It sure looks like the Oakland A’s have finally found an ace for their rotation.
Starter Chris Bassitt pitched the best game of his increasingly impressive career on Thursday, finishing with a two-hit shutout over the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-0 victory at the Coliseum.
Last summer, Bassitt enjoyed a breakout year that saw him earn some downballot Cy Young votes. He was already backing up that performance with a strong start to 2021, and he entered the day having allowed just two runs apiece in seven of his last eight appearances, including a gem against the Angels last weekend in which he worked into the 8th inning. He cranked it up a notch in the rematch tonight.
The right-hander was unhittable. Juan Lagares singled on a soft grounder in the 2nd, Shohei Ohtani drew a walk in the 4th, and Justin Upton ripped a double in the 9th, and that was all. The Halos only hit the ball hard thrice, including Upton’s double, and they struck out nine times in 30 plate appearances.
- Bassitt: 9 ip, 0 runs, 9 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits, 114 pitches, 85.0 mph EV
He was already at 101 pitches at the end of eight innings, but manager Bob Melvin sent him back out in the 9th for a chance to finish his masterpiece. He got the first out, but Upton tagged him for by far the sharpest contact he allowed all night, putting a runner in scoring position with two superstar hitters due up. Bassitt rose to the challenge, retiring Ohtani on a routine fly and then Anthony Rendon on a routine grounder to seal the shutout.
It’s the first nine-inning complete game of Bassitt’s professional career, in the majors or the minors — he once went the distance in a shortened doubleheader game in Triple-A, but he only threw six frames that day. The A’s haven’t had a nine-inning complete game since Mike Fiers’ no-hitter in May of 2019, though Sean Manaea completed a seven-inning shutout in a doubleheader game this April.
Bassitt’s performance drew high praise from Angels manager Joe Maddon, via insider Martin Gallegos:
“That kid there, I’m a big fan. He’s kind of like a Scherzer type. ... The variety of pitches he throws and good against righties and lefties. ... That’s not a fluke. He’s someone to reckon with. The kind of guy we have to learn how to beat in our division.”
Among the variety of pitches Maddon mentions is Bassitt’s improved slider, which was a storyline during the spring when he worked on a new grip. It’s been a devastating weapon for him this year, and tonight was no exception.
Bassitt threw his slider 11 times but got four strikeouts off it in the shutout. Been a great pitch for him this year. pic.twitter.com/DqihBBmP6P— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) May 28, 2021
It’s been a long road for Bassitt, who was acquired from the White Sox before the 2015 season. He was interrupted by Tommy John surgery in early 2016 and it took slightly over two years to return to the majors, and even then he had to work his way back from a swingman role into full-time starting. Now he’s looking better than ever, mixing a six-pitch arsenal with command and confidence.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Bassitt with his wife & baby girl after his 1st career complete game shutout. Chris was emotional in his post game presser talking about all the people who have stuck by him through the struggles. It’s a true pleasure to watch people experience the joy they deserve with family. pic.twitter.com/gK0olOT6K5— Dallas Braden (@DALLASBRADEN209) May 28, 2021
To top the evening off, this is Bassitt we’re talking about, so naturally things were going to get wonderfully weird at some point. Before the emotional press conference, he showed up to his post-game interview on the field holding a golden trident. It’s a reference to “ride the wave,” which has become a slogan for the team this year.
A pitcher called The Hound posing stoically while holding a trident after tossing a shutout against a division rival. If that’s not a photo of an ace, I don’t know what is.
One crooked number
The A’s lineup posted quite a few zeroes themselves, but one big inning provided all the scoring they needed — and with plenty of help from the Angels on the infield.
Oakland put some runners on base in the first five innings, even loading them up in the 3rd, but they weren’t able to push any across against starter Patrick Sandoval. Finally, with the Halos bullpen taking over in the 6th, the A’s got some hops in their favor.
It began with Matt Olson beating a defensive shift. He slapped a hard grounder to the left side where a third baseman would usually have been playing, but with that section of the infield wide open it rolled through and sliced into the corner for a double.
A walk by Jed Lowrie meant runners on first and second, and then Matt Chapman hit a grounder far enough into the SS/3B hole that the shortstop’s only chance was to throw to third for the force. But the off-balance toss went wide and bounced all the way to the backstop, allowing Olson to score and everyone to safely advance.
Next up was Sean Murphy, who didn’t hit it hard but found perfect placement with a bloop into shallow left-center. Both runners scored, and Chapman read the play so well that he had to slow down to avoid passing Lowrie in front of him.
A pitching change didn’t help. The new reliever issued a walk to his first batter, and then Elvis Andrus mimicked Olson by beating a defensive shift, with a sharp grounder through the wide-open right side for an RBI single.
Another hit loaded the bases, and another pitching change brought in a fresh arm, but Oakland wasn’t done. Tony Kemp came in to pinch-hit and got the job done, lofting one deep enough to center for a sac fly.
Three good solid hits, plus an infield single, a bloop single, a couple walks, and a productive out to cap it off. That added up to five runs, which was plenty on this night. It was also encouraging to see the A’s making contact all over the field, whether hard off the barrel or simply soft and pesky, because the one thing above all else that makes a rally like this possible is not striking out. You’ll never have the hops go your way if you don’t hit the ball and create and some hops.
Actually, Seth Brown did strike out in the 8th inning and reach base when the nasty curveball got by the catcher. You’ll almost never have the hops go your way if you don’t hit the ball.
Ride the wave!
The A’s got a statement performance from their budding ace starter, their lineup put together exactly the kind of extended rally we want to see more of, and it all came against the Angels. Righteous!