PHOENIX -- Twice Hiro Nakajima stepped to the plate with runners in scoring position on Sunday, twice getting an opportunity in a key situation to show his employers, his teammates and his fans that, yes, his offensive game is improving.
But by day's end, the infielder was hitless in three at-bats, his spring average down to .194. Still, he stood by his locker with a smile after exiting the game and said that his at-bats are indeed getting better, even though he had nothing to show for it.
"I didn't really feel pressure," Nakajima said through his interpreter. "The first at-bat, there were two outs with second and third, and of course there was the internal thought to get them in, but I feel like my swing, making contact, it's getting better.
"I was able to swing the bat without so much thought process going through my mind. With more practice, my feeling is just starting to get there. It's not a concrete thing, but more of a feeling."
Nakajima's struggles to adapt to the big league game have been well documented, and manager Bob Melvin believes they'll only lessen with more experience.
"It's been a tough time for him," Melvin said, "and whether it's part of being with a new team, the whole culture shock, being in a new league, all these things can play into it, and each guy takes it at his own speed, and there's something to be said of getting acclimated. He's probably not there yet."
This process doesn't happen overnight, and the A's are sensitive to that. Nakajima's teammates are also understanding of the many challenges facing him.
"I think it's tough for him," agreed Eric Sogard, Nakajima's double-play partner on Sunday. "He's starting to get a little more comfortable out there, and I think you'll see him continuing to get more comfortable. He'll do his thing."
Whether that will be by April 1, though, is unclear, and the A's will have to decide if he's ready for regular-season play by then or if they're better off plugging Jed Lowrie into the Opening Day lineup at shortstop.
Ask Nakajima if he'll have reached that necessary comfort level by then, and he doesn't hesitate.
"Yes," he said. "I definitely think so."
Sogard, Rosales making second-base decision difficult
PHOENIX -- Eric Sogard knows the road from Oakland to Sacramento well, having traversed it many times between intermittent stints in the big leagues and Triple-A over the last three years.
Sogard obviously would like to remain in one place for some time, and he's doing everything he can this spring to make that a possibility. He went 4-for-4 on Sunday and is now batting .500 with six extra-base hits through 15 games.
It goes without saying that manager Bob Melvin likes what he's seeing from the versatile infielder, but at the same time, such production is only making his decision about an everyday second baseman an even more difficult one.
Sogard has forced himself into the discussion alongside Jemile Weeks, Scott Sizemore, Adam Rosales and Andy Parrino. Jed Lowrie, too, is making a strong case to be the go-to guy, despite the A's initial thinking that he would play all over the infield.
"We've played Sogard all around, and he's having another good spring, swinging the bat well," Melvin said. "He's definitely in the conversation."
Sogard is remaining optimistic about making the team, whether in a starting or a bench role, but he is very realistic, too.
"I don't think I'm the front-runner in that race, anyway, so it's my job to make the decision a tough one," he said Sunday. "Last year my goal was just to make the team out of spring. I had to go into spring, play hard every day, and I was successful with that. I'm trying to do the same this year."
So is Rosales, who hit two home runs off the bench on Sunday. Like Sogard, the 29-year-old Rosales made the team out of camp last year but didn't enjoy a permanent residency for more than a month at a time, as he was sent down and called back up on two occasions.
Rosales is batting .364 after Sunday, Parrino .400 and Lowrie .333. Weeks (.421) is swinging the bat well, too, but he is two weeks behind after missing time because of a shoulder injury. Then there's Sizemore, who is hitting just .172 but showing signs of progression after missing all of 2012.
That's six guys fighting for a job that will be on display in regular-season action in just 15 days.
"It's still a work in progress," Melvin said. "Some other guys are doing well and making it tougher to actually narrow it down. There's a good chance it plays out all the way to the end."
Parker enjoying luxury of having proved himself
PHOENIX -- At this time last year, numbers meant everything to Jarrod Parker. A starting job with the A's was dependent on them, and he was demoted before camp ended when he didn't produce good ones.
