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02/23/10 5:49 PM EST
Chavez getting work at first base
Veteran wants to give A's options to keep bat in lineup
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Eric Chavez took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time this spring, not only sporting a different look but a new glove as well. The A's six-time Gold Glove third baseman, who enters camp with a surgically repaired back and shoulder, took batting practice before making his way over to first base -- where, if healthy, he'll spell expected starter Daric Barton this year. "It's just going to get better there every day," said the long-haired and scruffy Chavez. "I have to get comfortable, and it's not really anything physical but more of a mental thing. "[Infield coach Mike Gallego] is telling me to just relax. Whatever I do I just want to do it so well, so I just have to remember I'm just taking ground balls. The more times I get over there, the easier it will be." The 32-year-old Chavez made it clear during the offseason that this spring will be his last on the field if he's unable to stay away from the trainer's room, a place that has allowed him to play in just 121 games during the past three seasons. Now entering the final season of his six-year, $66 million contract, the A's veteran knows third base is no longer his only home. He's expected to see time at first, in the designated hitter's spot and, when desperate measures call, in the outfield. "My biggest concern is offense," he said. "I just want them to have options of where to put me. I'm not just stuck at third, which for me is almost like my mind is so free. It's refreshing. "It just feels so much easier taking ground balls at first. I'm not in that hurry to get to it and throw it to first. I can just walk it over to first. It's helped out my mind and my body." Chavez, though a natural athlete and proven corner infielder, is far from game-ready. Thus, he'll look to a longtime friendly face in Mark Ellis just feet away when in doubt at the bag. "Obviously Mark and I communicate real well," Chavez said. "He's going to help me out a lot. There have already been times where I've asked him about depth, so I'm sure the communication will be constant. If there are certain hitters that he knows, I'm sure he'll let me know and we'll communicate to get that stuff out of the way early." Chavez will also take some balls at shortstop -- his position in high school -- and in the outfield, for which he has a "just in case" glove. "I doubt they'll put me in a game situation out in the outfield," he said, "but I will take my outfield glove out there and really just give them options." For now, though, Chavez will stay busy in the cages -- where he deems himself 100 percent comfortable -- and on his feet at first. "If my feet are ready, I can really play any position in the infield," he said. When position players officially report Thursday and begin their first team workouts the following day, Chavez said he'll have no restrictions. At the same time, he's already told coaches he needs to keep throwing to a minimum. "The least possible throws I can make the better for me, but everything else is full-go," he said. "I know I can make some throws from over at third. I've done it my whole career. If I need to bounce it, I'll bounce it. It's more of all the extra throwing in practice that I need to avoid. Obviously I have to get ready to play third and first and make some throws, but I need to minimize it." Whatever works for him, said manager Bob Geren, who is confident in Chavez's potential at a different corner infield position. "It seems like he's gained a lot of knowledge in a very quick amount of time," the A's skipper said. "For a guy who has a closet full of Gold Gloves, I figured he would pick it up pretty fast." However, that doesn't mean Chavez has quite succeeded at making friends with a glove that could jump-start his career again. "I don't like it, to be honest with you," he said of the first-base mitt. "But I have to get used to it. I try to put it on as much as possible, and I'm getting two of them ready in case one of them fails me." Chavez will see plenty action this spring, but don't expect the new look to stick around much longer. The hair -- on his head and face -- is neither intentional nor permanent, he insisted. "Nothing is intentional with me," Chavez said. "I'm just lazy." Based on his offseason efforts, the A's community would disagree.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.