Semien Q&A: A's star talks offense, defense

Seven-year vet praises Ron Washington for his improvement on the field

September 2nd, 2019

During a recent visit to Yankee Stadium, Athletics shortstop sat down with to answer a variety of questions, ranging from his improved defense to his career year at the plate in 2019. Here are the highlights: Statistically, this is your best season to date (.272/.354/.488 slash line). How surprised are you to be an MVP candidate?

Semien: I really don’t pay attention to that. I know we have a group full of MVPs. It’s a team effort, very balanced. If you look at our lineup, pitching has been great. We have guys that have stepped up. I think the experience that we are getting as a team has elevated all of our games. The more innings you play in the big leagues, the better you get. That’s what is happening with us. You have been leading off and driving in a lot of runs. Are you amazed by the total number of runs you have been able to drive in this year?

Semien: During that first at-bat of the game, nobody is on. Anything can happen after that. The bottom of the order does some damage for us, gets on base and you get more chances. You look at DJ LeMahieu with the Yankees. He is in the 90s in RBIs. He has a ton of RBIs because after that first at-bat, he has enough guys on. You stay within yourself with runners in scoring position, and try to get the job done. Have you done anything different on the offensive side this year?

Semien: Yes. I’m more focused on approach and timing instead of my swing. When you have as many at-bats as I have, it’s more important to focus on that approach because you are facing so many different pitchers. … If you are facing a guy with a high walk rate, shrink the zone a little bit. If another pitcher has a great four-seam fastball, you need to get on top of the ball, so you don’t pop it up or miss it. Same goes with the sinker. Just know what the pitcher is doing up there, and know what swing to put on it. It’s been working out. I know Ron Washington is credited for helping you improve on the defensive side. What did he do or say to make you a solid defender?

Semien: He did so much for me. It started with the routine. I learned how to get better every day, working on each play I see in the game. You have to catch the ball properly. I needed help with mechanics. In my opinion, good mechanics build confidence. If you don’t have good mechanics, you make a couple of errors. You may not know why. But if you work on it every day, you understand the reason you made an error -- you may fix it immediately. That’s what he helped me learn. The first year I was here, I didn’t know why all the mistakes were happening. It was a lot. Once you learn mechanics, you build that confidence, start making the plays out there. What do you mean when you say you were learning mechanics? What did you do that was wrong, and what did you do to fix it?

Semien: A lot of the issues were throwing. A lot of it was also catching the ball, too. I opened my glove a little bit more. I switched to a bigger glove to give myself a surface area. If I happen to get a bad hop, I know how to react to it. Finishing throws was a big one. I have been working on it the last couple of years. I just had to spin the baseball better. There were so many things that (Washington and I) worked on. Now, I feel like they are ingrained into my mind. It takes the reps, and he showed up every day. He was willing to hit me as many balls as I wanted. You must have a coach that is willing to do that. When I saw you the other day before batting practice, you were working with new second baseman Sheldon Neuse. Was that important for both of you to get some reps together?

Semien: It was his first time on the field at Yankee Stadium. I’ve been there. My first start was also here in 2013, so I understand that he needs to be comfortable with his double-play partner. For me, we’ve had different guys playing second base this year. You need to know what their feeds look like. He needs to know what my double-play feeds look like. Once you get into the game, it becomes second nature. Be honest with me, did you think you would be an above-average shortstop?

Semien: In mind, yeah, once I saw that the A’s hired Ron (before the 2015 season). That meant a lot to me. They could have easily moved me off the position, or sent me down or tried something else. Was there talk about trying something else?

Semien: I’m sure there was. I don’t really know. They told me to keep working at it, work with Wash. They put me out there every day. We were not a contending team at the time. That may have something to do with it. From that day until now, it has been a long, hard process. I still want to get better from where I am today. It’s fun to be in playoff contention. I’m focusing on that instead of worrying about mistakes I make out on the field. I know you are from the Bay Area. But there is rarely a long shelf life in Oakland. How badly do you want play your entire career in Oakland?

Semien: It’s home for me. I’ve been able to get married. I have two kids. I’m kind of a big league regular in Oakland. It has changed my life being in Oakland. I love the group that we have here. This is one of the best position-player groups that we have had in Oakland. You think so?

Semien: Yeah, I grew up watching the A’s. They had some good groups. I think we are one of those groups. I think if we stick together, we can take a shot at (winning) the World Series. So, why not? Did you think you would ever play in Oakland?

Semien: It’s always a dream. When I got the call from Billy Beane that I got traded to the A’s, I was only 15 minutes from the stadium at the time. It was surreal. That night when I saw it flash across MLB Network, I didn’t sleep much. This is amazing. My family will get to see me in the Bay Area as a big league player. Now we are sitting here five years later. I’m happy to play some good baseball for my hometown team. It’s really a special time for me. Were you nervous when you first joined the A’s?

Semien: Every Opening Day, I’m nervous, but especially in 2015. I was even nervous for the exhibition game against the Giants just because it was my first time as a home player in the Oakland Coliseum. I played there as a road player. When you have Athletics across your chest, it’s a little nerve-wracking. As the years went on, I was more comfortable. You are a free agent in 2021. You are one guy who said you want to stay here. Have you talked to the front office about how you feel?

Semien: We have been focusing on this year. When those talks happen, I’ll be excited. It’s an interesting process on what players are going through in the league when it comes to contracts -- who is worth what. A lot of that stuff needs to be figured out. But I just want to show up and play every day. I will let that stuff be handled by my agent.