Parker looking for breakthrough year after “mediocre” 2013, other notes

Year Three of Jarrod Parker’s emergence into a mature, top-flight pitcher should be an interesting case study in 2014. Most people think, myself included, that he’s got it in him to be 15-20 game winner and a potential All-Star. Parker thinks so, too, which is one of his best attributes. He has a staff-ace outlook, and that’s something for a pitcher who’s still only 25.

Parker is ultra-serious about his craft, too, to the degree he often looks and sounds miserable, even after a good game. He’s a perfectionist. Part of it is his demeanor, too. He’s a quiet, cerebral type with high expectations of himself, and nothing is ever really quite good enough.

For instance, I was a little taken aback Monday when he said he thought his very creditable 2013 season was “mediocre” and not one that left him terribly satisfied. You can see some of his point. After all, his ERA went up a half-point from the previous year to 3.97. He gave up 14 more home runs and he finished with one less win even though he made more starts while finishing 12-8.

On the other hand, counting the playoffs, Parker exceeded 200 innings for the first time in his pro career, had a 19-start unbeaten streak –- longest in franchise history since Lefty Grove in 1931 (Lefty Grove!) — and won his only playoff start against Detroit in the American League Division Series. Most pitchers wouldn’t call that mediocre, but that’s the kind of bar Parker sets.

“I want to be great and continue getting where I need to be,” he said. “I always look and think there are adjustments that could have been made. There are just a lot of things you aren’t content with in a mediocre season. And in my mind, it was. I want to be better.”

Parker’s ’13 season might have looked a whole lot better if not for his ghastly April start. Following a rocky spring training, he opened 2013 with an 0-4 record and an 8.10 ERA as opponents hit .374 against him. But he pulled it together after that and was pretty strong to the finish, although he admitted he did wear down near season’s end. He said there are no lingering after-effects, and he feels completely healthy and ready to make another 200-innning run, hopefully with better results.

He knows much of that will be based on getting off to a much better start, both for the season and in games. Generally, when he’s bad, it happens early, usually in the first inning. And that was the familiar pattern Monday against the Dodgers in Glendale. Parker gave up four runs in the first inning, including a three-run home run to Andre Ethier and a solo shot to Juan Uribe, in a game that eventually wound up an 8-8 tie.

At that point, Parker’s spring ERA had soared to over 17 in three spring appearances. But he settled down and allowed just one hit from that point on, striking out five, including three straight to finish his outing. He got the ERA down to 10.61 with his subsequent 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work.

Parker was less concerned about the numbers than his soft mental approach, one that he feels impacted him in 2013 in getting off to such a horrible start.

“The first inning early on last year I was just trying to settle in a little bit, when I don’t really think I need to do that,” he said. “It’s not conducive to the way I need to pitch. From Hitter One, I need to be aggressive with a good mentality.”

Even though Parker pulled himself together and pitched beautifully in his latest start, the first inning left a sour taste because he didn’t pitch as long as he had hoped.

“I need to flip the switch in the next one and get through five or six,” he said.

Manager Bob Melvin thought Parker was ready to come out blazing against the Dodgers, but was satisfied with his young pitcher’s outing. Parker remains one of three candidates to be the Opening Day starter.

“He threw really well, and he was prepared to get after it in the first inning, they just hit some first pitches and then Ethier hit the homer off him,” Melvin said. “But after that, I thought he settled in very nicely.”

Melvin understands Parker wants to eliminate the “settle in” part, however, and the manager has been encouraging that approach in Parker throughout the spring.

“He wants to be on it right away,” he said. “It’s a good mindset to have.”

If he can get into that groove from the start of the season, the kind of season he envisions, and a lot of other people envision, is very possible.

Other stuff:

— Shortstop Addison Russell slammed a double to the center field wall to start the A’s five-run rally in the eighth inning, but Oakland’s top prospect strained his right hamstring hard running down the line. Russell had to be driven on a cart to the team bus, but that may have been a precaution. The actual severity of the injury will not likely be known until Tuesday.

— Melvin is very pleased with the way Josh Donaldson is looking at the plate. Donaldson hit his second home run in two days, this one a long center field in sixth inning off Dodgers right-hander Brandon League.
“He’s having really good at-bats now, he’s not trying to pull the ball, he’s staying within himself,” the manager said. “He has plenty of power to hit home runs to any field, and he really strung together four good at-bats here.”

— Alberto Callaspo made his second start at first base and had a good day except for failing to hold on to a bounced throw that would have completed a double play.
“That’s one of the things he’s not used to doing, picking balls at first base,” Melvin said. “He’ll get more comfortable doing it, and he looks good over there. Like I’ve said before, his hands play anywhere, so we don’t feel like it’s going to be a problem.”

— The A’s face a tough call on outfielder Michael Taylor, who is out of options, and he’s making it tougher. Taylor is hitting .323 this spring and hammered his second homer, a 400-foot blast off the Dodgers Hyun-Jim Ryu.
Taylor is in a battle for the last outfield spot with Sam Fuld, who has an out in his contract to become a free agent if he doesn’t make the team.
“He’s swinging the bat capable like he’s capable of doing it,” Melvin said. “He’s just relaxed and playing. Sometimes I think he’s put too much pressure on himself in spring training or during a short stint in the big leagues.”

— Melvin reiterated that it could be a number of days before Daric Barton (left hamstring strain) is ready to resume baseball activity. The manager added that catcher Derek Norris, who has been out with back spasms, won’t be ready to play in a game Tuesday, but Norris was scheduled todo some work on the field.

— Brandon Moss was still in a glow about the bunt single he dropped down Sunday, his first in pro ball.
“There were a couple of times I wanted to do it last year but I wasn’t comfortable with it,” Moss said. “Chip (Hale, infield coach) taught me a better way to square around and it felt like a million bucks. That was the highlight of my spring so far. It felt like I hit a home run.”
Moss hopes to occasionally utilize the bunt to offset teams playing exaggerated shifts against him.

— The A’s optioned outfielder Shane Peterson to Triple-A Sacramento, right-handed pitcher Raul Ancantara to Double-A Midland and right-handed pitcher Michael Ynoa to Class A Stockton. Melvin had high praise for both Ancantara and Ynoa for what they showed while they were with the major-league camp. Oakland is now down to 47 players.

Carl Steward