Straily determined to earn final spot in A's rotation
Right-hander starts camp with improved command after struggling with long ball in '12
PHOENIX -- Only Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, R.A. Dickey, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and James Shields tallied more strikeouts in professional baseball than A's right-hander Dan Straily last year.
Yet when Straily made his way back to his offseason home in Eugene, Ore., after a season spent at three levels of the A's system and popped in video of his starts, his toughest critic -- himself -- delivered a harsh message.
"I was very upset with what I saw," Straily said. "I had people telling me not to worry about it since I hadn't ever pitched that many innings before, but I didn't care, because I command better of myself. I realized later that it wasn't terrible, but in my mind, I know that's not the type of pitcher I am."
Strikeouts aside -- 32 came in his seven starts for Oakland, 82 came with Triple-A Sacramento and 108 in Double-A Midland -- he couldn't help but focus on a different number: 11. That's how many home runs he surrendered, including four in one game, in just 39 1/3 big league innings.
Turns out his typically textbook fastball command was missing. This week at Spring Training, it was back.
"You couldn't help but notice Straily," manager Bob Melvin said after the 24-year-old completed his Thursday bullpen session. "He didn't miss the glove one time. It's nice to see him have that kind of focus."
Straily is battling to win the final spot in Oakland's rotation, led by Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone. Bartolo Colon figures to slot in there, too, after the veteran serves the final five games of his drug suspension, leaving Straily and close friend A.J. Griffin for the fifth spot.
Big league camp is new to Straily, who for the first time in his career is really on the radar. He walked on to the Marshall University baseball team and didn't exactly rank high on the A's pecking order when the 2009 First-Year Player Draft came, going in the 24th round.
Yet, three years later, Straily was already pegged to start the 2012 season at Double-A. He posted a 3.38 ERA in 14 starts and 85 1/3 innings, as attention quickly began shifting his way. Then came a promotion, with Straily getting the call to Sacramento, and another in August, this time to Oakland.
He went 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA. But he also failed to get out of the fifth inning three times in seven tries and was left off the postseason roster. There was much work to be done in the offseason, despite others' insistence that some of his struggles in the big leagues were caused by a tired arm.
If that's the case, Straily thought, he was going to make sure that wasn't an issue at the end of 2013.
The right-hander is more focused than ever, ready to rejoin the A's rotation. He believes that's where he belongs.
"I'm here for one reason, and that is to win a job," he said. "There are only five spots, and I can do the basic math. There are more than five guys. It's something that pushes all of us to be better each day.
"Last year I learned the difference between throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes, and the ability to stay focused for a whole game. That's something I struggled with before. I couldn't focus for more than maybe five minutes at a time. I don't know why, but things always seemed to fall apart after the fifth inning, and to push through that wall and figure out some things really allowed everything to click and finally come together."
Straily sees no reason why he can't put together a strong showing in camp, especially since the distractions that typically hamper players experiencing big league camp for the first time are of no concern to him.
"I'm not here to make sure I meet everyone, I'm here for a job," he said. "It makes it a lot easier. Instead of trying to get to know guys, I already know most of them, so it's a lot more comfortable and I'm just able to focus on getting ready rather than doing it all at once. I can just focus on baseball."
Along for the ride is wife Amanda, whom Straily married in December. The couple honeymooned in the Caribbean, and it was the first true vacation of Straily's life.
"I was on the beach," he said, "and really had to learn how to just relax."
Naturally, he snuck into the gym early one morning. He's been at it ever since.
"I'm really excited to show them what I can do here," he said.