Fifth starter competition still going strong

For about 30 seconds today, I thought the battle for the fifth starter competition was done. Dead. Finished. Not by an out-dueling performance, but rather by default.

Gio Gonzalez silenced the press box during the first inning of Monday’s game when he signaled for a trainer with a 3-1 count against Franklin Gutierrez with a runner on first and one out. Gonzalez was also joined by manager Bob Geren, battery mate Jake Fox and the umpire, as he appeared to rub his eyes. He was then given a glass of water before he went back to work and managed to force an inning-ending double play ball. Furthermore, he went on to toss 6 1/3 innings of solid three-hit ball while allowing just one run (on a wild pitch) and walking three and striking out four.

So the big question of the day involved the contents of the mentioned cup of water. Turns out Gonzalez experienced a sudden migraine and simply popped two Tylenol to take care of what he described as an “explosion in my brain.”

“My right eye just started closing in on me,” he said. “They were telling me it was going to take 15 minutes for the aspirin to kick in, but I said with the adrenaline I have right now, it will probably take less than two minutes.”

Try two seconds. Gonzalez looked like a completely different pitcher after the unusual visit and quickly disregarded any thought I conjured about him surrendering the rotation spot to Trevor Cahill. He said he had never experienced any sort of migraine and was surprised by its sudden presence.

“I felt fine in the bullpen and warming up,” he said, “and then after that first pitch to Ichiro it was like ‘woah.’ That was definitely a first for me.”

Gonzalez followed up the first with a 1-2-3 second, including strikeouts to Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey Jr., before allowing Rob Johnson to score in the third on the wild pitch and loading the bases in the fourth. However, he got Griffey to pop out and then forced a double play groundball off the bat of Jose Lopez to escape the jam.

“That was huge,” he said. “It was after that my confidence just skyrocketed, and I started throwing first pitch strikes to everyone. I was excited about that, and it felt like 100 pounds lifted off my shoulder.”

Gonzalez said he relied mainly on his fastball Monday while also getting a little work in on his changeup. He also kept in mind what he called the famous words of Joey Devine: “Let it eat.”

“So that’s exactly what I was doing,” he said.

Gonzalez is well aware of the rotation situation and hopes his impressive string of spring starts continues to make Geren’s decision a difficult one.

“I did enough to show them that I’m ready and that I feel great and feel strong,” he said. “The decision is up to them. I’m just grateful to be throwing a baseball and feel healthy.”

At the beginning of the game, Gonzalez appeared slightly nervous — but rightfully so, considering he’s on the roster bubble with seven days before Opening Night. After the game, though, he was just…Gio. He even joked about the Tylenol interruption.
 
“I’m going to do a commercial for them,” he said with a smile. “I really had it all planned out. That was all a commercial stunt, guys.”

Meanwhile, Cahill made a start in a Triple-A game over at the A’s Minor League complex. He said he gave up two runs — including a homer — in six innings and basically described his outing as “nothing great, nothing bad.”

Like Gonzalez, he’s been fine tuning his changeup all spring and mentioned it’s still not working as well as last year but sees it coming around pretty quickly.

In general, Cahill evokes a much more relaxed personality than Gonzalez, and it definitely shows on and off the mound. They’re two very completely different pitchers, and I think that’s what’s making this competition so much fun to watch. It seems the general consensus is that Gonzalez boasts the best natural stuff of the two — possibly even of the entire staff — but just can’t keep his composure and command in check to bring it out consistently. Then there’s Cahill, who has a devastating sinker but otherwise average stuff. Yet the maturity and composure he brings with him to the mound, especially at the age of 22, elevates that average stuff to a different level.

In my mind, Cahill had the edge entering camp — and still does. But I have to say Gonzalez is very much still in the mix and is greatly impressing the club right now. I also can’t see him starting the year at Triple-A — he’s too good for that. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine the A’s keeping him in the bullpen. So now it’s just a wait-and-see type thing, and you can bet Geren won’t make an announcement until he absolutely has to this weekend.

No word on whether Gonzalez or Cahill will start the game Saturday in Oakland, but they’ll both presumably be pitching then against the visiting Giants. Curious to hear your thoughts on which one will be starting against the Angels in Anaheim on April 9…  

7 Comments

First of all Jane, I love your writing, it’s a refreshing change to have stuff on the website really worth reading. I personally started writing for bleacherreport.com about the A’s and enjoy it immensely.

I think the battle between Gonzalez and Cahill is really compelling. Gonzalez has really wowed me and I’d like to see him handed the job. As you mentioned, he’s too good for AAA. Gio’s composure has a ways to go, but it’s still come a long way. Since the rest of Cahill’s stuff is really “average”, I’d like to see him start at AAA and try to turn at least one more pitch into a plus pitch. Chances are, Cahill won’t have to spend much time there anyway.

I’m just wondering when the A’s will bow to the fact that they have more than five guys qualified to start, plus a bullpen that might need some days off if the injuries continue, and set a six-man rotation.

Another option would be to start Duke on the Disabled List and let him get stretched out, and let both Gio and Cahill start. And if Duke turns out to be healthy, ans Sheets and Braden don’t go down, then that gives you that much longer to evaluate Cahill and Gio.

Tough call either way. Both are too good for AAA but neither one has really separated himself from the other. I’ve been leaning towards Cahill all spring, but I think I’m flip floppin here.

The logic behind the change of heart is that everywhere Gio has been, every year he’s been forced to repeat a level twice and been held back some b/c of the issues with his mound composure so I say toss him a bone here and say you wanted it, you got it for now but Cahill isn’t going anywhere.

On the flip side of it, Cahill has cruised through the minors with little holding him back and this will be an even bigger test of character than getting lit up the way he did last season. A message that “nothing great, nothing bad” isn’t going to cut it at the big league level so go down and dominate AAA and force your way back to the show.

I have an unimportant question. During the season, would a pitcher be allowed to get a drink of water/take medication during a manager/trainer visit to the mound? Just wondering.

Jane,have been checking out your work with Mimi and you are doing a fabulous job as we knew you would. Keep it up and we look forward to seeing you when the A’s come to Cleveland. Terry

Mimi and I love your work and look forward to seeing you in Cleveland. Terry

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