OAKLAND -- A's catcher Derek Norris is generating a buzz on two fronts this season.

The first is with his bat. His .377 batting average is the best in the American League for a player with 70 or more plate appearances, though he isn't listed among the official leaders because he would need 109 plate appearances to qualify at this stage of the year. As a platoon player, he only has 80.

The other buzz is being caused by his beard. A one-time clean-cut kid from Kansas, Norris sports a beard that would do justice to a sailor marooned on an island for six months. When he got to his locker in the visitors' clubhouse Sunday in Boston, Norris found a box of facial-hair essentials -- beard oil, shampoo, conditioner -- waiting for him courtesy of Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, his former teammate on the 2012 A's.

Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) suits up in the dugout before playing the Houston Astros at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday,
Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) suits up in the dugout before playing the Houston Astros at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, April 19, 2014. Oakland defeats Houston 4-3. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) ( JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO )

Gomes was one of the leaders of the "Blood, Sweat & Beards" Red Sox team that won the World Series last season. Many of the players wore beards, which were considered one of the team's unifying factors.

So while Boston TV broadcasters were saying Norris "looked like he just came out of the woods," Gomes and other Red Sox players were suggesting that Norris had a Boston kind of look.

"With the year they had with the bearded sluggers or whatever they called it, they came up to the plate saying, 'I love the beard. It fits you better over here,' " Norris said. "And then Gomes sends over that box of shaving stuff. The beard is so outlandish and crazy, I think it's impossible for guys not to have fun with it."


Advertisement

Fans get into it, too, some of them calling him "Sasquatch."

The bat and beard seem to be working in symmetry.

"Having a beard and batting .120, that wouldn't play in your favor," Norris said.

With two more hits in the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners, Norris goes into this weekend's home series against his old team, the Washington Nationals, hitting .500 (17 for 34) in his last 13 games. He's also had eight walks in that stretch.

The turnaround at the plate for Norris came midway through the 2013 season. Scuffling along and exasperated by a .195 average at the end of June, he made an adjustment to his footwork and hit .337 the rest of the way, impressive numbers that have carried over to this season.

He attacks pitches in the strike zone with a nice, short stroke while having the patience to lay off pitches designed to make him chase.

"He works hard; he works right,'' batting coach Chili Davis said. "His swing has always been short. When I met him, it was short. He just got back to it. His swing has always been short with pop, and he'd gotten away from it.''

Norris spent the winter working with his personal batting coach, Paul Sanagorski, in Wichita, Kansas.

"We went over some video that Adam (Rhoden), our video guy in Oakland, gave me, showing some things I was doing positively," Norris said. "We tried to keep that same bat path and that same swing going into spring training. As it's gone along, I've gotten more and more confidence, and I've been riding it out ever since.''

For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Inside the A's blog at ibabuzz.com/athletics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHickey3.