Oakland A's Camp Notes: Fifth Starters Compete

PHOENIX – On a day that was labeled as crucial in the competition for the fifth starter spot, Kirk Saarloos was a man who stood out. Saarloos tossed five shut-out innings against the "A" line-up for the Anaheim Angels, strengthening his case for the fifth starter spot in the A's rotation. The Oakland A's defeated the Angels, 6-2, in Tempe.

Seth Etherton had a mixed outing on Saturday, tossing three innings, allowing one earned run. However, he struggled with his control, allowing four walks. He did strike out five, including three straight with the bases loaded in the 8th inning. Etherton has struck out 15 batters in 15 innings this spring, but has also walked 10. It is clear that Etherton has the stuff to be successful in the rotation, but his control problems may cost him a rotation spot.

Kirk Saarloos, on the other hand, has impressed with his control this spring. Including his stellar performance on Saturday, Saarloos has now struck out nine in 12 innings pitched against only two walks. With the exception of a rough four-run, one-inning performance early in the spring, Saarloos has pitched 11 innings and has allowed only one run. Saarloos, unlike Etherton, has bullpen experience, so he could make the team either as a fifth starter or a 12th bullpen pitcher. Manager Ken Macha indicated on Friday that Saarloos would likely be in the bullpen only if Keiichi Yabu wins the fifth starter spot.

Yabu did not make a great case for himself for that fifth starter spot on Saturday. He was pounded in the "B" game against the San Francisco Giants. Yabu has struggled with his command in recent games, falling behind hitters regularly. The Japanese rookie may be struggling to adjust to the American-style of baseball. Shingo Takatsu, the Chicago White Sox closer, had a similar struggle during spring training last season, when he posted a 6.75 ERA. Takatsu recovered to post a 2.31 ERA and net 19 saves in 20 opportunities for the White Sox during the regular season. Yabu is all-but-guaranteed to make the A's roster either as a starter or a middle reliever. As of now, Yabu appears to be heading for the bullpen.

Rookie lefty Dan Meyer is also still in the running for the fifth starter spot. Meyer allowed four earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched on Thursday. The former Braves farmhand has a 8.15 ERA thus far this spring and he has allowed four homeruns. A decision on the final rotation spot should be made by the end of this week.

Other Notes:

Dan Johnson, Hiram Bocachica, Marco Scutaro and Jermaine Clark are continuing to make the decision on whether or not to carry 12 pitchers a difficult one for the A's. Johnson went 2-2 on Saturday and continued his spring-long stretch of play without a strike out. The PCL MVP is hitting .394 on the spring and is continuing to pressure the A's to keep him on the roster with his outstanding play both at the plate and around the first base bag.

Bocachica has been the A's hottest hitter over the past two weeks. The outfielder had a 1-2 day on Saturday, bringing his batting average up to .429. Utilityman Jermaine Clark hit a clutch, two-out, two-RBI triple in the 8th inning of Saturday's game and is now hitting roughly .300 for the spring. He has shown his versatility in the field by playing in both the infield and the outfield. Both Bocachica and Clark would bring speed and versatility to the A's bench should Oakland choose to keep 14 position players on the roster.

Fan-favorite Marco Scutaro is not giving up his roster spot without a fight. The Venezuelan infielder came into camp with an uphill battle ahead of him to stay on the A's roster. He still faces that challenge, as the A's are most likely to keep Keith Ginter and Mark Ellis ahead of Scutaro, but Scutaro has turned in a nice spring. He has played solid defense at multiple infield positions and has shown more patience at the plate than he did last season. If the A's choose not to keep Scutaro on the roster, he could become trade bait for a team looking for middle infield depth.

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