Notes: Crosby cleaning up

Notes: Crosby cleaning up

OAKLAND -- So much for the dreaded sophomore slump. A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, the 2004 American League Rookie of the Year, has emerged as a middle-of-the-order threat a couple of years ahead of schedule.

Sidelined for the first two months of the season with cracked ribs, Crosby has been a force since returning to the lineup May 30. He's been batting third against left-handed starters, and he batted cleanup Wednesday for the first time in his career.

Crosby's .239 bating average as a rookie was the lowest in history by a Rookie of the Year winner. Through Tuesday, Crosby was batting .320, and in the first inning Wednesday he extended his hitting streak to a career-best 10 games.

"It's awesome, what he's done up to this point," teammate Mark Kotsay said. "You don't see a lot of guys at his experience level batting where he has been, and that says a lot about what he means to this club."

Pittsburgh's Jason Bay, the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year, and Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, are the only other second-year players in the big leagues entrusted with the No. 3 spot in their team's batting order on a regular basis this year.

"I always say that the players make the lineup, and Bobby's batting where he is because he's put himself there," said A's manager Ken Macha. "I'm not going to lock him into anything where we say, 'He's our No. 3 guy,' but he's proved he can handle the job."

At Crosby's Rookie of the Year press conference, he said all the right things about wanting to improve in every facet of the game, but he stressed above all things the need to cut down on his strikeouts. In 2004 he routinely chased outside pitches and punched out 141 times -- or roughly once every 4.3 plate appearances.

Through Tuesday, he'd struck out 10 times in 108 plate appearances.

"That's huge for me," Crosby said. "It's definitely something I've worked on, covering the outside half of the plate better."

"You don't want anyone in the middle of the lineup who strikes out a bunch, and Bobby's really cutting his strikeouts down," Kotsay said. "And he's making adjustments, hitting the ball the other way. That's how you hit for a high average."

Is it the 'stache? Put A's hitting coach Dave Hudgens atop a horse and deck him out in a cowboy hat, jeans and a flannel shirt, and you've got the Marlboro Man. Make him about six inches taller and put him in a Hawaiian shirt, and you've got Magnum P.I.

Now picture those two characters without the thick signature moustache. Doesn't quite work, does it? It didn't for Hudgens, either, and it had nothing to do with looking rugged or suave.

Hudgens tried the clean-shaven look early this season, and his hitters opened the year in a brutal team-wide slump. It got particularly bad in May, when the offense batted a collective .245 with 12 home runs in 27 games.

About three weeks or so ago, Hudgens started letting his lip fur grow, and heading into Wednesday's game, the A's were batting .295 -- second best in the American League -- with 25 homers in 27 games in June.

Coincidence? Hudgens laughed and said, "Not at all. I'm obviously a lot better hitting coach with a moustache."

Dribblers: First baseman Scott Hatteberg, battling a stomach virus, was excused from Wednesday's game. ... Mychael Urban, the author of  "ACES: The Last Season on the Mound with the Oakland A's Big Three -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito," will take questions from fans and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Lafayette Bookstore. ... The A's postgame radio show, "Extra Innings with Robert Buan," will be broadcast live Thursday from 8-9 p.m. at Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley. Nick Swisher, Huston Street and Joe Blanton will be Buan's guests. ... Macha, Huston Street, Rich Harden and Stomper will be making special appearances at Alameda County Fair's Action Zone on Thursday at approximately 6 p.m.

Up next: A's righty Danny Haren (6-7, 3.89 ERA) will be in search of his sixth consecutive victory Thursday in the series finale against Seattle righty Gil Meche (8-4, 4.79 ERA). Game time is 12:35 p.m.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.