MESA, Ariz. - As the pieces are beginning to fit for the A's 25-man roster, Jaff Decker may be an unlikely feel-good story come Opening Night.
A non-roster invitee this spring, the journeyman has impressed with his all-around game to the point that he might make Oakland's club as a fifth outfielder.
There's other factors that play into it - how many relievers the A's carry will determine whether they keep five outfielders - but things are breaking right for the 27-year-old Decker, who's with his fourth organization and has never made an Opening Night roster.
When Jake Smolinski went down with a shoulder injury that required surgery, it thrust Decker into the competition. Then Monday, the A's released veteran Alejandro De Aza, who had impressed this spring but had an opt-out clause in his minor league deal. The A's think enough of Decker that they cut De Aza loose. On Monday, Decker returned from a minor oblique issue and started in left field, going 1-for-3 in a 10-3 loss to Kansas City.
"I'm super excited," Decker said. "I feel like I fit in well here, and I get along with the guys really well. It's a good group of baseball minds, baseball guys. I hope I have done enough and shown I'm healthy enough to land that spot."
De Aza hit .300 in 19 games and displayed the veteran savvy that seemed to make him a possible fit on the A's bench. Manager Bob Melvin expressed hope that De Aza might re-sign with the A's if he doesn't find a big league opportunity elsewhere.
But Decker, who bats left-handed as does De Aza, is hitting .308 and has his own attributes, including a strong arm and the ability to play all three outfield spots. It's a nice package of skills for a player who, at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, doesn't appear the prototypical big league outfielder at first glance.
If the A's keep seven relievers, they will take five outfielders into the regular season. The decision on a seventh reliever appears to be between lefty Daniel Coulombe and right-hander Frankie Montas. But the A's could hang on to both and only keep four outfielders, with Mark Canha being the fourth.
Decker fun fact: His first name is pronounced "Jeff." He's named after his uncle, whose first name was misspelled on his birth certificate. Decker's uncle kept the spelling.
MELVIN ON RAIDERS: Melvin, a Bay Area native who is quite tuned in to the history of local teams, weighed in on the Raiders announcing a move to Las Vegas. That news has a direct impact on the A's, obviously, as a co-tenant of the Coliseum with the Raiders.
"It's too bad," Melvin said. "Like us, they have a rich tradition and unbelievable fan base. They're well supported in the Bay Area. It's tough to have to deal with it."
NOTEWORTHY: In his first start since being named part of the rotation, Andrew Triggs struggled mightily against the Royals, getting tagged for eight runs and three homers in 3 2/3 innings. While stressing that now is no time for complacency in his position, Triggs also said he was approaching the game differently than if it were the regular season. He kept throwing his changeup, his fourth best pitch, in an effort to get more comfortable with it.
"If this were (the regular season), we probably would have said in the first or second inning, this wasn't so great, and gone out there and started back-dooring cutters and working off the sinker," he said. "But we made a concerted effort to work on a pitch, it wasn't very good, and the results showed that."
FAMILIAR FACE: One of the homers off Triggs came from former Athletic Brandon Moss, who connected for a two-run shot in the fourth. The outfielder signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Royals in the offseason.
ODDS AND ENDS: Coulombe had a great day, tossing three scoreless innings. That's three outings in a row without allowing a run for the lefty after a rough patch before that. Melvin pointed out that the ability to throw multiple innings will be important if Coulombe makes the team. … Matt Chapman homered in the fifth, his third long ball of the spring. He's hitting .261 and playing stellar defense. "He's got a lot of enthusiasm and it rubs off on guys," Melvin said.