OAKLAND -- Players will tell you, almost unanimously, that the hardest part of their jobs is to be productive with sporadic opportunities. Hitting is a craft that must be worked on daily, but Major League pitching is a skill that can't be simulated. Geovany Soto tries, though.
He is 33 now, early in his 12th season and gradually transitioning into a backup role. So three-to-four times a week, he finds the pitching machine, sets it up in the batting cage and turns up the velocity as high as it goes, generating fastballs that travel into the mid-90s to keep his mind sharp and, as he said, "get your hands to fire."
Down a run, with one out and a runner on first base at the Coliseum, Soto saw one of those mid-90s fastballs from A's closer Sean Doolittle and fouled it off. Soto saw another one, coming in right down the middle and traveling precisely 93.6 mph, and he stayed right on it, lining a 426-foot shot to left-center field that gave the Angels a lead and led them to a 5-4 victory, their third in a row.
"He's one of the best lefties out there," Soto said of Doolittle. "I was just trying to get something out over the plate to do something with it."
In Doolittle's mind, the pitch ended up "in kind of like a buffer zone." He lamented about not elevating it high enough, because Soto, as Doolittle said, "is a good fastball hitter. You can use it against him if you execute and locate your fastball, but I didn't locate it and I got burned."
It was Soto's second hit of the night -- he would've had a third if not for Josh Reddick's diving catch on a sinking liner -- and his third hit in 11 plate appearances all year. Carlos Perez, the 25-year-old catcher who has in many ways become Soto's pupil, already has 18 plate appearances and is in line for another four on Wednesday afternoon.
Soto has accepted his role as a part-time player, but it doesn't mean it has been easy.
"You feel like once you've been around, and you can understand your role, you have to work hard on that," Soto said. "A lot of extra work, man. A lot of extra work and concentration to try to stay with that rhythm, so when you are in there, you do the best you can for the club."
That, more so than anything else, is what has resonated most about Soto with this club.
He's a former All-Star and National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, a free-agent-in-waiting and someone who is still young enough to be the main guy behind the plate. But he isn't bitter about being a backup. He's vocal in meetings, he reminds players about their assignments during games he isn't playing in, and he has gone out of his way to mentor others.
It's why the Angels signed him; why so many of his teammates were thrilled that he ended up with the big hit.
"Everybody wants to play," Angels closer Huston Street said. "Everybody wants to play and be the guy. But I've absolutely seen him make a concerted effort to make Carlos Perez a better player. That's signs of a very, very, very secure person. A very confident, secure person. He has come off to me as a true teammate. And that's what you need out of your catchers."