OAKLAND -- The first question asked of A's manager Bob Melvin in Wednesday's pregame press conference was about his plan for Justin Verlander in Game Five. "We'll have to get there first," Melvin quickly replied. First the A's have to contend with Max Scherzer, who at times this season has been a better pitcher than Verlander. Scherzer might be slightly limited on the mound in Oakland on Wednesday. Last time he faced the A's he left after two innings with right shoulder fatigue. He also sprained his right ankle celebrating the Tigers American League Central title. He only threw 75 pitches in his final start of the season. If he is on a pitch count the A's could run up his pitch total and possibly get into the Tigers bullpen early. "If you go in trying to forecast something and it doesn't happen that way then you get surprised," Melvin said. "So I think we are just going to go out there with the mindset that he's going to be out there as long as he normally is." On Tuesday, Scherzer assured everyone in his press conference that he was 100 percent healthy. Jim Leyland reiterated that point on Wednesday. Usually when you have to assure the media that you are 100 percent -- it means you aren't. When you already have contingency plans going in it just confirms that assumption. "We've got Drew Smiley to go if something happens to Scherzer," Leyland said. "We'll be prepared for anything."Smiley is a lefty. If he enters the game then righties Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter may finally see some ALDS action. Of course, if Scherzer is indeed healthy, then none of this becomes a factor.
The A's have a contingency plan too. A.J. Griffin has been struggling lately and if he gets into trouble early Melvin won't hesitate to go with left-handed pitcher Travis Blackley, or right-handed pitcher Evan Scribner.
When Griffin left after just two and two-thirds innings in his final start of the season, Scribner came in and pitched three innings of scoreless relief and the A's ended up beating the Rangers and winning the AL West. "Our bullpen is in pretty good shape," Melvin said. "Scribner has done a nice job for us coming in and shutting some stuff down at times and moving us farther in the game." Griffin is 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA but is 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA in his last four starts. His only loss was against the Tigers and he allowed a career-high five runs on a career-high tying eight hits in that start.
The A's will be the only team in Major League history to start three rookie starting pitchers in a playoff series when Griffin takes the mound. The A's young pitchers have taken a mature approach to their preparation and it has worked so far. Every starting pitcher in this series so far has thrown a quality start."We're a young staff and we try to bounce as many things off of each other as we can," Game One and potential Game Five starting pitcher Jarrod Parker said."We try to learn from each other and try to do as much as we can to learn and take the knowledge that we have, one guy throws a game and does something, I'm going to ask him what he's doing to get this guy out and vice versa."
The A's have done a good job limiting the damage done by the Tigers' big hitters in this series. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are a combined .185 (5 for 27) in the first three games of the postseason. The A's defense made a ding in their collective batting average on Tuesday. Fielder was robbed of a home run in the second inning, robbed of a hit up the middle by Stephen Drew, and robbed of a hit in the seventh when Yoenis Cespedes made a diving catch. The A's fielders aren't treating him like a prince.
"I think it more gets into a poor hitter's head when he gets hits taken away from him rather than a good hitter," Melvin said. "I don't think it's going to effect Prince Fielder. A guy like me, if I had a chance to get three hits and they were taken from me it would put me in a rubber room somewhere." Melvin also said he is crazy about what Cespedes has been doing in this playoff series. "We've seen Yoenis make huge strides in left field, now all of a sudden he is just a plus left fielder," Melvin said. "Before it was a struggle for him both mentally and physically. We're reaping some serious rewards with what he is doing right now."
The A's snapped their six-game postseason losing streak on Tuesday with the 2-0 win over the Tigers. Coincidentally all six of their losses were at the hands of Detroit. The Tigers swept the A's in the 2006 American League Championship Series and won the first two games of the ALDS. If the A's can win on Wednesday the series will be all evened up with a win-or-go-home Game Five taking place at the Oakland Coliseum.
Oakland native and WBCWBA Super Middleweight Champion Andre Ward will throw out tonight's ceremonial first pitch