Platoon or not, Norris ready to lead

Platoon or not, Norris ready to lead
February 13, 2013, 2:15 pm
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A's pitchers had a 3.08 ERA with Derek Norris behind the plate and a 3.69 ERA when anyone else was catching them. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Programming note: For complete A's spring training coverage, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 6:00 and 10:30 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

PHOENIX -- He may look like a veteran with his grizzly beard, but catcher Derek Norris is just 23 (he turns 24 on Thursday), and already taking on a leadership role with the Oakland Athletics.

Although he has only been with the A's since June 21 of last season, he is the longest tenured catcher on the team. Couple that with the fact that Oakland's manager Bob Melvin is a former catcher himself, and you can easily see that Norris is getting a heaping serving of expectations behind the dish.

"It's going to be a little bit more comfortable this spring, but we don't want him to be comfortable, coming in and saying 'I have a spot now,'" Melvin said. "His job is to compete and get better and not take anything for granted."

It's that type of perspective that keeps a young player driven, and Norris has been lucky enough to learn from one of the best managers in the game in Melvin, and last year he got to pick the brain of one of the game's classiest and hardest working veterans in Kurt Suzuki -- who was later traded to the Nationals to make room for the guy he was helping.

"I can't say enough about what he did for me especially coming into a new organization, not knowing a lot of people," Norris said of Suzuki. "Just learning how to go about your business 100 percent the right way. There couldn't be a better guy in the game to learn after than Kurt."

"As long as I live, as long as I play this game, I'll go about my business trying to match what he did everyday here."

Norris did enough to give the A's the confidence to trade one of their most recognizable players. He hasn't done enough yet to be considered the starter, though. He will spend the season platooning with the newly acquired John Jaso.

Very diplomatic for a young player, Norris is accepting of the role, but lets his competitive side shine through when asked about splitting time.

"He's a good player and he deserves opportunities just as much as I do," Norris said of Jaso. "I think if we both showcase our abilities and we go out there and fight, scratch, and claw, at the end of the day when it comes down to it, that guy will be the player to start the game."

"Obviously I want to catch all 162, but when it comes down to it, if a good match up is there, then I'll just wait my turn."

Norris' stats with the A's last season may not jump off the page. He did come through when the team needed him the most, though. He hit .339 with runners in scoring position, and hit .440 with RISP and two outs.

His work with the A's starting staff has also drawn very positive reviews. It's an imperfect statistic in some ways, but A's pitchers had a 3.08 ERA with him behind the plate and a 3.69 ERA when anyone else was catching them. It's now Norris' turn to teach his competitor the tendencies of the A's pitchers.

So far the A's new catching tandem is getting along seamlessly. Jaso and Norris could be seen chatting after the throwing sessions on the practice fields at Papago Park on Wednesday. Norris had already made a positive first impression on Jaso before he was traded to the A's from Seattle.

"I played against him last year, and he was always another cool guy on their team," Jaso said of Norris. "‘Cool’ meaning he would talk to you, he was open and not quiet."

How can you not like a guy whose birthday falls on Valentine's day?

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