Young starters crucial to A's success

A's will go as far as young starters take them

PHOENIX -- Having used the disabled list a club-record 25 times in 2008 and 47 times in the past two seasons, the A's are all too accustomed to dealing with injuries.

Having finished last in the American League in batting average (.242), on-base percentage (.318), slugging percentage (.369) and runs (646) while leading the AL in strikeouts (1,226) last season, Oakland's offense has issues, too.

But as Spring Training winds down, the A's are relatively healthy, and the addition of veterans Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra provides plenty of hope that the offense can climb out of the statistical cellar.

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Thus, the primary concern for Oakland, which opens the season April 6 in Anaheim with the first of four games against the two-time defending AL West champion Angels, is its young and inexperienced starting rotation.

The most significant injury of the spring was suffered by ace right-hander Justin Duchscherer, who will submit to arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right elbow early next week and won't be ready to pitch until mid-May at the earliest. Without Duchscherer, their lone 2008 All-Star, the A's likely will be counting on five starters who have made all of 80 big league starts combined.

"Losing Justin is a big blow, no question about it," A's manager Bob Geren said. "But we have a lot of young pitching talent, and we have a lot of faith in that talent."

The top young pitching talent in the organization is expected to be on display right off the bat this season, arriving earlier than expected. Left-hander Brett Anderson and righty Trevor Cahill, both 21, were among Oakland's best pitchers this spring.

Anderson, ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the game, and Cahill, ranked 11th on the same list, have yet to play above Double-A ball during the regular season. As such, they arrived at their first big league camp hoping merely to stick around a while and soak up as much knowledge as possible before being sent to Minor League camp.

"I didn't have any expectations as far as making the team," said Anderson, who spent most of last season at Class A Stockton. "I just came to pitch and let whatever happens, happen."

What happened? Anderson emerged as the best healthy starter on the team, posting a 2.25 ERA in six games through Sunday.

"He's really poised out there," said Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki. "You never know how young guys are going to respond to certain situations, especially when things go bad, but Brett's super-calm out there."

Said Geren: "He seems to know he belongs here."

Cahill, who made 13 starts at Stockton and six at Double-A Midland last season, is similarly stoic. His ERA through Sunday was 4.95, but Geren said stats don't tell the whole story.

"He's pitched better than [4.95], that's for sure," said the skipper. "His first few outings, he just dominated, and he dominated some pretty good big league hitters. He's given up some runs late in camp, and he certainly has some things he needs to work on, but I'm comfortable giving him the ball."

Anderson and Cahill, who were teammates last year at Stockton, on the U.S. team at the All-Star Futures Game in New York and on Team USA at the Beijing Olympics, steadfastly have avoided any talk of being big league teammates this year for much of the spring. Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who acquired Anderson in the deal that sent Dan Haren to Arizona and made Cahill a second-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, said during the offseason that they'd likely start the year as teammates at Triple-A Sacramento.

"That's what I was expecting all along," Cahill said. "But it [recently] hit me, like 'Oh, wow. I'm still here. I'm still starting.'"

Geren hasn't yet announced his rotation, and he said he probably won't until the day before the season starts, but it's expected to include lefties Dallas Braden and Dana Eveland, both 25, and righty Sean Gallagher, 23.

Braden, who's in line to start on Opening Night, made 10 starts for the A's in 2008, going 4-4 with a 3.97 ERA. He's not a "stuff" guy like Anderson, Cahill and Gallagher, but he embodies the approach Geren has instructed all of his pitchers to take into the season.

"They told us to pound the zone, throw strikes, work fast, get in and get out," said Braden, who also made nine relief appearances last season. "That's always been the way I've tried to pitch, anyway, but they're really emphasizing it to everyone."

Eveland, who went 9-9 with a 4.34 ERA in 29 starts last season, is the most experienced member of the projected rotation, but he's well aware he has much to prove.

"They're young and inexperienced, but they're also pretty gifted."
-- Bob Geren, on
the A's starters

"Last year was the first time I've been in a big league rotation the whole year, and I learned a lot," Eveland said. "But I still have a lot to learn. I think we all do. And that's kind of what's exciting about having such a young staff. We can all grow together."

The A's think Gallagher, acquired in the trade that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs last summer, can grow into a top-of-the-rotation rock. He went 2-3 with a 5.88 ERA in 11 starts after the trade, but he was pitching through a dead arm in several of those outings and spent time on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue.

"He's got all the talent in the world," said pitching coach Curt Young. "When he puts it all together, he's got a chance to be someone people will be talking about."

For now, people are talking about the Oakland rotation's youth and inexperience. And Geren doesn't mind one bit.

"That's fine," he said. "With guys like Holliday and Giambi and our other big-name players, they're going to get most of the attention because everyone knows about them and what they've done. But I think our pitchers, if they stick to the plan and do what we're asking of them, have a chance to earn some attention, too.

"They're young and inexperienced, but they're also pretty gifted."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.