OAKLAND – Jarrod Parker exudes the quiet confidence of a pitcher who expects to get the job done every time he’s on the mound.
The A’s have come to expect it too.
In just his second major league season, Parker has emerged as the staff ace for a team that’s eyeing a second consecutive American League West title.
He’ll take the mound Tuesday night in Minnesota looking to win his 10th straight decision, which would tie the longest streak by an A’s pitcher since Dan Haren won 10 straight in 2007.
Parker hasn’t taken a loss since May 22, a string of 18 consecutive starts without a defeat. The only pitcher in franchise history with a longer unbeaten streak is Lefty Grove, who had a 21-start streak back in 1931.
The 24-year-old’s development has impressed those inside and outside the organization.
“He’s got it all,” said a major league scout who requested anonymity. “He throws everything for strikes and he knows how to pitch. He’s got ‘plus-plus’ velocity, but he only brings it out in appropriate times. He goes soft, soft – then he dials up 94 or 95 on his out pitch.”
Parker’s overall numbers this season -- 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA – don’t jump off the page due to a rough April that skewed his stats. But since April 30, he is 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA over 23 starts.
[REWIND: Parker outduels Darvish]
He’s been the anchor of a starting rotation that saw its veteran leader, Bartolo Colon, struggle through a rough patch in early August and land on the disabled list with a groin injury.
“When (Parker) gets in trouble, he finds a way to dig deep and get himself out of it,” A’s outfielder Brandon Moss said. “He stays in the game until he can’t go anymore and he gives you a chance to win every single game. That’s an ace.” Parker’s pitching talent was noticeable at a young age, but so was his dedication.
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he began working with pitching instructor Mark De La Garza when he was 15. Their work space – a 70x40-foot building that was attached to an auto body shop. De La Garza built a dirt mound, and the indoor facility was fit for throwing in the winter while snow fell outside.
“Sometimes it would be a Friday night,” De La Garza said in a phone interview. “All his friends would be going to a high school basketball game, and he’d work out. Then he’d go home and shower and go and meet up with his friends. He always had his priorities in order.”
The 6-foot-1 Parker was a gifted all-around athlete who could dunk a basketball in high school. But it was his work ethic that set him apart.
“He was very coachable,” De La Garza said. “He could pick things up quick. If we did something, he went home and did it until he got it right.”
Parker’s evolution to top-of-the-rotation major league starter was gradual.
He was the centerpiece of the three-player package the A’s received from Arizona in exchange for pitchers Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow in December 2011. Oakland also received reliever Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill.
But Parker was erratic in spring training 2012 and didn’t break camp with the big club. He quickly landed in the A’s rotation, however, and went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA as a rookie. Then he impressed during the A.L. Divisional Series, pitching well in two starts matched against Justin Verlander, though he took the loss in both.
“He’s confident with what he’s doing and he knows how to make adjustments out there,” A’s pitching coach Curt Young said. “He’s got a good slider that he’s developed, and his change-up always has been a really good pitch. He’s always keeping hitters guessing.”
Young said Parker also has learned to control his emotions on the mound. A bloop single or a bad call by an umpire won’t derail his outing as it might have at times last season.
Parker comes across humble and low-key in conversation, and it’s a chore for reporters to get him to open up after a start. The same goes for discussing his 18-game unbeaten streak, which puts his name in the company of Lefty Grove and Catfish Hunter, whose Oakland record Parker shattered.
“For me to be in the same sentence (with those players) is an honor,” he said. “I just try to take it in stride and look back on it after the year.”