GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On Saturday, A's starter
What began as a perfectly clear 74-degree day ended with a very imperfect 10 for Sheets and a cloudy forecast for both the A's and their expensive new ace. After missing all of last season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, Sheets signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Oakland in the offseason, becoming just the second player ever to receive an eight-figure contract from the famously frugal franchise. He's being paid like an ace, and that's what Oakland is banking on getting: a stabilizing force and a leader to provide a strong example for the 26-and-under crowd of
Thus far, however, the results have been disastrous. Sheets has a spring ERA of 31.15 and his Monday start was so awful and his exit so abrupt that he retreated to the bullpen to throw two simulated innings, needing more work than the 35 pitches he lasted on the game field.
"People have had bad springs before, but this one's been taken to a whole new level," said Sheets afterward. "When you can't even get out of the first inning, it's ridiculous. Not getting any outs is embarrassing."
There was some reason for optimism. Sheets raved about how good his surgically-repaired arm felt against the Reds and that his fastball velocity hovered around 91 miles per hour, a number that will likely tick up slightly as spring training continues. His catcher,
"This guy's an All-Star," A's manager
The question this season is whether Sheets will be the A's ace all year long. With Oakland not likely to contend for a playoff berth, there is already speculation that Sheets could get traded midsummer, making the first half of the season a tryout for him and an investment in young players by the A's. It's a way for general manager
Sitting in front of his locker the day before in the Phoenix Municipal Stadium clubhouse, Sheets predictably declined to comment on such speculation that he'd certainly be traded by the deadline ("I don't read what anyone says") and stressed that his only focus right now is pitching and returning to his 2008 All-Star form, when he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA for the Brewers, with whom he had spent his entire career before signing with the A's.
Milwaukee second baseman
"He spent a lot of years here as the face of the organization and the pitching staff," Bush said. "That's not an easy thing to handle, but he handled it pretty well. Even as we got better, he still carried that through. He's always been a stand-up guy, very professional. He handles the good and bad the same way."
The National League certainly remembers Sheets as ace. New White Sox left fielder
"He was just a bulldog on the mound," Pierre said. "You have to
Of course, that phrase "when healthy" is the key qualifier. Sheets reiterated several times that he felt good and his arm felt good, so there should soon be improvement in his results. Concluding his postgame wrap last Monday, his voice rose in defiant confidence.
"I'm going to get it together," he said. "One thing I've never been worried about is that if I'm healthy, I'm going to get it together. I'm a big believer in myself. I believe I can pitch. If I [feel] like I did today, I'm only going to get better."