said. “It’s one of those things where you might not have a pitch one day. Today, I didn’t have my slider. I gave up the first double -- which I thought was going to be a home run -- on it. I don’t know if I’ll ever throw a two-strike slider to a lefty again. I was trying it, but it was not good today.”
Regardless of if he’s able to implement the slider this year, the A’s feel good about Bassitt’s repertoire as is. He utilized it to a career year in 2020, earning some AL Cy Young Award consideration after going 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 11 starts.
“Overall, he’s elevating when he needs to and throwing his curveball for strikes,” Melvin said. “It’s similar to the stuff we usually see from him in the regular season.”
Puk gets a debut date
A’s left-hander A.J. Puk is set to take the mound for his Cactus League debut on Wednesday against the Royals in Surprise, Ariz. Puk -- Oakland’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- is returning from shoulder surgery last September for an injury that forced him to miss the 2020 season.
With Mike Fiers now doubtful to make the Opening Day roster after an MRI on Sunday revealed inflammation in his left hip, Puk is seemingly the leading candidate to fill the veteran right-hander’s slot in the starting rotation. It’s all going to come down to how many innings Puk can get under his belt this spring. He’ll get the start on Wednesday, with a pitch count of around 45-50 pitches.
“He’s already thrown a couple of innings in simulated games,” Melvin said. “We’ll see where we are in his first start. The plan all along was to build him as a starter and see where we are when we break camp.”
A’s return Rule 5 pick
While Tom is still fighting for a spot on the roster, Dany Jiménez -- the other player the A’s selected in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft over the winter -- learned he would not be making the club.
The A’s announced that Jiménez was returned to the Blue Jays -- his original club -- on Monday. The move frees up a spot on the 40-man roster to reinstate right-hander Frankie Montas, who looked sharp in his spring debut on Sunday, from the COVID-19 injured list.
Jiménez, 27, appeared in three games this spring and allowed two runs on four hits in three innings. The righty struck out three batters and issued two walks.
The A’s travel to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a 1:10 p.m. PT game against the D-backs on Tuesday. Left-hander Jesús Luzardo will look to keep his scoreless streak alive after tossing three scoreless innings in his spring debut last week. Arizona will send left-hander Madison Bumgarner to the mound.