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Cole Irvin gets A’s fifth starter spot; Daulton Jefferies and A.J. Puk optioned to Triple-A

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The competition is over, for now

Oakland Athletics v Colorado Rockies Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s took their last Opening Day roster decision down to the wire, but they finally settled on a fifth starter to begin the 2021 season.

The A’s optioned two pitchers to Triple-A on Thursday, righty Daulton Jefferies and lefty A.J. Puk. That leaves left-hander Cole Irvin as the last candidate standing to fill in for veteran Mike Fiers, who was officially placed on the injured list with a lumbar strain.

Oakland acquired Irvin from the Phillies over the winter, with nearly 50 innings of MLB experience under his belt. The 27-year-old put in a sparkling performance this spring in the Cactus League, capping it off with six innings of one-hit brilliance against the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

  • Irvin, MLB career: 6.75 ERA, 45⅓ ip, 35 Ks, 14 BB, 8 HR, 5.06 FIP, .370 xwOBA
  • Irvin, 2021 spring: 1.00 ERA, 18 ip, 18 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 10 hits

Here’s our summary of Irvin’s arsenal, from late January:

In terms of stuff, Irvin boasts a wide arsenal of pitches. His four-seam fastball operates in the low-90s as a starter, but in shorter relief stints in the majors he’s cranked it up as high as 95 mph. He throws his heater about half the time, and last year Statcast identified some of the fastballs as sinkers. The rest of his offerings are split between a plus changeup, a slider, and occasionally a curve.

Entering 2019, MLB Pipeline gave him an above-average 55-grade for both his changeup and his control.

If Irvin lines up in the actual fifth spot in the rotation, then his first start would come against the Dodgers, the team he just dominated last week in an exhibition contest. Manager Bob Melvin praised how he rose to the occasion to defeat a tough opponent at a moment when the stakes were high for him.

That Dodgers series is sandwiched in between a pair of showdowns against the Houston Astros, combining to span the first 10 games of the season, so Irvin will almost certainly take the mound against the AL West division rival at some point as well. (Update: He’ll start the A’s third game, against the Astros, lining him up for an encore matchup against Houston in Oakland’s eighth game, in which case he’d miss the Dodgers entirely.)

What remains to be seen is exactly how much of a chance the southpaw will get. Fiers might be back before the end of April, and if everyone else is still healthy then the A’s will have to make another decision about how to proceed. One way or other, Irvin, Jefferies, and Puk all figure to have plenty of opportunities during the marathon of a six-month season, when far more than five or six starters are usually needed to cover all 162 games. Irvin will simply get the first crack.

In a related matter, starter Frankie Montas exited his final Cactus League outing last week with a torn cuticle. He still made the Opening Day roster after pitching in a simulated game Wednesday, and at last word the team was optimistic about his readiness for his first start of the season, with no negative updates since then. (Update: He’s “on track to pitch Monday” in the A’s fifth game, against the Dodgers, reports Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.)

Hot takes: My guess for this nod had been Jefferies, and 63% of the Athletics Nation community agreed with me in our poll, but it was always a three-way coin-flip. I’m not surprised to see anyone get it, and Irvin absolutely earned it. Can’t wait to see what he does with his chance!

Here’s how the rotation probably lines up to begin the year, although only Bassitt and Luzardo are officially locked into their specific spots in order and the other three could still be rearranged.

  1. RHP Chris Bassitt
  2. LHP Jesús Luzardo
  3. LHP Sean Manaea
  4. RHP Frankie Montas
  5. LHP Cole Irvin

Update: The order will be Bassitt, Luzardo, Irvin, Manaea, Montas

The bullpen that follows them is without closer Trevor Rosenthal for now due to injury, but they’ve added lefty Reymin Guduan to the mix.