A's arms fly in with Pterodactyl, other youngsters

Tim Brown

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Given five seconds, and only five seconds, to come up with his own nickname (or have one bestowed upon him) on an otherwise unremarkable spring day, 21-year-old Trevor Cahill relented to the veterans in his midst and blurted out his first thought.

So it was Wednesday evening in the visitors' clubhouse at Angels Stadium that the question was posed:

"What time's stretching, Pterodactyl?"

Could have been worse, you suppose.

If it doesn't catch on – and it appeared a little late for that – it was suggested to Cahill he could drop a "P" in front of his given name, go with Ptrevor.

"Yeah," encouraged one of the veterans, "go colorful!"

The night before, maybe 45 minutes from where he'd grown up and not yet three years since leaving high school, Cahill had started the second game of the season for the Oakland Athletics. Including the five innings against the Los Angeles Angels, he's now pitched 42 innings above A-ball.

"It couldn't have come soon enough," he said. "And it was awesome."

A couple lockers away, lefty Brett Anderson – who was given the same five seconds and blanked and now stands at the mercy of his teammates – would start Thursday night. He's also 21 and, like ol' Pterodactyl Cahill himself, will have not seen a Triple-A clubhouse before throwing his first big league pitch. By the time he takes the ball, he'll be the third A's pitcher to make his major league debut in the series, after Cahill and reliever Andrew Bailey.

Mostly by design, the A's have opened the season with all five of their starting pitchers under the age of 26, the first time that's happened in the majors in more than two decades. They've gone all-in with their young arms, two (Anderson and Dana Eveland) acquired in the Dan Haren trade and one (Josh Outman) in the Joe Blanton trade. It's a bold and risky and counterintuitive direction given the organization concentrated this offseason on reconstructing its offense, but will leave the other halves of the innings to an unproven rotation.

It's also part of life in the AL West, where for the moment the stable, dependable rotation has gone the way of the Cahill.

"Right now we're trying to get through some things," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Our depth has been stretched to a limit we're a little uncomfortable with."

And that's about as bearish as you'll get out of Scioscia, on any subject.

Waiting on John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, he'll lean on Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux and Nick Adenhart for at least a month and probably longer. Not as young but just as squirrelly, the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners are trying to make something from what were two of the worst rotations in the game last season.

For the time being, they'll all survive and get the ball to the next guy, clean as possible.

One of the Angels' hitters sighed and complained their lineup never saw a strike from Cahill, holding his hands 18 inches apart and saying, "But his sinker moved this much."

Cahill threw 103 pitches in five innings, but persevered through the five and everyone was happy for it. The Angels had their own brush with imprecision in Adenhart, the 22-year-old prospect who on Wednesday night seemed only mildly familiar with the strike zone, but who, like Cahill, had the stuff and composure to pitch around disaster. He pitched six scoreless innings, surviving 10 A's baserunners.

The San Francisco Chronicle looked into the last two clubs to go so young with their April starters, and found neither the 1978 Milwaukee Brewers nor 1968 Oakland A's had their rotations reach May intact. Most recently, as we all recall, the New York Yankees last season believed they'd weave in Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and (eventually) Joba Chamberlain, and we can probably agree it cost them their place in October.

"It was tough for them," Bobby Abreu, the former Yankee, said with a nod. "You can be young, there's no problem with that. But you have to have a plan on the mound. You have to know what to do."

It's a lot to ask of pitchers who haven't seen this sort of grind, this level of lineup, before. It worked for the A's in the Big Three era, but Mark Mulder (Michigan State), Barry Zito (USC) and Tim Hudson (Auburn) were college pitchers, so presumably an inch or two wiser. Of the A's new crop, Dallas Braden (Texas Tech) and Outman (Central Missouri) did some campus time. Presumably, they are the best five starters in the organization, and that's why they get the ball, and they can't be any more or less a gamble than the typical mid-range free agent.

So, they go Braden, Cahill, Dana Eveland, Anderson and Outman, Monday through Friday. Now, about April through September …

"I've been in a lot of different camps and with a lot of different teams," A's reliever Russ Springer said, "and I've never seen as many good arms as I saw in this camp. They're good. And mature, too."

Cahill has not the slightest idea how this will develop. But, he's got great hopes for it, and he's willing – and eager – to ride it out, see what every fifth day might bring. What he knows for certain, he's not alone.

"There is a connection here," he said. "Everybody's got something about them."