PHOENIX -- One A's player to keep an eye on Wednesday and throughout the spring is first baseman Brandon Moss.
It's not because of any home run the club's team leader from 2013 might hit. It's because of any bunts Moss may drop down.
In his year and a half as Oakland's primary first baseman, the left-handed pull hitter finds opposing defenses stacking the right side of the infield to try to minimize his impact. They can't catch balls hit over the fence, but opponents know he tends to hit the ball between second base and first base, and they stack the deck by putting three infielders over there.
Moss is trying to unstack it. During batting practice the other day when the hitters were working against the shift, Moss dropped jaws by dropping down a near-perfect bunt, a roller between the mound and third base that would have been an easy hit in a game. The goal is the hone his skills enough that he can produce a hit in a game.
``It's something I wanted to try last year, but I didn't even know how,'' Moss said. ``When do you square around? I didn't know. I talked to them about it, and they said we'll work on it in spring training.''
That time is now. Moss had 30 homers, a .256 batting average and 87 RBIs, all of it compiled against the shift. Would the numbers be better if the shift could be neutralized? A month's worth of Cactus League games could answer that question.
``The way they shift against Brandon, if he bunts a ball to the third base bag, it's going to be a double,'' manager Bob Melvin said. ``I think it's something we should have addressed before this. He wants this and we'd like to see him do it. It could open things up for him.''
Despite his one jaw-dropping batting practice bunt, Moss is not yet comfortable with the process. He tried it Monday and found ``it was just terrible.''
If Moss can persevere and get to March 31 with a few bunts in games to his credit, he'll be a happy guy.
``It's different against live pitching,'' he said. ``Batting practice, you know what's coming. But when pitchers are trying to get you out, that's when you have to get it done. If I can, it will help in one of two ways. They could say, `give him the hit,' and that would be good. Or they can not shift as much, and that would be good.''
Moss, who has 51 homers and 139 RBIs in 229 games since joining the A's, will be at first base Wednesday, but he doesn't have the first base job locked up. Daric Barton, also a lefty, is his competition, and if the A's opt to go with Barton, Moss could be shifted to designated hitter.
It's a real possibility with the A's front office and staff not yet achieving consensus on which way to go. If Barton makes the team and Moss is the DH, that will almost certainly impact the catching situation.
The A's went most of last year with three catchers, and would like to go with three again this year in lefties John Jaso and Stephen Vogt and right-hander Derek Norris. But the three-catcher setup is predicated on Jaso, who will catch in Wednesday's opener against the Giants, being able to be the primary DH, an option that is taken away if Barton and Moss are both going to be in the lineup at the same time.
But for now, it's one step at a time for Moss. Or one bunt at a time.
``Right now I'm learning to bunt,'' he said, ``and I figure if I can, that will help us as a team. If I can get comfortable, it will be a big benefit to all of us.''