SEATTLE — His arrival from Triple-A did not come with the hype attached to some of the A’s more highly publicized prospects.
All Paul Blackburn has done is slide into the A’s rotation and quietly put up two excellent starts, bolstering a staff that’s been tattered by injuries and inconsistency.
The right-hander notched his first major league victory in Thursday’s 7-4 win over the Mariners. In two starts in the bigs, he’s surrendered just one earned run in 13 2/3 innings.
“I was a lot more nervous this start actually than my first one,” he said.
Who would know?
Pitching on the road for the first time in the majors, he held Seattle to one run over 7 2/3 innings and made some early run support stand up. He didn’t strike out a single batter and got touched for eight hits. But it goes to show a starter doesn’t have to blow up the radar gun.
Blackburn induced a ground-ball double play in each of the first two innings, picked a runner off first a couple innings later and benefited from another double play when center fielder Jaycob Brugman threw out a runner at third trying to advance on a fly ball.
It was an impressive performance for a pitcher facing the team that traded him to Oakland during the offseason for infielder Danny Valencia.
“Your first start’s kind of an out-of- body experience,” manager Bob Melvin said. “The second start, it’s about performing. He pitches into the eight inning and throws the ball where he wants to. There’s something to be said about that. It’s not always about velocity.”
In his debut Saturday, the Antioch native had hundreds of fans rooting him on at the Coliseum. Turns out he also had a cheering section at Safeco Field. Blackburn’s mother is from nearby Everett, and he estimated maybe 20 people were in the stands for him Thursday.
His catcher, Bruce Maxwell, tossed out another theory for Blackburn’s comfort level:
“He looks on the field and over half of our Triple-A team is up here.”
That’s a slight exaggeration, but Maxwell makes a great point. Three of the teammates playing behind Blackburn against the Mariners were core members of the Nashville Sounds for much of this year — Maxwell, third baseman Matt Chapman and Brugman. Five more players on the current 25-man roster also played alongside Blackburn extensively at Triple-A.
He knows them and they know him.
That includes Brugman, who was on the field early doing defensive drills with outfield coach Mike Aldrete, then made that extra work pay off with his third-inning throw that nailed Mitch Haniger at third. Brugman said he’s not surprised to see Blackburn handle the major league pressure like a cool customer.
“Same Blackburn,” Brugman said. “He was doing it in Triple-A. He’s doing it here.” The 23-year-old became just the sixth starter in franchise history to record two starts of at least six innings and one or fewer runs allowed in each of his first two career outings.