SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tommy Milone is taking nothing for granted, and his performance Saturday was concrete proof.
With injuries opening the door for him in the Oakland A’s rotation, the left-hander turned in his sharpest outing of the spring in an 8-1 split-squad victory over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium.
Milone was at his economical best, mixing in a new-found two-seamer with his curve and changeup and throwing five shutout innings on just 65 pitches.
The A’s are looking to Milone and Jesse Chavez to fill the shoes of injured starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, both of whom appear ticketed for the disabled list to start the season.
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“We’ve been talking about this depth all spring,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Tommy is a pitcher who can do that any time out. For him to do that after we find out bad news about two guys, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air. I think it’s huge for Tommy.”
While one Oakland squad was conducting a pitching clinic in Scottsdale, another couldn’t hold a seven-run lead in a wild 16-15 defeat to the Texas Rangers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Brandon Moss hit a pair of two-run homers in that game, Josh Reddick hit a towering solo shot to right and John Jaso had four RBI.
But the story of the day was Milone and his outing that must have calmed the nerves of manager Bob Melvin to a degree. Milone said it’s critical that he avoid pitching like a man who’s been guaranteed a spot in the rotation.
“I’ve still gotta go out there, I’ve gotta compete,” Milone said. “I’ve gotta throw the ball well and give them a reason to put me in the rotation.”
The lefty credited a two-seam fastball that he’s worked on this spring as a complement to his changeup. But Melvin said Milone had everything working as he limited the Giants to three hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
“He had really good command of his breaking ball, he was spotting his fastball in and out, he pitched in very well, and he had a good changeup whenever he wanted it,” Melvin said. “When you have three pitches working like that, those are usually the results.”
The two lefties who followed Milone also impressed. Fernando Abad struck out three in one inning of work. Though he allowed a homer to Hunter Pence on a 1-2 curve ball, Abad continued to show excellent stuff. He blew a fastball by Pablo Sandoval for his final strikeout.
With Chavez likely sliding into the rotation and Ryan Cook possibly ticketed for the disabled list due to a shoulder ailment, there could be three bullpen spots open behind closer Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero.
Abad is making a strong push to be a second lefty besides Doolittle. But Pomeranz’s outing Saturday – two perfect innings with five strikeouts – has to have the A’s brass pondering whether the 6-foot-5 left-hander is worth keeping as well.
Melvin said he considers Pomeranz a legit bullpen candidate.
“If there’s a need for a bullpen guy right now, he’s in the mix for that,” Melvin said. “If the need a little later on is for starting, then we get him and stretch him out some. I think it’s good for him to be able to pitch multiple innings anyway. He’s a guy that needs to work on throwing strikes, and the longer you’re out there, the better idea you have as far as mechanics.”
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Evan Scribner and Joe Savery, another lefty, are the other bullpen candidates.
Vogt and Luke Montz each homered off Giants starter Matt Cain, who was tagged for seven runs in his first shaky outing of the spring.
Vogt is hitting .462 but knows he’s in danger of getting squeezed out of a roster spot by fellow catchers John Jaso and Derek Norris because he has options left. He isn’t making the decision easy with his hot hitting.
“I definitely hope I’m there Opening Day,” Vogt said. “If not, I’ll be ready to go when called upon.”