Could Surkamp become a permanent part of the A’s starting rotation?
Twenty-eight-year-old left-hander Eric Surkamp secured himself a regular season start, perhaps even a place in the Oakland Athletics rotation, while pitching in the A’s 4-1 exhibition game win over the San Francisco Giants at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum on Saturday.
Surkamp is now scheduled to start Friday at Safeco Field, against the Seattle Mariners and 23-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, thanks to his Saturday performance.
He came into the game in the second inning to relieve injured starter Felix Doubront and pitched seven scoreless innings allowing the Giants potent offense just two hits and two walks while striking out seven batters.
Doubront has since been put on the disabled list. Most thought that right-hander Jesse Hahn, who had been in competition with Doubront during spring training for the final spot in the A’s rotation, would be the logical choice to start Friday’s game.
However Hahn, who going into camp this spring was expected to be guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation, struggled all spring with his command and was relegated to Triple-A to hopefully work out some of his issues.
Surkamp wasn’t expected to make the big league club and didn’t for Opening Day but it appears his Saturday outing may have turned his season around, maybe even changed the fate of his baseball career.
Surkamp began his career with the Giants, being chosen in the sixth round of the 2008 amatuer draft. He debuted in the majors on August 27, 201,1 making six starts for the San Francisco posting a 5.74 ERA.
After beginning the 2012 season on the disabled list with a flexor tendon strain but after a series of setbacks he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2012 season.
Surkamp began the 2013 season on the 60-day disabled list while still recovering from his surgery. He made one start for the Giants after the All-Star break but was then sent to Triple-A. Despite putting up good numbers for the Giants’ former Triple-A affiliate Fresno Grizzlies, he was designated for assignment by the club that December.
Claimed off waivers a few days later by the Chicago White Sox, Surkamp made 35 appearances as a reliever in 2014 going 2-0 with a 4.81 ERA. The White Sox traded Surkamp to the Los Angeles Dodgers in May 2015 and spent most of the season in Triple-A, making a single relief appearance for the big league club before returning to the minors.
Surkamp became a member of the Oakland A’s when he signed a minor league deal on December 13, 2015. Initially, Surkamp was assigned to Triple-A Nashville but his outing on Saturday turned the heads of the A’s front office and manager Bob Melvin.
When asked if Saturday’s start was the cause of Melvin’s choice to call up Surkamp instead of Hahn, Melvin said,
“The short answer, yes. At the beginning of the spring, we didn’t see him in the rotation, but he earned it.”
Despite being overlooked during the spring Surkamp may still have a chance to earn a permanent spot in the A’s rotation.
His start against the Mariners Friday night will be the first test. The Mariners’ offense has been off to a hot start with slugger Robinson Cano hitting four home runs in the team’s first three games.
Five other Mariners’ players have hit home runs. The team ranks first in the American League in home runs and second in runs scored behind the New York Yankees.
Surkamp may have an edge though. The Coliseum is not a pitcher-friendly park and he was pitching during the day when the air is much thinner and the ball flies further. During night games on the West Coast – including in Seattle – the heavy marine layer settles in and it is harder to hit the ball out of the yard.
Safeco used to be considered one of the least hitter-friendly parks in the majors. While it is still not an easy place for a team hit, the dimensions were changed slightly before the 2013 season. It’s still no hitter’s oasis at all. The ball still has to travel 390 to 400 ft. in order for the hitter to be rewarded with a home run, still giving a slight edge to the pitcher.
His opposing pitcher Walker had been highly touted throughout the minor leagues but has struggled with injuries since his big league debut in August 2013. He had a terrible beginning to the 2015 season and while he turned it around in the second half he still finished the year with a 4.56 ERA.
If Surkamp can keep the Mariners’ hot offense under control and give the A’s a chance to win, he may be able to change the course of his major league career.