(Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

After two last-place finishes, A’s hope crop of young starters can deliver wins

OAKLAND — Before grabbing his seat in the East Side club — halfway up the Coliseum’s Mount Davis — Stephen Vogt had some business to attend to.

The two-time All-Star catcher, who is one of four current Oakland Athletics players left from the 2014 club — the last group to reach the postseason — makes his way around the room, a giant smile plastered on his face as he stops to greet and shake hands with all his teammates.

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever had as far as acclimating with the pitchers, understanding them, making them feel confident,” manager Bob Melvin said on Friday morning, the day before the team hosted FanFest at Jack London Square. “We’re lucky to have a guy like Stephen.”

Aside from Vogt, Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle and Jed Lowrie are the lone holdovers from the 2014 club. Lowrie, though, spent 2015 with the Houston Astros before returning last offseason.

With the team fresh off back-to-back last place finishes in the American League West, Vogt’s job will be to shepherd the A’s youthful and talented crew of starting pitchers. It’s a staff that provides a sense of optimism with spring training approaching next month.

“At the end of the day, you’re only as good as the guy who takes the ball every five days,” Vogt said. “And I hate to say it that way, but it’s the truth. And when you have this kind of depth and this kind of talent, you feel pretty good about your chances every day. So, I’m excited to see how the rotation’s going to shape out.”

Melvin offered a similar assessment when asked about the group, which features Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas.

“It’s like having a good quarterback,” Melvin explained. “You almost have to have good starting pitching to be successful. In our marketplace and where we have some issues about whether it’s payroll or whatever, when you have good young starting pitching that you can control, you know you’re going to be in games.”

On a team that finished third-to-last in OPS in 2016 and whose chief offseason adds were Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe and Matt Joyce, the rotation likely will have to carry the uninspiring lineup.

“Even if you don’t have the best offensive team in the world, if you execute, you have a chance to win games,” Melvin said. “And it all starts with the starters going out there and keeping you in games.”

At 27, Gray is the elder statesman of the bunch. After posting an alarming 5.69 ERA during his injury-riddled 2016, the right-hander grasps the significance of moving forward — not looking back — better that anyone on the roster.

“I think for me individually, putting last year behind me is huge,” Gray said. “Even us as a team, putting the last two or three years behind us is something that the guys who have been here [say], ‘You know what? This is a fresh start for everyone.’ In the last couple of years, I don’t think it’s been that. It’s kind of been, ‘Yeah, last year this, this and this happened.’ It’s just some excuses that everyone makes not even thinking about it.”

Finally back to 100 percent after his frustrating season, Gray is not only the rotation’s frontman but also the starting five’s top tutor.

“Last year, Sonny really took me under his wing and really showed me the ropes.” Manaea said. “[He] showed me what to do and how to do things around the clubhouse or what to do on and off the field. He was always there if I needed somebody to talk to about like pitching things.”

Manaea credited Gray with teaching him how to strike the perfect balance between being laid-back off the field and all business on the mound.

The numbers prove that the left-hander, who turns 25 on Feb. 1, was paying close attention during those dugout lessons. Manaea rattled off a 1.13 ERA in his final four starts to close out his rookie season.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline, Cotton is another promising young starter who caught the attention of his bosses with a lights-out month of September. In five starts in Green and Gold, the right-hander allowed seven earned runs — good for a 2.15 ERA.

“I feel like coming from LA to here, I love it here because guys are more humble and it’s just fun to be around,” Cotton said.

While Manaea and Cotton — like the rest of the young guns — remain focused on cinching up a rotation spot behind Gray and Graveman, they also recognize that they have the chance to be part of a bigger movement.

“It’s like the new wave,” Manaea said. “I feel like we can do big things.”

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