A’s catcher Stephen Vogt’s story is one of perseverance, survival

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OAKLAND -– It’s easy to define Stephen Vogt’s career by the long road he took to get to the majors.

He spent most of six years in the minor leagues, finally getting his first legitimate shot in the bigs with Oakland in 2013 at age 28. His story has been one of perseverance and survival.

Right now, the A’s catcher is gaining attention not for his background but what’s taking place in the present.

Vogt has put together one of the best all-around offensive seasons in the majors so far in 2015. Oakland went out and acquired players such as Billy Butler, Ike Davis and Ben Zobrist over the winter knowing they needed to replenish the heart of their lineup after trading away so many All-Stars.

But the man who has stepped up to grab the reins offensively was on their roster all along.

“You don’t see that much production out of a catcher,” A’s right fielder Josh Reddick said. “You expect catchers to hit .260, .270 and call a really good game, and he’s doing both of those right now. The damage he’s causing at the plate is just what we need in the heart of our lineup.”

Vogt, 30, is actually putting together some of the best across-the-board numbers in all of baseball. He entered Wednesday night leading the American League in RBI with 30. He ranks second in on base-plus-slugging percentage (1.098), is tied for fourth with nine homers and ranks fifth with a .337 batting average.

Vogt also leads all major league catchers in batting average, homers, RBI and OPS.

“I haven’t really though too much about it as to the ‘why’,” Vogt said. “I’ve typically always been a slow starter as far as seasons go. It feels good to be starting off pretty well. I don’t really know why there’s been more power, but I feel good at the plate. And with this lineup we have, I’m going to get pitches to hit.”

So good has he been that the A’s have been forced to re-think their plan to feature a straight platoon at the catcher position. Manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday that Vogt has earned the right to play on a regular basis. Josh Phegley drew the start in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Boston against Red Sox lefty Wade Miley, giving Vogt a rest in a day game after a night game.

Phegley has done nothing to lose playing time as much as Vogt has commanded it with his hot bat. It’s quite the scenario considering that the A’s couldn’t have known for sure entering spring training what they would get from Vogt. He was coming off of right foot surgery in October to repair the plantar plate and was limited at catcher during the spring.

To this point, he’s held up well enough physically to start 27 of the A’s 36 games at catcher. And on Tuesday night he showed terrific mobility, springing out from behind the plate to field Pablo Sandoval’s tapper and throw him out at first. An inning later, he made a sliding catch of Blake Swihart’s foul pop near the first base dugout.

“He still gets a little sore when he’s out there several days in a row,” Melvin said. “We have to be careful with him and not over-do it, especially the way he’s performing right now. But I couldn’t be happier with his performance.”

This essentially is Vogt’s first full season in the majors. He played 18 games with Tampa Bay in 2012 and then emerged as an important contributor with the A’s in 2013 after being called up in June. Last season, he didn’t make the club out of spring training but was called up early on before the foot injury relegated him to first base, outfield and DH duties.

This season he’s been indispensable. Vogt filled in well as the No. 3 hitter when Zobrist first went on the disabled list, and now he’s settled in as the No. 5 hitter with the hot-hitting Reddick batting third.

But perhaps Vogt’s toughest job is learning all the new pitchers that joined Oakland’s staff this year, and playing counselor to pitchers -– particularly the relievers –- who have struggled so far in this 13-23 season.

“I think any time you’re trying to get to know a teammate, you have to get to know them on all levels,” Vogt said. “ Some of the guys in spring, you get to know them and they go out and pitch well. But then you need to get to know them when they don’t have their stuff. So there’s that element of getting to know them with the growing pains of a season.”

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”