Youthful A's rotation key to club's success in 2017

MESA, Ariz. (AP) A key to the Oakland Athletics' young and relatively inexperienced starting rotation will be to consistently get the ball to the bullpen with a lead or a tie.

If that happens, a number of late-inning specialists figure to be able to close out games on a regular basis.

''It'll be fun but it will also be something that is going to have some people step up, including myself,'' No. 1 starter Sonny Gray said on reporting day for Oakland's pitchers and catchers. ''If we can go out there with that light-hearted, young, having fun mentality. The good thing about having a bunch of young guys is we can make it as much fun as we want.''

The A's aren't highly thought of as contenders this season after a second straight last-place finish in the AL West. For that to change, Oakland will need to get better results out of a projected starting rotation whose ace, Gray, had a down year in 2016, going 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA. He was an All-Star in 2015 and had 28 wins combined in 2014 and 2015. Other potential starters include Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs and Jesse Hahn.

''Expectations aren't really high for any of these guys,'' Gray said. ''For any of us, really. We can just go out there and do our thing and hopefully by the end of it, put together something pretty cool.''

Catcher Stephen Vogt said it's frustrating that people don't give the A's more credit.

''We know how good we can be if we're healthy and our guys pitch the way they're capable of,'' Vogt said. ''I think this lineup is going to put up a lot of runs. You try not to pay attention to everybody kind of counting you out, but at the same time, when no one's even talking about you that's when you can really sneak up on some people and ruin some other teams' seasons.''

Graveman's 10 wins and 186 innings led the staff in 2016.

''I set some goals last year and I met them,'' Graveman said. ''I think I'm going to set some higher goals this year. For me that's huge, to write them down in spring training. Make every start, I think that's huge.''

Manaea made 24 starts last season and after some early struggles, finished with a 3.86 ERA. Cotton came to the A's in a trade with the Dodgers involving Rich Hill and Josh Reddick last season. Triggs went 1-1 in six starts and debuted last season.

''There's a lot of young guys with not very much experience, but a lot of them got their feet wet last year,'' Vogt said. ''They had a full offseason to prepare for what's in front of them.''

Gray could get the chance to face top competition in games that matter next month in the World Baseball Classic. He would join Team USA in the second round in San Diego.

''It lines up just really well,'' Gray said. ''The fact that you get to potentially put on the jersey again is a cool feeling. Something I've done in the past and I've really enjoyed.''

Gray's bullpen session schedule will be altered slightly for the WBC, he said, but it's ''nothing too crazy.''

NOTES: Newly acquired reliever Santiago Casilla has yet to report to spring training and may miss his scheduled physical on Wednesday due to issues with his international visa. ... A smiling Andrew Lambo, back with the A's as a non-roster camp invitee, said he's ready to play again after beating testicular cancer last year. He's been cancer-free for seven months. ... C Josh Phegley is running and ready to participate fully in workouts, he said, after being limited last season by left knee surgery and setbacks. But manager Bob Melvin said he might ease Phegley into early spring drills. ... Ps Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront are throwing after recovering from last year's elbow surgeries. ''They'll definitely be in the mix later on this season,'' Melvin said.

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