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Game #39: Bassitt Stays Hot, Bats Stay Cold

The sweep wasn’t meant to be but good things are coming.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As much as it sucks to lose, today’s game had a different feeling than the losses the A’s have been racking up recently. It felt less helpless, less hopeless.

True, the lineup didn’t score any runs. But in spite of the loss, the team has its first series win since sweeping the Rangers two weeks ago — just their fourth of the year. They couldn’t complete the sweep, but they also didn’t roll over either.

A lot of positive signs emerged from this game. Sign #1: we might have our ace. Okay, ace might be too strong of a label. But at this point, who on the team has had a stronger four-start run than Chris Bassitt?

At first, A’s fans weren’t sure how to feel about Bassitt’s dominance, and justifiably so. In his first two starts back, he struck out 16 batters in 12 innings and allowed only a single run. While we knew Bassitt was talented, this didn’t seem like the same guy we saw in 2015, the one who struck out just 6.7 per nine. But his performance today — 7.2 innings, 7 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts — solidifies that, indeed, this is not the same guy.

The biggest difference, according to Statcast, seems to be that he’s replaced his slider with a cutter. Not only is the cutter a harder pitch — 2.5 mph harder — it also has a spin rate that’s 62 rpm than his slider. This all has lead to a whiff rate of 32% (versus just a 19.5% whiff rate on his slider). Given that he throws the pitch around 20% of the time, that makes a huge difference for his topline results and improves the rest of his already solid arsenal.

All in all, 2019 Bassitt doesn’t look like a fluke; after four starts, it seems he’s ready to stay. If he can stay healthy, he could definitely become one of the leaders of our starting staff. While he’s not your ideal top-of-the-rotation guy, he ain’t bad either.

Speaking of players coming back strong from rehab — cue sign #2 — Matt Olson is hitting the ball hard. We’ve heard a million times since he got surgery to remove his hamate bone that, according to a bunch of anecdotal evidence, it usually takes hitters a while to get their power back. Well, in just three games, Olson has already had exit velocities of over 100 mph five times already, two of which came today on a double and a single. Hitters are usually lucky to get a couple of those a week. But for Olson, one of the exit velocity kings, is not having this “power” struggle that everyone warned us about. Maybe the anecdotes are true, but Olson seems to be the exception. He’s yet to hit a homerun (in the majors, at least), but it’s only a matter of time.

Okay, maybe I’m reading into the silver linings too much here, especially after getting shut out by Tanner Roark and the Reds. But the past few weeks have been so brutal that closing out a series win with a hard-fought loss feels like a gift sent directly from the baseball gods. If just a couple of slumping bats would break out, this could be the start of a roll.