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Athletics' Milone ready to fight for spot in rotation

PHOENIX -- For much of the offseason, speculation has been that left-hander Tommy Milone would be the odd man out in the Oakland Athletics rotation.

Manager Bob Melvin doesn't see it that way, and he wanted to make sure Milone understood. Therefore, Melvin invited Milone into his office for an early-morning chat.

"Bob wanted to make it clear that I knew that whenever he talks about the rotation (to the media), I'm a part of the conversation," Milone said.

As well he should be.

Milone moved into the A's rotation in 2012 and has won 25 games the past two years. But last season, he suffered through his second straight second-half skid, and this time Milone was shipped to the minors. In 2012, Milone was skipped over for a start but stayed in Oakland.

Second-half struggles are not the ideal formula to guarantee a spot in the rotation, so it's small wonder that after the emergence of Dan Straily, the promotion of Sonny Gray and the signing of veteran lefty Scott Kazmir, it's Milone who is being seen as the sixth-man in a five-man rotation. The other starters are Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.

Milone will either be the long man and spot starter come opening day or he'll be starting for Triple-A Sacramento.

"I'll be pitching this spring like I have to win a job," Milone said Monday. "It's not a change, though. That's how I always approach it. Mentally, that's how I go at everything."

Melvin says he likes Milone's mental toughness, and the left-hander underscored it by his performance after spending his two weeks in Sacramento last year. He came back and posted a 2.70 ERA in four starts, beating the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels down the stretch.

Milone described it as "a great confidence boost."

"He made great spot starts in two huge games for us (Detroit and Texas, both wins)," Melvin said. "His makeup suggests he can do that job. It was a huge lift for him, because it can get lonely in that role. You feel left out."

The question now is whether Milone will elbow his way back into the rotation. He says he's prepared should he wind up in the bullpen or in Sacramento, but he's not going without a fight.

"It's the same as last year," Milone said. "I've got to perform."

--Lefty Sean Doolittle threw his first spring training bullpen session after taking a week off because of a mild calf strain. The setup reliever said he felt "no pain," although his location was off.

--Outfielder Billy Burns, acquired from the Washington Nationals in the trade of reliever Jerry Blevins, reported to camp Monday, as did infielder Andy Parrino. The full squad is due Wednesday.

--Melvin says he has no problem with new closer Jim Johnson not being a high-strikeout pitcher because Johnson has a history of keeping the ball down in the strike zone. "He's got the sinker, and he can keep it on the ground," the manager said. "He can get two outs with that."

--Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, recovering from a leg infection caused by an ingrown hair, was able to long toss Monday and should return to regular work soon.

--The A's added to their bullpen by claiming lefty Joe Savery from the Philadelphia Phillies. Savery, 28, was 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA last year in 18 games. To make room on the roster, the A's moved lefty Eric O'Flaherty to the 60-day disabled list. O'Flaherty is recovering from Tommy John surgery in May and won't pitch until midseason.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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