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Notes: Gaudin secure in 2007 role

Notes: Gaudin secure in 2007 role

PHOENIX -- Acquired in a December 2005 trade with the Blue Jays, Chad Gaudin entered his first Spring Training with the A's as a relative unknown. He finished his first season with the club as a highly valued member of the bullpen.

Thus, Gaudin reported to camp this spring with a big-league job in hand -- a career first for the 23-year-old right-hander from Louisiana.

"This is my fourth [big-league] camp, and every other time I came in knowing I had to impress people," Gaudin said Friday at Oakland's Papago Park training facility. "Now, even though it's still hard for me to be 100 percent sure I have a spot, there is a sense of relaxation. It's like you don't have to be perfect every time out. Not that I don't want to be perfect every time out, but it's nice to know I have a little room to go out and work on things."

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So accustomed to being worried about his job security, Gaudin earned himself a nickname during a rain delay in Boston last season when talk of superhero powers swept the clubhouse. Asked which super hero he'd like to be, Gaudin said "Wolverine" of X-Men fame because "he can't be cut."

The veterans fined him in Kangaroo Court, and the nickname stuck.

Gaudin's primary focus this spring is cutting down on the number of free passes he issues; his 42 walks in 64 innings (55 appearances) were the second most by an American League reliever last season. And to accomplish his goal, he's sticking with the adjustment forced on him at midseason last year.

Having walked 23 in 25 mostly low-profile appearances before the All-Star break, Gaudin, a former starter whose fastball ranges from 92-95 mph, was told by then-manager Ken Macha to ditch his windup altogether and pitch exclusively out of the stretch.

"With Chad, as it is with just about every pitcher, everything starts with fastball command," said pitching coach Curt Young. "He's got a real good fastball, so we don't want him to try to trick anyone out there, but you need to throw it for strikes right away as a reliever. Early in the year, he'd sometimes be struggling to get the first couple guys out, but when he'd move to the stretch, his command was much better."

Gaudin, who had a 3.97 ERA at the time, admits to initially resenting the edict, but he quickly realized that performance trumps pride.

"I was a little fired up, to be honest with you," Gaudin said. "I like the rhythm of the windup. But hey, I kind of took off after that, so you do what's working. And it did help me mentally a little bit, being able to focus on that one delivery instead of two."

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After making the switch, Gaudin opened the second half of the season with the longest scoreless-innings streak by an A's reliever since 1995. He didn't allow a run in his first 20 outings after the All-Star break, covering 20 1/3 innings, and gradually earned more trust and responsibility. His second-half ERA was 2.10, and in 30 post-break appearances he walked just 19.

"He went from a guy who had a less significant role, and ended up being a middle- to late-innings guy," said new skipper Bob Geren. "And that's what he'll be for us again this year."

Closer Huston Street and primary setup man Justin Duchscherer have the most clearly defined roles in the bullpen, said Geren, who plans to "mix and match" with Gaudin, lefty Alan Embree and righty Kiko Calero in the sixth and seventh innings.

Gaudin is being stretched out a little more than Embree and Calero this spring in case Geren needs him for more than an inning or two, but Geren is clear that Gaudin is not his "long man."

"No, no, no, no, no," Geren said. "He's beyond that. He's a heck of a pitcher, and he's so young, too. He's just going to get better and better."

Gaudin was glad to hear he's not slated for mop-up duty, as he was at the start of 2006. But after reading a few quotes from new designated hitter Mike Piazza in Friday's morning newspapers, he was firmly locked into whatever-the-team-needs mode.

"I just read a story with a Hall of Famer talking about how happy he was just to be playing baseball," Gaudin said. "That's how I feel, too. I'll do whatever they ask me to do."

Leaving his mark: Righty Mike Mitchell would probably need the help of a team-wide plague to make the big-league team this spring, but he's certainly making an impression while he's here.

"He throws very, very hard," said bullpen catcher Brandon Buckley, who caught Mitchell during live batting practice Friday. "With good sink, too. He's nasty."

Mitchell, 25, split the 2006 season at three levels of the organization -- Class A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento -- and was a combined 3-2 with a 3.22 ERA and 18 saves in 52 appearances, striking out 59 against 26 walks over 67 innings.

Catcher John Baker, who spent 2006 at Sacramento, said he had very simple instructions when he worked with Mitchell.

"He's one of the only guys you tell, 'You throw hard enough, with enough sink, so just throw it right down the middle,'" Baker said. "He'll start it right down the middle and it ends up down at [the hitter's] ankle."

Director of player development Keith Lieppman said Mitchell will likely start 2007 at Midland, but didn't rule out Sacramento.

Dribblers: Shortstop Bobby Crosby, recovering from fractured vertebra in his lower back, ramped up the intensity on his soft-toss work and said he was swinging at near 100 percent without pain. "I didn't feel anything, so now we'll go harder with it," Crosby said. "If everything goes well the next couple of days, hopefully, I can start hitting on the field by Monday." ... In a concession to the threatening clouds that hovered over the complex Friday morning, the A's adjusted their workout schedule, moving live batting practice to the beginning of the session. With strong winds knocking most squared-up balls down in front of the warning track, it wasn't easy for hitters to stand out in any way. "We call it batting practice, but it should be called pitchers' practice," Geren said. "It should be 'PP' instead of 'BP.'" ... The cold wind didn't help the pitchers much, either, but lefty starter Joe Kennedy was among the few singled out as having a great session.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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