OAKLAND — Chad Pinder was in the starting lineup for the Athletics Friday night, batting fourth and playing left field against the Seattle Mariners.
No surprise, really, because Pinder is one of the most versatile players in the major leagues, having played every position on the field except catcher and at one time or another having hit in every spot in the batting order in his eighth season.
It’s one of the reasons Pinder is the last man standing, having joined the A’s for the first time in 2016 and having spent his entire career watching his team go from also-ran to the playoffs only to reinvent itself this year by shedding salary and starting over.
Veterans Jed Lowrie, Stephen Piscotty and Elvis Andrus were released, joining the exodus which began in spring training with the trades of Chris Bassitt, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Manaea. The year before it was Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks, who departed in free agency.
Before the A’s (43-76) began a 10-game homestand with a three-game series against the Mariners (65-54), Pinder took a few minutes to reflect on the changes that have seen his team in the last place in the A.L. West since May 4.
Pinder arrived as a 24-year-old rookie in a 69-93 season in 2016, playing in 22 games. He played 87 games in 2017 when the A’s were 75-87. Both seasons he also spent time in Triple-A Nashville, much in the same way so many A’s this season are bouncing between Las Vegas and Oakland.
“I think about it in terms of 2016 and 2017 with where we’re at this season and the turnover,” Pinder said. “Now I’m seeing it from a different lens. It stinks to lose guys that are my friends that were let go recently. You lose some buddies, but it’s bitter-sweet because you get to see the career beginnings of a lot of new guys. It’s their first time in their big leagues and an opportunity.”
When Pinder arrived, listened and watched veterans such as catcher Stephen Vogt, Lowrie, Semien, Yonder Alonso and Rajai Davis. Vogt came back this season after being traded in 2017. Lowrie returned as well before being released. Pinder is the only one to have been on the roster since 2016.
“Vogter was someone I leaned on early, even going back to spring training when I’d be back and forth,” Pinder said. “It’s full circle being with him now.”
Instead of being the rookie asking the questions, Pinder, 30, has become the sage that answers them and provides guidance.
“If there’s something that needs to be addressed, I’ll address it, whether it’s playing on the field or conducting their business in the weight room or the clubhouse,” Pinder said. “But for the most part these guys have been outstanding. They’re learning, they’re competing and they’re grinding.”
Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said earlier this season Pinder’s leadership and clubhouse influence may have exceeded that of Olson and Chapman even if his numbers weren’t comparable. He’s happy to have Pinder and Vogt to provide examples for a team that has seen 27 rookies make their major league debuts.
“They know the value and the definition of what it means to be an `A’ at this level, how to carry yourself, and what it means every game, every day,” Kotsay said. “Having them here in that leadership role and pass it down and pass it forward is awesome.”
Pinder has discovered that whatever he’s giving in terms of knowledge, he’s getting back in terms of youthful enthusiasm. After signing a one-year contract worth $2.725 million, he’s interested in coming back to help with the rebuild.
“It gives me a little spark on days when I need it, to see the young guys getting after it,” Pinder said. “They’re hungry. They come to work and they’re fun to watch. They do everything they can. While losing absolutely sucks, and it’s not fun for anybody in the organization, there are opportunities for a lot of good things to happen over the next two months.”
Pinder, hitting .236 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 80 games, endears himself to the club for his willingness to play any position and fulfill any role. When Pinder pitched an inning earlier this season as a staff-saving measure, it meant the only position he hasn’t played in a big league game is catcher.
“I’d love to do it,” Pinder said. “I’d love to be able to say I’ve knocked out all nine.”
Kotsay won’t rule it out, bringing it up to bench coach Brad Ausmus in a half-serious manner.
“I did say jokingly to Brad the other day, if we have to pitch a position player again, we might make Pinder’s year and put him behind the plate,” Kotsay said.
As if on cue, Pinder emerged from the dugout runway.
“What do you think, Chi?,” Kotsay said. “Put you behind the plate? Is that an option right now?”
Said Pinder: `Oh, it is.”
— All-Star pitcher Paul Blackburn said he’ll wear a cast on his middle finger for six to eight weeks to treat an injured tendon sheath on his throwing hand. Although pleased he’ll need no surgery, Blackburn is disappointed he wasn’t able to get back on the mound after some disappointing outings.
“Going from how my year started to how it’s been the last month and a half, I wanted to finish how I started and I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that,” Blackburn said.
— The A’s called up right-hander Norge Ruiz from Triple-A Las Vegas, a Cuban-born right-hander who will make his major league debut should he get into a game. Ruiz was 5-1 with a 3.83 earned run average for Las Vegas in 30 appearances.
“He’s earned it this season, throwing the ball really well in Vegas,” Kotsay said. “He’s got a plus fastball and a really good slider. So we’re excited about getting a look at him.”
In five seasons in the minor leagues, Ruiz, 28, has pitched in 113 games with 36 starts with a 5.08 earned run average.
To make room on the roster, Domingo Tapia was optioned to Las Vegas. Tapia pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief in Thursday’s 10-3 loss to Texas, giving up one earned run after coming in for starter Zach Logue. Ruiz gives the A’s an arm they could use immediately Friday night should it be necessary.
Nick Allen 2B
Jonah McBride 2B
Sean Murphy C
Chad Pinder LF
Shea Langeliers DH
Seth Brown RF
Sheldon Neuse 3B
David MacKinnon 1B
Skye Bolt CF
Cole Irvin P