Melillo Working His Way Back

The 2007 season was both trying and triumphant for Kevin Melillo. He struggled with a right wrist injury that hampered his swing and limited him to only 98 games. He also made his major league debut and was a key player on the PCL champion Sacramento River Cats. Melillo's wrist injury lingered into spring, and he is currently at extended spring training. We spoke to Melillo about how he is feeling

At the start of the 2007 season, Kevin Melillo looked poised for a standout campaign. After batting better than .300 in an extended stay in major league spring training with the A's, Melillo got off to a hot start for Triple-A Sacramento. During the month of April, Melillo hit .318 with a 902 OPS. He followed that with another strong month in May, posting an 826 OPS and collecting 18 extra-base hits in 128 at-bats.

It was in May that Melillo began to experience pain in his right wrist. The pain would eventually worsen and cause him to miss almost the entire month of July and some of June and August. His numbers suffered along with his wrist, as he didn't manage another month with an OPS better than 800 the rest of the season. He finished the year with a 798 OPS in 98 games at Triple-A.

Although the season was frustrating from a health perspective, Melillo got to experience a couple of high notes in 2007. He had a brief call-up with the A's in June and made his major league debut at Shea Stadium in New York. Melillo drew a walk in his only at-bat. He was also an integral part of a River Cats' team that steamrolled through the PCL on its way to a league championship and a win in the Bricktown Showdown.

During the off-season, Melillo went under the knife to repair a torn tendon in his troublesome right wrist. He was hopeful of starting the 2008 campaign on-time and healthy, but a set-back with the wrist during spring training has delayed his 2008 debut. On Sunday, we caught-up with Melillo from extended spring training in Phoenix, where he is hopeful that he is only a few days away from returning to the River Cats' line-up. He is aiming to return for Sacramento's home opening weekend series versus Las Vegas, when the River Cats will celebrate their 2008 championship. We spoke to Melillo about his rehab and his impending return.

OaklandClubhouse: How is your wrist feeling? Is it getting back to the strength that you had wanted it to be at?

Kevin Melillo: Finally. Finally it is getting back to where it was in May before I started noticing the symptoms of having a tear in there. It is starting to feel really good. I am taking BP every day and I have been able to drive some balls. More importantly, I have been able to drive some balls the other way. Last year, when it was really bugging me, I was swinging all with my top hand, so I would be hitting top-spin groundballs to the right side. That's when I started to get into trouble. Now being able to hit with some authority to the opposite field has really gotten my confidence going. As soon as these [extended spring training] games get going in the next couple of days, I will be able to test it and then I don't see any reason why I would need to stay back any longer than that.

OC: Was it one of those injuries where it began to hurt over time, or was it something that you felt on a particular play?

KM: During the season, it was over a period of time. I noticed it swinging a bat and I thought that I had some little minor thing going on in there. I never really gave it much thought at the time, but about a month later, I stepped into the training room and said, ‘I've got something going on in there.' We kept monitoring it and it just kept getting worse and worse. The surgery happened in November, and then I came back and slowly started to feel like I was making some strides in spring training.

Then I suffered a set-back in spring training. I went to field a groundball to my right and I had to kind of go to the ground to field it. It wasn't really a dive, but I had to go to the ground and put my right hand down to brace myself. When I did that, it kind of jammed into the ground and it didn't feel too good after that. It was pretty stiff for the next two or three weeks. I wound up getting a cortisone shot and I had to rest it more for that. So that was the set-back that has kept me still here in extended [spring training]. We seem to be getting really close now, though. I have been testing it by diving on it and sliding and seeing how it feels when it hits the ground and it has been feeling much better.

OC: How did the injury impact your swing last season? Did you notice yourself changing your mechanics to compensate for the wrist feeling sore?

