OAKLAND -- The future has arrived a little early for the A's pitching staff.
A team that looked awful as recently as a few weeks ago is suddenly on a roll, having won six games in a row, largely on the strength of the youngest rotation in the majors.
"It's extremely exciting, not just as a player, but as a fan of the game, to watch what these young guys are doing, " 25-year-old lefty Dallas Braden, the senior member of the group, told FanHouse.
And that was before 22-year-old Vin Mazzaro, the most recent addition to the rotation, pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday. Mazzaro, who pitched 6 1/3 innings to beat the White Sox on Tuesday, is the first pitcher in Oakland history to start his career with consecutive scoreless starts.
Mazzaro, who has won the games at each end of the six-game winning streak, has joined a group that included 21-year-olds Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, 24-year-old Josh Outman and Braden. Last week marked the first time since 1996 that the A's started four consecutive rookies.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team lost three of four games against the A's rookies, was sufficiently impressed.
"Quote me on this," he told reporters, "the Oakland A's are going to have a tremendous pitching staff the next two or three years."
Since taking three of four in Chicago, the A's swept the Orioles, with the starters continuing their hot streak. Since May 19, A's starters have a 2.72 ERA. If you discount the two starts by journeyman Edgar Gonzalez, who lost his spot to Mazzaro, the young pitchers have a 2.49 ERA over that span.
"Anytime you see your buddies go out and have success, you want to go out and keep it rolling," Anderson said. "You get that competitiveness. It's a friendly rivalry. Let's see where we can take it from here."
Add the good young pitching to an offense that is starting to produce, led by improving Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday, and there are some good vibes starting to flow around Oakland. There is a light at the end of the tunnel on the rebuilding plan started when general manager Billy Beane traded away Dan Haren in December 2007.
When Beane started dumping veteran players, he said the goal was to load up the cupboard with talented prospects, specifically pitchers. Two of the current starters, Anderson and Outman, came in trades for Haren and Joe Blanton, respectively. (A third pitcher, Sean Gallagher, came in the Rich Harden deal. Gallagher was considered a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he's struggled and is currently pitching at Triple A.)
Now loaded with young pitching, the A's are trying to find the next Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. That trio led the A's to four consecutive playoff appearances earlier in the decade.
Although there have been comparisons drawn between that Big Three and Anderson, Cahill and Mazzaro, it's really too early to place such high expectations on this group.
"I don't anticipate it being a straight trend-line up," Beane said. "It's the nature of being a young player, but each time they do well, there's a sense of confidence that they know what's in there."
Who are these guys?
• Anderson (3-5, 4.97) had been one of Arizona's top pitching prospects, and he instantly shot to the top of the A's list. He began last season in Single-A, but by the end of the season he had pitched on the U.S. Olympic team and in the Triple-A playoffs. He was considered a darkhorse to make the Opening Day rotation, but he bulldozed his way onto the team with a strong spring.
Anderson has had a few rough starts, but he's had quality starts in three of his past four outings, including seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on Thursday.
|Oakland's Young Guns|
• Cahill (3-5, 4.21) created quite a stir when the A's drafted him out of high school with their second-round pick in 2006, going away from their normal practice of picking college players. The relative gamble began to pay off in 2007, when he had a breakthrough season at low A-ball. Last year he and Anderson moved through the system together, going from Single-A to Double-A to the Olympic team.
Cahill, who has been compared to Brandon Webb because of his hard sinker, has made significant improvements in tightening up his mechanics during the first two months. He's allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 12 starts.
• Mazzaro (2-0, 0.00) was another high school draft pick, in the third round in 2005. He didn't get the publicity of Anderson or Cahill last year because he didn't make the Olympic team, but he was nearly as good last. He was the pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League. Mazzaro made 22 starts in that hitter-friendly league and gave up only three homers.
He started this season at Triple-A, but a 2.40 ERA and a 3.0 strikeout/walk ratio earned him a big league promotion. Mazzaro pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the White Sox in his debut on Tuesday.
• Outman is the most anonymous of the four rookies, but he's pitched the best. Outman (3-0, 3.02) barely got any attention in spring training because of the others. At one point, he said he started to worry that he wasn't reading his name in the paper enough.
He had pitched in relief mostly in the Philadelphia system, but made four starts last September for the A's.
"Maybe he just wasn't as famous a name when he came over here, but I know the Phillies thought very highly of him and so did the industry," Beane said.
Outman throws a 94-mph fastball and a plus changeup, along with a breaking ball that he consistently gets over for strikes. Outman has a string of five consecutive quality starts heading into Monday's game against the Twins.
"These guys are all going to keep pushing to make themselves real good," pitching coach Curt Young said. "They see what it's like to pitch here, and they all want to stay here."