OAKLAND -- It started with a 14-hour drive from Phoenix to Midland, Texas, one budding big leaguer joking about outpitching the other in the coming year. Dan Straily remembers the conversation well, as does A.J. Griffin, who has since watched his buddy make good on that promise. "I said, 'A.J., you're probably going to beat me in everything else -- the wins, the WHIP, the average, everything. But I'm going to get you in strikeouts this year,'" Straily recalled.
The righty has not only topped Griffin in strikeouts but every other pitcher roaming around the Minors -- and the Majors, including leaders Stephen Strasburg (154), Felix Hernandez (153) and Justin Verlander (152). Straily has 175 in 138 1/3 innings, and it's all but certain that his next one will come at the big league level, as he's expected to make his Major League debut on Friday against the Blue Jays. The A's have yet to officially announce the move and won't until a decision is made on whose roster spot Straily will take, but manager Bob Melvin confirmed the right-hander's newly gained place in an already superb Oakland rotation on Thursday, when Travis Blackley -- originally scheduled to start Friday -- acknowledged his move to the bullpen. "I think we're all excited to watch him pitch," Melvin said. "You look at the numbers and they're certainly indicative of the chance to pitch here. I think the organization has done very well this year to target guys and not be afraid to get them here while they're hot. Guys like that, you find a way to get him into the rotation, and we're all excited about getting him into the rotation. I've seen the video, I've seen the numbers, and everybody is real excited." Straily, a 24th-round pick by the A's in the 2009 Draft, began the year at Double-A Midland and compiled a 3-4 record and 3.38 ERA in 14 starts while fanning 108 in 85 1/3 innings, before earning the promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 5-2 with a 1.36 ERA. Between both levels, he allowed just 97 hits and 37 walks. Though Straily won't be added to the A's roster until Friday, he joined the club a day early to get his bearings. It wasn't his first trip to the Coliseum, having joined friends a few summers ago on a BART $2 Wednesday -- "We got seats in the nose bleeds and snuck down," he said -- to watch the A's take on the Angels. At the time, Straily was playing in a summer league in nearby Berkeley and living in San Jose. He played one year at Western Oregon University before walking on at Marshall, where he played for two seasons. Now 23, Straily has relied on fastball command and an impressive five-pitch repertoire to open up opportunities like the one he received Wednesday night, when Sacramento manager Darren Bush called him into his office and asked if he was interested in pitching in the Arizona Fall League. Upon answering 'yes,' Straily was told, "Sounds good. Why don't you tell [A's pitching coach] Curt Young tomorrow?" "It's pretty shocking news, to be honest," Straily said. "I sat there stunned. I honestly don't think I said a word, and he came over and gave me a hug. It's just been kind of a whirlwind the last 20 hours." Fiance Amanda Miller, along with several family members, will make the trek from Oregon on Friday to watch Straily, who is only now starting to recognize the leaps he's made in so little time. "I never really got into the whole prospect thing, because I never was one," he said. "So I never really bought into the whole seeing where I was ranked. That was fine with me. I found out you don't have to be a prospect to make it all the way up." "He's always had good stuff. He just had to put it together," said Griffin, Straily's roommate in Midland. "He's been working hard, and this is a tribute to that. It's learning something new every day, that's what I tell him. He kind of drives me, and I drive him. I kept telling him he doesn't realize how close he is, especially with the repertoire he's got. He's been getting ahead of hitters this year. Last year he fell behind too many times, and he's been doing a better job of throwing effective put-away pitches." Much of that, as simple as it sounds, is Straily attacking the zone. "Last year when I came in, they told me that it looked like I was hoping for outs and that when I left I was expecting them," he said. "Just a change in the mentality." Straily, naturally then, was wanted by several teams who engaged in trade talks with the A's, who made it known from the start he was untouchable. On Friday, the club hopes to show why. "Tomorrow will be a big day," Melvin said. "A lot of hype, and rightfully so."