The Oakland Athletics surprised many last year when they used a rookie-dominated rotation to help lead them into the playoffs. Now, they'll look to one of those young pitchers as they try to avoid their worst start in 17 years.
Oakland will send Tommy Milone to the mound for Wednesday night's home game against the Seattle Mariners , who will trot out Joe Saunders for his first start with his new club in a matchup of left-handers.
Seattle won 2-0 in the opener of the four-game set Monday before following with a 7-1 victory Tuesday.
Milone led Oakland in innings (190) last year and went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA as one of five rookies in the club's starting rotation at the end of the regular season.
The Athletics, at risk of their first 0-3 start since 1996, will be counting on Milone after Jarrod Parker - another one of last season's rookies - struggled Tuesday. Parker gave up four runs on five hits and three walks, needing 95 pitches to get through five innings.
Milone was 3-0 this spring with a 4.63 ERA across six starts and is one of four second-year pitchers in Oakland's stable of starters this year.
"We're all just confident in the type of pitchers we are," Milone said. "We try to be our own person, but together we have the same goal. We go out to compete. We have a friendly competition among ourselves that we're always trying to out-do each other."
Opposing Milone will be a Seattle lineup that was reworked in the offseason after finishing last in the majors with a .234 batting average.
Tuesday's game showed some promise from new additions in the middle of the order. Cleanup man Michael Morse provided a three-run homer as well as a solo shot, and No. 3 hitter Kendrys Morales recorded an RBI single.
"Guys are confident up there," Morse said. "We had a good spring and guys are carrying it over."
Saunders had a rough spring after signing a one-year contract with Seattle in February. He was 1-1 with an 11.57 ERA in 11 2-3 innings over four games - three starts - but said he puts little stock in exhibition numbers.
"You never want to give up hits or runs, but I don't really focus on results," he told the team's official website. Saunders was 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA in 28 starts between Arizona and Baltimore last season.
"I focus solely on how my body feels, how my arm bounces back. I feel like I'm right on track."
Saunders has had success versus the A's, going 13-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 20 career starts. He's won four of his last five starts against them, posting a 1.70 ERA.
The Athletics' offense has struggled out of the gate, producing one run and six hits over the first two games. Yoenis Cespedes accounted for the lone run with a solo homer Tuesday.
They hope to get a jolt from outfielder Chris Young , who is expected to make his first start of the season Wednesday, according to the team's website. Young was acquired from Arizona in an offseason trade after hitting 61 homers over the last three years.
After a breakout second season in 2012 in which he hit 20 home runs for Seattle, third baseman Kyle Seager is off to a hot start, going 4 for 7 with two doubles and two walks.
|March 25, 2013||Josh Kinney||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, left shoulder|
|March 19, 2013||Brendan Ryan||Day-to-Day||Stiffness in neck|
|March 27, 2013||Hiroyuki Nakajima||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|March 26, 2013||Adam Rosales||15-Day DL||Strained left intercostal|
|March 23, 2013||Fernando Rodriguez||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|March 14, 2013||Fernando Rodriguez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|February 14, 2013||Grant Balfour||Day-to-Day||Right knee surgery - out 4-6 weeks|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- It took Tommy Milone a few innings to settle down and find his release point. By then, the Oakland Athletics had already built a comfortable lead for their young left-hander.
Jed Lowrie and Chris Young hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh, helping Oakland to a 6-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
"To get some run support and know the team has got your back, especially going down 2-0, it's a big deal," Milone said. "It kind of lit a fire under my butt and told me that I needed to keep this game close."
Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Morse homered for Seattle in the first, but Milone settled down and retired 17 of his final 18 batters while pitching seven innings.
"If there's anybody that can recover from a little bit of a difficult start it's Tommy," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He doesn't let too much get to him. He just concentrates on where he's throwing that particular pitch and doesn't get too far ahead of himself."
Nate Freiman had two hits and an RBI in his major league debut as Oakland knocked around Joe Saunders and two relievers after managing just one run and six hits in the first two games of the series.
The A's had seven extra-base hits overall: five doubles and two home runs. Eight A's had at least one hit while four drove in at least one run.
Milone (1-0) allowed only one baserunner after the second inning, finishing with a walk and four strikeouts. Sean Doolittle pitched the eighth and Chris Resop worked the ninth to complete the five-hitter.
Lowrie, acquired in a trade from Houston just before the start of spring training, went 3 for 3 with a walk and three RBIs. His tiebreaking two-run double off Saunders in the fourth put the A's ahead for good.
Gutierrez got the Mariners off to a nice start when he hit the fourth pitch from Milone over the wall in left for his second career leadoff homer. Morse, a key offseason acquisition for Seattle, tacked on a two-out drive to center for his third homer in two games.
Freiman's first career hit got Oakland on the board in the second. But the rookie first baseman was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Scott Sizemore 's double to left.
Freiman later singled in the fourth then made a sliding catch in front of the photographer's well near Seattle's dugout in the fifth.
Saunders (0-1) ran his pitch count up in the third when he yielded a leadoff double to Coco Crisp , then walked Lowrie and Young. Yoenis Cespedes drove in Crisp with a sacrifice fly to center, but Saunders retired the next two batters to end the threat.
"(Saunders) just didn't have the command of the secondary stuff he typically has," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "He controlled damage about as well as he can, considering everything. He was just never able to lock it in."
The A's went up 4-2 in the fourth on Lowrie's double to left-center after Josh Reddick doubled and Crisp reached on a fielder's choice.
Lowrie and Young added consecutive home runs off Kameron Lowe in the seventh.
Milone, tied for the team lead in wins as a rookie last season, and two relievers did the rest.
Milone gave up a leadoff single to Jesus Montero in the second, then walked Jason Bay before getting Robert Andino to hit into a double play. Seattle didn't get a runner past first base the rest of the game.
NOTES: Sizemore went 1 for 4 in his first game since he injured a knee on the first day of spring training in 2012. ... Saunders lasted four innings and allowed seven hits with four walks. ... Seattle has not started a season 3-0 since 1995. ... The A's claimed RHP Will Harris off waivers from Colorado and optioned him to Triple-A Sacramento. To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Josh Stinson was designated for assignment. ... RHP Brendan Maurer will make his major league debut for Seattle on Thursday. He'll oppose Oakland RHP A.J. Griffin, who went 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in two starts against Seattle in 2012.