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Game #8: Jharel Cotton spoils Royals home opener, A’s win 2-0

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Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s beat the Royals in a rare Monday afternoon game, as Kansas City celebrated its home opener for the 2017 season. Jharel Cotton threw seven shutout innings, Casilla ‘n’ Doo finished the job out of the bullpen, and Khris Davis provided all the offense.

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The play-by-play for this one is simple. Ryon Healy led off the top of the 4th with a single, and then Khris Davis hit a two-run dinger off Royals starter Ian Kennedy. And that was all she wrote in an eventual 2-0 victory. Khrush really showed off his versatility by homering to right field instead of left field. Dude can do it all.

Here’s a closer look.

Shutout!

The A’s pitching staff tossed its first shutout of the season. The main character was Cotton, who bounced back from a shaky season debut to show us everything we’d been waiting to see from him all winter. He never let the Royals put two runners on base in any inning, and they only got as far as second base three times — once on a stolen base, once on a wild pitch, and once on a GIDP-overturned-safe-at-second. Never because they hit a double or anything.

Cotton blended his four-pitch arsenal to great effect, refusing to shrink from any challenge. His 92-95 mph fastball helped set up his famously elite changeup, and even his other offerings were working — his slider got him a bunch of outs, and his curve was a strike more often than not. Here’s a look at the contrast between his heater and an offspeed pitch, both in terms of velocity difference and movement:

That’s a fastball at 95 up in the zone, and a changeup at 77 with a bottom that falls right out. Check out his Monday highlights to see the full repertoire, including some varying looks on the changeup. His overall line included 7 ip, 6 Ks, 3 BB, 2 hits, on 98 pitches.

The bullpen needed six more outs, and they were delivered by Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle. The play-by-play is a work of art:

  • Strikeout swinging
  • Strikeout swinging
  • Strikeout swinging
  • Strikeout swinging
  • Walk
  • Strikeout swinging
  • Single
  • Strikeout swinging

Sheer dominance, interspersed with utter terror. The Royals couldn’t touch these two relievers, but by the final at-bat all it would have taken was an excuse-me bloop down a foul line to tie the game. You’re never safe against this pesky lineup, especially once there are runners on base. The final out came courtesy of Brandon Moss, who is now on the Royals and yes that feels weird.

As fun as it is to see Doo pump 94-96 mph heaters past Moss and Eric Hosmer, though, and as nerve-racking as it is to see him bring the winning run to the plate, the real story to follow might be this (video):

That’s Doo striking out a batter with something other than a fastball. He’s been mixing in his slider more this year, and so far it’s been a whiff machine. Think about the classic Doo pitch — the high fastball up above the zone — and now imagine if the batter also had to consider the possibility that the ball might instead break down in the opposite direction, like it does in that clip above. If that becomes a serious, consistent secondary offering then Doo will have taken a significant step forward, in addition to finally getting his health back.

Doo has now faced 11 batters this year, and he’s struck out seven of them. Overall the A’s staff has fanned 24 batters over the last two games.

Keeping up with the Davises

Rajai Davis came to Oakland to do two things: play some defense, and steal some bases. He’s already done the former, and now he’s finally on the board in the steals column — and against four-time Gold Glover Salvador Perez, no less. Rajai’s swipe in the 3rd gave the A’s their first runner in scoring position, though he was eventually stranded.

Meanwhile, Khrush’s 413-foot homer (video) was his longest yet of the season according to Hit Tracker, albeit only by one foot. That’s especially impressive considering it was an opposite-field shot. It was also his fourth of the year, putting him back in a five-way tie for the early MLB lead.

Yonder Alonso took his first 0-fer of the year but still managed to draw a walk, meaning he’s reached base in all seven games he’s played (including six starts). Even better, that walk meant the A’s had two on and one out in the 4th, right on the heels of Khrush’s homer.

But alas, Trevor Plouffe bounced into his MLB-leading third double play of the year to end that rally. He later defended his GIDP supremacy, too, by blowing one on the other side of the ball — while covering second base on a lefty shift (which is admittedly out of his normal position) and trying to make the turn, he didn’t come particularly close to keeping his foot on the bag while receiving the throw. Another discouraging day from a guy whose name sounds like an exasperated sigh.

* * *

The A’s are back at .500, with a 4-4 record. Tuesday is an off-day, and then there are two more games in Kansas City. Wednesday’s matchup features Andrew Triggs against familiar face Jason Hammel.