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Chad Pinder steals Opening Day show with two run-saving catches

Despite not starting in RF since 2019

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Before the Oakland A’s Opening Day game on Thursday, I wrote about Chad Pinder being a potential breakout candidate in 2021.

The case is based around his offense, which had shown underlying signs of encouragement over the years before he exploded at the plate last October and again this spring. And indeed, he went 2-for-4 in the season opener, with one particularly sharp single and also a fairly loud out. Good start!

But the real highlight on Thursday, not just by Pinder but for the A’s team as a whole in their quiet 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros, was his work on defense.

As a super-sub, Pinder has never been tied to any one specific position, instead roving around the field wherever needed. He’s played every spot except pitcher and catcher in the majors, holding his own as an infielder and earning positive metrics in the outfield.

His best work has come in the corner outfield positions, where his speed and range have allowed him to chase down balls and his strong arm has played well. He’s not just alright out there, he’s an actual plus on defense. However, due to the A’s crowded roster last year, he only got three innings in LF and one in RF for the entire season.

Pinder drew the start in RF for the 2021 opener, his first meaningful experience there since 2019. If there was any rust to shake off then he sure didn’t show it.

In the 4th inning, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt had a runner on second and one out. Kyle Tucker sent a drive to the wall in right, by all rights an RBI double. But Pinder raced back and made a leaping catch to pull it down, saving the run. The runner was later stranded and never scored.

That would have been impressive enough, but then he did it again, and in an entirely different fashion.

The very next inning, the Astros had a runner on first with two outs. Jose Altuve sent a liner screaming toward the RF corner, and if it had landed it would likely have been an RBI triple. Instead, Pinder pounced, sprinting over and laying out in a dive to snare the quickly sinking ball. Once again he’d saved a run, and this time it ended the frame.

The two catches were opposites in every way. One of them was ranging deep to his right and jumping up to backhand it over his head. The other was ranging in/laterally to his left and jumping down to scoop it inches off the grass. He executed both perfectly.

None of this is news. Pinder has been making highlights in the outfield ever since he debuted there in 2017. Back then he was learning the position on the job in MLB, having never played a professional inning there, and his most recent experience had been as a freshman in college. Now he’s got more than a thousand major league innings in the outfield, on top of that natural ability.

He also has a new jersey number, for what that’s worth.

And I can’t help but notice that his shaggier hairstyle is beginning to look more like Josh Reddick.

Pinder is a breakout candidate at the plate, but Thursday was a reminder of how valuable he also is in the field. What’s more, his versatility makes it easier to get his bat into the lineup when he is hitting well, and great plays like these can only help him get the kind of consistent playing time needed to find such a groove with the bat. Only a handful of times in his career has he ever played 12-15 straight games without sitting one out, and he’s never gone longer than that.

Yesterday morning, I was excited about Chad Pinder in 2021. Go ahead and kick that up another notch today.