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Jarrod Parker could end up with his first major-league Opening Day start this season, but it's the Oakland A's potential finish that simmers in his mind.
Two years in a row, the A's have been knocked out of the American League playoffs by the Detroit Tigers in a divisional round series. Parker, a Fort Wayne native and the team's likely No.1 pitcher, says the A's have the roster to change that this season.
“We're right there,” Parker said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The thing that motivates us is that we continue to have that taste in our mouths of what it's' like, but also the taste of being knocked out. It keeps us hungry for getting to that next step and continuing to further develop as a team.”
Parker, 25, enters spring training fully healthy after suffering a forearm strain to his pitching arm toward the end of last season. It was an injury that didn't come to light until after the season. He finished last season with a 12-8 record with a 3.97 ERA and has a two-year record of 25-16 with a 3.73 ERA in 61 starts.
He enters the season feeling stronger than ever about his pitching.
“I feel good,” Parker said. “It's good to have that feeling of a loose, long arm again. I'm at the point where I'll start to throw live BP on Tuesday. I'll throw two live BPs and the next outing will be a (spring training) game.”
Parker, who was a standout pitcher at Norwell High School, has a home in Arizona, so he is able to commute to training camp in Phoenix. Since he regularly works out in the mornings, the biggest difference is joining the rest of the team at one site. The pitchers and catchers reported last Friday with the rest of the A's joining them this week.
With a solid foundation to his career now, Parker has a great feel for what he needs to accomplish in spring training. But he says he continues to learn more about pitching and playing the game.
“Every day (you're learning),” Parker said. “Everybody processes and explains things differently, so when you hear it from somebody else and put in the work, it can change your mind or teach you something new. You can continue to learn each and every day when you see things through someone else's eyes.”
Spring training also serves to foster team camaraderie, especially since Major League roster fluctuate at least subtly from season to season. Parker is part of a strong starting pitching staff that also includes Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin.
The A's finished 96-66 last season in winning the AL West. Parker has pitched in the postseason three straight seasons, since he made an appearance with the Arizona Diamondbacks three years ago at the start of his career.
“(Spring training) is a good time to learn and work on some situations without being in regular-season type situation where everything counts. You work on bunt plays, pick plays, so you kind of know where you can push it, where guys are going to play and tendencies. It's a time to learn about yourself a little bit. It can be a time where it's really good to sit and watch and pick things up.”
Parker had a great stretch last season where he set an Oakland record with 19 straight starts without a loss.
As he enters his third season, hitters are becoming more familiar with his repertoire, so he'll have to be more intent on maintaining an edge on them.
“It's just about staying ahead of the curve little bit,” Parker said. “You don't want to fall into too many tendencies and be predictable. But if you have the feeling that (certain pitches) are your strengths, then you're going to pitch that way. Take your stuff, locate it, and try to do exactly what you want to do with the ball.”
The excitement of the start of baseball season continues to be strong, Parker said.
“Even when you just down in the bullpen throwing, that feeling of being in control and playing this game for your career is something that never ever loses the excitement factor.”