OAKLAND — The Oakland A’s John Jaso was still grinning about the gift he received from the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez on Opening Day.
No, it wasn’t the fastball that Hernandez left up in the strike zone in the fourth inning that allowed Jaso to double to left-center for Oakland’s first hit of the game.
Jaso was admittedly still very stunned and surprised about the Rolex watch Hernandez had delivered during pregame warmups as a token of thanks for catching his perfect game on Aug. 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays. The watch has the date and the words “perfect game” inscribed on the back.
“He came through big time,” Jaso said. “It was definitely not expected. It was big time appreciated. Nothing will top the actual experience of being back there catching him in that game though.”
Jaso thanked Hernandez for the watch by breaking up his perfect game in the fourth inning of Monday night’s game with his double in the fourth inning.
“I was going to tell him he’s not getting another perfect game on my watch,” Jaso joked.
Hernandez wanted to ask Jaso “what time is it?” when he was on second.
So would Jaso rather have the Rolex or the double?
“I’d go with the Rolex,” he said. “I could get a double another day. A Rolex doesn’t come around to often.”
It was Jaso’s only hit in the game. Then again, Hernandez only gave up three hits in 72/3 innings pitched.
Jaso downplayed any advantage he might have at the plate after catching Hernandez last season.
“Not really,” he said. “Our hitting coach was trying to get information out of me — like what to expect. I told him, ‘Listen, if I tell you anything, it’s just going to hurt people more because he can throw anything at any time.’”
Jaso saw it first hand in the sixth inning. In an epic 10-pitch at-bat, Hernandez finally struck him out with a 3-2 changeup.
“That at-bat, he was throwing everything at me,” he said. “He was trying to strike me out with everything he had.”
There is no way any hitter can prepare for that based on Jaso’s intel. So it’s why Jaso declined on trying to give scouting reports.
“So as soon as I say, ‘Hey, watch out for a changeup,’ then here comes a curveball instead. You know what I mean?,” he said. “They are all plus pitches. I’d say to really hit off him is don’t miss that one pitch.
“Everybody is human, and he’s going to make a mistake somewhere. Your focus just has to be heightened so much — you can’t miss that pitch.”
And Hernandez’s nasty changeup?
“It seems like the harder he throws it, the better it is,” Jaso said. “If his changeup starts falling down to the 86 mile-per-hour range, he seems to leave it up more. When he throws it hard, he throws it down and that’s more in the 88-89 range. He threw one to me in that bat where I struck out and I think it was right at me knees and I thought it maybe was a ball and the umpire called it strike. It just messed with my head. Every time he threw a changeup down there, I was hacking at it.”
Saunders leads off
Outfielder Michael Saunders was at the top of the order with A’s right-hander Jarrod Parker on the mount and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez getting a day off.
It’s a spot where Saunders could be batting often this season.
“It’s obviously a different lineup today than yesterday,” Saunders said. “I don’t know how it’ll play out, but I’ll just be ready to play every day wherever they need me. I told Wedgie, it doesn’t matter where they need me, I’m ready to go.”
Saunders isn’t going to overthink the situation. Wedge is going to use a lot of lineups this season. He used over 130 different lineups last season.
“There’s a lot of versatility throughout the lineup, a lot of different players can hit anywhere,” Saunders said. “I can’t speak for the skipper, but I’m imagining that’s a good thing to have. For now, it looks like Guti and I are at the top of the lineup and that’s a good position to be in with the guys that are hitting right behind us. My job is to play my game, get on base, no matter where I’m at in the lineup.”