Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: Pitchers

What are Gio's chances of making the team?

The Oakland A's have a crowded major league spring training camp, with 63 players on-hand, the most since Billy Martin brought 80 players to camp in 1982. While only 25 of those players will break camp with the team, there are more who are likely to be key cogs for the A's over the next few years. We are taking a look at the position battles in camp this spring, starting with the pitchers.

A Look Back At 2008

Duchscherer was an All-Star last season.
Despite the fact that the Oakland A's lost three of their top starting pitchers from 2007 at various points during or before the 2008 season (Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Rich Harden), the A's pitching staff finished 10th among all staffs in major league baseball, tying the Boston Red Sox with a 4.01 team ERA.

The A's starting rotation experienced a lot of turnover and injuries, but managed a 4.29 ERA. Justin Duchscherer made the successful transition from reliever to top-of-the-rotation starter, making the All-Star team and posting a 2.54 ERA. He missed the final six weeks of the season with a hip injury, however. Left-hander Greg Smith began the year at Triple-A Sacramento, but he still managed to lead the A's with 32 starts. He went 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA in 190.1 innings.

Lefty Dana Eveland finished second on the team with 29 starts despite spending some of the final weeks of the regular season in Triple-A. He posted a 4.34 ERA in 168 innings. Southpaw Dallas Braden recovered from a rough rookie season in 2007 and posted a 4.14 ERA in 71.2 innings. At the start of the season, Braden was pitching out of the A's bullpen, but he was a regular member of the starting rotation by the end of the year.
Early season starters Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton were all dealt away in July, and for the rest of the season, the A's auditioned a number of young starters. Sean Gallagher and Josh Outman were acquired in mid-season deals and both got looks in the A's rotation. Gallagher spent some time on the DL, but still threw 56.2 innings for the A's, posting a 5.88 ERA. Outman was a September call-up and the lefty threw 25.2 innings for Oakland, posting a 4.56 ERA. Gio Gonzalez, who entered the 2008 season as the A's top pitching prospect, made his major league debut in August. He struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, posting a 7.68 ERA in 34 innings, although he did strike-out 34 batters. Veterans Kirk Saarloos and Lenny DiNardo were also members of the A's rotation and bullpen at various points in the season, and lefty Dan Meyer was given a late-season audition and he finished with a 7.48 ERA in 27.2 innings.

Ziegler's rise was the story of the year.
Youth was the name of the game in the A's bullpen, as well. Closer Huston Street struggled from the outset of the season and was supplanted in that role midway through the year by submarine righty Brad Ziegler, who set a major league record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched to start a career. He finished the season with 11 saves and a 1.06 ERA. Fellow rookie Joey Devine posted a record-breaking 0.59 ERA. The only blight on his season was that he missed significant time with an elbow injury. Both Ziegler and Devine received votes in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Jerry Blevins, another rookie, joined the team mid-season and was the A's best left-handed reliever during the second half of the season.

Veteran Alan Embree led the team with 70 appearances and he posted a 4.96 ERA in 61.2 innings. Santiago Casilla missed time early in the season with an elbow injury, but he managed a 3.93 ERA in 50.1 innings. Andrew Brown and veteran Keith Foulke were both supposed to play big roles in the A's bullpen last season, but they, too, were limited by injuries to only 31 appearances a piece. Veteran Kiko Calero made only five appearances before being cut. He never fully recovered from a torn labrum. Rule 5 pick Fernando Hernandez made the team out of spring training, but he was returned to the Chicago White Sox in late April after only three appearances. Rookie Jeff Gray got a late season audition in the A's bullpen, and both Josh Outman and Gio Gonzalez made appearances in the bullpen, in addition to the rotation.

Good-Bye And Hello

Fan favorite Street was traded.
Given the amount of turnover the A's saw in their pitching ranks from December 2007 to October 2008, the A's had a relatively quiet off-season transaction-wise on the pitching front. Oakland said good-bye to closer Huston Street and starter Greg Smith when both were traded to the Colorado Rockies for Matt Holliday. The A's also bid adieu to veterans Alan Embree and Keith Foulke, who were allowed to leave via free agency. Right-hander Andrew Brown was released after it was revealed that he would miss most of the season with a shoulder injury.

The A's made a few additions to their pitching staff this off-season, all in the bullpen. Veteran Russ Springer was signed to a one-year deal as a free agent in January. A few days later, the A's added another reliever to the mix when right-hander Michael Wuertz was acquired from the Chicago Cubs for two prospects. The A's also signed right-hander Chris Schroder to a major league deal and picked up three pitchers with major league experience on minor league contracts: Kevin Cameron, Jerome Williams and Edgar Gonzalez.

