Athletics' Straily Again Proving He Belongs
OAKLAND—Really, Dan Straily
insists, he is not trying to rack up all those strikeouts.
"I'm not trying to strike people out," Straily says. "What I want to do is get them early in the count and go seven or eight innings."
The problem is those hitters just keep swinging and missing rather than hitting tame groundouts. The result was an astounding 175 strikeouts in 138 innings split between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento before he was called up to the majors Thursday. The next highest total in all of baseball was the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg with 154 in 121 innings. During his time in Triple-A, he allowed just 27 hits with 67 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Straily has emerged as one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball, with organizations assigning scouts to see him throw, hoping he may be part of some future trade.
"He has command of four pitches, and he has a very good pace to his game," a national league scout said. "He was consistently at 92-93 with his fastball, and he hit 95 a couple of times. He has a very good change and slider."
The changeup and slider have evolved into Straily's strikeout pitches. He also sparingly uses a curveball, just enough to keep hitters off-balance. He showed glimpses of the future the last two years in A-ball, posting a combined 21-16 record with 303 strikeouts in 309 innings between low Class A Kane County in 2010 and high Class A Stockton last season.
Then came the big change—literally.
"The changeup is light years better than last year," A's pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
Straily can see the difference. "It's pretty much night and day," he said. "It was good last year. This year, I'm just trusting in throwing it. It's turned into a swing-and-miss pitch."
Patterson says Straily throws the change at 82 mph with the same arm action and same handspeed that he uses on the fastball. The pitch then drops and glides, leaving hitters swatting at air.
He began the year of whiffs at Midland, where he went 3-4, 3.38 with a 1.09 WHIP in 14 starts. When he moved up to Sacramento, he grew even more dominant, putting together a 4-2, 0.96 record through his first seven starts. As Straily learns to trust that changeup, he seems to grow even better.
Something To Prove
This is big talk around a 23-year-old righthander who was under the prospect radar when the season began. But Straily has grown accustomed to being overlooked—he has been dealing with it all his life.
The native of Redlands, Calif., started high school in Pendleton, Ore., and tried out for the team as a freshman. He was told he did not have the stuff to pitch at that level. The coaches saw his love of the game and made him the team's manager. He threw batting practice and got an inning on the mound.
"They knew I wanted to be around the team, so they let me do that," he said. "I just wanted to be there."
After his sophomore year, his family moved to Springfield, Ore., and he tried out for a new team. He made it, and pitched out of the bullpen for Springfield High. The next year, he hit the 80s with his fastball, and he attended a camp at Oregon State. He was told he did not have enough to pitch for the school. He wound up at Division II Western Oregon for his freshman year, and he decided it was not a good fit.
So Straily went to a summer league at the University of California, where he played with a couple of Marshall athletes. "I really wanted to play Division I baseball, and nobody else would open their doors," Straily said. "So I got my release from Western Oregon. When I left, they told me I'd never be able to play at a high level. That motivated me."
Brian Khondrow, a friend of the Marshall coaching staff, spotted Straily in Berkeley and recommended him. Head coach Jeff Waggoner invited him to the other side of the country.
So Straily flew to West Virginia. "I'd never been east of Idaho before. I'd never even been on an airplane. It was a crazy experience; one of those experiences that was a real-life experience."
Straily made the team and earned a job in the starting rotation. He went 5-4, 4.28 his sophomore year, then 4-3, 3.27 as a junior.
"He was really good," Waggoner said. "He competed. He helped get us to a (Conference USA) championship game. He's a kid that had good stuff, but along with good stuff, he knew how to pitch. He's a credit to how hard he worked."
Straily had long struggled with a weight problem. He ballooned up to 250 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, and pitched his sophomore year at 240. He asked a scout what it would take to get drafted, and the instant response was better conditioning. So Straily embarked on intense physical training that has taken him down to 214. After that junior season, the A's made him their 24th-round pick at the suggestion of area scout Matt Ranson.
One word is heard repeatedly about Straily: coachable. Waggoner said it. The A's coaches repeat it. He is relentless in wanting to learn.
"He is such a student of the game," Patterson said. "He is always asking questions, studying hitters, working on game plans."
Straily knows he can be a pest. "In college, my coach told me that at first I rubbed him the wrong way because I asked him so many questions about what I was doing," he says with a laugh. That would change as the interrogator became a Marshall favorite.
He kept asking questions as he rose through the Oakland system, to pitching coaches Patterson, Craig Lefferts, Don Schulze and Scott Emerson. "The coaches have been great," Straily said. "I feel like everyone in the game has something to offer you. It's not like you take from just one person, but you take bits and pieces. You never know what's going to help you down the road."
It has been a long and perilous road for the kid once cut from his high school team, who has been told repeatedly that he does not belong on a baseball field. The next step will be his biggest.