Jaso doesn't want his catching time to take a hit
Now healthy, he doesn't want to DH, and Melvin says he'll stay behind plate
PHOENIX -- With four catchers in camp, the A's could make the decision-making process much easier by making a designated hitter out of John Jaso.
The idea isn't a new one, after all, since talk surfaced months ago. Jaso's defensive abilities have never been considered strong, and he's acknowledged himself that it's his bat that's led him this far.
Then there's the July concussion that forced Jaso to miss the rest of the season. He's completely healthy now and no worse than he was before it happened, so the A's could decide to limit his time behind the plate to prevent a repeat of last year.
But Bob Melvin isn't having any of it.
Not right now, at least. The A's manager has gone out of his way more than once this spring to make clear that Jaso is viewed as a catcher -- no matter reports that say otherwise.
"We'll see how it plays out in spring," said Melvin. "I think a lot has been written about him potentially DHing, but that potentially may not be the case. As long as he's healthy and catching is not an issue for him health-wise, he's going to be a catcher.
"I'm not ruling out anything, but first and foremost, we're looking at him to be a catcher."
This is a relief for Jaso.
"That is nice to hear," the 30-year-old said Tuesday. "I know there's a lot of scrutiny about my catching, so to hear people notice good things I do is nice. Everyone can be a critic. I know I've always been able to hit, and that's what's been able to get me this far and keep me up here. But I do take pride in catching. If I'm catching, my No. 1 priority is to get the win for the pitcher and keep his ERA as low as possible. That's my priority throughout the game. Catching is something I never want taken away."
Jaso started just his second game of the spring at catcher on Tuesday, nearly a week since he was hit by a pitch above his right elbow, forcing him out of the game after just two innings.
He celebrated by hitting a home run, his first since his last game in the Majors: July 24, 2013.
"I did hit a homer in Instructs," said Jaso of the Instructional League, "but that doesn't count, right?"
"I was talking to Coco [Crisp] on the bench about how I just want to feel what it's like to square up a ball again. I don't care if somebody catches it. I just want to feel the ball hit the meat of the bat, so that was a good result."
Still, he cared way more about getting back behind the plate, something he did 42 times for the A's last year -- he started 13 games at DH -- before his season prematurely ended. In that time, while platooning with Derek Norris, the left-handed-hitting Jaso hit .282 with a .405 on-base percentage against right-handers.
"Hitting is secondary," he said. "Getting behind the plate was what mattered to be today. Calling pitches, seeing pitches behind the plate, being ready to block a ball, all that stuff, that was definitely more important."
Jaso doesn't take his defensive deficiencies lightly. He tossed out just two of 30 attempted basestealers last year, which was the lowest mark in the American League among catchers with 30 or more games. His catcher's ERA was 3.71, which ranked last among the A's four catchers but 10th among all AL catchers with 30 or more games.
"Every area at the catching position I can improve on," he said. "I definitely want to get better at throwing. That's probably what stands out the most with me behind the plate. That takes more precedence over anything, really."
If the A's really do want to keep Jaso behind the plate, it's likely they'll start the season with only two catchers: probably Jaso and Norris, with Stephen Vogt being the odd man out despite a breakthrough performance with the club last year. That would also allow them to carry two first basemen.
"If we were to start with two catchers, that means one of the guys who was here and played an important role for us won't be here to start," said Melvin. "On a personal level that's difficult, but it's all about what you think the best mix of players is."
"I definitely don't want to lose the catcher's position," said Jaso. "I know the fill-in would be Vogty, and he's a very capable guy. He's definitely a Major League-caliber catcher. But I want to be a catcher. But however they see it necessary to get to the postseason, I'll make some sacrifices for that."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.