Pitchers Invited To Camp

Brett Anderson
Andrew Bailey
Jerry Blevins*
Dallas Braden*
Trevor Cahill
Kevin Cameron
Andrew Carignan
Santiago Casilla*
Joey Devine*
Justin Duchscherer*
Dana Eveland*
Sean Gallagher*
Edgar Gonzalez
Gio Gonzalez*
Jeff Gray*
Brett Hunter
Jared Lansford
Arnold Leon
Vince Mazzaro
Josh Outman*
James Simmons
Chris Schroder*
Russ Springer*
Ryan Webb
Jerome Williams
Michael Wuertz*
Brad Ziegler*

*Denotes member of the 40-man roster

Number of Ps Likely On Roster – 12 or 13, depending on whether they carry seven relievers or six.
Locks To Make The Team

The strength of the Oakland A's organization is pitching, and that has never been more evident than this season. Of the 63 players in big league camp, 29 of them are pitchers. Sixteen of those 29 are currently on the A's 40-man roster.

Gallagher has great stuff.
Starting Rotation

With the exception of the fifth spot in the rotation and possibly one additional spot in the bullpen, the A's have a pretty good idea of who will be on their Opening Day staff. Health-permitting, the A's rotation will include Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher and Dallas Braden. The fifth starter spot is the only true battle in the rotation this spring.

Justin Duchscherer: Duchscherer made a smooth transition from All-Star reliever to All-Star starter in 2008, but he is still looking to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season. He missed time early in the year with elbow/forearm soreness and the final six weeks with a hip problem. He had surgery on the hip, the second time he has had the hip operated on since 2007. Duchscherer is in camp and ready to pitch, although his return to game play has been delayed slightly by spring elbow soreness. If he is healthy, Duchscherer should be the A's Opening Day starter. He will be eligible for free agency at the end of the year.

Dana Eveland: The burly left-hander had an up-and-down season in 2008. He had ERAs of 3.67, 3.66 and 2.64 in April, May and June, respectively, but his ERA sky-rocketed in July and August as his command failed him. Eveland was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento in August to work on his mechanics and he returned looking much better. He walked only 13 in 43 innings after returning from Sacramento. Eveland has good stuff, but he will need to continue to throw strikes to keep his spot in the rotation all season, as the A's have a number of lefties nipping at his heels.

Sean Gallagher: Gallagher was the biggest piece of the package the A's received for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin last July. The young right-hander features a lively fastball and good secondary pitches. He started his A's career in impressive fashion, limiting the Angels to two runs in seven innings with seven strike-outs in his Oakland debut. He followed that up by striking out seven Yankees in five innings in his next start. Things sort of got away from Gallagher after his second start, however. He walked five in 5.1 innings in his third outing against Texas and then allowed 20 runs in 17 innings over his next four starts (10 coming in one outing against Minnesota). He was put on the DL with shoulder soreness at that point and didn't return until mid-September. Gallagher looked better in his first three starts back off of the DL, allowing only four runs in 17.2 innings. However, in his final start of the season, Gallagher allowed eight runs in 4.2 innings. The youngster has arguably the best stuff of the A's returning starters and will be given every opportunity to spend the year in the A's rotation. He does have options remaining, however, if he struggles at any point and the A's want him to see more time at Triple-A for seasoning.

Dallas Braden: Braden was somewhat of an after-thought last spring after he posted a 6.72 ERA in 72.1 innings as a rookie for the A's in 2007. He began the season in Triple-A, but was promoted back to the big leagues in late April when injuries hit the A's bullpen. He made transition to the starting rotation in late July and was a fixture in the rotation for the rest of the season. He pitched much better in 2008 than he did in 2007, finishing with a 4.14 ERA. His ERA as a starter was 3.97 in 10 starts and he averaged nearly six innings an outing. Braden, like Eveland, will need to continue this upswing in performance to hold off the competition from the A's top pitching prospects.

Bullpen

Devine could be the A's new closer in 2009.
The A's bullpen is just as settled as the rotation. Oakland will roll out right-handers Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Russ Springer, Santiago Casilla and Michael Wuertz and left-hander Jerry Blevins in their Opening Day bullpen, with one spot possibly left open to the competition this spring.

