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Sizing up Athletics middle infield no easy task

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

PHOENIX -- The Swingin' A's are defending AL West champions … but it sure is hard to see their middle infielders through all of the question marks.

Eleven days before their season opener against the Mariners, what's most notable in Oakland 's camp is the disappointing play of Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, the aching shoulder of second baseman Jemile Weeks and the openings created for veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie and comebacking second baseman Scott Sizemore.

“It could go down to those last three [exhibition] games against the Giants,” Athletics' manager Bob Melvin acknowledged Thursday. “There's quite a pack at this point, and a lot of them are playing really well.”

Nakajima signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Oakland over the winter but is hitting just .176 with four errors this spring.

Lowrie, conversely, is hitting .313 with two homers and nine RBI in 13 games and has played well at shortstop.

Weeks, meantime, sprained a shoulder earlier this month on a play at second base and returned to the field Thursday for the first time in more than a week. Though he got a few at-bats as designated hitter, Weeks doesn't have as many at-bats as the other candidates.

Sizemore, who didn't play at all in 2012 following a devastating knee injury on the first day of camp, is solid in the field but not the threat with the bat that Weeks represents.

“We have to decide whether or not spring training means something for certain guys and not for others,” Melvin said.

And, he said, what the “best mix of guys to start with” will be.

Though he didn't specify, his comment regarding the meaning of spring training seemed pointed at Nakajima, who is battling something Lowrie and the others aren't: The ginormous cultural adjustment, as well as facing hitters he's never before seen.

“This is the thing that comes into play with him and not everybody else,” Melvin said. “He's going through a lot.

“It's easy to sit here and look at his performance. But there are a lot of things he has to deal with that nobody else is. He's going through a lot more.”

Over his past six seasons playing with Seibu in Japan, Nakajima produced a .310 batting average and 17 or more homers every year.

No question, Melvin acknowledged, there's a learning curve for Nakajima right now.

And with time running out this spring, there's one for the A's, too, where their new shortstop is concerned.

Opening day is approaching, and there isn't much time left before the A's will have to pull the trigger on some decisions.

But as Melvin said, “Just because you start with certain guys doesn't mean it's etched in stone.”

Sunblock Day? Yessir. It's gotten nice in Phoenix. Low 80s, and a little cloudy.

Likes: Watching Orioles manager Buck Showalter work the back fields during spring training. He calls this his “favorite time of year” and it's easy to see why. He's a teacher at heart. Nice conversation with him while riding shotgun in his golf cart from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota out to the back fields a couple of days ago. … Keep an eye out for the Brewers. They will be better than you think. … The shrimp creole at Harry's Seafood Bar and Grill in Lakeland, Fla. … Chicken enchiladas at Tee Pee in Phoenix. … The seared ahi at Roy's. … Boz Scaggs' latest, Memphis. Man, does that guy surround himself with fabulous musicians. … My alma mater, Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central, advancing all the way to the Michigan high school basketball tournament Class C semifinals before bowing out Thursday to top-ranked Flint Beecher 73-55. Great work, Falcons.

Dislikes: Unbelievable. I return to the hotel to work on Thursday and there is one channel on my television that says “no signal”. Yes, CBS. On the first day of the NCAA tourney. The technician is working on it and says the problem is with one of the hotel servers that sends TV signals to the rooms. They're not working on it quickly enough.

Rock ‘n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

“And she wakes me with coffee and kisses my head

“And starts to explain about something she's read

“I say. 'Dammit, you haven't heard a word that I've said'

“And I love that girl”

-- John Hiatt, I Love That Girl

 
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