MESA, Ariz. -– A.J. Griffin couldn’t hide a wide smile after his outing Thursday night.
Healthy, happy and battling for a spot in Texas’ rotation, Griffin acknowledged he took satisfaction in pitching well against the A’s in the Rangers 12-1 rout at Hohokam Stadium.
Released by Oakland in November, Griffin held his old team to one run over five innings. He struck out four, walked one and, most importantly to him, maintained his focus. A gregarious sort, Griffin said hi to plenty of friends in green and gold before the game, but once it started, “I was trying not to look at anyone when they stepped in the box. I was trying to lock in.”
After being sidelined for all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons with elbow and shoulder problems, then being shown the door by the A’s, Griffin signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in December. Now he’s in a battle with Nick Martinez, Jeremy Guthrie and Chi-Chi Gonzalez for Texas’ fifth starter spot. Thursday’s effort certainly didn’t hurt his chances.
“I felt good,” Griffin said. “It’s exciting to be able to pitch again. It’s been a long journey.”
The A’s designated Griffin for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot the day their signing of left-hander Rich Hill became official. Even after releasing Griffin, their starting depth looked strong. But they lost some of it when they traded Aaron Brooks and lost Sean Nolin to a waiver claim. Oakland’s starters have not shined as a group this spring, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Thursday’s game that it’s time to start seeing some better results from his starters.
“With two starts left for everybody except Sonny (Gray), you want to see some results here,” Melvin said. “You want to get some confidence heading into the season. It’s not that easy to just say ‘All right, the results are gonna come when I get back home,’ and flip that switch. You have to fight through it.”
CAMP BATTLE: Felix Doubront, who Melvin still considers part of the starting rotation competition, was charged with seven runs over four-plus innings, though three of those scored with Liam Hendriks on the mound. Doubront walked three and was charged with a balk. He also fell victim to a couple of bloopers that found holes. Doubront said he started “thinking too much” a little bit after the first few innings, perhaps not trusting his fastball enough.
Melvin talked highly of Doubront before the game. The dry air in Arizona is said to take the bite out of a pitcher’s breaking ball, but Melvin says Doubront’s curve has been as good this spring as the A’s have seen it. The lefty, who is out of minor league options, may make the roster as a long reliever. He could still sneak into a starting spot if someone falters. But he had a chance to really apply the pressure in his bid for a starting job, and couldn’t quite do that Thursday.
NOTEWORTHY: Melvin announced after the game that Hill will pitch in a minor league game Friday for the second consecutive outing. Melvin said that, as the A’s did with Gray on Thursday, they want to ensure that Hill builds his pitch count up and gets six innings of work in. They can guarantee that happens in a minor league setting, where game conditions can be manipulated. Though it wasn’t said, it could also be that the A’s want to give Hill as good a chance as possible to find his rhythm as the regular season creeps closer.
The lefty said his mechanics felt better in his last outing against minor leaguers, but his command still left something to be desired as he hit three batters and walked two.
QUOTABLE: “ I know he’s been through a tough year-and-a-half, two years. I wish him the best and hope he does well with that club and gets a chance to make the team.” – Melvin, discussing A.J. Griffin before Thursday’s game.
ODDS AND ENDS: Khris Davis hit his first homer in an A’s uniform, a towering shot deep over the left field wall off Griffin in the second. … Hendriks had an off-night, two earned runs on two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. On the flip side, Marc Rzepczynski was sharp in 1 1/3 scoreless innings, and the left-hander – slated to be a lefty specialist -- is showing the ability to get right-handers out as well.