OAKLAND -- If there is a fast track to finding success on the pitching mound, Jesse Chavez never found it.
For five years, he bounced around the major leagues, going from Pittsburgh to Atlanta to Kansas City to Toronto before landing in the Oakland bullpen.
Before that, he was a 42nd-round draft choice of the Texas Rangers, and it took him six years to get a sniff of the air of a big league clubhouse. The number of 42nd-round picks who can get to a big league game without buying a ticket is about the number of 42nd-round picks who have won Powerball. So it says something about Chavez's drive that he persevered long enough to get the call.
And yet when you see Chavez today, you see someone who has a 1.35 ERA, someone whose improved look has scouts buzzing and someone who is part of what has been, for the better part of three weeks, the most consistent starting rotation in the bigs.
There is no magic in the Chavez story except for the magic that comes from focus and drive and the willingness to change. Two years ago, already a decade into a professional career that was spinning its wheels, Chavez started to change his ways. That coincided with his arrival in Oakland, but it was something he was going to have to do no matter where he was.
"I used to throw a fastball most of the time, and I threw it hard enough," Chavez said. "But a lot of the time, too much of the time, it would get up in the zone."
And it would get hit. When the right-hander arrived in Oakland as a much-used middle reliever, his career ERA was 5.67. When he started throwing a cutter and when he started throwing a sinker, and when his pitches started to come in at the bottom of the strike zone, the A's felt they might have uncovered a gem.
Two years later, partly because of need with Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin on the disabled list and partly because Chavez's work in long relief had been convincing, he is a member of the starting rotation.
"I always had the desire more than anything to pitch in the big leagues," the 30-year-old Chavez said. "My goal was to stay in the major leagues as long as I could. But now I'm a completely different pitcher than I was two years ago. My arsenal has changed. My cutter has taken over, and I'm throwing more strikes."
What the cutter has done for Chavez, scouts say, is given him a pitch he can throw at the corners of the strike zone in a way he hadn't been able to before. And Chavez is the first to say that was a good first step.
"From the time I came here in 2012, I've focused on keeping the ball down," he said. "As a kid, I could throw 95, 96 mph. Now I'm happy if I throw 92 as long as I can keep it down and hit the corners."
Even before Parker and Griffin were out of the equation, A's manager Bob Melvin was sold. Melvin came into spring training saying Chavez was competing for a job.
"Ever since he got here, Jesse has been someone who we've thought might be good as a starter," Melvin said, pointing to a 52/3-inning relief effort in extra innings against the Yankees last year that lit a fire to those thoughts. "And what he's been able to do with adding the cutter has been something.
"The cutter has filled out his repertoire."
Since his arrival in Oakland, Chavez is 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA. This season, he has a 1.35 ERA even though he hasn't gotten a win to show for it.
And what happens when Griffin, who has not yet started to throw, comes back, maybe at the end of next month? (Parker is out for the year.)
"If they want me to go back to the bullpen, that's OK with me," Chavez said. "I know that role. I know what I have to do. I like to start, but I want to help this team win."
Right now, he best does that as a member of the rotation.
Chavez will get the Sunday start against the Houston Astros at the Coliseum after Sonny Gray throws Friday's opener and Scott Kazmir goes Saturday.
June 5, 2001: Drafted by Chicago Cubs in 39th round; did not sign.
June 4, 2002: Drafted by Texas Rangers in 42nd round; signed May 17, 2003.
July 31, 2006: Traded by Texas Rangers to Pittsburgh Pirates for Kip Wells.
November 3, 2009: Traded by Pittsburgh Pirates to Tampa Bay Rays for Akinori Iwamura.
December 11, 2009: Traded by Tampa Bay Rays to Atlanta Braves for Rafael Soriano.
July 31, 2010: Traded by Atlanta Braves with Gregor Blanco and Tim Collins to Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth.
October 21, 2011: Selected off waivers by Toronto Blue Jays from Kansas City Royals.
August 24, 2012: Purchased by A's from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Minor league stops
Team (level) W-L ERA
Spokane (Low A) 2-2 4.55
Clinton (A) 6-10 4.68
Bakersfld (High A) 0-0 2.22
Frisco (AA) 4-3 5.68
Frisco (AA) 2-5 4.42
Indianapolis (AAA) 2-1 4.24
Oklahoma (AAA) 0-0 4.50
Indianapolis (AAA) 3-3 3.92
Indianapolis (AAA) 2-6 3.80
Omaha (AAA) 2-4 3.75
Sacramento (AAA) 0-0 1.80
Las Vegas (AAA) 8-5 3.98
Sacramento (AAA) 2-2 2.70
Major league stops
Year Team G W-L ERA
2008 PIT 15 0-1 6.60
2009 PIT 73 1-4 4.01
2010 ATL 28 3-2 5.89
2010 KC 23 2-3 5.88
2011 KC 4 0-0 10.57
2012 TOR 9 1-1 8.44
2012 A's 4 0-0 18.90
2013 A's 35 2-4 3.92
2014 A's 3 0-0 1.35
Career 194 9-15 5.16