Jesse Chavez seems to have come into his own since the middle of last season.
And the timing couldn’t be better for the A’s, who very likely will plug the right-handed pitcher into the starting rotation to begin the season with Friday’s news that Jarrod Parker (forearm tightness) and A.J. Griffin (elbow soreness) both could be out of action to start the season.
He’s only started twice in 191 career games, but the A’s, like the Blue Jays before them, have kept him stretched out, holding open the possibility of using him as a starter.
Chavez’s last 10 games last year saw him put together a 2.84 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .163 batting average. That was all in relief, but both general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin have talked about moving Chavez into the rotation if there was ever a need.
The need is now. And Chavez has been making himself ready for this moment, including throwing 12.2 scoreless innings this spring, four of them Thursday against the Rockies.
The secret, says the 30-year-old Chavez, is being able to visualize a pitch before he throws it.
“It’s just a blink of the eye after I get the sign from the catcher,’’ Chavez said Friday morning. “It’s something I did when I first was drafted by Texas, but I’d sort of gotten away from it. I started to get back to it last year, and my whole focus this offseason was to get back to it.
“It’s almost like I throw the pitch twice. When I can visualize in my mind where the pitch is supposed to go, it has a much better chance of getting there where it needs to be. So I’m pitching with much more confidence.’’
Chavez doesn’t have overpowering stuff, although he throws both two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider that acts much like a cutter, and a change. It’s not the pitches that have evolved, he says, as much as it is the pitcher.
“I’m all about trying to keep the ball down in the zone and throwing my pitch,’’ he said. “It’s not like I’m a different pitcher. I’m just trying to do things the right way.’’
He caught Melvin’s eye last spring, and while he was up-and-down with the club early on, Chavez pitched well enough to get increasingly important roles as the season progressed. Now he’s likely to have his most important role yet.