This spring, Parker again isn't posting numbers that reflect his talent, with a 10.00 ERA through three starts, but unlike last year, it really doesn't matter.
That's a luxury enjoyed only by proven players, and Parker is already among that company at age 24, after he responded to an April 25 callup by posting 13 wins with a 3.47 ERA and leading the A's into the postseason with a Game 1 start against the Tigers last year.
"Based on what he accomplished last year," said manager Bob Melvin, "he's not evaluated on numbers like some other guys are."
"That's really big for me," said Parker. "I don't know if I've ever had a great spring, so I don't want to fall into that routine, but it's great to be able to work on things and not feel like every time out is a test and you're trying to make the team."
In his most recent outing, against the White Sox on Saturday, Parker was tagged for seven runs (five earned) on nine hits in three-plus innings, striking out three but also walking two. Five days earlier he'd given up five runs on six hits in four frames.
But Parker is more concerned about the "day after" results -- how his body responds to a continually increasing workload. So the fact that he went to the field on Sunday feeling "real strong" provided him a good deal of confidence in the progress he's making.
"Obviously, things aren't going well results-wise, but I feel good, and my stuff is coming around," he said. "I think I'd be a little worried if everything was right right now and there wasn't something to work toward, so I think I'm progressing in a way I'm happy with.
"I think, at this point, there's a lot of tired arms and a lot of aches, and to just come out today and feel good and get my work in and feel fresh is a good sign. I feel great."
Parker admits that when it comes to his pitches, he's slightly behind with his two-seamer to the glove side. But that's usually the last to come anyway, and he has two more Cactus League starts to sharpen it before he makes his 2013 debut on April 2, against the Mariners.
"That's what we're here for," he said. "These last two, I'll really be able to concentrate on that pitch and put the finishing touches on everything else."
A's cut seven from roster
PHOENIX -- The A's are down to 38 players in camp after making seven cuts on Sunday.
Infielder Grant Green and outfielder Michael Taylor were optioned to Triple-A Sacramento following Sunday's game against the Cubs, and outfielder Michael Choice, infielders Scott Moore and Darwin Perez, catcher David Freitas and reliever Brian Gordon -- all non-roster invitees -- were reassigned to Minor League camp.
With crowds already filling Oakland's outfield, infield and bullpen, all seven players were expected to begin the regular season in the Minors, no matter their numbers this spring. Still, the A's have to like what they saw from them in the last month.
Green, who provides infield depth at Sacramento, hit .409 in 15 games, with Choice -- largely in Oakland's future outfield plans -- offering an equally impressive performance with a .310 average in 19 games.
The 27-year-old Taylor missed some time with a freak pinky injury but, after getting off to a slow start, finished with a handful of good at-bats and exited camp batting .217. This is the fourth consecutive season he will begin the year in Sacramento.
The versatile Moore (.200), who played in 72 games with the Astros last year, is a nice option to have at Triple-A. The same goes for Gordon, who allowed seven runs (four earned) in 7 1/3 innings spanning four Cactus League games.
Perez and Freitas, meanwhile, will likely need more seasoning before being considered for the big league club, having not yet played past the Double-A level. Perez hit .333 in 15 at-bats, and Freitas batted .471 through 17.
• Manager Bob Melvin said on Sunday that he is leaning toward pitching closer Grant Balfour in a Minor League game on Monday rather than at Phoenix Municipal Stadium against the Mariners. Either way, it will mark the first game action of the spring for Balfour, who underwent minor surgery on his knee on Feb. 14.
• Two non-roster relievers remain in camp, and both pitched on Sunday against the Cubs. Right-hander Mike Ekstrom pitched two shutout innings, lowering his spring ERA to 1.69. He's allowed just two runs in 10 2/3 innings. Lefty Hideki Okajima didn't fare as well, giving up two runs -- both on Brent Lillibridge's home run -- and two hits in 1 1/3 innings. He has five runs to his name in a combined seven-plus innings spanning seven appearances.