For A's prospect David Freitas, a well-worn baseball cliche was just the reassuring motivation he needed after a sluggish start to his fall.
"Bill [Richardson] talked to us earlier today. He reminded us to take it one game at a time, week by week," Freitas said of his manager's advice. "Last week was a success because we won more than we lost. We're out here to win and we're always competing against each other. But Bill said it best. It's great having Bill as a skipper."
Freitas followed those instructions and connected early, hitting a three-run homer as Mesa plated four runs in the second inning in support of Nats left-hander Sammy Solis' five solid frames as the Solar Sox held off the visiting Surprise Saguaros, 9-6, on Monday in the Arizona Fall League.
The catching prospect smacked his first long ball of the fall off Surprise starter Miguel Pena (0-1) to cap the early rally. Addison Russell, Oakland's No. 1 prospect, went 2-for-5 and belted his first homer in the sixth and Tigers second baseman Devon Travis added a pair of hits and three RBIs to help Mesa improve to 8-2.
The homer was a relief for Freitas, a 15th-round pick in 2010 out of Hawaii. He entered the game 1-for-13 (.077) in his four starts for the Solar Sox.
"I kind of watched how he pitched to the other righties in our lineup before I came up," Freitas said of facing Pena. "I noticed he was pounding it in to righties early in the count, so in the back of my mind, I knew how he was pitching other righties. I was ready for it. He threw me a slider and I hit it and that's how it ended up."
Originally drafted by Washington, the 24-year-old was traded to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki in August 2012 and reached Triple-A this past season despite seeing his offensive numbers slide in his fourth season. After batting .307, .288 and .283 in his first three years in the Minors, he finished up his most recent campaign hitting .231 with 10 homers, 31 RBIs and a .306 on-base percentage between Triple-A Sacramento and Double-A Midland.
Now in Arizona, he's trying to polish his game and take the next step toward the Majors. It's one game and one win at a time, like his manager preached.
"I just want to be able to play the game with all these guys. I always want to win," he said. "And I want to work on my catching, hitting and game calling. I'm learning every one of these pitchers because you never know. I could be catching one of these guys or facing them in the future, so you always want to have a good relationship."
If Freitas has his way, someday he will face Solis under brighter lights. For now, he and the Nationals' No. 11 prospect need to stay on the same page in a new environment.
"I caught him a couple times in Spring Training and I had him for a couple outings in Hagerstown I believe, so I knew what he's all about," Freitas said. "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's been a while, but I think he was throwing harder [today] and had more movement on his fastball."
Solis (3-0) held the Saguaros to a run on six hits, striking out four while walking one. In 12 2/3 innings, he's allowed just a pair of runs, whiffing 14 batters and issuing four passes. A second-round pick in 2010, the San Diego product went 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in 59 2/3 innings over 14 outings this past season, mostly with Class A Advanced Potomac.
"He located his heater in and out, his curveball was more there early," Freitas said. "He kind of lost it and got it back. It's always good to see a pitcher find their pitches throughout the game. He was pounding the strike zone and going after hitters."
Russell's homer in the sixth off reliever Jeff Johnson was also his first RBI of the fall. The A's top prospect, who is leading off for Mesa, is batting .250 with seven hits and three runs scored in seven games so far. It's something of a quiet start after he hit .269 with 17 homers, 60 RBIs and 21 stolen bases between Sacramento and Class A Advanced Stockton.
"It's awesome, we're always rooting for each other out here," said Freitas. "We're teammates for the long run hopefully, and anytime [infielder Max] Muncy or Russell are up or any of the pitchers go out to the mound, we're just rooting them on extra hard."
Tigers right-hander Corey Knebel struck out one in a scoreless ninth to earn his first save.
Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and Rangers catcher Jorge Alfaro added two hits and knocked home a run for Surprise, which fell to 6-5. Pena (0-1) was charged with six runs -- five earned -- on seven hits and a walk with two strikeouts over four innings.