Matt Chapman passes first spring test

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MESA, Ariz. — It was never a question of ability when it came to Matt Chapman’s defense. That was answered by the two Gold Glove awards and the same number of Platinum Gloves he’s won in the past three years.

That question has been answered time and time again by the diving plays and highlight-reel throws the 27-year-old has managed to make, almost all of them with relative ease.

That doesn’t mean there are no questions about Chapman as he enters his fifth major league season. A’s manager Bob Melvin voiced his own on Friday afternoon, a couple of hours after Chapman made his first appearance at third base after undergoing offseason surgery on his right labrum and femur.

Was Chapman healthy? Melvin wanted to know, and the moment his third baseman sprawled out to make a spectacular diving stop and completed the play with a strong throw, he got his answer.

“When you see him making and instinctive play like that and get to balls that other guys just can’t get to,” Melvin said, “it makes you feel pretty good about where he’s at right now. He felt good about it too.”

“My hip didn’t bother me,” Chapman said. “Going to make that play, I didn’t really think about anything, just make that play, got up, made the throw. It’s nice to kind of test it, see where it’s at.”

If it was reassurance Melvin was looking for when it came to Chapman’s health, he got that on Friday when his team lost 7-3 in its seven-inning game to the Angels. Still, though, the plan moving forward with Chapman is somewhat uncertain. He could man the hot corner every other day and serve as the A’s designated hitter in between. Or it could end up being entirely different.

“I’m not sure yet,” Melvin said succinctly of Chapman’s spring schedule.

The A’s tenacious third baseman wasn’t the only player who offered a promising performance in Friday’s loss. First baseman Matt Olson hit his second home run of the spring, a no-doubter to left field off the Angels’ Kyle Keller.

A’s shortstop Elvis Andrus collected his first hit of the spring in the bottom of the first off Angels ace Shohei Ohtani. The veteran infielder doubled down the left-field line and became the first of four A’s players who hit doubles against their divisional rival.

The host of A’s regulars who appeared in Friday’s game made their mark with their bats, a development the organization will need more of as it prepares for a 162-game season. It will also need the contribution of Chapman’s glove. Melvin feels he’s best-suited to do just that.

“A lot of guys really focus on the bat, but defense is his calling card,” Melvin said.

Kaprielian’s promising performance

There’s a good chance Joe Maddon’s starting lineup for Friday’s spring training game against the A’s looked something like it will on Opening Day in just a few weeks. Mike Trout hit second, Albert Pujols fourth and Justin Upton, who scorched a home run to left in the top of the fourth inning off A’s lefty Adam Kolarek, was in the five-hole.

This early in the spring, a lineup like that carries little significance for Melvin. On Friday, though, he viewed it as the perfect test for his starter, James Kaprielian.

“There are spring training games, and there other games where you got a hard job on a particular day,” Melvin said. “This is one of them. That’s what we want to see. We want to see how he responds to games like this.”

The first inning of Kaprielian’s two-inning outing had its ups and downs. He struck out Angels second baseman David Fletcher looking on a fastball at the knees to start the game but followed it up with a six-pitch at-bat against Mike Trout that culminated in a hit-by-pitch. Seven pitches later, Kaprielian surrendered a single to right fielder Dexter Fowler.

Some traffic in the first inning hardly slowed Kaprielian down, though. The 27-year-old followed Fowler’s hit up by striking out Albert Pujols and forcing Upton to fly out to right. In his second inning, Kaprielian generated back-to-back groundouts before striking out Angels designated hitter Max Stassi.

“I thought it was alright,” Kaprielian said. “It was a step in the direction I want to be. I just wanted to attack and be myself and I felt like I kind of got to that in the second inning.”

Melvin was particularly pleased with the outing.

“It’s not like he’s a veteran guy who’s just going out there to get his innings,” Melvin said. “He’s trying to go out there and make a mark and to be able to navigate that lineup for a couple of innings and hold them scoreless is good.”

The A’s are hoping that 2021 can be the year Kaprielian delivers on his immense potential. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound righty was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft by the New York Yankees following an three-year run at UCLA, where he ranks fifth all-time in ERA and sixth in strikeouts.

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