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…