A lot of members on the Oakland Athletics were responsible for the team’s second win over the reigning World Champion Kansas City Royals in as many days.
Left fielder Khris Davis and third baseman Ryon Healy went deep and Yonder Alonso’s double knocked in the A’s fourth and fifth runs in the top of the eighth. Even Marcus Semien, who was responsible for two of the Royals unearned runs early in the game, came back with an RBI single in the eighth.
The A’s bullpen and defense were solid. Most memorable defensive plays belonged to Healy and Jake Smolinski in center field.
But it was 24-year-old Jharel Cotton and his magical changeup that kept the A’s in the game.
In fact, if not for the two unearned runs, Cotton could have become just the fifth pitcher since the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968 to secure a win in his first two big league appearances, joining Bobby Cramer (2010), Vin Mazarro (2009), Bill Krueger (1983) and Dave Hamilton (1972).
Instead, the rookie right-hander received the no-decision in his second big league start and appearance, while reliever Jon Axford was awarded the win.
Despite not getting his second big league win, Cotton is thus far turning out to be a good pickup by the A’s and both he and the team now have passed — twice — the first tests of their trade return from the Dodgers.
Cotton, who was acquired just prior to this year’s August 1 trade deadline from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick and Rich Hill deal along with two other minor league pitchers — Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas — got the win in his big league debut just back on September 7 against the Los Angeles Angels.
He went 6.1 innings, allowing two hits, one earned run — on a home run by CJ Cron that was almost robbed by centr fielder Brett Eibner — and two walks and struck out three batters. All anyone was talking about was how unbelievably good the kid’s changeup was.
He entered Wednesday’s game with 1.42 ERA and a win under his belt. This start wasn’t quite as good as first, but it was enough to feel good about the 24-year-old.
Cotton allowed his only earned run of the game with two outs in the sixth. That ended his day, going 5.2 innings pitched, allowing seven hits, just the one earned run and just one walk while striking out two Royals batters.
He threw 103 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. It was almost the same total as his first start in which he threw 102 pitches and 70 strikes. It was a very nice encore for the young right-hander.
So how does a young rookie pull off two very good starts in a row and almost become the fifth Oakland A’s pitcher to get a win in his first two appearances? The secret is all in his changeup, as well as the speed of his fastball. He used both pitches just like he had in his first start.
While Cotton has thrown approximately 49 percent fastballs and just 26 percent changeups this season, he also offers a seldom-used slider/cut fastball and a curveball, but he doesn’t need the second two offerings; his changeup is so deceiving.
Cotton throws a circle change that moves like a screwball, partially because of his small stature. At just 5’11”, Cotton has to use a higher arm slot than a more traditional pitcher, who is often much taller and can create a deceptive plane simply due to their extra height. Cotton uses an overhand delivery that makes his changeup difficult to pick up.
Cotton’s changeup is consistently close to 20 miles per hour slower than his fastball, which hits in the mid-90s. His changeup, on the other hand, is slower than many pitcher’s big arching 12-6 curveballs.
It’s low-mid-70s speed throws hitters off and even while most pitchers wouldn’t throw it often to right-handers, as it goes down and in, it has so much movement that hitters have no idea what to do.
If Cotton can keep pitching at this level, he will make a strong case to permanently join the big league club’s rotation. Should Cotton, who was often profiled for a relief role or perhaps a backend starter, continue to improve his game, he may become much, much more.