OAKLAND -- For the ninth consecutive season, the A's will have a different opening day starting pitcher. But the Oakland rotation is perhaps less reliant on an opening day starter than most in the major leagues.
Even after injuries have forced starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to the sidelines -- Parker for the season -- and even with 18-game winner Bartolo Colon gone to the New York Mets, the A's begin the 2014 season Monday night against the Cleveland Indians with a rotation rich in promise. The two-time defending American League West champions are still favored to win the division or finish close to the top.
There is no Jered Weaver or Felix Hernandez at the top of the Oakland rotation, though 24-year-old Sonny Gray, who gets the opening day call, could one day be in that elite company. For now the A's strength is the depth in the rotation -- a starting staff so deep they can sell the belief that the dropoff will be minimal.
The two pitchers who will replace Parker and Griffin, and take the third and fifth positions in the rotation along with No. 1 Gray, No. 2 Scott Kazmir and No. 4 Dan Straily -- righty Jesse Chavez and lefty Tommy Milone -- both had chances to win jobs in the rotation even without the injuries.
Milone came into spring training having won a combined 25 games the past two seasons as a rotation member. Chavez worked his way into contention by throwing shutout baseball his first 122/3 innings of the spring. He then finished up with 51/3 shutout innings Friday against the Giants, good for a 2.22 spring ERA.
"I look at Tom Milone as having been in the rotation the last two years, and we know what he can do," pitching coach Curt Young said. "His teammates would take the field every fifth day knowing what he would bring, that he'd give them a chance to win, a good chance.
"And Jesse is at a stage in his career where it's time for him to step up. He's had success at Triple-A as a starter and success for us as a long man in the bullpen. The next natural move is for him to be a starter."
The rotation issue for the A's may not be the names as much as it might be the innings. Parker, who had Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow, threw 197 innings last season. Griffin, currently nearing the end of a three-week hiatus during which he was under strict orders not to throw so as to rest his right elbow, pitched a team-best 200 innings in 2013.
Milone did throw 190 innings two years ago, but Chavez has not thrown more than 1261/3 innings in any season as a professional, and in most of his 10 seasons he has pitched fewer than 100 innings.
A's manager Bob Melvin, however, said, "it wouldn't be crazy at all to me" to think of Chavez pitching in the rotation all year long, even when Griffin is ready to come back, which probably won't be earlier than mid-May.
The A's showed their belief in Gray when they went with him over Colon in Game 5 of the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers last season. Gray can throw 97 mph, but his out pitch is a dynamic curveball that explodes at the plate.
"And he's always been someone who has pitched in big games," Melvin said. "He's not scared of it. He enjoys it."
Kazmir was out of baseball a few years ago after his fastball flattened out in Anaheim. But he rebuilt himself in independent baseball and made it back to the majors last year with the Indians, throwing in the low-to-mid 90s. He's gone from power pitcher to using four different pitches. It worked for a 1.62 ERA in four starts this spring.
Straily made a seamless transition last year from the minors to the big leagues, winning 10 games. Straily, who for the first time in his career didn't have to spend the spring trying to win a position, said he sees the rotation as a major asset in the Oakland narrative heading forward.
"We will have guys step up," he said. "We always have. It's what we do here."
That's not just an internal feeling.
"The A's got pitching," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Jarrod Parker going down, that gives one of the other phenoms a chance. They develop pitching. They're going to miss Parker, but they've got pitching. They always have and they always will. ... They're going to be fine. Just because they lose one pitcher doesn't mean they're going to fall apart."
Gray takes the mound Monday night hoping to prove Washington right.