Notes: Swisher gets tips from Thomas

Notes: Swisher gets tips from Thomas

OAKLAND -- Second-year outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher entered Saturday's game on fire, having gone 13-for-32 (.407) with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs over his previous 10 games, and he continued the tear with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

Before the game, Swisher gave a lion's share of the credit for his hot spring -- he went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs Saturday to raise his average to .343 with three homers and 14 RBIs -- to veteran slugger Frank Thomas.

"That guy has helped me so much, it's unbelievable," said Swisher, whose locker was next to Thomas' at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. "I've been picking his brain every chance I get. I mean, when you've got a future Hall of Famer sitting next to you, you're an idiot if you don't take advantage of that.

"And you know what? Not once has the guy blown me off or been too busy to talk or anything like that. And that tells me that he's not just a great player. He's a great teammate, a great man."

Swisher said Thomas has been particularly helpful in advising him on his approach at the plate. A switch-hitter, Swisher said he noticed last season that teams were throwing him a lot of outside fastballs early in the count and mentioned it to Thomas this spring.

Thomas, a 16-year vet, implored the youngster to counterattack by concentrating on hitting to the opposite field.

"When that man talks, you bet I'm gonna listen," Swisher said. "So [hitting the other way] is definitely something I've been focusing on, and it's paying off."

Not that Swisher plans to get too slap-happy. He's a natural pull -- and power -- hitter.

"Everyone wants to hit for a higher average, and going the other way's going to help me do that," he said. "But it'll also force teams to change the way they're pitching me, and that might mean they'll stop diddling around with that outside half and give me more chances to yank the ball out of the park."

Swisher started at first base Saturday and turned in the best two defensive plays of the game with a sliding catch in front of the Giants dugout on a foul pop off the bat of Pedro Feliz in the third inning, and a slick backhand stop of a smash by Barry Bonds with two out and runners on the corners in the sixth.

Thomas on track: Not to be outdone by his protege, Thomas hit a rocket of a solo homer three innings after Swisher went deep.

"He challenged me [on a full-count pitch]," Thomas said of Giants rookie Matt Cain, who gave up three homers. "I was happy to put a good swing on it and hit it out."

It was Thomas' second home run in nine spring at-bats, and while it's unclear if he'll play in Sunday's exhibition finale, he said Saturday's work is all he needed to be ready for Opening Night.

"I feel great," said Thomas, who missed much of the past two seasons with foot and ankle injuries. "These at-bats [Saturday] are plenty. ... I'm definitely ready for the challenge. I'm ready to go."

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Thomas was listed as the starting shortstop in the Bay Bridge Series opener in San Francisco on Friday night, struck out as the No. 3 batter in the top of the first inning and was replaced by Bobby Crosby.

"That was my idea," Macha said with a smile. "You like that?"

Thomas, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, said he appreciated the extra plate appearance and chuckled when asked if he'd ever played shortstop.

"Never," he said. "Not with this body."

Dribblers: Righty Esteban Loaiza gave up a run on three hits over six innings in his best start of the spring, and Macha said he was "real pleased" with the effort, adding that Loaiza had "a little more pop on the ball, better location." ... There's a good chance that backup catcher Adam Melhuse, who caught Loaiza on Saturday, will catch him next week in Seattle, too. ... The A's got their first look at their remodeled clubhouse Saturday, and the reviews were all positive. Flat-screen TVs have replaced the old boxes that hung throughout, and a widescreen has been installed at the back of the room in front of an assortment of black leather recliners and sofas. The weight room has been revamped, too, with new equipment and doors. "Not that it was bad before, but it's big-league now," said Rich Harden. ... The A's and their fans also got their first look at the tarped-off upper deck, which pays homage to the franchise's nine world championships, as well as Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley and Jim "Catfish" Hunter. "They did a good job," Macha said. "It gives you a sense of the history of the team, which is nice." ... The limited number of standing-room-only tickets for Opening Night that went on sale Thursday have sold out, a team spokesman said, but tickets for the Tuesday and Wednesday games are still available. ... Longtime A's public-address announcer Roy Steele will miss the first two homestands of the regular season with a throat ailment. Dick Callahan, who has filled in for Steele periodically over the last two seasons and also announces games for Cal football and Saint Mary's basketball, will handle the P.A. duties while Steele, the A's public-address announcer since the team moved to Oakland in 1968, is out. ... The A's made a preliminary offer to Barry Zito on Saturday, proposing a contract extension that would pay the veteran lefty $116 million over six years with a club option. Zito turned it down. ... April Fool's.

Coming up: Righty Joe Blanton, 1-3 with a 7.16 ERA this spring, gets his final tuneup for the regular season Sunday when he starts for the visiting A's at AT&T Park in the series finale. The Giants will counter with righty Jamey Wright (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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