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Healthy Matt Chapman returned to third base Friday and it was glorious

The Platinum Glover already made a highlight play

San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics
Defenders, assemble!
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have a lot of stars on their roster, and the most productive among them is third baseman Matt Chapman. So it was a big deal when he exited the 2020 season early due to a hip injury and missed the playoffs. They still reached October without him and won a series there, but it’s easy to argue he’s their best player.

In particular, Chapman’s biggest impact comes on defense. His bat is excellent, but his glove is the best in the league at any position, with top-notch range and reflexes and arm. He’s game-changing on that side of the ball, to an extent that he essentially helps out at other positions while also covering his own brilliantly. He will be judged as a defender not against his peers, but generationally and historically.

However, last year’s injury had a visible effect on his performance, coupled with reports that the torn hip labrum had been bothering him on the field long before he shut it down and had surgery. After an extended winter of recovery, one of the big questions entering spring training was when Chapman would be back to 100%, especially on defense.

We got the answer Friday. We’re good. All systems go.

Chapman’s first couple Cactus League appearances came as the DH, but in Oakland’s latest game against the Angels he took the field at the hot corner for the first time since surgery. It only took two innings for Vintage Chappy to show up, diving to his right to spear a sharp grounder down the line, then teleporting to his feet in one smooth motion, and firing a throw across the diamond that found its target perfectly on one well-placed hop.

We’ve seen him make even better plays than that before, but this was enough to get an idea of where he’s at in terms of factors like mobility and aggressiveness and whatnot. Looks like his old superhuman self.

“Going to make that play, I didn’t really think about anything,” said Chapman after the game, via MLB’s Anthony Castrovince. “Just make the play. Got up and made the throw. So it’s nice to kind of test it and see where it’s at.”

More details from Alex Coffey of The Athletic:

“Matt Chapman says he felt ‘great,’ and that his hip didn’t bother him during his first ST game back at 3B. Said that diving play felt ‘routine and normal’ and it was reassuring to not feel any pain afterwards”

There’s still a lot of spring training to go, and Chapman will need to work his way back up to playing every day by April 1. But his 2021 defensive debut was everything A’s fans were hoping to see from their biggest star in his return to healthy action.