The Oakland A’s called up pitcher Paul Blackburn, the team announced Saturday. The right-hander will start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Texas Rangers.
When teams play a doubleheader, they are permitted to call up a 26th player to help out. Since this doubleheader was scheduled at least 48 hours in advance, the extra player is eligible for both games, though of course in this case he’s a starting pitcher so he’ll only appear in one game. At the end of the day, a player must be sent back down to bring the roster back to 25, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Blackburn who returns to the minors, since he would otherwise have been eligible to be recalled today. Click here for the full 26th man rules.
As for the man himself, Blackburn appeared for Oakland each of the last two years but will make his season debut on Saturday. The former top-60 draft pick (out of Heritage High School in Brentwood!) was acquired for Danny Valencia after the 2016 campaign, and he enjoyed a nice debut the next year with 10 strong starts. But injuries derailed him in 2018, limiting him to six shaky outings and leaving him with a bloated ERA.
Blackburn, 2017: 3.22 ERA, 58⅔ ip, 22 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 4.39 FIP
Blackburn, 2018: 7.16 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 19 Ks, 6 BB, 2 HR, 3.59 FIP
The right-hander doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts, but rather pitches to contact and aspires to get lots of ground balls with his sinker and slider. In 2017 he maintained a high 56.3% grounder rate, which helped fuel his success, but last year he only managed a pedestrian 47.3% clip. He tops out in the low-90s with his fastball, but uses a wide five-pitch arsenal and good control to help make up for the lack of velocity.
After missing most of 2018, the 25-year-old has at least stayed on the mound this season to make 11 starts for Triple-A Las Vegas. However, his numbers have been only mediocre, with too many homers and not quite enough grounders.
Blackburn, 2019 AAA: 4.55 ERA, 57⅓ ip, 45 Ks, 18 BB, 10 HR, 5.46 FIP, 52.4% grounders
Of course, those stats come with the caveat that the A’s farm now features an extremely hitter-friendly environment in Triple-A, between a move from Nashville to the desert as well as the introduction of new springier baseballs. The rest of the Aviators rotation has ERAs over 6.00, and the whole Pacific Coast League is scoring more than a half-run per game more than usual on the strength of a huge spike in dingers.
This will be Blackburn’s first career start against the Rangers. The other game on Saturday will feature Chris Bassitt on the mound. Oakland has nine relievers at their disposal: Treinen, Trivino, Soria, Buchter, Wang, Hendriks, Petit, Dull, Brooks, though Treinen and Petit both pitched on Friday.