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The A’s starting rotation will find out just how much safety there is in numbers.
Gone this season is All-Star right-hander Bartolo Colon, the steady veteran who gobbled up innings and stashed away victories. Added to the mix was free agent lefty Scott Kazmir, given a two-year $22 million contract to help fill the void and add a dose of veteran savvy to a rotation that is still quite young.
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But more than any one individual, the A’s will need their depth in starting pitching to shine through if they’re to pull off an American League West three-peat.
“With us, it’s more about the quality of the depth as opposed to having one or two guys that’s supposed to lead the way,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “When I was in Arizona, it was Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and then we mixed and matched after that. Whereas (with the A’s) we have a guy who takes the mound every day that we feel good about winning.”
Melvin has six quality starters from which to shape his five-man staff – Kazmir, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. Five of those six won at least 10 games last season, and the A’s have back-up options with newcomers Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom.
That appears to give the A’s the best rotation in the A.L. West in terms of depth. But, Oakland’s staff does not feature what you would classify as a legitimate ace.
Parker, 25, was terrific last season from May through August, going 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA over that span. But he admittedly wore down in late September and the postseason, to the point where a tender arm might have kept him out of the A.L. Championship Series had the A’s advanced that far.
Gray, 24, showed electric stuff in an A.L.D.S. Game 2 victory over Detroit, a glimpse of what the future might hold. But he has just 12 total major league starts under his belt, so it’s tough to gauge how he’ll fare over his first full big league season.
Kazmir, 30, was pitching in independent league ball as recently as 2012, and he needs to show that his rebound last season with Cleveland was no fluke. He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings.
“I think a lot of people get caught up in naming a No. 1 starter,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “They try and put these stupid numbers on them. Collectively, if we have five solid guys in the rotation, you don’t have to have a No. 1. I think we’re gonna have five guys that can compete with anybody.”
Oakland needs Parker and Gray to continue making strides. Parker spent the offseason working with Fischer Sports Therapy in Arizona, improving his strength and conditioning in the hopes of avoiding wearing down in September.
“I felt like it was time to make an investment in my career, getting with somebody that has an outside look that on the first day can go in, analyze my body, and kind of break me down and tell me what I need to do,” Parker said.
Gray spent the offseason back home in Tennessee working out with fellow Vanderbilt alums. His throwing partner was Tampa Bay Rays star David Price, and Gray did all he could to pick the brain of the 2012 Cy Young winner.
“Just being around him, you become a better person because that’s who he is,” Gray said. “He’s always talking baseball. You learn hitters just from small talk. It’s more the mental side of the game you learn from him.”
It’ll be a battle for the final two rotation spots behind Parker, Gray and Kazmir. Griffin won 14 games last season, Straily was fourth in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting and Milone showed some grit in September with a couple of strong spot starts.
The A’s, who have finished in the top four in A.L. rotation ERA each of the past four seasons, need their starters to maintain that consistency to stay on top of a division that looks stronger top to bottom.
“We signed Scott Kazmir, and all of our younger guys are a year longer in the tooth,” Melvin said. “I’m very happy about our rotation.”