Curt Young is amazing. The A’s have lost Barry Zito to free agency and Rich Harden and Esteban Loiza to the disabled list, but they have led the league in ERA because of the work of Young, their pitching coach.
Here’s how Young views his current starters:
» Dan Haren, who came to the A’s in the Mark Mulder trade two years ago:
"He’s grateful that he got the chance to pitch here, which he might not have with the Cardinals, and he’s proving he can be the No. 1 starter. He’s got a great split-fingered fastball, which he knows he can go to any time he’s in a tight spot."
» Joe Blanton, in his third season as an A’s starter: "He’s really matured. He knows we need him to pitch into the eighth inning now, and he’s capable of doing that. He has two types of breaking pitches he can throw for strikes, a curve and a slider, and any time you see a pitcher who can do that, you know you’ve got something special."
» Chad Gaudin, once released by the pitching-poor Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
"This is a pitcher who came up to the majors when he was only 20, so you know he’s got ability. We gave him a season in the bullpen to get acclimated, but he has the mentality that he’s a starter. As a reliever, he mostly used his curve, on the outside corner to right-handed hitters, inside to left-handers. But when you’re throwing 100 pitches a game as a starter, you figure 20-25 have to be change-ups, and he’s got a nice one to go with his curve and fastball. The main thing is he keeps every pitch down."
» Joe Kennedy, who pitched entirely in relief last season:
"He’s another guy who has the mentality that he’s a starter. He did not have a good spring. He reached the point where he had to prove he belonged, and then, he had a nine-strikeout game."
The A’s teach the same systems at both the major- and minor-league levels, and Young talks frequently with minor-league pitching instructor Ron Romanick.
When the A’s needed another starter, "Dallas Braden’s minor-league stats just jumped out at us," said Young. Braden, who reminds Young of himself when he was an A’s starter, had a successful debut but got shelled in his next two appearances.
"He’s got a fastball in the high 80s and a nice change and curve," Young said, "and that’s been a model for success for left-handers — if they have good location with their pitches. He had that in his first start but not his last two."
There’s another possibility at Sacramento: Dan Meyer, who came in the Tim Hudson trade two years ago but has lost virtually two seasons because of injuries.
"When we traded for him, looking at his minor-league statistics (381 strikeouts, 88 walks in 352 innings), we thought we were getting a Mulder-type pitcher," said Young. "Now, he’s trying to fight his way back."
The A’s have a recent tradition of great pitching coaches, starting with Dave Duncan for the great A’s teams of 1988-90. Rick Peterson added some innovative theories which the A’s still use. Curt Young is a worthy addition to that tradition.