Melvin on Colon: 'He's been our ace all season'
OAKLAND – So much of the A’s winning formula depends on young, affordable players who are just cutting their teeth in the major leagues.
However, they will take the field in Friday’s opener of the American League Division Series behind 40-year-old starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. A key difference between this year’s A’s team and the 2012 division-winning squad is Colon’s veteran presence atop the postseason rotation.
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Of the three other starters in Oakland’s four-man playoff rotation – Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily – Parker has the most experience, and that’s just two full major league seasons.
“He’s a guy that’s been around, done it, he had a tremendous year,” A’s reliever Brett Anderson said of Colon. “You know he’s gonna go out there and give your team a chance to win. That’s always a good thing, especially with the craziness of the postseason.”
Colon, an All-Star who went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA this season, would have been the anchor of last year’s postseason staff had he not been suspended 50 games for using performance-enhancing drugs.
The A’s starting pitching – behind Anderson and rookies Parker, Griffin and Tommy Milone – held its own in the ALDS as Oakland lost in five games to Detroit. But not having Colon’s ability to shut down an opposing lineup was a blow.
Colon has been asked often about how meaningful it is for him to be a part of this postseason, given he had to sit out last year. He diverts his answer in a different direction, saying that at his age, he’s just happy to be in the playoffs.
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To hear his teammates talk, there were no hard feelings that Colon was caught cheating and couldn’t help the team in the 2012 postseason. Catcher Stephen Vogt describes Colon as “everything a professional baseball player should be as a teammate.”
Vogt has even more praise for Colon’s work on the mound.
“It’s a piece of art,” Vogt said. “What he does on the mound is beautiful. It’s masterful. His fastball moves more than anybody I’ve ever caught. There’s some times when I catch it that I almost want to apologize to the hitter because it moves so much. It’s really not fair when he’s on.”
A marquee Game 1 matchup awaits with Colon going against Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and is considered the Cy Young Award favorite.
Colon smiled when asked if he thought Scherzer should win the award.
“I don’t wanna talk about that,” he said. “Go ask somebody else.”
But so much of this series will ride on how the A’s other young starters respond to the postseason pressure.
The A’s are opting to pitch Gray in Game 2 opposite Justin Verlander in order to give the rookie the backing of a home crowd. Parker is being saved for Game 3 in Detroit, matching up with AL ERA champ Anibal Sanchez.
“Sonny is well beyond his years as far as his composure,” Vogt said. “I think he’d be just fine on the road, but I think it’s gonna be good for him (to pitch at home). The Tigers have never seen him before, so that’s also an advantage.”
Melvin pointed to Parker’s prior playoff experience at Comerica Park. He took the loss in an ALDS Game 1 matchup against Verlander last year but gave up just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
“I never really notice a difference between hostile (environments) more than others,” Parker said. “If you let that kind of stuff get to you, you’re probably not focusing on the right things.”
Dan Straily will start Game 4 in Detroit – opposite right-hander Doug Fister -- after Melvin revealed Tuesday that Griffin has been pitching with elbow tendinitis that’s progressively gotten worse.
Griffin said it was hard for him to get loose before starts and then his elbow would tighten up on him by the third or fourth inning. The A’s had him undergo X-rays that showed tendinitis, but no MRI is planned at this point.
“I’m bummed I don’t get to pitch now, but hopefully we’ll continue and do our thing and maybe (I can pitch) in the next round,” Griffin said.
Straily, 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA, put himself in postseason consideration by winning four of his last five decisions and posting a 2.00 ERA over his final six starts. And though Melvin stressed that the decision to skip Griffin in this round was strictly for health reasons, it can’t be ignored that Griffin gave up a major league-high 36 homers this season, including 21 on the road.