OAKLAND -- Always honest and forthcoming, A's manager Bob Melvin has not shied away from using the term "work in progress" when speaking about different facets of his youthful ball club.
The ever-changing lineup, filled with plenty of inexperience, is a work in progress. So, too, is the first-base decision still.
Yet just four games into the regular season, it's been the team's defense that has encompassed those three words above all else.
The A's have been tagged for three errors, but that number truly doesn't characterize the sloppy play that defined their home-opening, two-game series with the Mariners on Friday and Saturday.
"I think we've fallen into a bit of a rut, but we pride ourselves on defense, and we've been working on it, so I don't think it has anything to do with work ethic, but more about going out there and giving more quality performances on defense," second baseman Jemile Weeks said. "I think it's something we'll be able to handle and we'll be able to fix."
The A's are already on pace to make 122 errors, following a disappointing 2011 campaign that resulted in 124. Only the Cubs, with 134, made more. Oakland ranked last in the American League and second to last in the Majors with a .979 fielding percentage, the lowest such mark since 2000.
Moreover, those errors led to 82 unearned runs, most in the league, and the A's were ultimately left staring down a 35-55 record when making one or more miscues. It was no surprise, then, when Melvin entered camp and proclaimed defense the top priority.
In 24 exhibition contests, the results of that work showed, as the A's exuded sharp defense and went 15-7-2, the third-best record in the Majors. But that crisp play has yet to carry over into the season.
It's obviously early in the year, much too early to get overly worked up about these misdoings. Yet it's still worth noting that an improved defensive effort will be significant to the club's progress going forward. The A's are not built to score an excessive amount of runs each game, making their pitching, running and defensive work all the more important.
"We've been working real hard on defense, and we haven't played near as well as we should," Melvin said. "This team knows it's a key element to our game, and we expect better."
While the middle-infield duo of Weeks and Cliff Pennington aren't so much of a concern, their teammates at the corners are. Josh Donaldson, who is still learning the intricacies of third base after taking over the position for the injured Scott Sizemore less than two months ago, is visibly not fully comfortable yet.
Donaldson, who spent the majority of his Minor League career as a catcher, made a throwing error at third on a bunt play Friday night and, by the following afternoon, was out on the field working on that exact play.
"I'd say positioning has been the biggest challenge for me, especially when you know that one step to the right or to the left can determine whether you make that play," Donaldson said. "It's something I'm going to have to continue to work on."
At first base, Brandon Allen has showcased a consistent glove, but Kila Ka'aihue has been shaky at times. And behind them, the outfield hasn't been perfect, either. Left fielder Coco Crisp was charged with a throwing error on Saturday, while Josh Reddick has bobbled two balls in as many games. Yoenis Cespedes, who has shined offensively, isn't to be left out, as he also endured struggles on the defensive end in both games.
The A's were afforded the chance to regroup on Sunday with a rare offday before they head back to the Coliseum for three games with the Royals beginning on Monday, and Melvin and Co. anticipate the start of cleaner play.
"We were doing it all spring," he said.