Athletics long on pitching

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:08 PM ET

TORONTO - The Oakland Aís are a popular choice as darkhorse candidates to win the American League West.

Guess the Seattle Mariners didnít get the memo.

It was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser when the meek and lightly regarded Mariners took the Aís out behind the woodshed for a sound thrashing in their season-opening series.

While everything was coming up rosy for the Blue Jays, the Aís were getting their expectations handed to them. But they are coming off a 7-1 win in the series finale with Seattle as they embark on a three-city tour that starts Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

The Aís have been in an extended rebuilding mode since winning the AL West in 2006. Much like the Blue Jays, they have a young pitching staff that shows promise of a brighter future.

Last season, they were the best in the league with a staff 3.56 ERA, 17 shutouts and 103 quality starts.

The Jays may get a break in that they wonít be facing Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez, but then Toronto is also going with the back end of its own rotation in this three-game series.

They do have to face Dallas Braden, 27, who threw a perfect game last year against Tampa Bay. The record of 11-14 doesnít look like much but the Athletics had trouble scoring runs for him. Braden had the fourth-lowest run support in the league at 3.60.

The Aís have upgraded that offence, although it didnít look like that for much of the series against the Mariners.

Last year the Aís ranked only 11th in the AL in runs scored and produced a mere 109 home runs, the third-lowest total in the majors. They have reworked the heart of the batting order adding outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham in trades and signed veteran designated hitter Hideki Matsui.

Braden will be opposed in the series opener by Jo-Jo Reyes, one of the more pleasant surprises to come out of the Jaysí spring workouts. Reyes has a history of control problems that plagued his development the past four seasons in Atlanta. But, in 23 exhibition innings, he compiled a 3.52 ERA and a strong strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 18-8 to win a spot in Torontoís rotation at least until Brandon Morrow returns from the disabled list.

ďMy mind wandered a lot in the past, and I think that had to do with immaturity,Ē Reyes said this spring. ďIíve grown a lot in the past three years, and Iím figuring it out now.Ē

In any case the spring developments have revived a career that has seen him lose 10 consecutive games. He hasnít won since June 13, 2008.

The second game features a couple of pitchers coming back from injuries with Brandon McCarthy facing Jesse Litsch.

McCarthy won a battle for the fifth spot in the Aís rotation; 20 strikeouts and just one walk in 26 Cactus League innings. He was limited to 22 major-league starts over the past three seasons because of shoulder problems. Litsch has 11 starts over the past two seasons. The 26-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 and 2010 was cut short because of hip surgery.

Ricky Romero starts Thursdayís matinee (Toronto heads out on its first road trip after the game) with the Aís not having yet announced their starting pitcher.


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