A.J. Griffin shot through the minors last year and made 15 starts with the A's, going 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA. Entering his start today against Houston, he's 2-0 with three runs allowed in 14 innings. Anda Chu Oakland Tribune

A's Griffin is sharp on, off mound

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013 - 10:07 pm

OAKLAND – A's shortstop Jed Lowrie was answering a reporter's question with the phrase, "All things considered," when pitcher A.J. Griffin walked by.

"That's a great show," Griffin said.

Griffin later said he doesn't listen to National Public Radio much anymore. You're more likely to find him watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" or, for catching up on current events, "The Daily Show" or its companion, "The Colbert Report."

"They make fun of things, but you also get to see kind of both sides," Griffin said. "If you don't just buy into what people say and you actually think about things, think critically about things – I feel like you get the whole story from those."

Griffin, the A's shaggy-haired, glasses-wearing right-hander, doesn't seem to fit many molds. He speaks English, Spanish and French, though of the latter, which he used to converse with foreign customers as an offseason shoe salesman at the Stanford Shopping Center, he said, "I'm not that good anymore."

Last year at this time, Griffin, 25, was pitching in Double A before shooting through the minors and debuting in Oakland in June. When he walked into manager Bob Melvin's office the morning of his first start, Melvin didn't recognize him.

Griffin made 15 starts with the A's and went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 3-to-1. Entering his start today against the Houston Astros, he's 2-0 with three runs allowed over 14 innings.

"He keeps the ball down, he throws strikes, he mixes his pitches, and he's tough to think along with," Melvin said. "It's pretty consistent with what we've seen from him since he came to the big leagues last year."

Aside from a rough four-start stretch to end the season, when Griffin allowed 14 of the 28 earned runs he gave up in 2012, his immediate impact last year would seem a lot to live up to. He said he doesn't think that way.

"I just go out there and play," Griffin said. "I don't really try to worry about, like, if I'm living up to people's expectations or not.

"I have always had pretty high expectations for myself. I'm probably my hardest critic. But I try to take one pitch at a time and just continue to put together good outings."

Catcher Derek Norris says admiringly that "what separates (Griffin) from a lot of guys we do have is he doesn't have overpowering stuff."

What Griffin does do, Norris said, is draw weak contact and go deep into games by throwing a lot of strikes. He's also honing a cut fastball that came and went last season.

"He's gotten to a point where he's got a different grip and release point with it where he's able to place it where he wants," Norris said. "It keeps hitters off balance even more considering the big curveball he has and the fastball he locates."

That command – Griffin walked 19 in 82 1/3 innings last year – has endeared him to his other catcher, John Jaso, who joined the A's last winter and caught Griffin's first start.

"When a pitcher can throw anything for strikes, when it comes to hitters' counts, you don't necessarily have to throw a fastball," Jaso said. "And that makes my job easier, because I know it's not going to get whacked, you know?"

Jaso said he has also found in Griffin a fellow classic rock fan and guitar player.

"He brings his on the road, so we go and jam together," Jaso said. "He's an interesting cat."

Griffin is well-versed in the catalogue of Led Zeppelin, Jaso said, which happens to be one of Jaso's favorite bands. Jaso has an electric guitar but said he doesn't bring it on the road, so he ends up playing Griffin's acoustic.

"I think he's more of an acoustic guy," Jaso said.

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball/. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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