A week into Cactus League play, it seems as though the A’s are no closer to bringing their crowded starting rotation picture into focus.
There are ostensibly three starting jobs to be won before opening day behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. A’s manager Bob Melvin has now seen most of the candidates pitch in spring games, and said Sunday: “I like ’em all.”
As spring problems go, it’s a good one to have. Right-handers Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman -- acquired in the Jeff Samardzija and Josh Donaldson trades, respectively -- each threw two scoreless innings in their spring debuts. Jesse Hahn, acquired for Derek Norris, allowed two runs in his first start but impressed Melvin with his stuff.
The A’s also have returning options in right-hander Jesse Chavez and left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who started the A’s 10-4 loss Sunday to the Chicago White Sox and pitched two scoreless innings, striking out four batters.
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Both Chavez and Pomeranz have experience pitching out of the bullpen as well and could also make the roster as relievers. But Melvin said that flexibility does not necessarily hurt their chances at winning a rotation spot.
“You’ve got to look at it both ways,” Melvin said before Sunday’s game. “Both of them have been successful doing both, but they have been here and proven they can pitch in the rotation.”
Pomeranz allowed a first-inning walk to Chicago speedster Adam Eaton and two second-inning singles but escaped both jams. He said his arm felt good and he pitched better after harnessing the adrenaline of making his spring debut.
“My pitches felt sharp,” Pomeranz said. “My fastball was pretty good, my curveball was good. I could feel that. My stuff’s there, I guess … just have to refine everything and get ready for the season.”
Pomeranz pitched exclusively out of the stretch, as he did most of last season, when he went 5-4 with a 2.35 ERA for the A’s in 20 games (10 starts). He said that 2014 was “the best year I’ve ever had,” so he saw no reason to go back to a full windup.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Melvin said. “Had good break on his curveball, for the most part pretty good life on his fastball. And it’ll test you early when you have to work out of a couple jams.”
Pomeranz said he isn’t focusing much on the competition for starting jobs this spring and that he doesn’t have a preference between starting and relieving. “I just try to do my job,” he said. “Whatever’s going to happen, happens.”
▪ Yet other candidates to help the rotation at some point this season have yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. One is left-hander Sean Nolin, also acquired in the trade with Toronto, who is recovering from hernia surgery. Nolin took a step forward Sunday, as he threw off flat ground for the first time, Melvin said.
Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, meanwhile, both continue their returns from Tommy John surgery. Parker is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Tuesday and if all goes well could face hitters in live batting practice Friday. Griffin is a little further behind; he has thrown only fastballs and changeups, but Melvin said he could start mixing his breaking pitches into throwing sessions “soon.”
▪ Coco Crisp left Sunday’s game after two innings after experiencing soreness in his right elbow, Melvin said. Crisp felt the soreness playing catch in the outfield, and Melvin said there was no reason to push things with the leadoff hitter. He was only scheduled for two at-bats Sunday and was going to have Monday off anyway.
“We’ll see how he is (Tuesday),” Melvin said. “Could be a couple days, I don’t know.”
▪ The White Sox did most of their damage Sunday in a six-run fourth inning. Four runs were charged to Tyler Clippard, a favorite to replace Sean Doolittle as closer to start the season, and two to switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, the first runs Venditte has allowed.
Melvin said Clippard “was using all of his pitches, trying to mix in everything, and was just a little off with his command … He’s not happy with the result, which shows he’s competing. But that’s the last guy we’d be (concerned) about right now.”
Melvin said he thought Venditte might have been dealing with a tight strike zone, though he did give up some hard-hit balls. “That’s the first time we’ve seen him (get) nicked up,” Melvin said. “We’ll see how he responds the next time out.”
▪ Billy Butler hit his first home run in an A’s uniform onto the grass beyond the wall in right-center, and Melvin commented on Butler’s professional approach: “He’s not trying to pull anything that’s not there for him to pull.”
▪ Catcher Stephen Vogt will make his spring debut Monday after offseason foot surgery, and the A’s are eager to get him back behind the plate. Vogt caught only 15 games last season because of injuries and the presence of both Norris and John Jaso. But both Norris and Jaso were traded over the winter, and the A’s are counting on Vogt as their regular catcher against right-handed pitching this season.
“With the roster configuration this year as compared to last year, we need to have him healthy,” Melvin said. Vogt also played in 47 games at first base, 17 in right field and even one game in left field in 2014, but Melvin said Vogt this season will be “much more just at one position (catcher) than last year.”