Parker ready to seize Game 1 opportunity
After starting season at Triple-A, rookie stepped up as staff leader
DETROIT -- Jarrod Parker was one of the final cuts of Spring Training, and when he found out that he wouldn't break camp with Oakland and travel to Japan on the A's season-opening trip, it hurt. A lot.
But as seems to be the case with these young, relentless A's, it didn't hurt for too long, and, in the end, it helped. A lot.
In other words, it was a long way from that lonely late-March flight from Phoenix to Triple-A Sacramento.
"I'm excited," Parker said. "Obviously, this team's gone through a lot this year. And you know we're happy to be here. And it's kind of a tribute to the work we've done as a team. And it's an honor, and obviously I'm going to be as prepared as I can and take these next two days to get ready."
The A's have relied upon rookie starters all year, so any notion that manager Bob Melvin's selection of Parker for this big spot is risky is an uninformed one. The A's are merely going with what they've got, and right now, Parker's just about the best they've got.
The hard-throwing right-hander went down to Sacramento in the beginning of the year, resurfaced quickly after ironing out his fastball command, as Melvin said he would, and ended up making 29 starts and going 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA while striking out 140 batters in 181 1/3 innings. Down the stretch, in the heat of the pennant race, he was even better, going 4-1 in his final six starts with a 2.63 ERA and 33 punchouts in 41 innings.
The key, he said, was not letting the intensity of important games get to him.
"We've had big games as a group and we've had huge situations as a group, and it's something where you just try to slow it down," Parker said. "And we lean on each other to do that ... just be able to come together, and we know we have each other's back and we've done it all year. So I think just settling in and trying to slow the situation down is about the only way I can really describe it."
That poise has rubbed off on his teammates. Given the fact that the club lost starters Bartolo Colon (drug suspension), Brandon McCarthy (skull fracture) and Brett Anderson (Tommy John surgery, strained oblique) at various points of the season for extended amounts of time, Parker has assumed quite a bit of responsibility for a guy who won't turn 24 until next month.
"He's been great," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "He's picked up a lot of ground and taken a lot of stuff on his back. He's really stepped in as our ace here in the last half of the season, and it's made it a lot easier to play defense behind him."
Anderson said he sees a lot of similarities between Parker and, oddly enough, the player he was traded for. Trevor Cahill didn't make the A's out of Spring Training prior to the 2010 season, but he was back up by the end of April and went on to go 18-8.
"You're never happy with that situation," Anderson said. "But we all knew watching him during Spring Training that it wouldn't be long before he was back. He took it in stride and did what he needed to do, and he's probably a better pitcher because of it."
He got help, too. Not only was Parker aided by pitching coach Curt Young plus "veterans" on the A's staff such as Anderson and McCarthy, but he experienced the postseason as a D-backs callup a year ago, and the A's dramatic late-season run just to get in this position has him primed for the spotlights he'll operate under on Saturday.
"I mean, this last week's been about as close to the postseason as it gets," Parker said. "I don't think there's anybody on this team that is going to change their approach or the way they get ready for the game like they did these last few weeks and this last week, and the series against Texas was about as close as it gets to being in a postseason atmosphere in the regular season.
"We're going to continue to approach the game and play the game the same way as we did this last series and be able to slow things down and just kind of play our game is the most important thing."