Brad Ziegler: Ziegler had a dream 2008 season. He set a rookie record for scoreless innings to start a career, saved 11 big league games and finished the season with an ERA just above 1.00. The submarine specialist will be hard-pressed to match those spectacular numbers, but as long as he can continue to induce groundball after groundball, he should be a very valuable late-inning reliever for the A's. His stock has risen so quickly that he is a member of the US team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

Joey Devine: Devine had a spectacular 2008 season, as well, his first in the A's organization. He was acquired from the Atlanta Braves just before the start of spring training in the Mark Kotsay trade. Devine dominated AL batters, posting a 0.59 ERA and winning six games in 45.2 innings. He didn't allow a homer and allowed only 23 hits. The only negative of Devine's season, however, was his health. He missed a big chunk of the middle of the season with an elbow problem that limited him to only 42 appearances. If healthy, the hard-throwing Devine figures to share closer duties with Ziegler this season.

Russ Springer: Springer was a late addition to the A's roster, as he signed as a free agent in late January. The 16-year major league veteran spent the past two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting ERAs under 3.00 in each of those seasons. At age 40, Springer is the oldest player on the A's roster. He should act as the A's primary set-up man, taking the role that Alan Embree held the past two seasons.

Jerry Blevins: Like Ziegler, Blevins began the year at the back of the Sacramento River Cats' bullpen. He was named to the PCL All-Star team, but before he could participate in the game, he was recalled to Oakland, where he spent the rest of the season. In 37.2 innings in the big leagues, Blevins had a 3.11 ERA and 35 strike-outs against 13 walks. He allowed only two homeruns. He should be the A's top lefty reliever this season and could close out a game in a pinch, as he has minor league experience as a closer.

Santiago Casilla: Like Devine, Casilla missed a portion of last season with an elbow injury. However, he still managed to appear in the third-most number of games of any A's reliever--51. Before landing on the DL, Casilla was spectacular, allowing only two runs in 18.1 innings. However, he struggled after returning from his injury and finished the year with a 3.93 ERA. Casilla has explosive stuff: a mid-90s fastball and a low-80s, hard-breaking slider. However, he has battled injuries the past two seasons and his command has always been tenuous. He is out of options and the A's aren't likely to want to lose an arm like Casilla's, but he will need to throw strikes consistently and stay healthy to stave off of the Carignans, Baileys and Lansfords of the world.

Michael Wuertz: Wuertz was acquired from the Chicago Cubs just before the start of spring training. The right-hander has gone back-and-forth between the big leagues and Triple-A with Chicago over the past three seasons. In 262.1 innings in the bigs, Wuertz has a 3.57 ERA and 270 strike-outs. He is a slider specialist, like former A's reliever Kiko Calero, and should fill a role similar to the one that Calero had with Oakland in 2005 and 2006. Wuertz is also out of options, so it would likely take a spectacularly bad spring for him not to make the team.

Favorites For the Final Spots

Starting Rotation

Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman and non-roster invitees Jerome Williams and Edgar Gonzalez are the leading candidates to fill the fifth spot in the rotation.

Outman can start and relieve.
Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez had an up-and-down first season in the A's organization. The left-hander started off slowly at Triple-A Sacramento, but was one of the PCL's top pitchers by mid-August and was the league leader in strike-outs. Injuries to the A's rotation necessitated Gonzalez's promotion to the big leagues in August. He appeared in 10 games with the A's, seven of them coming as starts. His first big league experience was a tough one, as he posted a 7.68 ERA and allowed nine homeruns in only 34 innings. He did have 34 strike-outs, but he also had 25 walks. The A's are still very high on Gonzalez, but if he struggles with his command this spring, they won't hesitate to send him to Triple-A for more seasoning. At 23, he will still be younger than most players at Triple-A, let alone the big leagues.

Josh Outman: Outman was acquired by the A's from Philadelphia last July in the Joe Blanton trade. At the time of his acquisition, Outman was acting as a reliever in the Philly chain, but Outman did a mix of relieving and starting once he came over to the A's. Outman pitched at Double-A and Triple-A before being promoted to the big leagues for September. With the A's, he made two relief appearances and then four starts. As a starter, he posted a 4.22 ERA and struck-out 16 in 21.1 innings. Outman will be stretched out as a starter this spring, but he will also be considered for a long relief/second lefty specialist role in the bullpen. Like Gonzalez, Outman is still young (24) and hasn't had much time in Triple-A, so if he doesn't dominate this spring, look for him to start the year in Triple-A.

Edgar Gonzalez: Gonzalez signed with the A's as a minor league free agent after a successful stint in the Mexican Winter League. The former Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander was released by that organization at the end of the 2008 season after an injury-riddled campaign. The native of Mexico has thrown 257.2 innings in three major league seasons with the D-Backs and he has a career ERA of 5.97. Gonzalez has acted as both a starter and as a reliever during his career. The 26-year-old has more major league starting experience than nearly every member of the A's starting rotation. If Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman struggle, Edgar could position himself as a front-runner for the fifth starter spot thanks to his previous big league experience.

