Phegley returning to full strength

A's catcher ready to bounce back from injury-riddled 2016 season

Phegley returning to full strength

MESA, Ariz. -- A's catcher Josh Phegley, hardly seen on the field last year because of recurring right knee issues, is back to his regularly scheduled programming just in time for camp's christening.

Phegley appeared in just 26 games during an injury-riddled 2016 campaign that got away from him quickly. What was supposed to be a mild procedure to remove a cruciate ligament cyst was instead just the beginning of a lengthy rehab journey.

Essentially everything that could go wrong did. Phegley, who underwent the operation in July, was collecting fluid in the knee post-surgery, slowing his recovery and preventing him from catching consecutive days. Then he got strep throat, which led to bacteria populating that same fluid, and Phegley was hospitalized with a serious knee infection -- "the icing on the cake," he quipped.

Now?

"They view me as just a regular guy," Phegley said Tuesday, the official report date for A's pitchers and catchers. "Hopefully that continues that way."

Phegley, 29, has made a significant adjustment to his catching stance to help keep his knee healthy. Rather than opening up his left side more when catching the many A's sinkerballers, which put too much pressure on his right knee, he's returned to a square stance.

"I think in baseball in general we do everything kind of one-directional, and my staggered catching stance kind of caused me to get really off-balance, and my right leg was just taking more tension than my left," Phegley said. "I think the way we fixed it was just to get the hips realigned, get my back strengthened, and kind of get more symmetrical and skeletal, and everything seemed to pan out."

Phegley arrived in Arizona on Jan. 23 at the urging of A's training staff members who advised him to take things slow in the early going. He's since caught several bullpen sessions, including three on Monday, and will be behind the plate for a full load during the first official workout on Wednesday.

Though Phegley is not considered to be limited in any way, A's manager Bob Melvin "can't help but maybe take it a little easy on him, especially in drills early on," he said.

"Whether we ease into the blocking portion of it, that's something we'll take a look at and maybe slow him down a little bit, because if you look at our depth chart, he is that right-handed guy that we need," Melvin continued. "The goal is to get him to the season healthy."

Phegley is the lone right-handed catching option on the A's active roster, while there are two who bat from the left side -- primary catcher Stephen Vogt, and rookie Bruce Maxwell, who, despite a strong September for the A's last year, will likely begin the season at Triple-A Nashville where at-bats can be had.

Phegley has been hitting since December .

"From the first swing on, I felt like I had my swing plane back, could get my lower body driving, felt night and day different, so I'm really optimistic about this year and just being healthy and everything kind of falling into place."

"He's one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and crushes lefties, so he's a huge part of our team," Vogt said, "and it's very exciting to have him back."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.