A’s Blackley has come a long way from Korea

PHOENIX – There’s hardly ever been a day during his decade playing baseball in the U.S. that you haven’t seen a smile on the face of left-handed pitcher Travis Blackley.

That’s particularly true now as he prepares for a season as a long reliever and spot starter for the A’s. The smile is bigger than ever.

But it’s been a long road from the ever-growing number of baseball parks in Australia to the desert splendor of Arizona, but there was a time two years ago when the smile had faded.

He’d gone from pitching in the big leagues to pitching in Korea.

“It was a time for some soul-searching,’’ Blackley said of the 2011 calendar year. “I was pitching well and all that, but I was pitching in Korea and wondering how I’d wound up here.’’

Ask scouts, and they’ll tell you that he always had great stuff, but that he didn’t always have great work habits. Ask Blackley and he’ll say “I was young and dumb.’’

Not so much anymore. Blackley has worked hard to get back, signing with the Giants last year and seeing a spot of time with them before being let go and signed by the A’s.

He repaid Oakland by going 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 15 games, including five as a starter. One of those was the season’s 161st game, when he pitched six innings against the Rangers, allowing one run in Oakland to beat two-time defending American League champion Texas. That enabled the A’s to draw even with the Rangers in the standings for the first time all year.

When Oakland won Game 162, the A’s were the AL West champions after having never led a day in the division for six months.

“I looked at myself and felt I always had the stuff to pitch here,’’ Blackley said. “What I didn’t have is the confidence. I’ve finally found that.’’

The A’s enter the spring with six solid starters, but pitching coach Curt Young and manager Bob Melvin will not let conversation about the A’s potential rotation for 2013 pass without mentioning Blackley. It’s possible that he will mostly pitch in relief this year, but if injury or ineffectiveness crop up, Blackley will be get the first call.

Or, and this would be a long shot, he could simply pitch his way into the rotation this spring.

Not bad for a former member of the KIA Tigers.

“That season in Korea turned it around for me,’’ he said.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.