Favoring left side, Pennington returns to action
Oakland shortstop still building up intensity from right side of plate
PHOENIX -- Cliff Pennington's first start of the spring was rather uneventful -- just how he hoped it would be.
"My body felt great," Pennington said. "The shoulder felt great. I felt perfect out there."
The A's switch-hitting shortstop made his debut Sunday in a split-squad contest against the Padres in Peoria, Ariz., going 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in an eventual 7-6 loss. He also made a fielding error while attempting to charge a ball on a rather tough play.
Pennington, who had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a labrum tear in mid-October, was sent on the road to face right-hander Mat Latos from the left side of the plate because he's still building up intensity on the right side.
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He walked in his first at-bat against Latos, who was lifted after just two-thirds of an inning after quickly giving up three runs. Thus, Pennington was forced to face lefty Colt Hynes from the right side in his next plate appearance and, after two unsuccessful attempts at a sacrifice bunt, he struck out looking. His final at-bat, taken again from the left side, resulted in a flyout.
Pennington will continue to play on an every-other-day basis, though opposing pitchers may often dictate his schedule while he continues to gain comfort batting right-handed.
"It's getting better," he said. "The right side, it's taking longer, but it's getting there. It's definitely a work in progress, and hopefully within the next week or two it'll be good to go with plenty of time before the season starts."
Aside from the limitations at the dish, Pennington's only other obstacle comes on the field, where he's been instructed not to dive for the time being. That's how he initially injured his shoulder back in July, and the oft-injured A's are taking a cautious approach with each of their players this year.
"Hitting left-handed and playing defense, I don't think about the shoulder at all," Pennington said. "The diving part, we're taking it easy for now. There's no need to chance anything at the moment."
Pennington's return is a big plus for the A's, who will be without utility infielder Adam Rosales (right foot) until May. In the meantime, Eric Sogard, Steve Tolleson, Josh Horton and Andy LaRoche will continue to get looks in the middle of the infield this spring -- especially at shortstop, given Pennington is coming off a five-month rehab process.
Manager Bob Geren said he has no qualms, though, about Pennington's status for Opening Day. He will look to build on a 2010 campaign that featured a .250 average and 29 stolen bases -- the most by an A's infielder in 21 years -- in 156 contests, which tied him for the league lead in games played by a shortstop.
"Today, I felt like I was getting ready for Opening Day," Pennington said. "I felt like I was part of the team again. We still have some work to do right-handed, but getting to play and just being on the field, to put the cleats on, that part was nice.
"I had the excitement going before I went out there, and there was the anticipation of getting back and playing again, so it was fun."