Can Figueroa Figure Into A's Plans?

WEST SACRAMENTO - Hard-throwing left-handers are a relatively rare commodity. The Oakland A's have one pitching in Triple-A Sacramento who could factor for the team down the stretch. Pedro Figueroa has had his ups-and-downs this season, but River Cats' pitching coach Rick Rodriguez believes Figueroa is on the right track.

There's little doubt one of the most electric arms in the Oakland A's organization belongs to left-handed reliever Pedro Figueroa. With Jerry Blevins struggling, might the A's call on Figueroa at some point down the road?

"Oh yeah, especially if they're looking to get a lefty out," Sacramento pitching Rick Rodriguez said.

"He's been doing pretty darn well against them. He's starting to understand he needs to come in and pound the 'zone and throw strikes right off the get go, whether it's a lefty or righty. His slider has improved."

Left-handers are hitting just .203 against him for the year (through Wednesday), but have reached base at a .337 clip due to high walk totals. Figueroa's K:BB rate against lefties is 21:13.

In his 19-game major league stint in 2012, Figueroa had a 3.32 ERA over 21.2 innings while showcasing his electric stuff, including a mid-90s fastball and slider that breaks off at 88. But the problem, as has been throughout his entire pro career, was his command. He struck out 14 hitters with the A's, but walked 15.

"He had the Tommy John, he was coming back and he was trying to re-learn his delivery," Rodriguez said. "Last year he made it up to the big leagues and he threw pretty darn well up there while he was still trying to find his delivery. His command, to me, it's not too bad. If he misses, he's just missing."

Harnessing Figueroa's stuff and finding consistency in his mechanics has been the primary objective for Rodriguez, who was Figueroa's bullpen coach with the A's last year.

After a very rough start to the season with the River Cats (7.84 ERA in April), Figueroa's numbers have improved significantly. Over his last 29.2 innings, he has posted a 3.34 ERA. However, his K:BB rate was just 25:18, which will likely prevent him from getting the call to Oakland without drastic improvement.

"Basically in the beginning of the year it was more of a mechanical issue. He lowered his hands, basically," Rodriguez said. "We looked at his tape from last year and that's what he was doing in the big leagues. We adjusted that and it got him back to where he should be. We've done a lot of work on the side with him."

Rodriguez remains optimistic about the former starter, and confirmed the A's had some initial interest in developing him in that role, but decided his quickest path the big leagues would come as a reliever.

Hideki Okajima has been solid for the River Cats since being demoted from Oakland on June 15 and will also be an option. Figueroa will always garner consideration because of his outstanding stuff. If he runs into a streak of low walk totals, he could find himself back with the A's. Otherwise, he could get the call when rosters expand in September, giving the A's something to think about should they remain in the playoff hunt.

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