Jerome Williams: Williams is in a similar situation to Edgar Gonzalez. Like Gonzalez, Williams is a major league veteran who has more than 400 major league innings under his belt. At one time, Williams was considered one of the top young pitchers in baseball, but he has struggled over the past few years and didn't see any major league time in 2008. Williams pitched well during the Puerto Rican Winter League this past winter and had a good spring debut today against Milwaukee. Like Gonzalez, Williams would benefit greatly if some of the A's younger pitchers struggle in camp.

Bullpen

If the A's decide to carry seven relievers, they will consider Outman, Chris Schroder, Jeff Gray and Kevin Cameron most closely for that slot. Outman is the only lefty on this list, which could give him an advantage if the A's want two lefties in the bullpen.

Schroder had some big league success with Washington.
Chris Schroder: Schroder was a minor league free agent this winter, but he signed with the A's on a major league deal. The former Nationals right-hander has had some success in the big leagues, posting a 4.46 ERA in 78.2 innings with 85 strike-outs. He fell out of favor in Washington, however, and spent most of last season at Triple-A. The A's seem to bring in major league veteran-types into camp every year (Kirk Saarloos, Lenny DiNardo, to name two) to compete for bullpen spots. Although most of them don't end up making the team out of spring training, they are often the first ones called upon when injuries strike during the regular season. Schroder could position himself very well as an injury replacement with a strong spring.

Jeff Gray: This will be Gray's second year on the A's 40-man roster. The hard-throwing right-hander spent most of last season in the River Cats' bullpen before a late-season audition with the A's. Gray struggled with his command for most of the season, but he made some mechanical adjustments with A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick before the end of the year and carried those adjustments into the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched well. Gray will need to pound the strike-zone this spring to get strong consideration for a spot in the A's bullpen, but he has the arm strength to be an effective reliever in the big leagues if he can harness his control.

Kevin Cameron: Cameron was a 2007 Rule 5 pick of the San Diego Padres and he spent the entire year with San Diego, posting a 2.79 ERA in 58 innings. Injuries were a problem for him in 2008 and he made only 10 big league appearances. He is healthy again and the A's are hoping that he can recapture some of his 2007 form. Cameron was roughed up in his first outing this spring, and he probably can't afford another bad outing if he wants to keep his name in the running for an Opening Day slot.

Looking To Make An Impression

Will this be Webb's year to put it all together?
While the main focus of big league camp is on who will make the Opening Day roster, the most attention will probably be paid to pitchers in A's camp who are more likely to open the season in Triple-A Sacramento. The A's two top prospects – left-hander Brett Anderson and right-hander Trevor Cahill – are both in big league camp for the first time as non-roster players. The A's 2007 top pick, James Simmons, is also in camp as a non-roster player, as is reigning Texas League Pitcher of the Year Vince Mazzaro. Right-hander Ryan Webb was added to the A's 40-man roster this past off-season and is competing in his first big league camp. Webb, a 2004 fourth-round pick, has had a gradual development through the A's system, but the 6'6'' right-hander has above-average stuff and the A's are hoping that this is the year that his stuff translates into good numbers.

The A's collection of relief prospects in camp is just as impressive. Roster player Henry Rodriguez has been sidelined this spring dealing with the after-effects of off-season hernia surgery, but the right-hander has the best arm of any pitcher in the A's system and is regularly clocked in the high-90s and even triple digits. Andrew Carignan, Andrew Bailey and Jared Lansford all participated in the Arizona Fall League this past winter and all three are strong candidates to contribute in the A's bullpen over the next year. All three have above-average fastballs and are coming off of strong seasons in the ‘pen.

Here For The Future:

Leon will be with the A's full-time in 2009 after splitting last year between the A's organization and Mexico.
Oakland is also getting a good look at two of their top prospects from the 2008 draft – right-handers Tyson Ross (second round) and Brett Hunter (seventh round). Ross is an Oakland native and Cal Bears alum who was considered a bit of a steal for the A's in the second round. Hunter, a Pepperdine alum, was a sure-fire first-round pick before missing significant time for the Waves this past season with an arm injury. He was given a record-breaking bonus amount for a seventh-round pick by the A's.

Mexican League acquisition Arnold Leon is participating in his second big league camp as a non-roster player. The right-hander posted a 2.86 ERA in 28.1 relief innings last season, his first pitching in the US. Leon may get looks both as a starter and as a reliever this spring and regular season.

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