PHOENIX -- During the first 10 days or so of Cactus League play, the A's John Jaso has been on the move.
The veteran catcher, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle this winter, has been chasing after pitches in the dirt. It's part of the learning curve for a catcher joining a new team, determining how the ball reacts coming out of the hands of each member of the pitching staff.
"You learn to have fun with it," Jaso said of the sometimes elusive baseballs. "When you come to a new team, you know it will happen."
And it has. Jaso has been behind the plate for 35 innings this spring after catching six innings Tuesday in Surprise, Ariz., against the Kansas City Royals. He has had two passed balls, and his
In 3431/3 innings last year with the Mariners, Jaso had just five passed balls charged to him, suggesting that the early issues are more part of the learning curve than a gauge of things to come.
"It's something that he's probably not all that happy with, but we're not surprised," said bullpen coach Darren Bush, who handles the catchers. "It happens when a catcher comes to a new team and he has to work with new guys. It will get better over time. It may take into April before he's completely comfortable and confident, but he'll get there."
Jaso is doing what he can to look at the issue in the long term.
"It's just a fact that you are going to be better in August than
Jaso learned that firsthand while trying to catch David Price with Tampa Bay in 2010-11. Price, a left-hander who has been an All-Star for the last three seasons and was the 2012 A.L. Cy Young Award winner, has a monster fastball. One of the things that makes it monstrous is how it moves.
"The toughest pitcher I had to catch in Tampa had to be Price," Jaso said. "He could let one go at 97, and it would move across the plate. But if he happens to yank it, it could really move down in the zone unexpectedly."
The 2012 season presented two issues. Seattle righty Felix Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, gets hitters out by busting pitches in the dirt and needs catchers who can handle that pitch. And then there was reliever Brandon League, who was traded midseason to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"League's splitter was constantly diving at the last second," Jaso said. "You'd expect to block it, but there was so much movement that sometimes you couldn't."
Jaso is something of an expert on working with good pitching staffs. Two years ago, Tampa Bay was second in the American League with a 3.58 ERA. Last year, Seattle was third in the league at 3.76.
Now he's with the A's, who were second in the A.L. last year with a 3.50 ERA.
"Looking at this staff from the other side last year, you could see all the potential they had and how young they were," Jaso said. "Being here now is a real learning experience. I've caught just about everybody."
The biggest challenge for Jaso has been right-handed setup reliever Ryan Cook, whose pitches move all over the place.
"Just from trying to hit against him last year, I could tell how much movement he gets on his pitches," Jaso said. "He had that huge velocity. So I'd go back (to the video room) after striking out against him.
"I would look to see where the catcher set up, and I'd see that he wound up reaching all the way across the plate to catch the ball. So it wasn't just me having trouble with his movement. It was his catcher, too."
Now Jaso, along with Derek Norris, who caught 65 games for the A's last season, will spend the spring mastering Cook and his companions.
"The numbers last year don't tell the whole picture," Jaso said. "Everybody knows there is great starting pitching here. But you'd knock the starters out of the game, and the bullpen would be just as nasty. These pitchers bring a lot to the table."