Okajima's outing takes on special meaning

Okajima's outing takes on special meaning
February 25, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Hiedki Okajima worked a scoreless inning on Monday, allowing one hit and a walk. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

PHOENIX -- These early spring games don't count for much, but in some instances they have held some significant meaning for certain A's players. One such case is that of Hideki Okajima. The experienced pitcher has been in professional baseball since 1994 and won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007 -- but this Cactus League game meant a lot to him.

"Even though I am a veteran, it's been a while since I've been on an American mound," Okajima said through interpreter Mike Furutani after the A's 14-10 loss to the Indians at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. "I was a little bit nervous but it turned out OK."

Okajima allowed one hit and a walk in one inning of work but didn't allow any runs. He never even got to throw a pitch the previous time he signed with a big league team. Last offseason the Yankees signed him, but released him after he failed a physical. He ended up pitching in Japan in 2012 with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

"I was afraid I wouldn't be able to throw in America again, so even stepping on the mound was special," he said.

Josh Donaldson helped make sure Okajima's return to the American mound was a scoreless one. The young third baseman made a swift grab on a scorched ground ball to rob a double off the bat of Juan Diaz. He then made a strong throw over to first to complete the play and end the frame.

"I felt I was lucky that Donaldson made such a great play," Okajima said. "It was a very nice play."

Donaldson added an opposite field single in the fifth inning. He said he feels a little antsy at the plate and is working on getting used to seeing the ball come out of the pitcher's hand in game scenarios. He had no problems seeing the ball off the bat, that much is for sure.

"That was a great play, we've seen him make that play several times," Melvin said. "He's a great athlete, has taken to third base very quickly. He continues to work hard and has a lot of confidence in the position."

Donaldson wasn't the only A's player to impress on defense. Josh Reddick flashed his Gold Glove leather in the second inning with a sliding catch in right field near foul territory. It seems like he lives for the opportunity to lay out or slide for a ball. During the team's bunting drills before the game, he even dove for the ball on someone's errant bunt as he waited for his turn to step to the plate.

"He only knows one way," A's manager Bob Melvin said.

Most of the scoring in this game came in the later innings with minor league pitchers on the mound. The A's got on the board when Shane Peterson hit the team's first home run of the spring in the sixth inning. His two-run shot drove in Michael Choice, who reached on a single. Choice later hit a two-run shot of his own with Jemile Weeks on base to make it a 10-6 game.

"I'm just kind of picking up from where I left off in Midland," Choice said. "Just trying to stay nice and short, keep my upper body relaxed, and throw my hands to the baseball."

The outfield prospect is hitting .714 (5 for 7) with a double, four RBI, and a home run so far this spring. He is rebounding nicely after his season in Double-A Midland was cut short last year when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his right hand.

"He's got a quick bat, which allows him to wait," Melvin said. "He's hit fastballs, he's hit breaking balls, and he's tracking the breaking ball really well. Usually in camp that comes a bit later."

The A's got a bit of a scare when Choice collided with the wall late in the game while tracking down a deep fly ball. He remained in the game and was fine in the clubhouse later. 

"The left side of my body and my knee kind of hit the wall first," Choice said. "It shouldn't be a big deal, just throw some ice on it and tomorrow it should be good to go." 

Weeks also drove in two runs and finished the day 2 for 3. Andy Parrino went 2 for 3 with two RBI as well. Eric Sogard drove in a run while playing shortstop.

The A's starting lineup struggled against Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson. He retired all six of the batters he faced. The A's pitching didn't fare quite as well. Andrew Werner started the game and allowed an unearned run in the first inning when Brandon Moss committed a throwing error on what could have been a double play ball. The run came around to score when Werner got Michael Brantley to ground into a double play.

"I was a little erratic," Werner said. "I was erratic in the bullpen, erratic for the first hitter, then kind of calmed down a little bit. I felt good. Just a little out of whack. "

Werner said he expected his first start of the spring to be this way and he isn't worried about it. The left-handed pitcher was happy with his results against the lefties that he faced. The Indians had five left-handed hitters in their lineup.

"I just approach it like anything else; go out and throw up zeros and make it hard on the coaching staff," Werner said. "I understand they/we won they AL West last year and I can't expect to come in and have a job. I have to compete for it and that's good because it brings out the best in everyone."

Evan Scribner allowed two runs in the third inning. The righty reliever walked Lou Marson and allowed him to advance to second on a wild pitch that ricocheted off catcher John Jaso's foot. After retiring Michael Bourn, Ryan Raburn hit an RBI single, and Brantley smacked an RBI double, but was tagged out at third when he tried to advance on the throw home from left field.

Sonny Gray pitched two innings and allowed three hits and two runs. Remember Matt "Crash" Carson? He ran into one that bounced off the batters eye in centerfield for a two-run homer against Gray.

"He's just a little jumpy," Melvin said. "Good stuff, though. He probably just didn't throw it to where he wanted to throw it today."

Gray said his fastball command wasn't quite there on Monday. His bullpens early in camp all went very well. Gray, 23, said the highlight of his day might have been facing Jason Giambi, 42. The veteran won out in this instance as he drew a walk.

"I wish I had done better than a walk and just seen what happened," Gray said. "He's a lot older than me, I used to watch him a long time ago."

The A's take on the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Tuesday. Here's their lineup against Arizona.

Eric Sogard 3B
Hiro Nakajima, SS
Josh Reddick, RF
Brandon Moss, 1B
Josh Donaldson, DH
Seth Smith, LF
Scott Sizemore, 2B
Derek Norris, C
Michael Choice, CF

The following pitchers will be on the mound: A.J. Griffin, Arnold Leon, Mike Eckstrom, and Fernando Rodriguez.