Pitching out West (AL)

Dave Cameron on a couple of burning questions ...

    The A's may finally have a rotation.
    After cycling through pitchers all year, the young hurlers currently in the Oakland rotation want to stay put. Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Josh Outman, Dallas Braden, and Vin Mazzaro combined to throw 46 innings last week, giving up 35 hits and walking just seven batters while striking out 26 guys. They allowed just eight runs between them, for a nifty 1.56 runs allowed per nine innings. They obviously won't keep pitching that well, but Oakland built their preseason hopes on a young pitching staff developing quickly, and they had to enjoy this week's performance.

    Jarrod Washburn continues to shine.

    Early in the season, my buddy Jonah Keri wrote a piece claiming that Washburn might be this season's Cliff Lee, pointing to a greatly improved outfield defense that would help him have a significantly better year than many expected. So far, he looks like a genius, as Washburn continued to roll last week and is having the best season of his career. After two more excellent starts, his season ERA stands at 3.07, and while he's gotten help from Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Endy Chavez, he's also just pitching really well - his FIP stands at 3.39. He's added a two-seam fastball that is destroying left-handers (LHBs are 11 for 78 with 3 walks and 26 strikeouts against him this year), and by dominating same-handed hitters, he's doing a halfway-decent Cliff Lee impersonation.

Cameron follows the M's closely, so if he says Washburn's added a two-seam fastball, he probably has. That said, I'm just a little bit skeptical about Washburn's continued success, if only because if it were easy for a 34-year-old pitcher to turn his career around by adding one variation of a pitch he throws already, more of them would do it. But Washburn's striking out more batters while giving up fewer walks and homers, and at some point we have to take his performance at least semi-seriously.
Meanwhile, for the Athletics the progress does seem encouraging. I've been documenting the struggles of the young starters this spring -- and I have to admit that at one point I almost suggested that their pitching coach be fired -- but they now have two starters with K/BB ratios better than two, and another who's close. Cahill's overall numbers are still a mess, but in his last four starts he's struck out 18 and walked four. And Mazzaro, who struck out one and walked four in his first start, struck out four and walked none in his second start.

Even on the heels of a six-game winning streak, the A's are seven-and-a-half games out of first place. But if three of their young pitchers can grow a bit more, they still have a shot at getting back into contention.