The A’s were shut out on Opening Night by Felix Hernandez, it was an underwhelming way to start off the regular season, but considering the pitcher who dealt the shutout it wasn’t a big deal. Today’s loss versus the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander was much in the same vain. While Verlander wasn’t at his best, his bond with the umpire was just about as strong as it had been during the ALDS. Susan Slusser cited an unnamed Athletics hitter who proclaimed this to be the worst strike zone he’d seen since last October. So the fact that the A’s came down on the short end of this game isn’t a big deal on the surface. But there was a large underlying problem that crept into focus, and one of the most popular members of the Athletics was right in the middle of it.
The A’s did manage to get Verlander’s pitch count over the century mark in the 6th inning, leaving the rather weak Tigers bullpen to protect a 7-1 lead. This game was much closer than the final 7-3 score would indicate. While Brett Anderson was most definitely not on his game, the A’s had their chances to return fire yet failed. They stranded 10 runners on base during the course of the game. You can’t win when you do that. While there were many culprits who failed to deliver in big moments, one player in particular stood out above… or perhaps below the others.
I have made it known in the past that I’m not his biggest supporter, namely because of his lack of clutch hitting. While its rather difficult to specifically quantify clutch hitting, you know it when you see it. That big moment that may only come once or twice in a game when the entire stadium of fans rises to their feet in anticipation of a big hit that will send them all into a joyous frenzy, that’s what we’re talking about here. Time and time again Reddick continues to fail in those situations.
Thus far in 2013, aside from one good game versus the Seattle Mariners, Reddick has been silent at the plate in just about every situation. Today, in his 0-5 with 3 strikeouts performance, he came up in the bottom of the 7th inning with 2 outs in a chance to put the A’s right in the thick of this game once again. After Chris Young had driven in 2 with a double, he stood at second base with Reddick coming to the plate. The Tigers countered with the lefty Phil Coke, and Reddick grounded out weakly to second for the final out of the inning. The A’s would mount another potential rally in the 8th, but that was a huge moment that could have made the 8th inning rally quite a different animal.
From my vantage point in right field, I watched Reddick as he came out to his position to prepare for the following half inning, and he was visibly upset. I could hear a Grant Balfour-like expletive shouted as I’m sure Reddick was replaying the at bat in his head. So while he didn’t get the job done, it was at least some comfort to see the frustration coming from him, if nothing else it shows that he still cares right? That’s the question that gives me pause.
Reddick has arguably become the face of this franchise right now, alongside Yoenis Cespedes, and therefore he is perhaps the most popular Athletics player. He’s widely known now for his eccentricities, specifically his love for WWE, and his ongoing “beard-off” with WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan. While all those things are fun little side attractions, the number one priority now and forever is baseball. I’m beginning to wonder how much those type of distractions are interfering with his play. At this point Reddick has posted a horrific .121/.231/.242 slash line in 9 games (having missed the Angels series with the wrist injury), while it’s undoubtedly a slow start and very very early in the season, his performance has been far from encouraging.
He was supposedly working with Chili Davis this spring on driving the ball up the middle in order to prevent himself from falling into deep prolonged slumps like we all had to endure during the latter half of the 2012 season. We may be witnessing the exact same pull-happy tendencies and wild flailing swings that plagued him before happening now. My point is this, while he’s struggling this badly, maybe he needs to drop the sideshow stuff and focus on baseball. That means, forfeit the “beard-off” to Daniel Bryan (he’s getting crushed in fan voting anyway) by shaving said beard, don’t worry too much about what wrestling themed chants the guys in 149 yell while he bats, and do everything in his power to get his bat to the level of his glove.
Josh need not look further than the Sacramento River Cats to see what his future could conceivably be. Jemile Weeks was untouchable, he was one of the building blocks of the rebuilding Athletics going into the 2012 season after a very strong 2011 campaign. Weeks struggled terribly in 2012, and lost his job as the second baseman, and ultimately found himself back in the minor leagues. While I’m not advocating that the Athletics need to send Reddick to Sacramento, the possibility of that happening needs to be kept in mind. It happened to Jemile, and it could happen to Josh.
As an Athletics fan, I want Josh Reddick to succeed at the highest levels of the game. We saw so many glimpses last season of what he’s capable of, he just needs to figure out how to harness his talent and turn himself into the complete player I do believe he can be. Minimizing the distractions is essential in making that happen, if he produces at a high enough level, it won’t matter what else he does, he’ll be the man for the Oakland Athletics.