OAKLAND — The home run traveled to a section of the Coliseum that only four previous drives had ever reached, leaving Oakland Athletics’ color commentator Ray Fosse at a loss.
“Did that go over the suites?” Fosse wondered aloud on the NBC Sports Bay Area broadcast.
“Yes, it did,” his partner Glen Kuiper informed him.
“Wow,” Fosse marveled, uttering his favored exclamation. “Wow.”
Before Pinder connected on his 483-foot blast on May 20 — the longest homer of the season, per ESPN’s home run tracker — the last member of the Green and Gold to visit the plaza reserve was Mark McGwire way back in 1996.
It was the high-water mark in an unexpectedly powerful introduction to 2017 for the unheralded Pinder who would likely still be stranded in Triple-A if Marcus Semien had never fractured a bone in his right wrist.
It was also far from an aberration for a player who continues to hit his way onto manager Bob Melvin’s lineup card after entering the season buried on the organizational depth chart.
Whenever Melvin is asked about Pinder — who’s up to five homers in 59 at bats — the manager insists that the club’s player development staff and scouting departments have been raving about his resounding bat for years.
Throughout Pinder’s time in the minor leagues, the 2012 compensation-round pick’s power mostly manifested itself in the form of doubles. He tagged 32 two-base hits in both 2014 and 2015. In his first full season in the majors, Pinder is on track to shatter his previous career high for professional home runs (15).
“You watch him take batting practice and he has plenty of home run-power,” Melvin said. “And sometimes all it takes is a few [homers] to get that kind of confidence and awareness that that’s who you can be.”
“And that one he hit the other day was as far as we’ve seen in a while,” Melvin added. “Anything you can do — and this is such a game of confidence — to accentuate that is going to help him. So, it’s gotten to the point now where we’re looking to try and get him into the lineup and even playing him a little bit out of position.”
In recent weeks, Melvin has frequently opined that it’s not easy to leave Pinder out of the lineup, starting the right-handed hitter at second base, shortstop, right field, left field and the designated hitter’s spot.
Pinder plays the role of a 25-year-old rookie flawlessly, preferring to be seen rather than heard. Asked about how he handles the difficulty of floating around between so many positions, Pinder offers up a characteristically succinct reply.
“Like you saw outside,” said Pinder, who had just returned to the clubhouse after doing some early work in the outfield. “Just getting reads during batting practice, getting as many reps as possible.”
Pinder, who hadn’t played the outfield since his college days at Virginia Tech before the A’s threw him in into right field earlier this month, might not be that far from adding center field to his résumé as well — especially considering that the current depth chart at that spot consists of Rajai Davis and Mark Canha.
“It’s one thing to just get him into the outfield and get him comfortable,” Melvin said. “I think center’s probably a little further down the road.”
More than four hours before the first pitch of a recent midweek game against the Miami Marlins, Pinder was out on the Coliseum grass with outfield coach Mike Aldrete, learning the finer points of left and center field.
As he grows more comfortable in the outfield, Pinder continues to be locked in at the plate. In his brief stay with the big club, Pinder has made a habit of crushing the baseball, ranking No. 9 in the majors in average exit velocity, per MLB.com.
“It’s a small sample size, but that’s nice to hear,” Pinder said. “It’s what you’re looking for. You’re trying to hit the ball hard. That’s the goal as a hitter. You can’t control whether you get hits or not. It’s just trying to barrel the baseball up.”
While his bat has carried him to this point, Pinder’s burgeoning defensive versatility will be what keeps him in Oakland’s plans.
The organization is rich in young infield talent — Triple-A third baseman Matt Chapman has 11 homers in May, while shortstop Franklin Barreto entered the weekend hitting .309 this season.
Asked if he envisions Pinder settling into a single defensive home or growing into a Ben Zobrist super-utility type role, Melvin leans toward the latter.
“It probably works better for him,” Melvin said. “It allows him to get in the lineup in any number of spots. You play a hot hand — obviously, have him come off the bench, the pinch-hit dynamic too. But I think he’ll benefit by it and I think he’s comfortable in the outfield.”
The understated rookie said he doesn’t have a favorite defensive position — instead he’s eager to go where asked.
“Just wherever they need me to play,” Pinder said.