Bobby Cramer came into spring training with a legitimate chance to win the A's fifth starter spot and he was one of the final three pitchers considered for the job. Although it was announced on Saturday that Brandon McCarthy would be the A's fifth starter at the outset of the season, Cramer, along with Tyson Ross, made it a tough competition. He had one bad start in which he allowed eight runs in three innings, but in his other five appearances, Cramer gave up only three runs in 10.2 innings.
Cramer came into camp feeling at the top of his game and he credits his off-season preparation.
"It was a great off-season. For the first time in my career, I didn't have to work," Cramer said before Friday's game.
"There were times during past off-seasons when I was working and I'd be so tired at the end of the day that the last thing I wanted to do was workout. This off-season I could concentrate just on getting ready which was huge."
Although McCarthy has won the fifth starter spot, Cramer is still in the running for a place on the A's Opening Day roster as a reliever. He pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in relief of McCarthy on Friday and he is scheduled to start the A's Cactus League finale on Sunday to see how he responds with only one day of rest.
Cramer was primarily a reliever when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays organization in 2003 and 2004, but since signing with Oakland in 2007, he has mostly been a starter. Cramer admits that he prefers starting but feels he can be successful as a reliever, as well.
"It's been so long since I've been a reliever but I had success as a reliever, too. When I came back with Oakland in '07 I threw out of the ‘pen a few times and did well, so it's something that I am used to doing," Cramer said.
Last season, Cramer went 15-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 169.2 innings for the Quintana Roo of the Mexican Summer League (a Triple-A equivalent) and Triple-A Sacramento and then went on to post a 3.04 ERA in four starts with the A's. Despite that success, Cramer believes he can reach another level of performance if he can ever perfect the pitch that has bedeviled him since turning pro: the change-up.
"I still haven't given up hope on the change-up, especially with Oakland [as] they have been expressing the importance of it since I got here. I've been able to get away without it but I'm seeing the effects of not having it up here," Cramer said.
"My release point and motion are not that conducive to develop that pitch as well as other guys can. I really have to try extra hard. It's hit or miss. Sometimes I'll throw a really good one, but from a comfort perspective, I'm still trying to get there. I'm going to keep trying because I know that that is the difference, whether I am in the ‘pen or as a starter in the major leagues, I'm going to want to have that working for me."
The A's major league pitching coach [Ron Romanick] and bullpen coach [Rick Rodriguez] both worked with Cramer while he was in Oakland's minor league system and Cramer takes comfort in the fact that both of them know his strengths.
"I was just talking with Ronnie the other day and he was talking about the importance of getting that change-up going again. It's nothing that I haven't heard from him or other folks before but at the same time, he knows that I am capable of getting outs with my other pitches. He just wants to see me take it to another level," Cramer said.
"He's not going to send me to extended and bury me in Rookie ball until I figure this out. He's working with me. It's nice in that sense. They know what I've got and what I can do and they are working with me."
On Friday, Cramer pitched 1.2 innings against the team he grew up rooting for, the Angels. One of the biggest highlights of Cramer's career came last year against the Angels when he made a start at Angels Stadium in Anaheim in front of more than 300 friends and family members. Cramer allowed only one earned run in 6.2 innings in that start and he got to tip his cap to his family as he walked off of the field.
"It was awesome. We play this game as kids dreaming about it. In little league, you dream about it, but you are not really thinking about the day it really happens. You aren't going to games as a 10-year-old picturing yourself out on the field. When you get to high school or college, you do go to games and picture yourself out there on the field," Cramer said.
"I've been going [to Angels Stadium] for a long time picturing myself out on that field, wishing and hoping. To actually take that mound, not that it was for the Angels, but pitching against them was just as sweet as playing for them. It was nice having everyone there."
With less than a week left of spring training remaining, Cramer is making a final push to have a repeat appearance at Angels Stadium – and other ballparks around the majors – at some point this season.