Gil LeBreton

Texas Rangers’ A.J. Griffin ready to let his hair down and start

A.J. Griffin was jettisoned by the Oakland A’s in November because of injuries, and he’s found life with the Texas Rangers.
A.J. Griffin was jettisoned by the Oakland A’s in November because of injuries, and he’s found life with the Texas Rangers. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Don’t let the Axl Rose haircut fool you.

A.J. Griffin is here to pitch some baseball.

The manager, alas, is cautious.

“Here’s a guy,” Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister says almost every other day, “who has pitched only 14 innings over the last two seasons.”

The math is correct. After an apparent breakthrough season for the Oakland Athletics in 2013, when he won 14 games and struck out 171, Griffin had to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery. And after sitting out all of the 2014 season, when he did try to return in August 2015, Griffin’s right shoulder began to give him problems.

He’s rested and feels fine now, Griffin has been telling people all spring. But he said he knows now that the long rehab after the Tommy John procedure can’t be rushed.

“I was bored so I wanted to play,” Griffin said. “I wasn’t hounding them, but whenever they said, ‘Do you feel all right?’, I said, ‘Yeah,’ because I wanted to play.

“But I’m a little bit smarter about doing that now.”

The A’s didn’t want to wait to see if Griffin could fully recover. Oakland released him in late November, and the Rangers signed him to a minor league contract one month later.

Low risk, high reward. Griffin was just the kind of guy that general manager Jon Daniels likes to cheaply throw into the spring training mix.

It was soon obvious, however, that Griffin might have regained more of his big league skills than the Rangers thought.

His latest outing came Thursday night against his old club, the Athletics. Griffin pitched five innings, allowed four hits and one run, struck out four and walked no one.

“A ‘C,’ ” Griffin said when asked to give his performance a grade.

“Yeah, I wasn’t very good last night. I got lucky.

“Pitch location wasn’t very good. But I mixed it up enough to where I got through it.”

Somebody must have liked it, because after a shuffling of starting pitcher candidates Friday, Griffin suddenly found himself in the pole position for the role of No. 5 starter.

Chi Chi Gonzalez was sent down to Triple-A Round Rock, and fellow starting aspirant Nick Tepesch was dispatched to the minor league side of the clubhouse. Griffin has outperformed the other two serious candidates for the rotation, Jeremy Guthrie and Nick Martinez.

In essence, long layoff and all, Griffin has consistently pitched like a big leaguer in this camp. The other No. 5 starter candidates have not.

When asked Friday whether he feels ready to pitch to big leaguers again, Griffin answered, “I can pitch anywhere right now.”

How many innings?

“I don’t know — however many they let me throw,” he said. “I’m ready to pitch.”

It’s been three seasons since most Rangers fans saw Griffin. He’s older now and seems thicker. But he still has his boyish face and shoulder-length blond hair.

He said he doesn’t mind the hair remarks, like the time at the Athletics Fan Fest when a female fan asked if she could run her fingers through his golden locks. He obliged.

“I go through stages,” said Griffin, who reportedly once considered a mid-back ponytail.

“If you go on Google, I’ll bet you’ll find stuff.”

It’s his pitching, though, not his rock-star hairdo that has Griffin under the Rangers’ radar.

Gonzalez has options and can — and likely will — be called up to the majors for spot starts during the season. Griffin, however, has an out in his contract if he doesn’t make the big club.

Still to be decided is how much the so-called No. 5 starter will start. And what happens to him when Yu Darvish returns to the mound, probably in late May?

Griffin is 28, eight years younger than Guthrie and the same age as Derek Holland.

“It’ll all work out,” said Griffin, coolly.

Yep. A guy may as well let his hair down and enjoy it.

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