TORONTO -- Jesse Chavez was nearly a Fukuoka SoftBank Hawk. But the Blue Jays rejected the Japanese baseball team's offer and, three months later, sold him to the A's.
"I don't feel like a Japan pitcher yet," Chavez said he thought at the time.
Turns out he was right.
The former journeyman, one of baseball's biggest early-season feel-good stories, will enter Saturday's contest in Toronto -- his first start against his former team -- boasting one of the American League's best ERAs (2.54) on a first-place club.
Chavez admits Saturday's start in Toronto will have a "different feel" than the others. In part, the right-hander said Friday, "because they gave me the opportunity to start, which opened up a different door in my career."
But he made just two starts for the Blue Jays in 2012 -- both rough -- before they decided the experiment was over, and it was just a few weeks after a potential deal with the Hawks went south when he learned about the details of it all. He was back in Triple-A, and "I started to do a nose dive," he said.
"All I could think was, 'What's going to happen? I've been through this enough. Where am I going to be now? When can I start a season and finish a season with a team and get that comfortability, get that chemistry with the guys?'"
Chavez, having already been a part of six organizations in as many years to that point, has found that with the A's, who have given him what was lacking more than anything in Toronto.
"Confidence," Chavez said. "That extended opportunity in a role where Bob [Melvin] allowed me to succeed. Coming over here was like, OK, I think I can do this now. Just being in this clubhouse -- and it's not a knock on any other clubhouse I've been in -- you just get that feeling when you walk in. The guys, the attitudes, it was the turning point for me."
With Melvin at graduation, Hale takes A's helm
TORONTO -- The A's began a three-game set across the border Friday without their manager, who was in New York for his daughter's college graduation.
Bob Melvin was expected to resume his duties in Toronto on Saturday, but it was bench coach Chip Hale at the helm on Friday. Bullpen coach Darren Bush acted as his bench coach, while Ariel Prieto, the A's coach and interpreter, filled in for Bush in the bullpen.
For Hale, who has interviewed for numerous managerial vacancies in recent years, it marked the first time he'd managed an entire big league game, outside of Spring Training. He, of course, has fulfilled the duties on occasion when Melvin has been ejected, and on Friday, Hale didn't appear the least bit overwhelmed by the job in advance of the contest.
"Basically, I'm just that guy that has to walk out there and change a pitcher and look in and see what the calls are on the replays," Hale said, smiling. "The coaching staff, we always work together as it is. I guess I'm just the guy they can blame if something goes wrong."
Hale and Melvin wrote out the lineup during Thursday night's flight from Tampa. But after Melvin boarded an early-morning flight from Toronto to New York, Hale told him: "Just relax. Everything's fine."
"As an organization, we have a way of going about it with guys here," said Hale. "I mean, we're not all of a sudden going to make Brandon Moss a hit-and-run guy. We're going to play the way we always play, and as long as they play hard, we should be good."
Melvin's daughter, Alexi, graduated from The New School in New York City.
• Infielder Nick Punto is doubtful for Saturday's game, after suffering from left calf tightness for the better part of Friday's 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
"I was playing with it all night," said Punto, who finished 1-for-3. "It was just tight and gradually getting a little tighter throughout the game. We'll see how it is tomorrow."
• John Jaso, originally in Friday's lineup batting second at designated hitter, was scratched a few hours before game time because of general body tightness caused by playing on the artificial turf in Tampa.
In order to assure his readiness for a Saturday start behind the plate at Rogers Centre, which also has an artificial playing surface, the A's took the cautious route with Jaso and rested him, instead giving Kyle Blanks the start at DH in the ninth spot.
"We just want to make sure he's 100 percent," said Hale. "We don't think it's anything that will last longer than tonight, and he'll be ready tomorrow."