The last time Mark Canha led off a baseball game prior to 2021 was during his senior year at Bellarmine high in San Jose. But hitting in the first spot on Sunday — as he has done most of the season — Canha broke a team record in the second inning Sunday when a Bruce Zimmermann fastball marked the 60th time Canha has been hit by a pitch as an Oakland Athletic, passing legends like Reggie Jackson (57) and Sal Bando (59) for the Oakland franchise record.
Canha leads the majors this season, already having been hit 8 times, and we can expect to see that number increase as the season goes along. Capturing the Athletics franchise record — which includes Philadelphia and Kansas City — seems unlikely, as Canha ranks fourth all-time in painful trips to first behind Jimmy Dykes, the all-time franchise record holder with 93.
Canha joked that it wasn’t a record he dreamed about breaking as a child, but said he would take it nonetheless:
“It’s an honor. I take pride in my ability to get on base and if that’s one way I can do it and help the team, then I am going to do it. I think there’s a lot that goes along with that too. It means that I have stuck around long enough to have a franchise record.”
Bob Melvin was happy to hear about Canha setting a record but wanted to make clear that Canha does not lean into pitches to ty to get hit, he just gets pitched in a lot. Melvin has said the only time players get upset is when balls are aimed at the head. But he spoke on Canha’s new franchise record:
“I don’t think that he like leaned into it … but he’s on the plate. They try to pitch him in and he ends up getting hit. So it doesn’t seem to bother him, it probably bothers him more than it bothers me the volume of times he gets hit, but for him, it’s getting on base and doing his thing and just another collection of bruises he has.”
Melvin has been speaking about Canha taking over the leadoff role since spring training. Marcus Semien had filled the A’s leadoff spot for many seasons, but after Semien was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, Canha has filled that role. Canha talked about losing Semien and how he to follow his former teammate’s footsteps:
“My whole career I have kind of taken pride in filling in where needed and losing Marcus [Semien] as a leadoff there, it was a big whole, big shoes to fill and somebody’s got to do it. And that is when everyone noticed that and I take pride in doing what I’ve always done. And thats just not being a fill in but it’s being a good fill in and doing a good job. That’s all I wanted to do.”
Canha has had 117 at-bats in the first month of the 2021 season as the A’s leadoff batter. He has five stolen bases, five homers and 29 hits. He has led off for the A’s in every game he has started in. Canha said every 100 at-bats you get a new reset and have a better feel:
“I try to remember that each at-bat is a new experience and there’s a reason why we get hits and there’s a reason why we make outs. I try to be mindful of that and just learn each and every time. Each month of the season and each 100 at-bats is kinda like a new chapter and I think it’s important as a hitter to pay attention to what is going on and pay attention to maybe how guys are pitching you and what you feel each day.”
Canha was was hit 10 times in the 2020 shortened 60-game season, and the last time he played a full season in 2019, he was hit 18 times, his most in any season. In 2019 he had 26 homers, another season high, but Melvin doesn’t believe it has anything to do with the bat flips. Maybe in 2019, but not now, Melvin said:
“Yeah there’s probably a little of that [bat-flip] I don’t think as much now. I haven’t seen him flip a bat in a while and now the league is starting to embrace guys that show some flair. Maybe not like when I played but I don’t think it’s that [bat flip] I think he is more on the plate right now and dares you to come in there. When you do, he doesn’t move. It is not like you see him on his back very often, he’s okay with wearing it.”
Melvin has been impressed with the first month from Canha, as he transitioned from the A’s cleanup hitter to their leadoff hitter. He quickly adapted in the spring but has been told not to change his approach too much despite leadoff batters having to take a lot of pitches when facing a pitcher the team has never seen.
Canha broke down his approach:
“I feel like I have to see a lot of pitches but I tell myself to have my at bats and if it’s there, swing. There is a lot of things going on that go into that and my approach is my approach but its always changing. It depends who you are facing and what you expect them to do. The fact of the matter is, you can’t just see five or six pitches. Sometimes what goes into that is you have to show that you’re aggressive early and the way the game is now, sometimes you go to attack one of those first two pitches because if the pitchers get ahead in the count there stuff is so good.”
Canha is a smart guy and is also smart when it comes to the strike zone. He said pitchers are getting nastier each year and he has to pick his spots and be selective when it is appropriate. Melvin gave credit to Canha:
“It’s a lot of discipline. Really for me, some really bad calls have come his way recently too. For a guy that knows the strike zone so well, it’s frustrating when you get a bad call on you. That probably has cut back a little bit on his walks and we’ve seen several pitchers too recently that we’ve ever seen before and that makes it doubly hard, especially for leadoff hitters.”
Melvin has been extremely pleased with Canha’s transition, and is well aware it is not an easy one:
“I would agree that its been pretty difficult here early on and a guy thats not used to leading off, I think he has done a fantastic job and its just a lot of determination and he studies this stuff. He knows the numbers, he knows what he needs to do, probably a lot more than I know he needs to do so I cant say enough about how well he’s handled the lead-off spot.”