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.
The A's unsung hero
July 16, 2012, 10:15 pm