OAKLAND -- Gutted in the offseason, the A's pitching staff lost three All-Stars through trades -- and they have never been better. As the names and faces of the A's change like the seasons, one man has found a way to bring consistent excellence to the mound in Oakland, no matter who is on it. His name is Curt Young, and he is the unsung hero of the A's starting rotation.Oakland's starting rotation has an American League-leading 3.72 ERA, something very few of the so-called baseball experts expected to see after the team traded Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in the offseason. Yet, here they stand, armed to the teeth once again. "We are first in the league in ERA without too many household names here," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's tough to even put a price on what Curt has done here. It is phenomenal." When Young returned to the A's after spending the 2011 season with the Red Sox, he didn't know the team's two best pitchers would be traded. So far it hasn't mattered in the slightest bit. He was given another talented crop of youthful pitchers to help develop, and so far he has passed the test with straight-A's. "That's the goal," Young said. "You come in with young guys and you hope you can make them believe and give them enough confidence. Then they have to go out and do it." And they have. This season 45 of the A's innings pitched have come with a rookie pitcher on the mound. Over those 360.2 innings pitched by rookies, the A's have a 2.99 ERA. "A lot of times you don't recognize the pitching coach for what he's done," A's starting pitcher Tommy Milone said. "Obviously he's done a great job. You can tell just by how the pitchers have thrown all year." The A's have gotten it done with their two most experienced pitchers Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy spending time on the DL. Rookie right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker -- who came to the A's in the Cahill trade -- has a 3.07 ERA. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 15 starts. Milone -- who came to the A's in the Gonzalez trade -- has nine wins and a 3.54 ERA. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 18 starts. Another rookie, A.J. Griffin, has allowed three runs or less in all four of his starts. "Whenever you have someone like that behind you, and doing everything they can to prepare you, then you are going to have a lot of success," Griffin said of Young's leadership. "He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that helps us go out there and be ready to compete." When told that some of his pitchers said he was the unsung hero of the staff, Young brushed off the remark like a veteran. He likely wants to defer the attention, and rightfully so. What he has done with the staff is remarkable. What the pitchers have done on the mound might be even more impressive. "Their talent is really showing up," Young said. "They've been on good routines, we've given them rest when they can get it. Once you get on a roll like that, you really can't wait to get out there. I believe that's the case with all these guys." This is Young's 24th season in the A's organization, and his eighth season as the A's pitching coach. He left the A's prior to the 2011 season to join the Boston Red Sox and returned prior to this season. It's not surprising the Red Sox went after him. During his previous seven seasons with Oakland, he led the A's to an A.L. best 4.03 ERA. After changing general managers after a disappointing season by Red Sox standards, the uncertainty within the Boston coaching staff brought Young back to Oakland. Melvin believes the A's were lucky to get him."He's a great fit here in Oakland," Melvin said. "He looks a lot better in white shoes than dark shoes."The A's have been one of the surprises in Major League Baseball. They are a season-high three games over .500, and 12 a game behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot. They have done all of that while scoring 343 runs -- the fewest in the AL. The A's secret to success? The pitching staff. The secret to their success? Curt Young."I think we got our guys in the right frame of mind," Young said. "It's all about the team. If they go out and pitch well, we have a chance to win the game. That's really what I feel these guys are possessed on doing."Armed and Dangerous The A's starting rotation is already the envy of the AL. Wait and see what happens when they get Brett Anderson back. Arguably their most talented pitcher, Anderson is recovering from "Tommy John" surgery. He is throwing simulated games in Arizona and should be heading out on a rehab assignment soon. Dan Straily, 23, is a right-handed pitcher for the River Cats who is lighting up the Minor Leagues. He just won MiLB pitcher of the week honors, and paces all of baseball in strikeouts. Straily's 154 strikeouts this season are rivaled only by Felix Hernandez (140), Justin Verlander (136), and Stephen Strasburg (135). Of course, they did it in the Major Leagues, but you can see the point.Straily is 3-2 with a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings with the Sacramento. He could be well on his way to joining the A's rotation if they decided to move a veteran like Colon.
MESA, Ariz. — The rain indeed hit Saturday, cutting into the A’s plans for the morning.
They wound up sending a group of pitchers from the minor league facility back to Hohokam Stadium to get their throwing in. But by the time the A’s called it a day shortly before 10:30 a.m., manager Bob Melvin said everyone who was scheduled to throw off the mound got to do so.
