PHOENIX -- A.J. Griffin isn't carrying so much baggage around these days.
Not only did he drop 15 pounds over the offseason, the A's right-hander has also ditched the cutter that got him into trouble one too many times last year.
Griffin's numbers tell a different story, but that's only because his cutter was often mistaken for a fastball since it wasn't breaking like he wanted. More importantly, the cutter led to a significant amount of wear and tear on his elbow, and it was an elbow injury that kept Griffin off the A's postseason roster.
"I'd be throwing four innings and say, 'Wow, this isn't feeling right,' as I was going out for the fifth inning," he said. "It just progressively felt more and more like a dead arm. I was still throwing my fastball hard, but it wasn't feeling very good."
Griffin will keep the cutter tucked deep in his pocket, but he only plans to reach for it again should he not get what he wants from a revitalized changeup, which he featured prominently against right-handers in his Cactus League debut on Monday, a 7-3 win against the Dodgers.
The 26-year-old starter allowed two runs on four hits with no walks and two strikeouts in the two-inning performance, getting too much of the upper zone at times but showcasing good action on all of his pitches and coming out of the outing feeling stronger than ever.
Griffin was most proud of his changeup, which hasn't been much of a factor for him since joining the big league roster in 2012 because of ongoing struggles to finish it. In turn, he lost conviction in the pitch, and he was in the process of learning the cutter, anyway. So he got away from it -- temporarily.
"In the Minor Leagues, that was like my bread-and-butter pitch," he said. "I could throw it any time, in any count, and be able to get a strike or throw it where I wanted to. I'm more of a command guy, anyway, so if I can get my fastball and changeup on the same plane, throwing more aligned, it's a good combination to have, so I'm looking forward to improving that pitch a little more on what it already is and mixing it in a little more.
"I feel like if I get that changeup going, I'm not going to miss the cutter too much. That was the pitch that wasn't my best and I got hurt on a bit too last year. If we get the other three going and have time to play with the other one and my arm's feeling great and all, we can use it as a backup."
"It'll depend on how much he uses his changeup," added manager Bob Melvin. "The cutter's a pitch he struggled with some, whether it was a slider or a cutter, he was trying to find the right break for it, so not a bad idea to add a changeup off his fastball."
Griffin was the only A's pitcher to reach the 200-innings plateau last year, doing it in 32 starts while compiling a 3.83 ERA in his first full season in the Majors. He ranked fourth in the American League in opponents' on-base percentage (.280) and fifth in batting average (.226), but he also surrendered a Major League-leading 36 home runs, the fourth highest total in Oakland history.
According to brooksbaseball.net, 26 of them were hit off a fastball -- many of which were breaking pitches, like the cutter, that simply didn't break.
"It was like an 85-mph thing that didn't move," said Griffin. "It wasn't too good.
"It was a pitch I had never thrown for 23 years, and then I learned it and my muscles just weren't used to it. I probably just throw it wrong or something. I got a good grip on it and stuff, but I probably was trying to do too much and causing problems on my elbow. I was snapping it off instead of just throwing it like my fastball. It was my fourth-best pitch and I didn't have much conviction in it anyway, so when I'd get that sign, I'd be like, 'We have to make this one good,' and then overthrow it and do dumb stuff."
Griffin said the decision to put it aside was his own, though he smiled and said, 'I don't think [pitching coach] Curt [Young] is big on it either." He also chose to move his offseason residence from San Diego to Phoenix, in part to keep close to A's strength and conditioning coaches.
The 6-foot-5 righty is down from 250 pounds to 230.
"I'm still not very small," he said, laughing, "but I can tell it's paying off. I wasn't tired at all today. I just feel all-around better. It's exciting. I'm in a lot better shape, and everything is more positive this year. I feel I'll be better prepared for the entire season."