OAKLAND - After a strong 2017 season, Paul Blackburn struggled with both injuries and poor performance last year.
The A's right-hander went 2-3 with a 7.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in six starts and missed the final three months with an elbow injury.
Now just days away from spring training, Blackburn is fully healthy and ready to prove he belongs in the A's starting rotation.
"I've never really lost confidence in myself," Blackburn said to NBC Sports California. "I know last year I struggled at points, probably the worst I've ever struggled in pro ball. It's never gotten to that point where I didn't believe in myself. I think just believing in yourself can go a long way."
Blackburn, 25, was a first-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2012. The Antioch native hasn't yet lived up to his potential, but he will have a great chance to earn a spot in Oakland's rotation to start the season.
"I feel good," Blackburn said. "I've been cleared for spring training and everything. I've gotten off the mound three times now and everything is feeling good, back to normal."
Blackburn doesn't have dominant stuff and relies on movement and location to retire hitters. Perhaps more importantly, he believes he has improved his preparation this offseason, which could allow him to take his game to another level.
"Just kind of going a little deeper into scouting reports," he explained. "You can find those little things where you've struggled and see what you can do differently and then build off that. I think that's what will lead to success and kind of getting to that next step."
As it currently stands, Blackburn will likely slot in as the A's No. 4 or 5 starter. However, that position could be in jeopardy when injured pitchers Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea, and possibly A.J. Puk return. Blackburn knows he has to perform well early if he wants to remain in the rotation all year.
"I want to make every start," he said. "That's really the number one goal I have for myself. Be a guy who, when my spot comes up in the rotation, they know I'm going to pitch that day. I want to be that guy who's able to do that."