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April 25, 2013
Vogt's torrid start for River Cats, plus SS Weeks, Straily solid

One day Stephen Vogt was preparing for a seventh season in the minor-league system of the Tampa Bay Rays, the organization that drafted him in 2007. The next he was traded to the Oakland A's for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Two days after that, on April 7, he debuted for the Triple-A River Cats.

Since then Vogt, the 28-year-old catcher, has done little else but hit, recording multiple hits in 10 of the first 14 games he played for Sacramento and entering Thursday's game against Salt Lake batting .492, the highest average in the Pacific Coast League.

Vogt, a career .299 hitter in the minors before this year, attributed his start in part to an emphasis this winter on his timing at the plate -- rather than swing mechanics -- after a mini "epiphany" in the second half of last season.

Vogt made the Rays' opening day roster last season after hitting .298 with 17 home runs and 105 RBIs across Double- and Triple-A in 2011, but wound up spending most of the year at Triple-A Durham, where his average dipped to .272.

"In the middle of the year I was like, man, I'm just late (on pitches) a lot," Vogt said. "I just kind of realized there's nothing wrong with my swing, nothing wrong with any of that, I've just got to get back to getting my timing going."

In part, Vogt said, that meant getting his front foot down earlier so he could pick up and track pitches for longer. He worked over the offseason with Rays minor-league manager Jared Sandberg, "my hitting guy the last five winters or so."

Vogt described the last-minute trade this spring as "craziness," but said he learned to be flexible last season through getting three different call-ups by the Rays. He appeared in 18 games for Tampa Bay, including four starts, and posted a hitting line he doesn't care to think about: 0-for-25 with two walks and two strikeouts.

Asked if that provides any motivation to get back to the big leagues, Vogt said: "Maybe a little bit. Not really. I try and forget about it. That was last year. It was 25 at-bats over six months.

"Is it frustrating to know I had 25 at-bats without a hit? Of course. But at the same time I don't think about it near as much as I could."

Prompted, Vogt said he "got robbed a lot -- there were two or three times I lined out, couple diving plays, chopper that was a really close play at first.

"I had consistent good at-bats up there, I just didn't get results. And so as frustrating as it is to not have the results, I knew that my process was good up there and that I went about it the right way."

Vogt played a lot of outfield early in his minor-league career but said he was drafted as a catcher and considers it his natural position. He made his 12th start behind the plate for the River Cats on Thursday night. The A's were getting production from their catching platoon of Derek Norris and John Jaso to start the season, but did show a willingness last season to call up players from Sacramento who forced the issue.

* Jemile Weeks entered Thursday hitting .313 in 18 games and reached base his first two times up on a walk and a single. Weeks, a second baseman for his entire career, made his 11th start at shortstop as well. His first came April 10.

River Cats manager Steve Scarsone said the A's calling up Andy Parrino early this month precipitated the decision to try Weeks at shortstop. Weeks and Grant Green were splitting time at second base, so Scarsone said it made sense to have both in the lineup.

"It gives (Weeks) an opportunity to get some experience at short," Scarsone said. "It could be an avenue for him as maybe a utility spot to get back to the big leagues. He's embraced it and he's running with it, so we'll see how it all plays out."

Weeks spent much of last season as the everyday second baseman in Oakland but hit .221 in 118 games with the A's and finished the season in Triple-A. He acknowledged this spring he let his struggles at the plate get into his head. A bruised right shoulder sidelined him early in camp and the A's optioned him to Triple-A in late March.

"Beginning of the season I thought he had a really good attitude," Scarsone said. "You could tell he kind of was accepting of the situation and he had decided it was just a matter of going out and playing, and playing well, and forcing their hand.

"It seems like he's continued to do that, continued to play hard. He's been a good guy in the clubhouse. He's doing the little things."

The A's on Thursday optioned Parrino back to Sacramento to make room for Adam Rosales on the 25-man roster. Scarsone said he wasn't sure how that will affect his use of Weeks.

"My guess would be that Parrino would be the priority there and we'll have to figure out some stuff to juggle the lineup," Scarsone said.

* Since being optioned back to Sacramento after making one start for the A's on April 5 -- filling in while Bartolo Colon served out the rest of his PED suspension -- right-hander Dan Straily has made three starts with the River Cats and is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA. Straily has allowed 17 baserunners (11 hits, six walks) and struck out 20 in 18 2/3 innings.

"I think it's been explained to him that he is right where he needs to be -- he's that swing guy right now," Scarsone said. "I would imagine that if for some reason they need him, they'll come get him. ... His work habits, his attitude, everything's been excellent."

* After a 1-6 start to the season followed by a six-game winning streak, the River Cats had lost 5 of 7 going into Thursday's series opener against the Salt Lake Bees. They were allowing 6.55 runs per game, though the staff ERA of 5.58 indicated that defense has been an early issue -- 29 errors in their first 20 games.

The River Cats have scored nearly 6.5 runs a game themselves, though, including a four-game sweep at Reno earlier this month in which they averaged 15 runs a game. That made for a bit of a comedown in Las Vegas, where Sacramento lost three of four.

"We didn't quite swing the bats like we did in Reno -- that was straight spoiled right there," Scarsone said. "But it was a good road trip -- 5-3, I'll take that every road trip. Obviously you always want to do better, but at the end of it all, it was a good turn for us.

"We didn't get off to a great start the first homestand. It was a good sign that the guys are settling in a little bit."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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