Injuries create opportunity in rotation for Chavez

Injuries create opportunity in rotation for Chavez
March 18, 2014, 6:30 pm
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A 42nd round pick of the Rangers in 2002, Jesse Chavez spent five-plus seasons in the minors before cracking the bigs in 2008. (AP IMAGES)

Programming note: A’s Insider Joe Stiglich is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jesse Chavez would prefer to pitch in a bubble, anything to block out talk of him having a spot reserved in the Oakland A’s rotation.

Even as injuries point to the longtime reliever getting his chance as a starter, Chavez has nothing sewn up in his mind.

[RELATED: Parker preparing for physical, mental challenges]

Whatever works. The right-hander gave up his first runs of the spring Tuesday, but he still turned in 4 2/3 solid innings in the A’s 16-6 bulldozing of the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

“It’s just been hearsay to me,” Chavez said of him being one of the A’s five starters. “I haven’t approached it as if I am in the rotation. I’ve approached it that I’m just going out there every five days to get work in to get ready for the season.”

But with Jarrod Parker out for the season with an elbow injury and fellow starter A.J. Griffin to miss the first several weeks with his own elbow issue, A’s manager Bob Melvin said Chavez and Tommy Milone will get first crack to fill their shoes in the five-man rotation.

It’s a reminder that an unfortunate injury for one player always opens the door of opportunity for another. Chavez showed up to spring training just trying to win a spot in the back of Oakland’s bullpen. Having turned in an excellent spring, he is on the verge of a starting assignment with a team expected to contend for a third straight American League West championship.

Scott Kazmir, after a bout of triceps stiffness, will start for the A’s on Saturday against Seattle. Melvin has yet to confirm any part of his official rotation, but it’s unfolding for Sonny Gray to start Opening Night, followed by Kazmir, Chavez, Dan Straily and Milone.

[RELATED: A's Parker to undergo second Tommy John surgery of career]

Chavez, 30, has paid his dues.

A 42nd round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2002, he spent five-plus seasons in the minors before cracking the bigs with Pittsburgh in 2008. He is 9-15 with a 5.48 ERA in 191 career appearances over parts of six major league seasons. Just two of those 191 appearances have been starts, and they came with Toronto in 2012.

But Chavez has a wide arsenal of pitches – fastball, curve, changeup and cutter – and he’s used them effectively this spring. In five appearances, he’s allowed just two runs over 17 1/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts and four walks.

Even as Chavez tries to downplay his opportunity as a starter, he relishes the chance to take on a bigger role with the A’s.

“It gives me more confidence that they have confidence that I can do it,” Chavez said. “So that’s what I’m gonna try and ride.”

He was boosted Tuesday by an almost comical nine-run top of the first by the A’s. Oakland sent 15 runners to the plate in the 33-minute rally. They batted around the order and hit for the cycle before the White Sox even recorded a single out.

Chicago starter Jose Quintana had this unsightly pitching line – 0 IP, 7 H, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 HR.

“By the 10th guy everybody was screaming, ‘Don’t make the first out!’” said outfielder Michael Taylor, who doubled and tripled and had three RBI.

“I don’t ever recall nine straight guys reaching base,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.

Actually, he could. In a 2010 exhibition, the Cincinnati Reds got to Oakland starter Ben Sheets for 10 runs (nine earned) without Sheets recording an out. Melvin remembered that he was in the stands for that game as a scout for the New York Mets.

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