Estrada optimistic for bounce-back year

Health, new home ballpark should work to right-hander's advantage

February 19th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Health isn't the only reason to believe in a bounce-back season for .

"I'm really excited about the foul territory," the new A's pitcher said. "I've gotten a few outs because of it."

Playing within the confines of the pitcher-friendly Coliseum is a big plus for Estrada, who was stung by the long ball while working his fourth straight season in Toronto last year.

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The veteran right-hander averaged 1.8 home runs per nine innings next to an uninspiring 5.64 ERA. Injuries were partly to blame; Estrada, a 2016 All-Star, was continuously bothered by a left hip injury that aggravated existing back issues.

"I'm feeling much better," Estrada said. "It was tough. I probably shouldn't have tried to pitch through something like that, but I'm glad I did. It didn't go the way I wanted it to, but I still went out there and made the starts, so I'm happy about that. I'm hoping to be a little smarter about things like that."

The A's inked Estrada to a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason, snagging him from the low-risk, high-reward category as they sought to piece together some semblance of a rotation. Oakland also brought back and , forming a seasoned trio that will lead an otherwise young starting staff.

"Marco brings that veteranship," said A's designed hitter , who played with him in Milwaukee. "He brings that experience, and he's going to work some innings. He's a competitor, and he pitches to win. That's the most important thing. He's a team guy, and playing with him in Milwaukee, that's what he taught me. It's not about himself."

Eating up innings is what Estrada does best. Prior to an injury-plagued 2018, when he totaled 143 2/3 innings, Estrada completed at least 175 innings in each of his previous three seasons, averaging a 3.88 ERA in that span.

"When he's healthy, he's tough," A's manager Bob Melvin said.

Estrada consistently induces weak contact. Specifically, a ton of pop-ups. When healthy, few are better at it, reason for the A's to think they've landed one of the better under-the-radar acquisitions of the offseason.

They've long been known for resurrecting aging careers; they've done it with a handful of pitchers in recent years, including , and .

"I'm going to try to be one of those guys," the 35-year-old Estrada said. "I guess it's my turn. Hopefully I can bounce back and pitch better than I did last year. I think just being healthy is going to help a lot, and I should be able to do what I think I can do and give this team a lot of innings."

The A's gave Estrada fits when they saw him at Rogers Centre in May, a memory that resurfaced when the pitcher was choosing a new home this offseason.

"You win 97 games, that means a lot," he said. "It's not easy to do, and that just shows you how talented this group is. So it was a pretty easy decision for me, to be honest with you.

"The first game I pitched against them last year, I was pitching well, and I just remember how they could have a flare base hit and they would turn it into a double. It was driving me crazy. I'll never forget it. Hit after hit, they were turning everything into doubles. No one was just taking a single and taking it easy. They were sprinting everything out and trying to make the most out of everything. And every at-bat was a battle. I remember all of that and telling myself, 'Man, it would be nice to play for that team over there,' seeing how hard they run balls out and the defense that they have and obviously the great at-bats. I'm glad to be on this side now."