The Oakland Athletics surprised many last year when they used a rookie-dominated rotation to help lead them into the playoffs. Now, they'll look to one of those young pitchers as they try to avoid their worst start in 17 years.
Oakland will send Tommy Milone to the mound for Wednesday night's home game against the Seattle Mariners, who will trot out Joe Saunders for his first start with his new club in a matchup of left-handers.
Seattle won 2-0 in the opener of the four-game set Monday before following with a 7-1 victory Tuesday.
Milone led Oakland in innings (190) last year and went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA as one of five rookies in the club's starting rotation at the end of the regular season.
The Athletics, at risk of their first 0-3 start since 1996, will be counting on Milone after Jarrod Parker - another one of last season's rookies - struggled Tuesday. Parker gave up four runs on five hits and three walks, needing 95 pitches to get through five innings.
Milone was 3-0 this spring with a 4.63 ERA across six starts and is one of four second-year pitchers in Oakland's stable of starters this year.
"We're all just confident in the type of pitchers we are," Milone said. "We try to be our own person, but together we have the same goal. We go out to compete. We have a friendly competition among ourselves that we're always trying to out-do each other."
Opposing Milone will be a Seattle lineup that was reworked in the offseason after finishing last in the majors with a .234 batting average.
Tuesday's game showed some promise from new additions in the middle of the order. Cleanup man Michael Morse provided a three-run homer as well as a solo shot, and No. 3 hitter Kendrys Morales recorded an RBI single.
"Guys are confident up there," Morse said. "We had a good spring and guys are carrying it over."
Saunders had a rough spring after signing a one-year contract with Seattle in February. He was 1-1 with an 11.57 ERA in 11 2-3 innings over four games - three starts - but said he puts little stock in exhibition numbers.
"You never want to give up hits or runs, but I don't really focus on results," he told the team's official website. Saunders was 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA in 28 starts between Arizona and Baltimore last season.
"I focus solely on how my body feels, how my arm bounces back. I feel like I'm right on track."
Saunders has had success versus the A's, going 13-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 20 career starts. He's won four of his last five starts against them, posting a 1.70 ERA.
The Athletics' offense has struggled out of the gate, producing one run and six hits over the first two games. Yoenis Cespedes accounted for the lone run with a solo homer Tuesday.
They hope to get a jolt from outfielder Chris Young, who is expected to make his first start of the season Wednesday, according to the team's website. Young was acquired from Arizona in an offseason trade after hitting 61 homers over the last three years.
After a breakout second season in 2012 in which he hit 20 home runs for Seattle, third baseman Kyle Seager is off to a hot start, going 4 for 7 with two doubles and two walks.
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