True Grit

A's outfielder Ryan Sweeney knows about playing with pain




OAKLAND—Through his rookie year, outfielder Ryan Sweeney managed to injure just about every appendage on his body. And he just kept playing.

"He has the ability to play through anything," assistant general manager David Forst said. "Put that with the talent, and we've got something special."

At the age of 23, Sweeney has done enough to convince the A's that he could progress into a superior outfielder in the future, if he holds together. He batted .286/.350/.383 in 115 games.

He began his offseason with surgery to reconstruct ligaments on his left pinkie finger. During the year, he made two trips to the disabled list and fought through a thumb sprain, a toe contusion and a sprained ankle, among other difficulties.

"I'm not too bad about dealing with pain and stuff, and I don't like to complain that much," Sweeney said. "It's not an excuse, but sometimes you'd like to see what you really could do if your hands didn't hurt all the time."

He emerged as a solid hitter, and an above-average right fielder with a strong arm. He also showed himself competent in center, when the need arose.

The biggest question surrounding Sweeney is whether he will show the home run power that is expected of a corner outfielder. He hit just five in 2008, to go with 18 doubles.

"I do think he will hit for power," Athletics manager Bob Geren said. "I like a guy who hits for average and uses the whole field. When you hit for average, you can learn to make a few adjustments and hit for power."

Sweeney said: "Right now, I'm hitting gap-to-gap. The homers that I have hit this year, when I do hit them obviously I can hit the ball far. I do it in BP. I just have to learn to trust myself in the game and let it loose. Sometimes I'm real hesitant; sometimes I'm afraid to get out. I think."

A's ACORNS

• Dominican third baseman Alex Valdez, 24, was denied entry to the U.S. until August because he has the same name as someone on the Homeland Security watch list. He played well in instructional league and took home MVP honors. Lefty Carlos Hernandez, a 35th-round pick in 2006, garnered most outstanding pitcher honors.

• Righthander Brett Hunter, a seventh-round pick in June, replaced fellow righthander Sam Demel in Hawaii Winter Baseball. Because he signed late, Hunter appeared in just two games during the regular season.