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Cespedes more at ease for sophomore season

Cespedes more at ease for sophomore season

PHOENIX -- Having never completed a round of batting practice with Yoenis Cespedes that didn't involve at least one ball clearing the fence, A's manager Bob Melvin finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel on Sunday afternoon following a few home run-free pitches to the outfielder.

"Then he saved it for the last pitch and hit it over the backdrop in center field, which is pretty typical of what he tries to do against me all the time," Melvin said, smiling.

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Cespedes, of course, downplayed the monster shot, giving a gusty Arizona wind all the credit. But Melvin wouldn't have any of it, saying, "No, he hit it pretty good."

Cespedes, needless to say, enjoyed a productive first day of workouts, just hours after meeting with the media following his arrival in the A's clubhouse. He was upbeat and noticeably at ease, his comfort level clearly higher than when he joined the team in the middle of camp last year to embark on what turned out to be a superb rookie season.

The 27-year-old Cuban outfielder, though limited to 102 games in the outfield -- 129 overall -- last year because of a handful of nagging injuries, quickly proved he belongs in the Majors by racking up 23 home runs and 82 RBIs to go along with a .292 average and .861 OPS while holding his own in left field.

Cespedes was slowed at season's end by a bruised bone on the bottom of his right foot, an ailment that healed within the first two weeks of his offseason. Shortly after, he was back to work, incorporating more stretching exercises into his routine in an effort to keep health on his side in 2013.

Still, the A's will occasionally slot the slugger in at designated hitter -- as they plan to do with most of their outfielders -- to keep him fresh over the course of a grueling 162-game season. To which Cespedes says through translator Ariel Prieto, "I don't like that too much."

"I appreciate the fact that he's taking that attitude," Melvin said. "I love that. We want all our guys to play and be out there on the field. We did see last year that it was the first time he played 162 games so we DH'd him some, especially at the end. He plays awfully hard. It's not like he goes out there and paces himself."

This held true even when Cespedes was troubled by personal issues at season's end. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Cespedes was brought into a financial lawsuit stemming from a former agent's claim that he's owed money, and he subsequently encountered much worry over his family's safety in the Dominican Republic.

"It weighed on my mind sometimes, yes," Cespedes said. "I tried to be focused every single day and not let it be a problem and keep me from playing baseball hard. I'm thankful this was all possible because that was a distraction for me, but not too much. I tried to put that to the side and not take it with me to the field."

Cespedes' mother is now safe in the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to The Chronicle, and he hopes to soon have a visit from his 3-year-old son, Yoenis, Jr., thanks to new laws in Cuba that allow citizens who leave the island to return. They have not seen each other since Cespedes defected in 2011.

Melvin, very aware of the heavy heart carried by Cespedes in the midst of a playoff run, tried on multiple occasions to give him a day off. Cespedes, naturally, wouldn't let him.

"He was very communicative with me, so I knew what was going on with him," Melvin said. "He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he came to the ballpark, it was pretty easy to see what kind of mood he was in on that particular day. He always found a way to go out on the field and perform. He's a tough kid."

Cespedes finished second only to the Angels' Mike Trout in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. His team, though, finished first in the division, and the outfielder said that "the most important thing I learned playing baseball in the States last year is how important it is to play for your team, not just yourself.

"And I think this team is going to come back and play even better," he said.

Along the way, Cespedes hopes to pick up more English, after failing to come through on a promise he made to reporters last year that he would be ready to do his first English interview in July. Reminded of this, Cespedes smiled and joked it's been delayed until 2015 -- acknowledging he'd like Prieto to remain employed.

As for his own job, it will remain in left field, despite his natural talents in center, where Coco Crisp resides.

"I don't care what position I have to play," he said. "I just worry about the team. If I have to play left field, center, catcher, shortstop, whatever, I will do anything to help the team."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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