OAKLAND — Paul Blackburn said he tossed and turned in bed most of Friday night in anticipation of his first major league start.
Then he went out Saturday afternoon and delivered an outing that was the picture of poise in the A’s 4-3 loss to Atlanta. The 23-year-old right-hander from Brentwood limited the Braves to three hits and one unearned run over six innings, earning a standing ovation as he left the mound for the final time from a Coliseum crowd that was packed with family and friends.
“I couldn’t even put it in words, honestly,” Blackburn said afterward. “It was probably one of the best days of my life. I was trying to take it all in. I’m not even sure it’s hit me yet, but it was a lot of fun. … I think I had about three hundred or four hundred people out there.”
His outing began with some turbulence as he hit his second batter of the game, Brandon Phillips, then walked cleanup man Matt Kemp to put two runners aboard with two outs in the first. But Blackburn retired Matt Adams on a comebacker to get back in the dugout, and from there he used his low-90’s fastball and assortment of off speed and breaking pitchers to hold the Braves down.
“He did a phenomenal job,” left fielder Matt Joyce said. “He really attacked the zone and gave us a great chance to come away with a win.”
Blackburn was drafted by the Cubs in 2012 as a supplemental pick after the first round. He was traded to Seattle in 2016, then the A’s acquired him from the Mariners for Danny Valencia in November. He appeared in three exhibitions with the A’s during the spring, then went 5-6 with a 3.05 ERA in Triple-A Nashville’s rotation. When Jharel Cotton was pushed back in the rotation due to a blister — the A’s hope Cotton can start Monday — Blackburn was called upon to fill in Saturday.
He could be headed straight back to the minors unless the A’s were to remove somebody from their current starting mix. Jesse Hahn has struggled in back-to-back outings and is still listed as Monday’s starter, though if Cotton goes that day others will have their start pushed back.
All that’s certain is the A’s needed someone to step in Saturday and Blackburn delivered.
“I thought his composure was great from the very start,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “You worry about nerves a little bit, but it didn’t seem like there were any. He used all his pitches, and even when we did make a mistake that cost us today, he just kept pitching.”
Apparently Blackburn got all the butterflies out in anticipation of his big league debut.
“Last night I didn’t really sleep,” he said. “But I was excited and didn't have as many nerves as I thought I’d have.”