Opportunity knocks and Chavez gladly answers
After five organizations gave up on him, righty showing what he can do with A's
OAKLAND -- There must be times when Oakland A's right-hander Jesse Chavez simply can't believe how it has all worked out. Or at least plenty of times he doubted he'd ever get the chance to do the things he has done this season.
Yes, friends, Chavez is living the dream.
"It's the opportunity I'm happy about," Chavez said after throwing seven shutout innings Saturday afternoon as the A's beat the Red Sox, 2-1, in 10 innings. "All you can ask for is a chance."
Chavez is a reminder of many things. First, it's risky business giving up on someone with his heart and desire, and that might be the toughest thing to measure.
"His preparation is flawless," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He leaves no stones unturned. He knows what the strength and weakness of the hitter are. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are."
Chavez has also shown that determination and smarts might be as important as raw physical skills. And that confidence is a fragile thing, something to be handled carefully and nurtured and grown a day at a time.
For that, Chavez thanks Melvin.
"Absolutely," the pitcher said. "The opportunity he gave me in Spring Training, that was all I needed. He showed so much confidence in me. It was up to me to instill enough confidence in him to leave me out there in situations like I had today."
The A's deserve credit on so many levels for seeing something in Chavez five other organizations didn't. He's a tribute to Oakland general manager Billy Beane and his incredible ability to identify talent others can't.
Chavez is also a tribute to Melvin and A's pitching coach Curt Young. They let him know early on that they believed in him and would give him every chance to grow and to polish his game.
When the A's purchased Chavez's contract from the Blue Jays on Aug. 24, 2012, no eyebrows were raised. He'd just turned 29 years old, and in 62 big league appearances spread over five seasons, he had a 5.99 ERA. Chavez had been traded four times and waived once.
Fast forward to two seasons with Oakland. Chavez has appeared in 50 games -- 35 appearances as a reliever in 2013 and 15 as a starter this season. He has a 3.17 ERA.
"We just thought he was a guy who had never really gotten a chance," Beane said. "We allowed him to get his feet wet out of the bullpen last season, and then gave him a chance to win a job in the rotation in Spring Training."
The A's suffered two huge season-ending injuries to starting pitchers (Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin) this spring, but Chavez was on his way to earning a job on his very own. And he has been a godsend for Oakland.
The A's are 11-4 in Chavez's 15 starts on their way to building baseball's best record (47-28) and largest division lead. He has a 6-4 record and a 2.71 ERA. Among all starting pitchers in the Majors, Chavez is among the best at throwing strikes and working quickly.
"I don't like leaving the fielders on their heels," Chavez said. "That's the big thing. Even if I go ball one, ball two, at least I'm working at a good pace. If you're working slowly, you put them back on their heels, and a play they normally make becomes tougher."
Chavez will throw four pitches at any time in the count, but it's the development of a cutter that has completed his arsenal.
Ah yes, the Mariano Rivera pitch.
Chavez has thrown it 38 percent of the time. Only Dodgers right-hander Dan Haren has thrown a higher percentage, according to Fangraphs.com.
When CC Sabathia was working on a cutter this spring, Andy Pettitte warned him that it would take at least a full year -- and probably two -- to get completely comfortable with it.
"But," Pettitte told him, "you can't give up on it."
That's the lesson Chavez learned. He already had decent stuff, but he needed something else.
"The cutter is something I've always messed with," Chavez said. "I just couldn't get it the way I wanted it. I scratched it and got away from it instead of just fully committing to it. You have ups and downs for a reason, and probably my biggest was not committing to that pitch."
And now that Chavez has shown he can throw it, it improves the value of his fastball, curveball and changeup.
So as he approaches his 31st birthday, Chavez finally is doing what he always thought he could.
"I always wonder what other organizations think when they see this happen," Oakland catcher John Jaso said. "They let a player go, and all of a sudden, he's doing so good. I wonder if people are kicking themselves."
Chavez was reminded how much things had changed with David Ortiz stepped into the batter's box in the top of the sixth inning with two runners on and the A's leading 1-0. Ortiz hits 18 points lower against left-handed pitching, but Melvin stuck with Chavez.
"He's got weapons for left-handers," Melvin said. "Based on the way he's pitched, he should get that opportunity."
Chavez had struck out Ortiz on a curveball in the fourth inning during an at-bat in which he also showed him a cutter and a change. In the sixth, Ortiz pounded one of those curveballs into the ground for a huge double play.
The righty then struck out Mike Napoli to end the inning, pounding his glove on the way off the mound. Afterward, Chavez did a pretty good imitation of the happiest man on earth.
"This is the opportunity he has waited for his whole career," Melvin said. "It's been pretty remarkable."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.