SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Gio Gonzalez might ride his new-look changeup right into the Oakland Athletics' rotation.
He sure is making a strong case to be the A's fifth starter.
The left-hander, competing with Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro to win the job, pitched three scoreless innings and struck out three in his first start of the spring as Oakland beat Bay Area rival San Francisco 8-7 on Saturday.
Long defined by his looping curveball, Gonzalez is committed to mastering a change-up that he tweaked by adjusting his grip ever so slightly.
"It minimizes pitches. It minimizes damage," he said. "I've got three pitches I can work with."
Manager Bob Geren actually called a couple of changeups from the dugout to make sure Gonzalez worked it in.
"That was one of the best games he's thrown," Geren said. "I was real impressed with his outing."
Gonzalez felt so good Saturday he insists he could have worked two or three more innings, but knows there's no need to "rush it" now. Not in mid-March.
He's doing his work and letting the rest take care of itself.
"Go about your business," Gonzalez said. "Every day you come out here and do your job. They want hardworking ballplayers and that's what I bring to the table."
He got a nice boost from the offense, too.
The A's jumped on Giants starter Matt Cain, who was pulled by manager Bruce Bochy with two out in the third after giving up five runs — four earned — and eight hits. Neither Cain nor ace and two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum looks very good yet.
"I threw the ball all right," said Cain, a 14-game winner and All-Star last season. "Obviously I left a good bit of breaking balls up and they took advantage of that, so I'm going to go back and kind of check on what I did on that. I threw some good breaking balls today."
Mark Ellis had three hits with two RBIs, and Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney had two hits apiece. Barton drove in two runs and Sweeney one. Cliff Pennington tripled and scored and Gabe Gross added two RBIs in the first of many matchups between the Bay Area rivals this year.
The A's took a 1-0 lead in the first with an unearned run following a throwing error to start the game by San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Gonzalez, who came to the A's from the White Sox in the trade that sent popular outfielder Nick Swisher to Chicago on Jan. 3, 2008, had his first spring start delayed because of last Sunday's rainout that pushed Brett Anderson back to Gonzalez's scheduled day Monday. He came in as a reliever that day instead.
Pitching coach Curt Young said Gonzalez is using a four-seam grip on his changeup.
"He's just getting a better feel for his changeup. It's nothing drastic," Young said. "It's just him being more comfortable throwing it and more confident in it."
He has spent parts of the past two seasons in the majors. Cahill, on the other hand, didn't miss a start as a rookie in 2009.
The 24-year-old Gonzalez owns a 7-11 record and 6.24 ERA in the big leagues over 24 starts and 30 overall appearances in 132 2-3 innings.
He hopes good spring results will only continue to help his cause with Geren and the A's brass. And Gonzalez is enjoying the competition.
"It's fun," he said.
Notes: A's two-time All-Star RHP Justin Duchscherer will pitch two innings in an intrasquad game Wednesday, his next step following Friday's 30-pitch simulated game. Duchscherer, who didn't pitch last season following right elbow surgery and a bout with clinical depression, had initially been scheduled to throw Tuesday but was pushed back a day. He also needed a medical procedure to relieve discomfort in his lower back early in spring training. ... The teams play twice more in Arizona, then in a three-game series back in California from April 1-3 leading up to opening day. ... San Francisco dropped its second straight home game following a 5-0 start at Scottsdale Stadium. ... Coming in, the Giants had committed only three errors this spring — tied with Detroit for the fewest in the majors. ... The game drew 12,000 fans for the Giants' second sellout of the spring.