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Crosby aiming for career year

Crosby aiming for career year

PHOENIX -- Over the past three years, Bobby Crosby has suffered a dizzying array of injuries, most of them completely unavoidable. Inside pitches fractured his ribs and broke his hand, a slide into the second base bag resulted in a broken ankle, an opponent's spikes lacerated a finger and back soreness cropped up as well.

Over the winter, another unlikely victim was claimed: Crosby's tennis court.

Frustrated with how injuries had sapped his production since his Rookie of the Year season in 2004, Crosby wanted to take full advantage of his first healthy offseason in three years. So Oakland's No. 7 eighty-sixed the hard court at his Villa Park, Calif., home, built a batting cage over it and swung away.

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"I'd be thinking about baseball or watching video, I'd see something, and I'd go out and work on it," Crosby said, "whether it was 10 at night or 11 in the morning."

Crosby also worked with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo to refine his swing, removing some of the unnecessary motion that made it so hard for him to find his timing during the past three fragmented seasons.

"He had a lot of movement and in getting loaded, he'd do a lot of things, and he'd change it from day to day," Van Burkleo said. "It's not like he's revamping his swing, he's just consolidating it and getting some consistency."

Crosby hit .239 with 34 doubles, 22 home runs and 64 RBIs in 151 games in 2004, and .276 with 25 doubles, nine homers and 38 RBIs in 84 games in 2005.

But Crosby's numbers fell and fell hard after that. In each of the last two seasons, Crosby has had an average under .230, an on-base percentage under .300 and a slugging average under .340.

"It's more losing my timing than anything," Crosby said. "Any time I would get on a roll, I'd get hurt. It was an ongoing cycle for two and a half years that never stopped."

With poor numbers came criticism, but Crosby said he knows he's better than the last two years might indicate.

"I've always known the type of player I am, and I'm not the player I've been the past couple of years," Crosby said. "I know and people who know me know."

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Crosby's teammates do indeed know, and that's why they're hopeful Crosby and Eric Chavez can stay healthy. If they do, the A's infield will be one of the team's greatest strengths.

"[Crosby] has had a string of bad luck here, but when he's healthy he's going to be productive and be a big part of this team," second baseman Mark Ellis said. "It's a good infield defensively, there's no doubt about it, but we can swing the bats, too."

Crosby missed two games earlier this week with back spasms, but has returned to action. He's already clubbed two home runs this spring.

While Crosby has never hit for both average and power in the same Major League season, Van Burkleo doesn't believe it has to be an either-or proposition for Crosby.

"He's got tremendous power, and the more balls he centers, the more home runs he will hit with that power," Van Burkleo said. "He wants to get to the point where he's consistently centering the ball, instead of searching for power, and then the power will take care of itself."

Crosby has high expectations for himself. He's not hoping to simply stay healthy and turn in a solid season; he wants to break out and have a career year.

"I'll put it this way, I know I can hit more home runs than I did my rookie year (22)," Crosby said. "I was 23, 24, and I didn't have that much of a clue. And I hit around .270 my second year."

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Despite all he's been through over the past three years, Crosby hasn't soured or closed off the outgoing personality he had when he first arrived with the A's. Still clever, still looking for a chance to joke with someone. At age 28, Crosby is looking to loosen up the clubhouse just like veteran Eric Karros did in 2004.

"I think I'm the same, except my rookie year I kept my mouth shut a little bit," Crosby said. "I had Karros all over me my rookie year. ... Now, I like to give other guys a hard time."

His clubhouse demeanor shows that Crosby has managed to not get wrapped up in the past, lamenting what might have been.

"There's no sob story, no pity party," he said. "There's plenty of guys before me that went through it and plenty after me who will."

All that's left, then, is to put together a healthy, productive season.

"I wish Opening Day was tomorrow," Crosby said. "I know what I can do."

Mark Thoma is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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