A's try to finish road trip strong in Seattle

All of a sudden, the once surging Athletics are back to the .500-mark after suffering a four-game sweep in Cleveland. The team continues its season-long road trip back on the west coast, taking on the Mariners for three games before finally returning home to Oakland.

April 29th's 19-inning game against the Angels has become a major turning point early in the season for the A's. Although they squeaked out a win in the wee hours, the injuries suffered have had significant ramifications. Prior to that game, Oakland was hitting .254/.346/.421 as a team. Since then, those numbers have fell to .228/.324/.346 with a record of 4-6.

While injuries are never a welcome sight, it remains far too early to draw major conclusions on this version of the A's. Missing three of team's top-four outfielders, Coco Crisp, Chris Young and most recently Josh Reddick – who went back on the DL to deal with his reoccurring wrist issue – means the team was likely to hit a rough patch.

Also, allowing Brett Anderson to have time off to recoup from his ankle sprain should yield dividends. The offense has been great this season for the A's – the team still leads baseball in runs despite scoring just eight times in the four games in Cleveland. It's been the starting pitching that remains the club's major bugaboo so far.

It's been reported that Jarrod Parker left his most recent start with a neck strain, which in a way is a good sign for the A's. Given his 2012 season and the fact he hadn't been stretched to that extent since undergoing "Tommy John" surgery in 2010, Parker's early-season struggles could have been sourced by arm fatigue. A neck strain is a much more mild problem and could be resolved by getting skipped in the rotation or being placed on the disabled list retroactive to Monday's start in Cleveland.

If Oakland can take these few weeks to get the top of the rotation completely healthy, that will be a huge step forward heading into the summer months.

A product of all the injuries to outfielders has been the promotion of Daric Barton back to the major leagues. Barton was having an outstanding season with Triple-A Sacramento both at the plate and in the field and is given the opportunity to reassert himself as a major league player. Injuries and varying circumstances have hurt Barton over the last few seasons, but it should be remembered that in 2010 he was arguably the team's most valuable player, getting on base at a .393 clip with a WAR of 4.8.

Barton's promotion has forced the Athletics to undergo a sizeable transformation to the 25-man roster. Brandon Moss has moved back to the outfield, Yoenis Cespedes has moved back to center, and Luke Montz becomes the team's third catching option with the flexibility to play first base and DH. Nate Freiman is also still in the fold.

The Mariners (16-19) are returning home after a 3-2 road trip in Toronto and Pittsburgh and are in the midst of a nice 8-4 stretch. The team's pitching staff has been very good, allowing an ERA of 2.97 and 90 hits in the last 106 innings.

Friday night's first game will have Dan Straily (1-0, 5.94 ERA) take on Hisashi Iwakuma (3-1, 1.61 ERA). Straily is coming off a decent start in New York where he allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in the team's 5-4 win. He threw just 85 pitches, allowing 11 fly balls to four on the ground.

Outside of his first start of the year Houston, Straily is still looking to get comfortable in the big leagues. Friday's start will be his third in the club's rotation meaning he should begin to feel more comfortable. The key for Straily, as always, is fastball command and staying out of the big part of the strike zone, where his four-seam fastball is very hittable.

With Triple-A Sacramento earlier this season, Straily mentioned that his stuff wasn't as explosive as it's been in the past, but he felt progression in that department each time out.

Iwakuma is off to a tremendous start to 2013 and has been one of the best starters in the American League so far. His ERA is good for fourth and he's allowed a microscopic .166 average against. His walk rate is below two per-nine-innings. His .191 BABIP signals he's due for natural regression as the season goes along, but his deception and pitch variation should help prevent that.

Saturday's game will feature Parker (1-5, 7.34) and Brandon Maurer (2-4, 6.07). Maurer – the 22-year-old rookie - will be pitching on pitching on 10 days' rest after getting skipped in the rotation following his poor start against the Orioles. He lasted just four innings and allowed four earned runs.

The Mariners clearly think highly of the young right-hander, having promoted him to the big leagues after never pitching in Triple-A. With Double-A Jackson last year, he went 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA, allowing 133 hits in 137.2 innings with a 1.32 WHIP. Maurer throws mostly fastballs and hard sliders while mixing in curves and changeups.

Assuming Parker is healthy enough to make his next start and his turn isn't taken by Sonny Gray, he'll be looking to bounce back after a rough start in Cleveland where he allowed four homers to the powerful Indians' lineup. If the club decides to give him a rest, there's a chance Sonny Gray could make his Major League debut while the team could demote a position if Parker doesn't hit the disabled list.

Sunday's contest will have a pair of lefties in Tommy Milone (3-4, 3.13) and Joe Saunders (2-4, 6.15). Milone's continued to throw better at home than on the road, but pitching in Seattle should resemble pitching in Oakland closely. He pitched well against the Mariners in his first start of the year, notching his first victory by throwing seven innings of four-hit ball, allowing a pair of earned runs.

In his brief career, Milone is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA at Safeco Field.

Saunders is coming off a rough start against the Blue Jays, where he allowed seven earned runs in just five innings. It was his third start in which he allowed seven or more earned runs, but he's also had three starts allowing two or less. Saunders was Milone's opponent in the April 3 game the A's won 6-2.

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