PHOENIX -- When the A's take the field Wednesday afternoon for their Cactus League opener, right-hander Jesse Chavez will be center stage, starting against the Giants as he begins his quest to earn a spot on Oakland's notoriously deep pitching staff.
A journeyman who owned a 5.99 ERA over parts of five seasons in the Majors before last year, Chavez enters the spring with a sense of validation after he finished 2013 with a 3.92 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 57 1/3 relief innings for the A's.
"Last season gave me that added boost of knowing that your stuff can play in the Majors; that you can get big league hitters out," Chavez said. "That hadn't been the case the previous couple years, so it was a good thing to experience, because just knowing that you can have success helps a lot. Now it's more, 'Why not try and do better?' So I'm going to take what I did last year, learn from the positive and negatives, and hopefully build off it."
Chavez, who also posted a 2.70 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Sacramento last year, credits much of his improvements to his work on the mental side of the game. Earlier in his career, the righty would try to overpower hitters but often would miss his spot and pay for it. Last year, he tabled those thoughts and instead placed more trust in his stuff, not worrying about throwing so hard or being too perfect.
"I was just able to be me," Chavez said. "I had been in my head too much in the past, so I just focused on throwing strikes and doing what I had been doing in Triple-A. When you think too much on the mound, it works against you."
Enamored with Chavez's varying four-pitch arsenal of fastball, cutter, changeup and curve, the A's have certainly noticed the 30-year-old's strides, with manager Bob Melvin giving a glowing report of how well the swing pitcher is doing this spring.
"He looks to me, right now, like the season is starting," Melvin said. "He's a guy that we can always count on, and he's come into camp with absolutely the right mindset. He is focused every day; that's one of the reasons it was easy to give him the start on the first day."
Cook close to testing shoulder on mound
PHOENIX -- Slowed this spring by right shoulder inflammation, A's reliever Ryan Cook is on track to throw a bullpen session soon, possibly by the end of the week.
"We're getting close," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but yes, potentially this week."
Cook has been throwing long toss recently to help build arm strength and has reported no pain. He threw from 105 feet Monday.
"He's felt great for a while," Melvin said. "He's a pretty important guy for us, so we don't want to get him out there too early, and since he's a reliever, it won't take as long. So it's looking good."
In 2013, Cook appeared in 71 games for the A's, compiling a 2.54 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings.
Norris calls new collision rule 'fair to both sides'
PHOENIX -- While the A's were spending their Monday afternoon working out, Major League Baseball announced the addition of Rule 7.13, which looks to prevent dangerous collisions at home plate.
"I think anytime you're looking out for someone's safety, you got to respect that," said A's catcher Derek Norris, who broke a toe last year during a play at the plate. "You can't sit there and give catchers free range over home plate and take away the whole thing. A guy can't do anything about that then. I think it plays fair to both sides, and I think that's the most important part."
A's skipper Bob Melvin, a former Major League catcher, wanted more time to dissect the change before giving his full opinion, but he did say that the rule, "doesn't seem like it's as severe as they were talking about early on."
The rule is designed to reduce the number of injuries that occur during collisions, which have garnered attention recently as head safety and concussion prevention have marched to the forefront of the sports world.
"I think, in all major sports, they're trying to clean it up slowly. They're trying to look after players, especially up top," Norris said. "It has caused quite a controversy in the NFL, and I think it raised a couple of red flags where people were saying we should take extra precautions to make sure it doesn't happen to us. It's tough to say whether one led to another, but in general, people are looking to go in a safer route in sports, and that's good."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.