Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Cliff Pennington

After a season ruined by leg injuries and a slow start in April, Cliff Pennington is back healthy and swinging the bat with confidence. The Oakland A's top pick in 2005 cemented himself at the top of the Ports' order with a .382 OBP in May. We spoke to Pennington this weekend about his recovery from injuries, how he is feeling with his swing, the defensive work he did with Ron Washington and more…

Cliff Pennington was the Oakland A's top pick in 2005. Both he and the A's second pick in 2005, Travis Buck, began the 2006 season in Stockton. While Buck got off to a fast start with Stockton and was quickly promoted to Double-A Midland and eventually to Oakland in 2007, Pennington struggled at the start of last season and then tore his hamstring just as he was starting to get on-track. He missed most of the final four months of the 2006 season.

After spending so much time on the DL last year, the A's started Pennington back in Stockton in 2007. After a slow first two weeks of the season, Pennington has been a steady presence at the top of the Ports' order. Finally healthy, Pennington was batting .261 with 25 extra-base hits and a solid 40:45 BB:K ratio through Monday. He also had eight stolen bases in 10 chances. We spoke to Pennington before the Ports' game on Saturday about his health, his defense and his season thus far.

OaklandClubhouse: You have hit a few homeruns lately and have been getting on-base at a good clip. Do you feel like your swing is back to where you want it to be?

Cliff Pennington: Yeah, I feel like I am swinging the bat well. I am just trying to make hard contact every time up and a couple of them have gone out. That [hitting homeruns] isn't really a big part of my game, but I am not going to complain.

OC: How have your legs been feeling after last year's injury problems?

CP: They feel really good. A whole lot different than last year.

OC: Did you have a long rehab this off-season?

CP: I rehabbed all off-season, just trying to get them in as good of shape as possible coming into the season and they have been feeling good thus far.

OC: Was it tough to get your timing back at the beginning of the season after missing so much time?

CP: A little bit. Especially in the beginning because I hadn't played in a long time. It was the longest break I have ever taken from playing baseball, so it was a little rough in the beginning.

OC: You've played a little bit of second this season. What has that experience been like?

CP: I played a little bit of second base in college and while I've always played short, I have always worked out at second. You've got to be able to play both if you are going to play in the middle infield. I really don't mind playing over there [at second] a little bit. Of course, I like being the shortstop, but I like playing a little second and I'm getting used to it.

OC: Do you prefer to be a lead-off hitter?

CP: Oh, yeah.

OC: What is your approach at the plate?

CP: I'm always working to see a lot of pitches, especially if we haven't seen the guy before, I want to be able to bring a report back to the dugout and tell the guys what I saw. I also want to get information for myself. When you are first facing the starting pitcher, you know that you are going to see him again at least two more times so the more I learn in the at-bat, the more information I have the next time I come-up to bat.

OC: I noticed that you haven't been running quite as much as you did when you were healthy in Kane County in 2005? Is that to protect your legs?

CP: It's a different philosophy a little bit. That first year in Kane County, I was pretty much running every time I got on. Here with Bushie, I've got the green light, but it is more picking our spots a little better instead of just running wild. I still want to steal more bags total – I've already stolen a bag in this series – so I am going to be running a little more, but it's just picking better times and not just running without a plan like I did in Kane County. Each time you move up, the catchers and the pitchers get better [at controlling the running game] so you've got to know when it is a good time to go.

OC: How is your left-handed swing versus your right-handed swing? Is one ahead of the other right now?

CP: They both feel pretty good. It's actually funny. There aren't that many left-handed starters in this league for some reason. We didn't see our first lefty until the 20th game of the year, so the right-handed swing, the timing is a little off because it is always tough when you have seven, eight, nine games in-between at-bats. But in general, they both feel good and I am getting good at-bats from both sides.

OC: I got to see you play in a major league spring training game this spring and you were in big league camp last year. What were those experiences like for you and what did you take away from it?

CP: That was awesome. Just to see those guys play every day and to see how they work and to see how they do things, is just really important. And getting to work with Ron Washington [in 2006] defensively was just huge. He is just awesome. Between him and Juan [Navarette, the A's roving fielding instructor], they really ironed out my defense over the last year and a half or so.

OC: What did Washington have you work on in particular?

CP: We worked a lot on your final fielding position, how you get to the ball. When we worked with him, you work on positioning so that when a ground ball is hit to you, you work on getting yourself to the ball the way that he taught you to. He really slowed every thing down for me and smoothed things out for me because I was rushed and herky-jerky coming out of college.

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