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Athletics Split-Squad Action: A's Fifth Starter Battle Taking Shape

The Oakland Athletics took part in their first split-squad games as they defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 and lost to the San Diego Padres 7-6. The most notable performances of the day came in the continued battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Josh Outman, Bobby Cramer and Tyson Ross all received mutliple innings of work.

Outman lasted 1 1/3 innings against the Padres and gave up four runs on five hits and three walks. Cramer pitched three innings of relief against the Padres and gave up only one hit and one walk. Ross pitched three innings of relief against the Brewers and gave up four hits while striking out four.

The fifth starter battle features those three pitchers as well as Brandon McCarthy and eventually Rich Harden. As it currently stands, Bobby Cramer or Tyson Ross would seemingly have the statistical edge. Of course, Cramer is 31 and has spent his career in the minors before four solid starts last fall. It’s tough to tell at this point if he’ll end up really topping out at AAA.

I could see Cramer starting the season as the fifth guy, but eventually losing the job to one of the younger guys. Tyson Ross is only 23 and methodically worked his way up the minor league ranks since the A’s drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft. I’d have to imagine the A’s would love to see him emerge as the fifth starter rather than a career relief pitcher.

Brandon McCarthy and Josh Outman represent upside guys for the A’s but also guys coming off significant injuries. Neither pitcher has appeared in an MLB game since 2009. McCarthy was a free agent pickup for the A’s this offseason while Outman came over in the Joe Blanton trade. Outman is recovering from elbow surgery, while McCarthy dealt with shoulder inflammation last year.

If I were to rank the pitchers in the order in which the A’s would like to see them emerge, it would likely be:

1. Tyson Ross
2. Josh Outman
3. Brandon McCarthy
4. Bobby Cramer

This list would also be affected by how the A’s view each pitcher in a relief role. Additionally, Rich Harden is such a wildcard at this point that I won’t even bother including him,