Bay Area Baseball

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October 1, 2013
Melvin sets, explains A's rotation for ALDS

OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin laid out his ALDS rotation today with one slight surprise and one notable omission. It'll be Bartolo Colon in Game 1, followed by rookie Sonny Gray in Game 2, Jarrod Parker in Game 3 in Detroit and Dan Straily in a potential Game 4 if necessary.

Missing from that group, of course, is A.J. Griffin, who has been dealing with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. Melvin said a recent X-ray on Griffin's shoulder showed no structural damage, and Griffin said he feels he could pitch in this series and intended to before being informed today that he won't be on the roster.

But Melvin said the A's want to be "cautious" with Griffin, who logged a team-high 200 innings this season while ranking second on the team in wins (14) and ERA (3.83).

"It's continuing and not getting any better -- it's actually getting a little worse at times," Melvin said. "It has been bothering him a little bit when he starts and then loosens up during the game, and then gets a little bit sore again toward the end. At this point in the season we would like to see it getting considerably better each and every time, and it hasn't. So we feel like he needs this break."

Griffin termed the tightness in his elbow "semi-manageable" but "really uncomfortable." He said it's something he has dealt with most seasons since high school.

"Not upset, just kind of bummed," Griffin said. "It's not really my decision. Just kind of accepted it. Now the goal is just to do whatever I can to get it better."

It kept Melvin from having to make a tough decision on whether to omit Griffin or Straily from the opening-round rotation. As for opting to have Gray start Game 2, Melvin said it seemed preferable to have Parker pitch on the road in Detroit, where Parker started both Games 1 and 5 of last year's ALDS as a rookie.

Gray, who has 10 major-league starts since debuting in July, also had fairly sharp home-road splits, posting a 1.99 ERA at the Coliseum and a 3.86 on the road.

"That factors in maybe a little bit," Melvin said. "But I think just more the comfortability. He pitched in the game when we clinched (the A.L. West) here in front of a big crowd. ... Jarrod has pitched in conditions like pitching in Detroit in the first game (last year)."

The set-up means that Gray will oppose the Tigers' Justin Verlander, who last year beat the A's twice in the ALDS. Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced Tuesday his rotation will go 21-game winner Max Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.

After starting rookies in each of the first two games last year in Detroit, Melvin this time can open with the experienced Colon, who sat out last year's playoffs under his 50-game drug suspension. Colon returned to win 18 games with the league's second-lowest ERA (2.65). Melvin was asked what kind of difference having Colon this year might make.

"Well, we'll see," Melvin said. "But we have that veteran presence that's going to lead us off. We didn't have that last year, even though our guys were well-suited to perform regardless."

Colon was asked the same question and demurred, but acknowledged it was "really important for me" to draw the Game 1 start after missing the playoffs last year. First baseman Brandon Moss suggested that Colon's style of pitching could benefit the A's amid the intensity of a series opener.

"He's going to make them put the ball in play," Moss said. "I think with a guy like him that throws as many strikes as he does and as many ground balls as he does and works as fast as he does, maybe that can keep guys from putting together a big inning. Because if you get those guys rolling, it's really hard to stop."

Colon said he thinks he'll benefit from the extra rest between his last start of the regular season in Seattle and Friday -- six days. Parker will have had an even longer layoff when he takes the mound in Detroit -- eight days -- and said he welcomes the break and will likely throw one extended bullpen session to stay sharp.

"It feels about like it did last year (at this point)," Parker said of his arm. "You get to that point in the year where you don't' really care how you feel. It's postseason baseball, you're going to get up and you're going to feel good no matter what."

As for pitching on the road again, Parker said he "(doesn't) mind it." Parker also said he doesn't think the A's need to worry about Gray being overwhelmed by the moment when he takes the mound Saturday.

"He's not a guy that you worry about getting too emotionally high or worrying about a crowd or something like that," Parker said. "He's a guy that's been in big situations, played in the SEC, played in the College World Series. And I think he's going to pull from that kind of stuff and be able to put it into Game 2."

Do the SEC and the College World Series compare? Parker argued: "They're big when you're in them."

Straily, meanwhile, had some of his better outings down the stretch as the A's won five of his final six starts. Melvin said Straily would have merited consideration for an ALDS start even if Griffin hadn't been deemed unavailable.

"I think there's always that hope in the back of your mind, but at the same time I didn't expect anything," said Straily, who finished his rookie season 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 152 1/3 innings. "Definitely just really hoped to get out there and get an opportunity to pitch in the postseason."

Gray had a similar reaction: "It's exciting," he said. "I'm just excited to get the opportunity to pitch."

Despite Griffin's absence, this series pits arguably the A.L.'s top two starting rotations against each other. The Tigers' starters led the league in ERA (3.44) and strikeouts (981), while the A's posted the second-lowest ERA (3.72) and edged Detroit for the lowest rate of walks and hits allowed per inning (1.21).

Colon was asked how the two rotations stack up and said: "Everybody thinks Detroit has better starting guys than we do. But who knows? This is the playoffs, and we'll see what's going on."

Added Melvin: "You look at the numbers, they probably have the best rotation. But we don't really look at it as a five-game snapshot. We look more at who's matching up on a particular day and what our chances are to win that particular day. And I like our chances every day."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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