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Lyle Spencer

A's benefit from deep outfield, elite defense

Crisp anchors group that will help give ailing rotation confidence

A's benefit from deep outfield, elite defense

PHOENIX -- Coco Crisp is a fiercely independent thinker. The Oakland center fielder evaluates each word in a question, and if there's one that doesn't meet his approval, he lets you know about it.

Asked about "pitching issues" facing the Athletics with the loss of No. 1 starter Jarrod Parker for the season and an elbow strain temporarily grounding A.J. Griffin, Crisp was all over it like a 2-0 fastball in his wheelhouse.

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"We don't have any pitching issues," Crisp said. "Our staff is one of the best in the game. Our starters are solid and our bullpen is one of the best in the game.

"The only thing that happened was Parker needing [Tommy John] surgery. Losing one guy, you can say that spot would be up in the air. That might be a little question mark with Parker not being in the rotation."

Crisp clearly is content playing behind a rotation of Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone to open the season, with the hope that Griffin returns in May.

Next topic: Crisp's personal renaissance over the past three seasons in Oakland, featuring career highs in steals (American League-high 49 in 2011, 39 in '12), homers (22 in '13) and walks (61 last year).

"I don't look at it that way at all," Crisp said, citing the renaissance reference. "I feel like I've played the same way my entire career, been pretty consistent. One year, something might jump out. Last year, it was home runs. I've always been capable of hitting home runs."

Finally, common ground was found. Asked if Oakland's superior outfield -- Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick at the corners, Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld for depth -- can positively impact the youthful pitching staff by infusing it with confidence, Coco was in agreement.

"We have basically four center fielders in our outfield," Crisp said. "Cespedes is a center fielder. Josh can play center, Gentry is a center fielder. We can mix and match any way you want.

"Definitely, it's one of the best I've been a part of. We have good speed and guys take good routes. Cespedes and Reddick have great arms. I'm the only one who doesn't have a [strong] arm. Nobody's scared. It's a real good outfield."

Talented Michael Taylor, out of options and apparently squeezed out of the picture, could be prime trade bait.

In the AL, Kansas City fans will argue for Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Norichika Aoki, each among the best in the game. Jarrod Dyson is a plus defender in center.

The National League showcases some impressive outfields. Pittsburgh has left and center covered with superb Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Jose Tabata and Travis Snider are in right until super prospect Gregory Polanco arrives. If Polanco is as good as advertised, this could be the game's best outfield.

Washington is solid with Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth. Arizona will shine as Mark Trumbo adapts in left alongside A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra. Superlative Carlos Gomez rescues Milwaukee pitchers in center, with Ryan Braun moving to right and Khris Davis in left. The Mets have a trio of proven center fielders, with Juan Lagares taking his place among the elite as Curtis Granderson and Chris Young adapt to the corners.

Playing half their games in the vast reaches of O.co Coliseum, manager Bob Melvin and his A's will take their chances with their outfield gloves seven days a week.

"It's a good feeling if you're a catcher or pitcher knowing that if a ball's going in the air, it's going to be caught if it's in the park," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "You can't speak highly enough about all of our outfielders."

Vogt had a good bullpen view of Reddick's spectacular catches in the Feb. 26 Cactus League opener, robbing the Giants' Michael Morse of a pair of home runs in Scottsdale, Ariz. The fence-scaling plays made all the highlight shows and were a Web sensation.

"The first one was by far the best catch I've seen in person," Vogt said. "The second one wasn't as tough, but it was still a great play."

Reddick won his first of what could be multiple Rawlings Gold Glove Awards in 2012, but he was hampered last year by a wrist injury sustained in a meeting with the wall in Houston on April 7.

"I learned from that," Reddick said. "It was only my third game there. I'm going to go out early and make sure I know every wall now."

Over the past three seasons, only Jason Heyward and Parra have saved more runs in right than Reddick's 42, according to Baseball Info Solutions. He played 87 games in 2011 for Boston before getting snatched by A's general manager Billy Beane in a highly beneficial swap.

"I see ours as one of the best outfields in the Majors," Reddick said. "We've all got speed, and Coco -- even though he doesn't have as good an arm as Cespedes and me -- is one of the best in the game out there. We go all out and take great pride in giving our pitchers confidence that we can run down anything that doesn't leave the park.

"Gentry's proven what he can do in Texas, hitting for average and running balls down in all three [outfield] spots. Sammy's a proven outfielder too; he showed in Tampa [Bay] what he can do."

The A's have a history of superior outfields, most notably Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas in the early 1980s. That trio set an incredibly high bar, but the current athletic unit looks capable of rising to any challenge.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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