"Rhino" Could Be Missing Ingredient For A's Hassebrock

OAKLAND—Try as they might, the Athletics' braintrust could not come up with the solution for Blake Hassebrock's needs.

The big righthander owned an imposing fastball and an improving slider, but Hassebrock needed something else—something slower to keep hitters off-balance.

"We went through every changeup, every grip," A's pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said. Hassebrock, 22, could not get a feel for the circle change, nor the old-fashioned pocket change. Nor anything else until Patterson remembered a strange pitch used years ago by Aaron Small. Small pulled back his middle finger and drove the fingernail into the ball. It looked somewhat like a rhinoceros horn.

"(A's pitching coach) Garvin Alston named it the rhino," Hassebrock said. "Gil and Garvin made it their mission to put a change in my arsenal. Before, I couldn't get a feel for one. That's going to be a big step in me growing as a starter."

The rhino complements what Patterson describes as a "dive-bombing sinker" in the Roy Halladay mold, which Hassebrock throws at about 93 mph. He also hits 97 with his four-seamer, and his slider continues to improve. With this combination, Patterson believes the majors leagues could be in the cards for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound righthander, who went 7-8, 2.64 with 110 strikeouts and 46 walks in 140 innings with low Class A Burlington last season.

Hassebrock came to the A's as their eighth-round pick in 2010 out of UNC Greensboro. After two years in the bullpen, he began earning some pre-draft attention before he caught swine flu. "I lost like 20 pounds, and I struggled with my strength," he said. He went 0-7, 7.15 his junior year, but A's scout Neil Avent pushed for the pick, and Hassebrock has continued to show improvement.

The righthander was born in Colorado, but his father's death when Blake was 4 years old led the family to move to his mother's hometown in North Carolina. Hassebrock said he just took to baseball as a child, and his big turning point came when Andy Harper, the junior varsity coach at Southwest Guilford High, converted a marginal, gangly infielder into a pitcher.

Patterson says the righthander's main need is to continue gaining experience and to learn to repeat his delivery, while continuing to get the feel for his unusual changeup. If everything keeps coming together, Hassebrock could ride the rhino to a big league future.

A's Acorns

• The A's anticipate a front-line pitching rotation at high Class A Stockton this year, with Hassebrock joined by A.J. Cole, Ian Krol, Blake Treinen, Josh Brown and T.J. Walz.

• Johnny Doskow will fill in as radio announcer for the A's while Ken Korach recovers from knee replacement surgery. Doskow broadcasts for Triple-A Sacramento. Rob McAllister will take over in Sacramento until Doskow's return.