Sunday’s forecast calls for possible rain to throw another wrench in things. But the weekend’s weather predictions haven’t exactly been spot-on with the timing of showers, so who knows how it will unfold as Oakland hits the field for its first official full-squad workout of 2017.
The workout will begin about 11 a.m. at the minor league facility (Lew Wolff Training Complex) if the current plans hold.
HEALTH UPDATE: Sean Doolittle said there’s no timetable yet for him to throw off a mound for the first time in camp. Part of that caution stems from last spring. Doolittle, who’s been sidelined for big portions of the past two seasons with shoulder issues, went full bore from the start of camp last year, then had to back off for a bit in the middle of camp and then cram several game appearances into the final stage of exhibitions to ensure he was ready for the regular season.
This spring, the idea is to go light early in camp before gradually ramping things up for the rest of the spring and leading into the season, Doolittle said. Melvin said once the lefty begins appearing in exhibitions, he’ll be on a regular schedule like the other relievers.
“It’s just a matter of when we get him in there,” Melvin said.
Doolittle already had thrown off the mound in pre-camp workouts, so he said he’s not concerned about being held back right now.
NOTEWORTHY: By Saturday, the most noteworthy position player who hadn’t yet been spotted in the clubhouse was left fielder Khris Davis. Players aren’t required to actually show up by reporting day, just check in with the team. The first full-squad workout is Sunday.
The A’s still don’t have a timetable for reliever Santiago Casilla’s arrival, though a team spokesperson said the wheels are in motion for his travel paperwork to soon be cleared in the Dominican Republic.
ODDS AND ENDS: Pitchers will throw live batting practice to hitters Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the A’s will hold simulated games and Thursday will feature more of an intrasquad-style game with an actual defense playing behind the pitcher as he throws to hitters. It’s all in preparation for next Saturday’s Cactus League opener on the road against the Cubs.
MESA, Ariz. — Doctors have done lots of repair work on Jed Lowrie since you last saw him in the A’s lineup, and he hopes that translates to a better season than what he endured a year ago.
Lowrie reported to camp on a rain-soaked Saturday in the desert, saying he enjoyed a productive winter coming off surgery to repair ligament damage and remove a bunion and cyst in his left foot. The switch-hitting second baseman was running by mid-November and says he essentially did the same offseason training he would normally do if not coming back from an injury.
“I haven’t talked to them about what they plan for me this spring, but I’ve done everything I can this offseason — running in spikes on the field, hitting on the field,” Lowrie said. “I just need to be in a team setting now, and I feel great.”
Just as beneficial might be another procedure he had in September to correct a deviated nasal septum, which affected his breathing while he slept and thus his quality of rest.
“If you look at it, how constricted my airway was, I’ve probably been sleep-deprived for nine years,” Lowrie said. “That’s not something that changes overnight, but that certainly made a big difference in my training and everything this offseason. I would sleep nine to 10 hours at night before and wake up still feeling tired. I was trying to figure out what was going on.”
Lowrie and wife Milessa recently welcomed their second child, Miles, and Lowrie joked that he’s gotten better sleep while caring for a four-month-old son than he did before his nasal surgery.
The 32-year-old was limited to 87 games last season, hitting .263 with two homers and just 27 RBI. After his season ended in early August, the A’s eventually promoted Joey Wendle from Triple-A Nashville, and he showed some nice flashes as the regular second baseman. Another rookie, Chad Pinder, also got some innings there. But manager Bob Melvin made it clear that Lowrie remains his starting second baseman if fully healthy.
With that in mind, Melvin said Lowrie will have a light playing schedule early in the Cactus League season, which begins next Saturday for Oakland.
“Veterans like him, I probably don’t bring along as quickly, especially with the amount of games (the A’s have), but as far as actually being out there physically, he’s ready to go.”
Melvin likes to say he can bat Lowrie anywhere in the order and the switch hitter adapts well. Should Lowrie bat second, where he spent most of last season when healthy, he’ll have a new leadoff man in front of him with Rajai Davis.
“He’s a great leadoff guy, a great speed player,” Lowrie said. “He’s been around this league a long time and knows how to do it.”
Lowrie, who will earn $6.5 million in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Houston, got plenty of work in the batting cage over the winter. He also got through agility drills with no problem, and that could help him defensively.
“I look back at last year, how compromised I was and all the adjustments you make to try to play when you’re hurt,” he said. “I’ve gotten into a good routine to try to correct some of those bad habits that were created last year.”