It's a three-man race for the A’s fifth rotation spot to begin the season.
As veteran Mike Fiers continues to deal with hip inflammation that has sidelined him in the Cactus League, Daulton Jefferies, A.J. Puk and Cole Irvin are trying to break camp as the No. 5 option on the starting staff.
Jefferies, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, mowed through the Colorado Rockies lineup in his four scoreless innings of work Tuesday in Arizona.
“Fantastic. Best we’ve seen him probably,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters in his postgame video conference. “Mixed in pitching in very well, had a good changeup, had a cutter and had a pretty good curveball today, which is a slower pitch for him. Command was terrific.”
Melvin also confirmed that the right-hander is firmly in the running to join Oakland’s rotation.
“That’s why he’s getting the looks that he is right now,” Melvin said.
Jefferies gave up a leadoff triple to start off his second frame of the afternoon, but settled down and retired the next nine batters he faced to wrap up his outing.
“That was huge for my confidence,” Jefferies said of getting out of the second inning jam. “I know when a guy gets on second or third, with nobody out, maybe some guys tense up a little bit. I’d done that in the past, but that was a big maturity move I tried to make going in the spring where I could just breathe.”
Jefferies touched 95 mph with his fastball, struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. He showed the supreme command that led to a ridiculous 93-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2019 between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland.
In 13 innings this spring, Jefferies has allowed two earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out 20. That’s good for a 1.38 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and .149 opponents’ batting average in the spring. Those numbers come with a Cactus League caveat, but the A’s are clearly impressed with the 25-year-old Cal product they picked in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
“He had every single one of his pitches going,” catcher Aramis Garcia said. “I don’t think he missed a spot today. He was really, really good today.”
Jefferies and Irvin might be competing for a spot, but Irvin still was cheering on his throwing partner Tuesday.
Irvin, 27, can’t compete with Jefferies in terms of raw stuff. A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson recently called Irvin a “pure strike thrower,” as he relies on command with a sinking fastball that hovers around 90-92 mph, a changeup and slider. But the southpaw has put together an impressive spring since the A’s acquired him in a ho-hum cash transaction with the Philadelphia Phillies on Jan. 30.
Puk, meanwhile, has made two Cactus League starts in his return from September shoulder surgery, and his fastball is sitting around 93 mph after it flashed at 96-plus mph in previous years. The lanky lefty struggled in Monday’s outing and couldn’t get out of the second inning on a day when he was scheduled to pitch three innings.
“Probably not his best command,” Melvin said after Puk's outing. “He was missing by, at times, a wide margin, whether it was his breaking ball or his fastball. It’s only his second time out, but needs to command it a little bit better. As far as the velocity goes, it is what it is. We’ll see if that ticks up a little bit."
The A’s might be running out of time to ramp up their prized prospect for the regular-season rotation.
Puk will get another start and chance to prove himself to the A’s coaching staff but don’t be surprised if he’s built up at the A’s alternate site in Stockton to begin the season. Jefferies could slot in as the No. 5 starter and Irvin could be a left-handed long man for the bullpen, while Fiers, who threw from flat ground on Monday, works back into game shape.
But this is pure speculation, as Melvin said there’s still time to make a decision.
“We’ll see,” Melvin said. “Nothing’s been decided yet. The great thing is, it seems all of these guys are pitching pretty well and responding well with some pressure on themselves.”