HOUSTON -- Curt Young carved out a solid 11-year major-league career that was spent mainly with the A's.

But the left-hander usually flew under the radar pitching alongside bigger names such as Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch.

Fast forward to 2007, and Young still is keeping a low profile.

As the A's starting rotation is putting together one of the finest stretches of any in the team's Oakland history, Young's name doesn't get brought up as often as it should.

"He works very hard," A's manager Bob Geren said of his pitching coach. "He studies the opposition for hours. We have a well thought out game plan every day for our pitchers, and he's the big reason for that."

Young, who can be spotted roaming the field before a game wearing his left-handed catcher's mitt, took over as the team's pitching coach before the 2004 season. That was still the "Big Three" era, when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito formed the best-known core of any staff in the major leagues.

Coaching those players often meant putting the ball in their hands and pointing them toward the mound, as Young himself will say. But survey his work this season.

Oakland is without projected starters Esteban Loaiza and Rich Harden, both on the disabled list. Closer Huston Street and setup man Justin Duchscherer went down with injuries in mid-May and have yet to return.

But here are the A's, owners of the American League's lowest ERA (3.11) and riding a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings as they begin a three-game series tonight at Houston.

Dan Haren has emerged as one of the game's top starting pitchers in his third full season. Chad Gaudin made a seamless transition from relieving to starting, and Lenny DiNardo is showing signs of doing the same. Joe Blanton has shown great improvement, and Joe Kennedy is pitching well after a shaky spring.

Journeyman Alan Embree, thrust into the closer's role, is leading a bullpen that's held together despite the injuries.

"The work ethic and the daily routines these guys do are carrying them right now," Young said. "They're getting the kind of results they should be getting with the way they're working."

A pitching coach obviously has to spot mechanical flaws in someone's delivery, but there's more to the job description. It's Young's mental approach to the game that his players say is his best attribute.

"He's got a real calming way of talking to a pitcher during the game," Blanton said. "When things start to get rough, he has a way of coming out and calming the whole situation down."

Embree, a 13-year veteran who is in his first season with the A's, has been through many pitching coaches. He likes what he's seen so far in Young.

"He seems to work really well with younger players and older players," Embree said. "He knows that I'm not a spring chicken, and I kind of have a feel for what I'm doing."

It isn't surprising Young grasps the mental aspect of the game. During his playing days, he was more of a thinker on the mound than a flame-thrower. He posted a career record of 69-53 with a 4.31 ERA. He pitched for the A's from 1983-91 and again in 1993, and in 1992 played with the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

Geren, who was a catcher with the Yankees from 1988-91, said the two had some fun recently looking up the statistical battle in their playing days. Sure enough, Geren went 0-for-7 against Young, the pitcher he faced the most times in his career without registering a hit.

"He was just a very smart pitcher with good control," Geren said. "It seemed like the harder you swung, the softer he'd throw. He was really ahead of the game."

In talking to his players, Young draws on the experience of pitching on those great A's staffs of the late 1980s.

"We talk about what certain guys are thinking, what Bob Welch was thinking going into the eighth inning, or what Dave Stewart was doing trying to complete a game," Young said. "Everyone can win a 2-0 game, a 3-1 game when you have your best stuff. But I think our guys know even (when) you don't have your best stuff, if you're thinking the right way, you can get through six or seven innings."

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglich@cctimes.com.

  • TODAY: A's (Joe Kennedy 2-4) at Astros (Roy Oswalt 6-4), 5:05 p.m. TV: FSNBA. Radio: 1550-AM, 106.9-FM