OAKLAND—For three years, righthander Sam Demel worked his way through the system, making steady but unspectacular progress toward a big league bullpen job.
This year, something changed and changed dramatically.
"Cutter, cutter, cutter," farm director Keith Lieppman said.
Demel, a third-round pick from Texas Christian in 2007, added a cut fastball to his repertoire. The pitch served him well in 22 games for Triple-A Sacramento, in which he went 2-0, 1.26, notched eight saves and struck out 28 batters in 29 innings.
"Mixing that in there on lefties has been nice," Demel said. "My sinker hasn't suffered at all. Having it go both ways is a big reason the numbers look like they do."
Demel, 24, experienced another fundamental change when the Athletics dealt him to the Diamondbacks for Conor Jackson.
Many in baseball fear that teaching a young pitcher the cutter will diminish his primary pitches, but Demel had shown no negative affects. A's pitching coordinator Gil Patterson watched his progress closely to assure there would not be problems.
"He's worked extremely hard at trying to get the cutter better," Patterson said. "He's got four pitches that go four different ways. He has a tremendous sinker—(Trevor) Cahill-like. The cutter gets in on lefties and hits off the bat on righties.
"He's got a change that the bottom drops off. And his fastball is 93, 94 (mph) and rides up in the zone."
Demel said another major development is improved fastball command to both sides of the plate. In the Arizona Fall League last year, he worked exclusively on location without worrying about results.
"I just told myself I'm going to throw 89 percent fastballs, and throw on both sides of the plate," he said. "When you go to the Fall League, numbers don't matter. You can focus on one thing. That's the biggest help a reliever can have. During the regular season you don't want to go and have any bad outings."
Demel said that Patterson watched him closely during the fall, constantly reminding him to use both sides of the plate and get ahead in the count. "Gil just kept reiterating what to do," he said. "Gil's been great. I enjoyed working with him."
Following the AFL, Demel became a regular at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Frisco, Texas, where he worked on his flexibility and body strength before reporting to spring training. The intense work has moved him to the forefront of Triple-A relief prospects.
• Lefthander Brad Kilby faced the possibility of surgery to alleviate soreness in his left shoulder. He pitched well in five games for Oakland before being optioned to Sacramento in a roster crunch.
• Righthander Chad Lee retired after a series of injuries derailed his career. A 2006 fourth-round pick from Barton County (Okla.) CC, he made just 24 pro appearances, going 6-3, 4.04 and topping out at low Class A last year.