KM: Unconsciously, I'm sure that I was. I was still trying to tell myself to stay inside the ball and drive the ball to left, but when your bottom hand isn't working the way that you want it to and you are using a lot of your top hand, then that is how I got myself in trouble, hitting a lot of groundballs to the right side. I wasn't generating any back spin and I wasn't able to let the ball get as deep as possible and fire my hands through the ‘zone and slap the ball to left field. It was one of those things where if I swung really hard, it would start shooting pain there for a little while and I wouldn't want to swing at next couple of pitches, which meant I was racking up the strike-outs. It was just a difficult time for me last year. I am glad that year is over in terms of everything that I had to go through with the injury.

OC: Did you find yourself pushing to get out there and play through the injury because there were so many other injuries with the other guys on the team?

KM: Yes and no. I just wanted to keep playing to win the PCL championship. You put your whole season into having one goal that you share with 30 guys – well, I guess last year we had something like 60 or 70 guys in Sacramento [laughs] – but you play all year with the same group of guys and that [winning a championship] is what you talk about. I was talking with [A's roving hitting instructor Greg Sparks] [on Sunday] in minor league camp and I asked him ‘did you watch the Bricktown Showdown on ESPN last year?' And he was like, ‘yeah, of course I did. You know what is funny? I remember you guys practicing celebrating winning that in May.' [laughs] I said, ‘I know. We would have early work and the guys who were out there doing team bunt defense at two o'clock in the afternoon were practicing celebrating winning the Bricktown Showdown.'

So there was no way that if I had the opportunity to play that I would say, ‘you know what? I don't think I want to play.' Just being able to be a part of that, and I was hoping to get a September call-up, which didn't happen for me last year, but there were just so many reasons that I had to play even though I was dealing with a lot of pain.

OC: How was your second camp with the major league team this spring? I know that you didn't get to play a whole lot because of the injuries, but was there a different feel in camp with all of the new faces?

KM: Yes and no. I was obviously disappointed with the way that spring training went for me, not really able to have a chance to get out there healthy and earn a job. But being able to meet a lot of these new guys was kind of cool. Having gone through big league camp last year and having been called up to the big leagues for a little while, I knew some of the guys. I felt like I was one of the most tenured guys there, and I have like, what, five days of big league service time? [laughs] It's kind of funny, but we have so many new faces and so many new people that it was really comfortable for me to be there. I was able to help guys kind of learn the way that Oakland does things. It was kind of cool to be that guy for a change because last year, obviously I didn't know what to expect and the year before I was in minor league camp and I think I got only like three days up there, so it was pretty cool this season.

OC: You got to play some third base last season, in addition to second base. Is that something that you are hoping to do more of this season and do you think that will help you win a more permanent job in the big leagues?

KM: Yeah, it definitely couldn't hurt. If I could figure out how to be consistently like Eric Chavez or Jack Hannahan, who are excellent in the field, and contribute anywhere I can, that can only help me. I think it was great last year to play so much over at third. I think over the past 30 games last season, I played over at third with a little bit of time at second. But really for the last month of the season, I was over there on the left side. I thought that was really cool because I think a decision like that had to come from up top. That is showing a lot of confidence in me for them to say, ‘let's throw Melillo over there and see how he reacts.' I think I got some good reports over there from Tony DeFrancesco. That is something that I would love to be labeled as, as a guy who can play any position. I think going over there and doing well at third base, along with my history of improvements at second base, I think I could be close to getting a big league job somewhere.

OC: How different is it to play at third base as opposed to second base? Is the spin of the ball completely different?

KM: Yeah, it is. You hit it right on the head that some of the balls you get have much different spin [than at second]. The balls come quicker [at third] in some cases. You either get a bullet hit at you, or you get one of those funky little two-hop choppers that you don't know whether to charge or back-up on. I just had to ask around and ask guys if I could take as many groundballs over there live off of the bat in batting practice as possible.

Lou Merloni last year was great for me to work with because he has played everywhere for a number of years and I would ask him ‘how do you do this? When a ball is hit here, how do you approach it?' Working with him every day was great. Being able to ask guys like [Hannahan] when I was in big league camp during spring training also helped. You really can learn a lot from asking around and watching guys as much as you can from taking groundballs.

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