Athletics' Figueroa Dominates In Relief To Earn Big League Chance

OAKLANDThe expectation had been fairly simple: Lefthander Pedro Figueroa would work out of the bullpen at Triple-A, giving him time to rebuild his arm after missing nearly two years following Tommy John surgery.

Figueroa had started from the time he signed with the Athletics in 2003 until the left elbow went bad in June 2010. Working in the bullpen this year would allow him to regain his strength and see where destiny would carry him.

Then the 26-year-old Dominican started the year lights-out in Sacramento, not allowing a run over seven innings and five appearances. So on April 20, River Cats manager Darren Bush called Figueroa into his office.

"He said he had to make some decisions with me, because I wasn't doing well," Figueroa said with the help of translator Manolo Hernandez-Douen, Oakland's Spanish-language broadcaster. "I said, 'Hey, I'm doing well.' "

Bush then laughed and told him he was going to the majors. Figueroa hugged his manager.

The newly minted reliever then proceeded to impress, allowing only one run in his first five big league games.

Figueroa had been an emerging talent in the system before having surgery 13 games into the 2010 season. Then came a long rehab in Arizona, with two appearances last year in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

"After talking to the medical people, we felt it best to bring him back as a reliever for medical reasons," A's farm director Keith Lieppman said. Figueroa did not object.

Neither farm director Ketih Lieppman nor big league manager Bob Melvin rule out a return to starting, and Figueroa would welcome the chance.

"I feel very good as a reliever, but my dream has always been to start," he said.
"I think his route to the big leagues right now is through relieving," Melvin said. "It doesn't mean that down the road he couldn't be a starter again. I think his stuff's terrific."

The 6-foot, 215-pound Figueroa has a mid-90s fastball with movement, a good slider that freezes lefty hitters and a changeup. He says the fastball and slider are about the same as before the surgery, but the circle change has improved greatly and works well against righthanders.

A's Acorns

• Righthander Michael Ynoa made his first attempt to pitch in an extended spring training game on May 8, but he had to be pulled because he felt pain. Doctors diagnosed it as a deltoid strain and said not to expect a serious setback. Ynoa is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

• After dominating at Double-A Midland, righthander A.J. Griffin received a promotion to Triple-A. Griffin started the season 3-1, 2.49 in seven starts for the RockHounds.