OAKLAND – Lots of speculation surrounds the A’s potential postseason starting rotation. Little of it tends to involve Dan Straily.
The soft-spoken right-hander could find himself on the outside looking in should the A’s qualify for the postseason and utilize a four-man rotation as they did against Detroit in last year’s American League Divisional Series.
But that decision will come down the road. Right now, the A’s are in a tight race for the A.L. West title and Straily is a key piece of the puzzle.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's ride Straily, long ball to 2-1 win]
He shut down the Houston Astros in Saturday’s 2-1 victory on a warm afternoon at the Coliseum. Straily (9-7) faced just two batters over the minimum during seven shutout innings.
“It might have been about as good as we’ve seen him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He was real aggressive with his fastball. When he locates with his fastball and throws strikes with it, it makes his slider that much better. When he’s getting ahead, he’s a tough customer to deal with.”
Straily has won his past three starts after going seven straight outings without a ‘W’, and he’s surrendered just three earned runs in 18 innings over that time. He allowed two hits and a walk Saturday, and one of those base runners, Jonathan Villar, got erased when he was thrown out by A’s left fielder Yoenis Cespedes while trying to stretch a single into a double.
The A’s needed that type of effort on the mound considering they couldn’t muster much against Houston left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (4-2). Yoenis Cespedes hit his 22nd home run in the fourth and the A’s only other run came on Jed Lowrie’s solo shot in the seventh off Astros reliever Josh Zeid.
With closer Grant Balfour in need of a rest after throwing 35 pitches Friday night, lefty Sean Doolittle notched a four-out save, his first save of the season and just the second of his big league career.
“I had some inner rage,” Doolittle said of the adrenaline that was pumping. “Now I know why Balfour yells at himself so much.”
Straily drew attention in 2012 by leading all of the minor leagues with 190 strikeouts before being called up to Oakland in August of last season. He isn’t racking up strikeouts at that rate in the bigs, but on Saturday he showcased a sharp slider that drew lofty praise.
“When he’s on top of it and throwing it well, it’s among the best I’ve ever caught,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
Suzuki, who rejoined the A’s after an Aug. 23 trade from Washington, has been behind the plate for Straily’s last three starts. He didn’t get a chance to catch Straily before his initial trade to Washington in August 2012, so Suzuki is forming his early impression of the 24-year-old right-hander.
The verdict? “He listens, he wants to learn,” Suzuki said. “He’s easy to talk to.”
Because Straily made seven starts in 2012, it’s easy to forget this is officially his rookie season. He leads A.L. rookies with 109 strikeouts and 134 1/3 innings, and his nine wins are tied with Texas’ Martin Perez for the lead. His 4.15 ERA isn’t shabby either.
But Straily is unlikely to create much buzz for Rookie of the Year because he’s shuttled between Triple-A and the majors a couple of times and hasn’t generated a season’s worth of hype.
Where might he fit into the A’s possible postseason plans? Oakland leads Texas by one game for the division lead, pending the Rangers’ result Saturday night in Anaheim.
Should the A’s advance to a best-of-five postseason series, Jarrod Parker and Bartolo Colon appear locks for a four-man rotation. Rookie Sonny Gray has shown the poise and stuff to merit consideration for a third spot. That leaves Straily to battle with A.J. Griffin and, perhaps, Brett Anderson for a fourth slot. It’s conceivable he could also be kept as a reliever.
You wouldn’t get much from Straily on the topic. Everything that comes out of his mouth tends to be team-first.
“At this stage of the season, it doesn’t matter what we do individually,” Straily said . “All that matters is at the end of the day we came out with a win.”
Melvin just wants his rookie to focus on the next three-plus weeks.
“The postseason is down the road,” Melvin said. “We have to get there, so we’ll worry about right now. And he’s pitching really well for us right now.”