Jesse Chavez and Rick Porcello both appear to be in the midst of breakout seasons. But both right-handers believe they can do better. They'll get their shot on Thursday when the A's and Tigers square off in the finale of a four-game series, in which Oakland holds a 2-1 series edge.
Chavez, who had started just two games in his career coming into 2014, is putting together a stellar first two months. In 10 starts, he is 4-2 with a 2.62 ERA, good for seventh among American League starters.
The 30-year-old Chavez has allowed just two runs in each of his last three starts, but he's lasted no more than 5 1/3 innings in his two most recent outings. The one-time reliever will look to go deeper into Thursday afternoon's game against Detroit.
"The last two starts, they've just been fouling off pitches and I haven't been making good 0-2 pitches, which has prolonged the at-bats, and that kind of hurts the pitch count a little bit," Chavez said. "So I think that's just the big key for me, don't prolong an at-bat. Get three pitches or less, or pick the time to choose to nibble. But other than that, just three pitches or less to each hitter, and try to outlast the other starter. That's my only goal."
Porcello also has plenty to think about following his worst start of the season against the Rangers on Saturday. Returning from left side soreness that caused the Tigers to push him back two days, Porcello surrendered 12 hits and eight earned runs over 5 1/3 innings.
While there were no clear signs of the injury bothering him, Porcello's ERA ballooned from 2.91 to 3.88 as he fell to 7-2. His seven wins are tied for third in the Majors.
"I think last start I just left too much stuff over the plate and didn't pitch ahead and just didn't have them on their heels enough," Porcello said Wednesday. "Tomorrow, being able to execute pitches and hit spots and change it up is something that's going to be key."
Porcello is 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA in eight career starts against Oakland.
A's: Bullpen still searching for rhythm
The A's bullpen, touted as one of the team's biggest strengths when the season began, is off to a peculiar start in 2014. On the one hand, A's relievers rank second in the AL in bullpen ERA (2.88). But those same relievers are responsible for 10 of Oakland's 21 losses.
"We haven't been as good as we've expected to be [in the bullpen]," manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday, a day after his 'pen allowed two late-inning runs that led to a 6-5 loss. "Again, the overall numbers don't look bad. The timeliness of it hasn't been great for us, but we'll get it ironed out."
Jim Johnson, who the A's signed for $10 million in the offseason to be their closer, was removed from the closer role just one week into the season. After employing a closer-by-committee system for a while, Melvin named left-hander Sean Doolittle his closer last week.
Doolittle has converted four of his five save opportunities this season, but he hasn't had many chances lately with the A's struggling. Melvin is still searching for the right bullpen formula.
"We have quality guys down there," he said. "It's my job to figure out who and when, and we're all accountable for some of the nicks that we've gotten late in games here. So we'll continue to work on that and try to find the best mix of guys depending on availability on a particular day."
Tigers: Jackson struggling after hot start
Manager Brad Ausmus gave slumping center fielder Austin Jackson most of the day off on Wednesday, leaving him out of the starting lineup before putting him in as a late-game defensive replacement.
After an excellent April in which he posted a .307/.391/.520 slash line, Jackson has hit just .217/.260/.315 in May.
But Ausmus sees no reason to panic. He suggested Jackson's numbers will likely even out as the season goes along.
"There's nothing really gross that he's doing," Ausmus said. "He's just in a little bit of a funk. ... I don't think May is indicative of the type of player he's going to be over the six-month season.
Jackson has just two hits in his last 14 at-bats but is expected to be back in the starting lineup on Thursday.
Brandon Moss has 18 extra-base hits in May, matching the Oakland record for extra-base hits in May set in 2001 by Jason Giambi.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.