Playoff debut to validate Anderson's comeback

Playoff debut to validate Anderson's comeback

OAKLAND -- The long journey back, one that included an unplanned September detour, has reached a lofty pinnacle for A's left-hander Brett Anderson.

Having lost more than a year to Tommy John surgery and then the last two weeks of the regular season to an oblique injury, Anderson will take the ball for Game 3 of the American League Division Series on TBS at 6 p.m. PT looking to keep the season going for the A's, down 2-0 to the Tigers.

A's vs. Tigers

Anderson already had accomplished his first goal just by pitching in 2012, but now he's ready to follow the lead of rookies Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, who both delivered strong starts in tough losses in Detroit, in his first postseason start.

"This series is kind of like a microcosm of our season: You've got two rookies and a guy that's been hurt 90 percent of the season," said Anderson, at 24 the longest-tenured member of the A's staff. "This team has handled adversity better than any team I've seen, so you wouldn't expect anything less."

Tale of the Tape: Game 3
2012 Regular Season
Overall: 12 GS, 4-6, 3.74 ERA, 15 BB, 57 K
Overall: 6 GS, 4-2, 2.57 ERA, 7 BB, 25 K
Key stat: 2.43 ERA in six September starts for Detroit.
Key stat: Missed most of season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
At Oakland Coliseum
2012: 0 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA
Career: 0 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.38 ERA
Career: 30 GS, 12-9, 3.55 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 7.94 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 7.94 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 11.57 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 2-2, 3.78 ERA
Loves to face: Brandon Moss, 1-for-6
Hates to face: Seth Smith, 6-for-13, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBIs
Loves to face: Jhonny Peralta, 0-for-6, 2 K
Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 3-for-7, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 BB
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Has allowed one run in past 15 1/3 innings.
Why he'll win: Gave up just two earned runs in his first four 2012 starts (0.69 ERA).
Pitcher beware: Never pitched in a postseason atmosphere in seven-year career.
Pitcher beware: Tigers put up three runs in 2 1/3 even before straining right oblique on Sept. 19.
Bottom line: Keep September's momentum, don't get overwhelmed by the moment.
Bottom line: Oblique injury can't linger against powerful Detroit lineup.

The A's certainly have faced adversity, and on many levels just in the past month that go deeper than the game itself. From a pure baseball standpoint, however, Anderson has dealt with as much adversity as anyone, having to battle back from reconstructive elbow surgery and then rehab the oblique injury while his teammates closed out the AL West title in dramatic fashion.

For Anderson, the first big step toward this postseason start came in August, when he returned from his long rehabilitation from surgery.

"Just getting back on the big league mound was goal No. 1," Anderson said. "I got past that point and I was feeling good with the way I was throwing, and then get to Detroit [for his Sept. 19 start] and have an oblique injury and you kind of have to do the process all over again -- just a shorter time frame.

"But it's going to be fun. I don't really know what to expect."

A's manager Bob Melvin expects good things from Anderson. Although it has been a month since Anderson was extended to 100 pitches in a game, Melvin said he won't be on a strict pitch count, but they'll monitor how he's going, inning by inning.

Now that the young lefty has his postseason start in hand, Melvin and Anderson's teammates are happy to see it, especially after that September detour caused by the oblique injury.

"I think it would have been heartbreaking had he made it back and done so well and then had to miss until next year again, you know?" swing man Travis Blackley said. "It's good for him to be able to go out and finish out the season pitching."

Ah, but there is one downside to Anderson's return, Jonny Gomes said with a straight face.

"I think we're all bummed out, because he broke our rookie streak," Gomes said, referring to Oakland's all-rookie rotation down the stretch.

All joking aside, Gomes respects what Anderson has gone through and how he has handled it.

"I've never had Tommy John, but I've been around tons of dudes who have, and when you have to consistently lift two-pound weights for months at a time and consider yourself working, that's really tough on you," Gomes said. "And for him to come back as sharp as he did, that really says a lot about his work ethic and the competitor that he is."

Before the elbow injury, Anderson was establishing himself as a rising starter in the AL, coming off a strong rookie season in 2009 with the makings of an excellent '10 campaign. But that's when the elbow problems began with a pair of appearances on the disabled list, and after 13 starts in 2011, he had to undergo a pitcher's most dreaded operation.

If anyone knows what Anderson has gone through the past couple of years, it's Parker. The two actually first met when both were recent draftees of the D-backs five years ago, but where Parker really knows the road Anderson has traveled is that he also went through the long process of returning from Tommy John surgery.

"I know he busted his butt to get back and put all his focus into the rehab," said Parker, a 23-year-old right-hander. "To come back, it's almost like a reward for all the work he did, just being able to be there for us when we need it most.

"We went through some tough times [in September] and then we got Brett back, and we got a little pick-up from that, and right now we need him more than ever. This is the biggest start of his career, I know he's prepared as much as he can, so I know he'll be ready to go."

The A's have confidence that Anderson can deliver a strong start, because they just saw him rack up several upon his return.

Anderson returned Aug. 19 to make his first start since June 5, 2011, and he allowed just one earned run in seven innings to get the win against the Twins. He then combined with relievers Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour on a two-hit shutout vs. the Indians, and it was apparent Anderson was all the way back.

He wound up 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his six starts, the last one lasting just 2 1/3 innings before the oblique injury.

"You saw it when he first came back and made his first start for us this year. He was his old self every start out, and that's what we're going to need tomorrow," A's second baseman Cliff Pennington said.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.