Pomeranz's Role In Oakland Likely To Evolve

OAKLAND - If the Oakland A's need another starting pitcher at some point this season, they may not have far to look for that starter. Current longman Drew Pomeranz has been impressive in limited outings thus far this season, and his future could be taking the hill every fifth day for the green-and-gold later this year.

There's an inherent pressure that comes along with being a top prospect moved in a trade for a high-profile major-league veteran. For Drew Pomeranz, that pressure isn't anything new. He's experienced it twice.

The Oakland A's acquired Pomeranz over the winter in exchange for former ace Brett Anderson in a trade with the Colorado Rockies. In 2011, he was apart of the package the Cleveland Indians sent to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez.

The knock on Pomeranz, taken with the fifth-overall pick in 2010 by the Indians, has been his inability to translate his minor league successes to the big leagues. Now pitching out of the bullpen with the Oakland A's, he's trying to change that perception.

Given the way the A's have operated while winning two straight division titles, it has become apparent the A's have had no problems turning other organization's players into key contributors.

"[This was the)] second time I've been traded so it's kind of, I'm used to it. It's more about getting to know these guys," Pomeranz said. "We got a lot of good guys on this team so it's fun to go out and play with them every day."

His batterymate Derek Norris knows what Pomeranz is going through during his first season with a new club. Norris was acquired by the A's for another talented lefty -- Gio Gonzalez -- in a trade with the Washington Nationals. Norris said he didn't have to pass on advice to Pomeranz on making the transition because it simply wasn't necessary.

"With the group of guys that we have the transition for me was really easy," Norris said. "We've got a great group of guys. Almost like welcoming you in with open arms.

"It's good for you to be here. It's not like ‘we're both lefties in the bullpen, no way we're going to be friends.' There's nothing like that going on. And I think that's what makes it so easy. The group of guys that we have are very welcoming and accepting. The new guys that we have come in because our whole goal is based on the team concept and that's what makes it so easy."

Oakland's starting lineup in Wednesday's series finale against the Texas Rangers featured just one player drafted by the organization: starting pitcher Sonny Gray. It has become commonplace for the team to find it's core players in other organizations. Pomeranz has a chance to become the next cornerstone A's player acquired in a trade who was once another organization's prized prospect.

Currently the long man in the A's bullpen, Pomeranz has received scant work of late, but he has been effective so far in 2014. He's appeared in six games in relief allowing just four hits in 8.1 frames. Teams have scored on him in just two of his appearances, both of which came via home runs. However, until he tossed an inning in the A's loss on Wednesday, Pomeranz hadn't pitched since April 16. For a former starter (he hopes to turn back into a starter at some point, perhaps soon), his role as a reliever is a difficult one.

"That's the toughest role because you always have to have somebody for length whether it's an early-game assignment or it's after the ninth inning game assignment where you need somebody to give you length beyond - no telling where the games going to go or how many innings," manager Bob Melvin said.

"But he's handled it well. He really did a nice job for us every time that he's been in there. I think it's been six days that he's pitched which makes it difficult. But that's the role he's in. The stuff that we saw in spring training was terrific."

Pomeranz tossed a scoreless inning on Wednesday and struck-out the Rangers' two best hitters -- Alex Rios and Prince Fielder.

It's early in the season, but the A's could have reason to be concerned about a few aspects of their pitching staff. Their number four and five starters Dan Straily and Tommy Milone have FIPs of 5.05 and 4.32, respectively. In addition, the bullpen already has six blown saves. Despite being swept at home by the Rangers in a series that saw them start Straily and Milone and blow two leads late, Oakland's 13 wins are second-most in the American League.

With Jarrod Parker out for the year and A.J. Griffin yet to resume his throwing program after injuring his elbow in spring training, the A's are hurting for depth in the starting rotation. Pomeranz could be candidate to move into the rotation if he continues to throw well. If that happens, it's likely the A's would need to send Pomeranz down to Triple-A to get stretched out.

The question becomes whether or not Pomeranz can translate his success as a reliever into a starting role in the big leagues. As a starter in the minors, the left-hander has a 2.97 ERA in 46 games. But 30 major league starts, he's 4-14 with a 5.40 ERA (all of those starts came with the Rockies).

It's clear the A's want to get Pomeranz in the starting rotation at some point, as Pomeranz has arguably the best stuff of any left-hander in the A's organization. The key now will be harnessing a change up that's becoming more of a viable third pitch for the former first-round pick.

"When he locates with velocity with his fastball and he's locating with that, he's very tough," Norriz said. "Going with that big curveball - he's getting a better feel with his change-up.

"Ultimately I could see him in a starter role at some point. But right now he serves us best with where's at now and that's in the bullpen, coming in important situations and shutting down some lefties."

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