OAKLAND — The old guy looks good in green and gold. To the A's, anyone who can show them how to pick up a moving ball looks good.
It's been Warriors fans chanting, “Defense, defense,” but it's the Athletics' fans who needed to be shouting it. Which is the reason A's management brought back the old guy, Ron Washington, whose head is clear after personal issues prompted his resignation as manager of a Texas Rangers team that won two American League pennants on his watch.
Down to basics, baseball is throwing and catching. Kids do it on playgrounds, in the streets. So simple. Until it becomes so mystifying.
Until either the throws go where they're not supposed to go or they are dropped when they do find the target. And thus, we allude to what charitably could be called the A's Defense.
Oakland made another error Tuesday night, a fact which ranks right down there with dog bites man. Except it was their 50th of the season, in their 48th game. Fifty errors is 10 more than any of the 29 other teams in the majors, and if you seek comparison, it's 33 more than the Miami Marlins.
Enter, as fast as his 63-year-old body could move, Washington, who for 11 seasons was an A's coach before he became manager of the Rangers and went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. With the guy they call “Wash,” doing the instructing, the A's in 2004 and 2005 led the AL in fielding.
He was hired specifically to work with Marcus Semien, the one-time Cal player, who in contrast to so many major league shortstops is good hit, no field. He has a .283 average after going 0-for-4 in Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to David Price and the Detroit Tigers, which makes the A's 2-14 in one-run games.
He also has 17 errors, although he didn't make one Tuesday, which may be attributable to his work with Wash, even if it's only been for a couple of days.
“It's all a matter of footwork,” said Washington. “It sounds simple, but if you don't have the knowledge you don't understand. You have to get your body in front of the ball.”
One would think Semien, acquired from the White Sox, should be prepared. A's manager Bob Melvin gives reasons Semien is not. This is on-the-job training for a kid whose strength with a bat caused teams to ignore his weakness with the glove and is playing the position for the first time this season of 2015.
“Marcus hasn't played shortstop every day at the big league level,” said Melvin, “and is finding some hurdles along the way. So mentally it's probably wise to scoot back and just say, 'All right, here are the fundamentals of the position.'
“It takes a tough person go out there and make as many errors as he's made and not it affect the offensive part of his game. He's every bit accountable, doesn't make any excuses. He comes out the next day and understands there are mistakes to be made and moves forward.”
The question is what direction are the A's moving. They had Ben Zobrist back in the lineup, but against them in the Tigers lineup was Yoenis Cespedes, whom, despite his popularity and talent, Oakland traded away last season to the Red Sox.
The other night, in a pregame dugout media session, Cespedes, through translator Jorge Ortiz, referred to the way general manager Billy Beane got rid of so many stars over the last 10 months — including Cespedes — and asked writers he recognized, “Don't they want to win a championship?”
The question was rhetorical and poignant. That's what so many others in baseball keep asking. If the A's don't have the budget and ballpark to sustain the talent base Beane inevitably has created, what's the point here?
All Melvin, fighting the good fight, asks is to show improvement. Although burdened by the worst record in the bigs, Oakland did win three games in succession until Tuesday.
“We have to continue to go at it,” said Melvin. “We've put ourselves in little bit of a hole, but I think as a group we're not so much worried about the hole we're in right now, we're just worried about how we're playing.
“And if you can string some games together and feel better confidence-wise, start to creep up and play little bit better and then worry about where you are in standings and what your record is later. But for us it's just getting a good feeling.”
And getting ground balls picked up and thrown to the proper fielder, a task that old Ron Washington is confident can be done just like in the old days.