OPPORTUNITY IS ALL THESE GUYS NEEDED

It’s no surprise that A’s pitchers have played a prominent role in the team’s 5-3 start to the season. Stocked with an exceptional arsenal of quality arms, this Oakland club might even exceed the mound exploits of the past two AL West Division champions.

And while talent is a common trait, it’s also clear to me that virtually every one of our pitchers has benefitted greatly from one thing: opportunity.

  • Despite his relative youth and experience, A’s management has not played it safe with Sonny Gray.  He drew Game 2 and Game 5 starts against Detroit in last year’s ALDS, responding with a 2.08 ERA. This season, he was the Opening Day starter and has posted a 0.75 ERA in two starts.
  • Scott Kazmir, only two years removed from pitching in an Independent League, got the chance—the opportunity—to continue the resurrection of his career when Oakland signed him to a two-year free agent contract.   The crafty southpaw is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA thus far.
  • Jesse Chavez, who bounced around baseball as both a starter and reliever with six different organizations, got a rare opportunity to join the A’s starting rotation at age 30 this year and he’s seized it with a vengeance.   In mowing down the Twins for seven innings yesterday, the Human String Bean has chiseled out a 1.38 ERA in two starts this season.
  • Two seasons ago, the equal-opportunity A’s promoted Dan Straily, an obscure 24th-round draft pick out of Marshall University in Huntington, W.V., through two minor league levels in a matter of months and placed him into the Major League rotation for seven starts at 23 years old.   Straily, who allowed only three runs in his first start last weekend, owns a 12-10 record and 3.96 ERA in his young career, leap-frogging more ballyhooed prospects to establish himself as a bona fide starter.
  • We all know the slugger-turned-pitcher story of Sean Doolittle, but if he had not been given the opportunity—there’s that word again—to pitch by the Athletics, he might very well be out of baseball by now.
  • Dan Otero, claimed off waivers from the Yankees last year, might be the Poster Child for making the most of an opportunity.   As soon as he stepped foot into the A’s organization, all Otero has done is throw strikes and compiled subterranean ERAs. He garnered a 0.99 ERA with 15 saves in 23 appearances with Triple-A Sacramento last season before being summoned to the big club, where he was 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA, plus 5.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs. Yesterday, he demonstrated all his skills, dousing a Twins rally, eating up innings (2.3) and closing/winning a game and whittling his ERA to a paltry 1.69.
  • And there’s newcomer Drew Pomeranz, who’s making the most of his new scenery and new role as a reliever. As the fifth overall pick in the 2010 Draft by Cleveland, the flame-throwing lefty was trumpeted as the Next Big Thing. But after he was traded to Colorado midway through the 2011 season, his spotty control in three partial seasons with the Rockies eventually caused a move to the bullpen. Acquired by the A’s in a pitcher-for-pitcher trade involving Brett Anderson this offseason, Pomeranz seems to have a new lease on his baseball life.   He’s thrown three scoreless innings in relief for Oakland thus far.

Of all people, it was French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte who once quipped, “Ability is nothing without opportunity.” While Bonaparte died in 1821, Gray, Kazmir, Chavez, Straily, Doolittle, Otero and Pomeranz are all alive and well in 2014. And whether they know it or not, the French emperor was absolutely correct.

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