Jarrod Parker reaffirmed Billy Beane’s genius with a dazzling rookie season last year.
Acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in December 2011, the 24-year-old right-hander anchored the A’s pitching staff last year, posting a 13-8 record with a 3.47 ERA while Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon popped in and out of the rotation. His emergence helped the A’s reach the postseason and it vindicated Beane’s decision to deal Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in the offseason.
“He’s going to be a horse for us for years to come,” catcher Derek Norris said.
Parker is facing adversity in his sophomore campaign, though; he’s surrendered 37 earned runs in 61 2/3 innings of work this year. But in recent weeks, he’s started to regain his form, putting together four straight solid outings heading into today’s start against the Chicago White Sox at O.co Coliseum.
“He’s a key cog for us; we lean on him a lot,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We need him to pitch the way he did last year. Over the course of a season, you’re going to go through some ups and downs, but he’s pitching in the fashion that we expect him to now.”
Parker described his rookie season as “magical,” which could actually be an understatement. When you add in one start he made with the Diamondbacks in 2011, he became the first major-league pitcher since Ferdie Schupp in 1917 to allow no more than one run in 10 of his first 14 career starts, his team won the AL West in its 162nd game and he went toe-to-toe with Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander twice in the playoffs.
“It wasn’t something I could think about during the year,” Parker said. “Everything was going so fast and on the fly. I was just trying to take it as it came.”
The A’s leaned on Parker down the stretch, leading to a huge spike in his workload. Parker pitched an additional 78 innings last year after taking it easy in 2011, his first-full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009. As a result, Sports Illustrated tagged him as a likely candidate to suffer from the “year-after effect” — when young pitchers get hurt or are ineffective a year after seeing a 30-plus inning workload increase.
The magazine appeared to be on the mark as Parker struggled through the month of April, posting a 7.36 ERA while failing to pitch more than 6 1/3 innings in each of his first six starts. At the time, he was having trouble locating his fastball, leaving it up in the zone, and his velocity had dropped down to the low-90s from the mid-90s.
But A’s pitching coach Curt Young said he doesn’t think there is a relationship between the innings Parker pitched in 2012 and his early-season woes.
“He just started a little slow,” Young said.
Parker’s inconsistencies continued until he was pulled from his May 6 start against the Cleveland Indians after five innings because of neck stiffness. The tightness, which surfaced earlier in the season, caused Parker to throw with a hunched-over delivery, and Young said it affected his mechanics.
“When you don’t feel good health-wise, it’s going to hold you back quite a bit when you’re throwing the baseball,” he said.
The A’s training staff loosened up the knot before Parker’s next start and he responded by defeating the Seattle Mariners, giving up three runs over 6 1/3 innings. He was even better against the Kansas City Royals six days later, holding them to one run on four hits in seven innings of work.
In his past four starts, Parker has won three games, producing a 2.63 ERA.
“He’s staying consistently aggressive, staying down in the zone and keeping the crooked numbers off the board,” Norris said.
The A’s catcher said his battery-mate is particularly tough when he’s commanding his fastball because it sets up his change-up, which Young calls the second best among right-handed pitchers in the American League next to the Royals’ James Shields.
“If he throws the [change-up] right down the middle of the plate, it’s either going to run in on your hands or go away from your hands and you have no way to pick,” he said.
Norris credited Parker for staying even-keeled during his cold stretch and he said he expects him to be a tough pitcher to hit against as the season progresses.
“A guy as talented as Jarrod is not going to all of a sudden just forget how to throw a baseball,” Norris said. “He knew he’d come out of it sooner or later.”