PHOENIX — With backward cap, scruffy beard and shaggy hairdo, new Oakland catcher John Jaso resembled a tamed-down version of wacky right fielder Josh Reddick on Friday.
The beard’s getting shaved soon, and there’s no way Jaso will even attempt to keep up with Reddick’s clubhouse antics.
In late September, Jaso watched from the visiting side as the Athletics rallied for yet another walkoff win in a season defined by game-ending hits and whipped-cream pie celebrations — yes, probably delivered by Reddick.
The A’s stunned Jaso’s Seattle Mariners 7-4 on Brandon Moss’ three-run homer in the 10th inning that day, and Oakland used a fantastic finish the rest of the way to capture the AL West.
Silently, Jaso was rooting for those guys in green and gold across the diamond. He appreciated their fight to do anything to stay in the playoff chase, when nobody expected them to top the Texas Rangers at the end. The A’s became the first team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing by five games with less than 10 to play.
Jaso was as surprised by the late-season rally as the rest of the baseball world.
“No, I couldn’t (believe it),” Jaso said. “Playing against them last year was pretty cool to watch it. Guys were getting down on our side because they came back and won (the 10-inning game). Guys on our side were so disappointed watching and losing those heartbreaking games. I was like, ‘Man, that’s like what it’s all about, that’s the magic over there, that’s what you should want to happen.’ That’s what we had when I was with the Rays when we were winning. We were down like 13 games going into September and we came all the way back and won and got into the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the fun is.”
This week, Jaso has been jumping around trying to catch and learn as many pitchers as possible to ensure a quick transition with a new team.
Oakland acquired Jaso in a three-team trade last month that landed him on his third club in as many years. He spent last season with Seattle after his first three years in the majors were with Tampa Bay.
“Just meeting everybody again, like last year,” Jaso said. “It’s not going to be like when I got traded over to the Mariners and I was just going to be sitting on the bench until an injury happened. I don’t think it’s going to be that way. I think it’s going to be more like being an everyday player over here. I’m definitely coming in here ready to be on more of an everyday basis.”
A left-handed hitter, the 29-year-old Jaso batted .276 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs last year as a top guy against right-handers. But he became expendable when Seattle obtained Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez, moves that shift Jesus Montero from a catcher-DH split to primarily behind the plate. The AL West champion A’s traded starting catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals last season and replaced him with rookie Derek Norris.
“He’s going to be catching everybody right away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We don’t want to get caught into a thing where one guy is catching one guy all the time. I think that’s the proper way to go about things.”
Jaso arrived about two weeks early to spring training to begin getting to know his new teammates. He likes the laid-back feel surrounding the AL West champions, and the A’s like him.
“Really easygoing,” starter Jarrod Parker said. “That’s definitely a positive having been in the division. Not knowing us but knowing the entire division and knowing the entire American League. He’s going to be able to pick up. We’re not a hard staff to catch or learn. It will be quick. I’m sure he’ll jump around and catch different guys in the coming days. It will be easy. He’s been doing it for a while.”
Jaso considers his communication a plus, and he makes a point of offering his input at every chance. He’s glad to be catching this group now, not facing them from the batter’s box.
“They’re good, so it’s going to be nice being the catcher and not having to face guys,” Jaso said.
Closer Grant Balfour, sidelined following arthroscopic right knee surgery Thursday, should have a smooth transition with the new backstop once healthy again. Jaso caught him when both were with the Rays.
“It’s definitely nice to know who you’re throwing to,” Balfour said. “Jaso, he was good with me. He’s one of the hardest working guys. He’s really dedicated to playing this game, and he’s a catcher who really wants to work on his game. I can just remember him coming up with Tampa there that he was always out there working, blocking balls. They were telling him, ‘You need to work on this in your game, that in your game.’ He took it in stride and pushed himself. He didn’t take it as a hit. He went out there and he worked at it. And he’s gotten himself to where he is today.”
Notes: Balfour sat on a table in the training room sporting a smile a day after undergoing arthroscopic right knee surgery expected to sideline him four to six weeks. “All good,” he said with a thumbs up as he underwent treatment. … Oakland’s position players report Saturday, with the first full-squad workout set for Sunday.