The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers played a televised Cactus League night game Friday, featuring a matchup of two lefty starting pitchers, and the result was exactly the opposite of what the casual viewer might have expected.
The A’s hammered perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, while under-the-radar southpaw Cole Irvin carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning against the star-studded defending world champion lineup, adding up to an overwhelming 11-0 shutout victory by the green and gold.
Maybe the A’s fifth starter competition isn’t quite over yet. Irvin, acquired in January for cash considerations, is the least-heralded of the three remaining candidates, after top prospects Daulton Jefferies and A.J. Puk. But the 27-year-old was dominant against some of the best hitters in the sport, facing 19 batters and striking out more than half of them while allowing just three to reach base, via two walks and a single.
Irvin: 6 ip, 0 runs, 10 Ks, 2 BB, 1 “hit”
Even the Dodgers’ only hit against him was lucky. The grounder down the 1B line would probably have been corralled by ace defender Matt Olson, but instead it hit the bag and kicked up into the air far over Olson and into right field. One of the walks came to Irvin’s first batter, Mookie Betts, and honestly he might have frozen the former MVP on the inside corner but didn’t get the call.
That questionable free pass didn’t end up mattering, though. The next batter drilled a liner right back at Irvin, who somehow got his glove up in time to spear it and then alertly whipped a throw to first to double off Betts. Ball don’t lie!
The lefty fielded his position again at the end of his outing, getting a more routine comeback grounder and turning around to begin a perfect 1-6-3 double play. The Dodgers got three runners on base in six innings, and two of them were doubled off by Irvin personally.
In between those impressive plays, the Dodgers pretty much stood there and watched Irvin pound the zone for a couple hours. He nailed his target most of the time, barely requiring his catcher to move a muscle, and consistently pinpointed both sides of the plate while adding some loopy breaking balls that he was able to drop in for called strikes. The way he carved up the opposition, he may as well have been Kershaw facing a lineup of A’s NRIs.
Cole Irvin struck perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts out looking in the bottom of the fourth.— Jacob Rudner (@Jacob_Rudner) March 27, 2021
For a guy trying to break camp with the big league club, four no-hit innings with six strikeouts against the Dodgers A lineup isn't too bad. pic.twitter.com/vkNuqCqlr2
In the GIF above: Remember how Betts got the call in the 1st inning for Ball 4 inside? Irvin got it next time for Strike 3 on the inside corner, in the 4th inning.
Not to be ignored was the performance of catcher Aramis Garcia behind the plate. We got a first-hand look at his highly touted framing skills, as seven of Irvin’s 10 strikeouts were of the called variety, and the battery seemed to be on the same page throughout. The only thing we didn’t get to see was Garcia’s strong arm, since the Dodgers couldn’t get on base long enough to attempt any steals.
“He’s got good feel for what’s working for a pitcher and good feel for what the batter’s trying to accomplish,” said manager Bob Melvin of Garcia, via Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.
As for the swinging strikeouts, they weren’t just missed by an inch, they were each the hitter being completely fooled and offering either a jammed excuse-me swing or a flail chase out of the zone, by stars like Pollock, Bellinger, and Muncy.
Of course, all of this is just spring training. It counts as little as all the other Cactus League numbers we choose to brush off. But at some point, when you’re facing this Dodgers lineup, this close to Opening Day? Retiring 10 straight and making the defending champs look like Little Leaguers twice through the lineup has to mean something.
Last time out Irvin tossed four scoreless, and his outing before that ended with another zero. That means he wraps up his spring riding a streak of 11 scoreless innings, against three playoff contenders, with 13 strikeouts and two walks. His total spring line:
Irvin, spring: 18 ip, 2 runs, 18 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 10 hits
Even if that’s not enough to pass Jefferies for the rotation vacancy, Irvin was already one of my top two picks for the final spot in the bullpen as a long reliever. A gem like this makes it easy to want to see more when the real games begin next week, while still remembering not to get too excited about Cactus League results.
There weren’t any huge fireworks on offense, like a glamorous moonshot dinger, or a clutch grand slam to blow open the scoreboard. Just a relentless string of extended rallies, and a bit of patience when the opponent lost control.
The first rally was set up by an error, which should have been an inning-ending double play by the third batter of the 2nd inning. Instead, the A’s kept hitting — infielder Vimael Machin slapped a clean single to drive one in, and NRI catcher Francisco Peña ripped a double down the LF line to plate two more. Tony Kemp nearly hit the same double down the RF line, but it landed just foul and the A’s settled for their three runs.
Peña was fun to watch, getting a turn as the DH. He looks every bit like a slugger, as a big dude with an intimidating stance and a mighty swing. He got a hold of another pitcher the next time up and dropped it in for another double, equal parts lucky placement and making your own luck with as much good contact as possible.
The 3rd inning presented the most encouraging rally. Elvis Andrus nearly homered to center, but it only made it to the wall for what should have been a double. However, the fielder went for the catch instead of playing the carom, so Andrus split the difference and legged out a triple while the stray ball was collected. After a slow start to the spring, he’s 5-for-14 lately with a couple extra-base hits and a walk.
Oakland eventually got runners to second and third, at which point Stephen Piscotty brought one home with a sac fly (situational hitting!) and Garcia lasered a line drive single to score the other (contact by the hitter who needs to strike out less!).
The 4th began with a bunch of hits, including Kemp getting the double he’d missed out on earlier, and ended with three walks to force home two runs. At this point the game had gone off the rails, with the A’s at nine runs and the Dodgers at zero hits. The final few innings of garbage time brought one more notable highlight, with recent 1st-round draft pick Logan Davidson knocking an RBI single.
One more item from my notes: Machin was playing 3B, but he still managed to make a nice effort at 2B. With the A’s employing a heavy shift, he was essentially lined up in a normal 2B position for a moment, and got a slow grounder that he charged and converted with a perfect throw on the run. Athletics Nation is encouraged by his bat, so it’s nice to see him handle the defensive position he’s most likely to be needed at.
Opening Day is in less than a week, and the A’s just dominated the defending World Series champs on both sides of the ball in a scrimmage. Oakland did this despite being led by a pitcher who might be a long reliever on this roster, and leaving several of their starting hitters on the bench. It doesn’t count for anything in the real standings, but it sure is encouraging to see.