Thus far this season, the Oakland A's starting pitching has been up and down. A case can be made that the best performance from an A's starter to date came from a player currently pitching in Triple-A.
Dan Straily's 11-strikeout performance over 6.2 innings in Houston on April 5 gave Oakland an early season high-mark for whiffs by a starting pitcher. Considering A's starters had combined for a 4.47 ERA coming into Wednesday afternoon's tilt against the Astros, it could appear Straily is being done a disservice by being cast to Triple-A.
"If you had the chance to go fill in your dream job, you'd take it as an opportunity," Straily said. "There's no security, there's just opportunities and that definitely plays into my situation. I feel like I took advantage of my opportunity and I knew I needed to."
After making seven starts with the A's last year, the right-hander began 2013 by taking the place of veteran hurler Bartolo Colon for one turn in the rotation. Colon was serving the remaining five games of his 50-game suspension from last summer.
So far in two starts for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Straily has allowed just two earned runs in 12.2 innings. His 16 strikeouts remain in line with the monstrous numbers he put up last season as he rocketed up the organizational depth chart all the way from Double-A Midland.
"I've seen plenty of guys go up and come back down and be upset about it," Straily said. "So I made a focus of myself this week to enjoy myself here."
The former 24th-round pick in 2009 came to the A's with modest expectations. He could only throw a fastball, he said, and never struck out more than eight hitters in a game. Last season in the minors, he averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, a ratio on par with some of the best strikeout pitchers in all of baseball. He credited Oakland's program for helping him learn to throw four pitches and getting him to where he is now.
But when Straily made it to the big leagues last summer, he didn't have the same explosive stuff that got him there. He allowed 11 home runs in seven starts leading to a 6.48 FIP that drowned out his modest 3.89 ERA.
"It was kind of a reality check and I came in this year with a much better idea of how to pitch in to guys, move guys off the plate," Straily said. "That's something you have to do. And I never really realized it. I got away without doing that for 160 innings last year ... I came down here and they told me to pitch every game like I was up there."
Straily said to prepare for the season, he started his throwing program a month later than usual in order to improve his stamina for the long haul. While his arm feels good - as evidenced by his strong start - his typically explosive repertoire isn't quite where he wants it yet.
"The fastball [velocity] might be a little lower than I expected but I feel good," Straily said. "I feel ready to go and have a lot better command right now. I'm working on a two-seamer. I use that a lot. I'm trying to get more movement and not always try to overpower guys."
A's number two starter Jarrod Parker has allowed 23 hits in just 11.2 innings over his first three starts. While the A's haven't publicly said that Parker's job is in danger, he might be another poor start or two away from a demotion back to Sacramento to iron out his command issues. That would make Straily the obvious candidate for a promotion back to the big leagues, where he hopes to stick for the long run.