ST. PETERSBURG -- Consistent production has led to consistent playing time for Derek Norris, who, in turn, is showcasing greater pitch recognition.
Norris isn't just hitting a ton. He's walking a lot, too, and at a rate higher than he did last year.
Entering Wednesday, the A's catcher led the team with an average of 6.39 plate appearances per walk. In contrast, he is striking out just once every 8.85 trips to the plate, good for third on the team. Last year he averaged 8.32 plate appearances between walks, with 4.34 between strikeouts in 304 total trips to the plate.
This year, he already had 115 plate appearances before Wednesday.
"Anyone in here can tell you, when you're in there every day, you get better pitch recognition, better timing, you trust your hands, you trust your body more, you trust the game more," Norris said. "It's just a comfortability thing.
"When you don't play for a couple of days, you get in there, you have to see a couple of pitches out of the hand to get that back. When you're in there more often than not, you don't have to do that."
As a result, Norris is actually averaging fewer pitches per plate appearance (3.86) than he took last year (4.26), even after his 14-pitch battle with Rays righty Jake Odorizzi on Tuesday. He saw 30 pitches total on the night and drew a career-high-tying three walks, despite not feeling great at the plate, he said.
"I could've very easily gone 0-for-4 last night, and I turned that into an 0-for-1 with three walks and eliminated three outs," Norris said. "I feel like I'm seeing a lot of pitches, but I don't feel like I have to waste as many pitches seen.
"When you're in there consecutively, you're in there against righties and lefties and seeing the ball at all angles all the time and watching a pitch, that to me is a wasted pitch. That pitch right down the middle, you don't have to take it. You can, but before, when I wasn't playing often, it would've been automatic. Now, I'm in there, and if it's right there in the happy zone, I'm gonna go ahead and swing."
Just like he did last week on two 3-0 pitches from Washington's Gio Gonzalez he belted for three-run homers.
"Last year," he said, "I would've taken both of those pitches, just because I wouldn't have trusted it."
Neck soreness keeps Crisp, Lowrie out vs. Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie remained out of the A's starting lineup with neck soreness in Wednesday night's 3-2 victory, leaving manager Bob Melvin without two of his everyday players for the middle contest of a three-game road set against the Rays.
But Melvin was able to use Crisp in center field in the bottom of the eighth inning, after pinch-hitting for Kyle Blanks in the top of the frame, which forced Brandon Moss from left field to first base and Craig Gentry from center to left.
"I just needed him right there," Melvin said. "He said he was ready to play."
That doesn't ensure Crisp's availability for Thursday's series finale, but it was nonetheless encouraging for the club.
Lowrie, who left Sunday's game prematurely because of the neck strain, has sat out each of the past two games, but Melvin expressed hope he would start Thursday.
Melvin was also without Yoenis Cespedes in the field, giving his left fielder a scheduled start at designated hitter to offset the impact of a stretch of six consecutive games on artificial playing surfaces.
Bullpen roles clearer without closer by committee
ST. PETERSBURG -- With Sean Doolittle expected to assume closer duties for the A's, the lefty's bullpen mates now have a better understanding of their roles.
Not that they didn't before, with manager Bob Melvin regarded as a great communicator with his players. But there should be greater consistency with how they are used, now that Doolittle is essentially locked into the ninth inning.
"I think everybody has a clearer idea to this point how it will potentially set up," Melvin said.
The plan should not surprise anyone.
Righty Luke Gregerson will act as the primary eighth-inning setup man to Doolittle, with Dan Otero typically getting the seventh inning. Southpaw Fernando Abad will be called upon for lefties.
As for Jim Johnson, who lost the closer title just 11 days into the season following a string of struggles, he's "a little bit of a wild card," Melvin said.
"And I told him that," he said. "It might be a couple innings, it might be a couple outs in the sixth, it might be two innings in an extra-inning game. If Doolittle were the closer and wasn't available on a day, it could be him.
"He's got the most difficult role to explain, but he understands it and is going to do the best he can to get back to performing like he expects to."
Johnson, carrying around a $10 million salary and 7.00 ERA, has allowed seven earned runs over his past six outings spanning just 4 1/3 innings after a scoreless streak of 10 1/3 innings.
Broadcaster Fosse to represent A's at Draft
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ray Fosse, a two-time All-Star catcher and current A's broadcaster, has been selected to represent the A's when they make the 25th overall pick at the First-Year Player Draft next month.
The 12-year Major League veteran, who is celebrating his 25th season in the television booth as the A's game analyst, was traded to Oakland from Cleveland in 1973 and played for the '73 and '74 A's championship teams.
Fosse will have the privilege of sitting at the A's Draft table and phoning in each of the organization's picks. The former catcher will be among several baseball luminaries present in Secaucus, N.J., as each team has tabbed at least one person significant to its organization to sit at its Draft table.
The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 3 p.m. PT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 4 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 9:30 a.m. PT on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
• Ryan Cook (forearm strain) is throwing out to 110 feet, Melvin said, and could potentially throw a bullpen session upon the club's return to Oakland next week.
• Lefty Eric O'Flaherty (Tommy John surgery) is scheduled to throw one inning in a simulated game in extended spring training on Saturday.