Griffin prepared for higher expectations in sophomore season

Griffin prepared for higher expectations in sophomore season
February 26, 2013, 3:00 pm
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SCOTTSDALE -- The Oakland Athletics' spectacled starter has returned. A.J. Griffin may need glasses on the mound, but he can see he has an opportunity to make Oakland's starting rotation. On Tuesday he strengthened his case by firing two shutout innings.

With his long blond hair flowing from the back of his cap, the righty faced the minimum and struck out three batters -- two looking, one swinging. He allowed one hit and no walks.

"I just want to make the best of the opportunity I've been given so far," Griffin said. "Just continue to be able to play with this great group of guys and be a part of this awesome team."

The only base-runner Griffin allowed was erased by Gold Glover Josh Reddick. The right fielder registered his first outfield assist of the spring by firing an absolute laser that stunned Paul Goldschmidt as he was faking an advance from second to third on a fly out. It was the third out of the second inning, completing Griffin's start.

"I was like, 'OK that's cool, I'll call it a day,'" Griffin said of Reddick's throw. "It's great having a guy like that out there."

As a rookie last season, Griffin emerged onto the scene with a nearly unprecedented level of success. He started his major league career 6-0 and ended the season with a 7-1 record in 15 starts. Griffin's .875 win percentage was the third best in A's history, and second best in MLB history by a rookie with 15 or more starts.

"Once you start off something like that it's kind of sensationalized a little bit," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It puts a little added pressure on you to try and keep up that pace."

While the A's were 12-3 in Griffin's 15 starts in 2012, he slowed down a bit, late in the season. He allowed 14 runs in his final four starts, after allowing just 14 in his first 11 outings. Even though he wasn't at his best at the end of the year, he still started the American League West-clinching Game 162, and Game 3 of the American League Division Series, giving him valuable big game experience.

"He was so good, and then your expectation is that he's going to go 40-0 to start his career, but that's not realistic," Melvin said. "The numbers at the end weren't as good as at the beginning, but he's going to be somewhere in between. He's a good pitcher and he's going to get better and better."

Griffin isn't a power pitcher, but he has excellent control. He only walked 19 batters in 82 1/3 big league innings last season and finished with a 3.06 ERA and 64 strikeouts. Not bad for a guy that started the season in Double-A and wasn't even invited to big league camp last year. Griffin had never even started a spring training game in his career, but he's already pitched in the playoffs.

"That's how it all kind of fell into place last year," Griffin said. "Just keep going with it, I guess, is all you can do."

Aside from making the team, Griffin wants to work on keeping the ball down in the strike zone better. He says he wants to stay on top of his pitches. He is focusing on worrying about each pitch at a time in hopes that if he executes each pitch, the big picture will take care of itself.

"What I want is early contact this year," Griffin said. "Last year I'd throw 30 pitches in the first inning every time and be a third of the way done with my outing after the first inning. I'd get to the sixth inning but just think if I'd have thrown 12 pitches in the first."

Griffin has an eccentric personality to say the least. As he greeted the media in the clubhouse after his start, he joked that he wanted to recreate a Bleu De Chanel commercial from 2010, by saying "I'm not going to be the person you expect me to be anymore," and walking out of the clubhouse.

"The confidence is definitely there," Reddick said of Griffin. "He's got pretty decent hair."

Griffin may have to postpone his spokesperson modeling career, though. He already tried working a side job by selling shoes in Palo Alto prior to the 2011 season, and he looks like focusing solely on baseball has been to his benefit.

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