SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The first-game jitters accompanied Jesse Chavez to the mound Wednesday, which it turns out wasn’t so bad.
The A’s right-hander tossed two scoreless innings and then left things to his offensive teammates, who knocked the stuffing out of Giants pitchers for a second consecutive day in a 9-2 victory at Scottsdale Stadium.
It just isn’t in Chavez’s nature to take anything for granted. Logic says that he stands an excellent chance of landing in Oakland’s season-opening rotation given there are three available spots. But he sees the hunger in the eyes of the younger pitchers also battling for those starting spots.
Not only does he sense the competition, he’s drawing inspiration from it.
“The energy these younger kids are bringing in, that could be the reason why I was nervous today,” Chavez said. “ I don’t know what it is, I can’t pinpoint it. Just the attitudes they have coming in are so good.”
Chavez went 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA last season, numbers that don’t do justice to what he meant for Oakland’s rotation during the first half. With the A’s looking to stabilize their staff after season-ending injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, he posted a sub-3.00 ERA over the first two months.
Though he tailed off at midseason and eventually moved to the bullpen to make room for Jon Lester, his work from 2014 seemingly gives him the inside track to a starting role this season. Still, Chavez felt the butterflies Wednesday afternoon. Because of that, he was happy to keep things rather ho-hum in his two innings of work.
He stranded runners on second and third in the first. In the second, he coaxed a 6-4-3 double play from Brandon Crawford and finished his afternoon with a strikeout of Matt Duffy.
“To get ground balls that early was a big help and a big eye-opener for me, knowing that even though I was nervous I was able to get results,” Chavez said.
The challenge this season is stay strong through the All-Star break and beyond. After going 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA through his first nine starts last season and holding opponents to a .216 batting average, he went 4-6 with a 4.17 ERA and gave up a .280 average over his final 12 starts.
Chavez, who says he finished last season at 157 pounds, is working to keep weight on throughout the season in the hopes of increasing his stamina.
“He was as good as anybody in the first half,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’d never been in a position to throw that many innings in the first half. He’s a slight kid. Usually you’re trying to take weight off. He has to try to keep weight on.”
Chavez references A’s strength and conditioning coach Mike Henriques when he talks about trying to pack on the pounds.
“If he has to sit me down and hold my mouth open and force food down my throat, that’s the biggest thing for me,” he said.
The 6-foot-2 Chavez stuffed himself over the winter and said he currently weighs 175 pounds. He has to force himself to eat after he pitches because the adrenaline rush takes away his appetite.
“It’s just eating good and eating at the right times. That’s gonna be the biggest challenge for me and always has,” Chavez said. “Because of my metabolism and the way my body type is, I can eat whatever I want and lose it that day. I’m so active. I’m never sitting down. I was told early in my career, if you’re sitting down you’re not doing anything to benefit yourself.”
He can benefit himself in the rotation battle by posting more scoreless outings.
“I like the competition,” Chavez said. “Every year there’s competition. I embrace it. I think it’s challenging for all of us here and it will bring out the best in us.”