Chris Bassitt’s pitch count neared its ceiling Monday during a troublesome fourth inning where outs proved elusive. The A’s swingman turned replacement starter was aiming for roughly 70 pitches, but two straight hits to start the inning prompted a mound visit and some outside concern that Bassitt's effectiveness had reached its end.
A's manager Bob Melvin didn’t hold that belief.
“I still felt good about him,” Melvin said. “I still felt like four innings and 70 pitches was a good mark. The velocity was still there. The movement was still there. And he’s a real competitor and wanted to finish that inning. It didn’t surprise me that he did.”
Bassitt finished strong. He got Albert Pujols to hit a grounder down the third baseline that allowed Matt Chapman to throw a runner out at home. Then he allowed a single to load the bases, but Bassitt coaxed a 1-2-3 double play out of Andrelton Simmons that negated the threat.
Bassitt did his job, and five relief pitchers did theirs, closing out a 3-0 victory over the Angels on Monday afternoon at Oakland Coliseum.
The A’s got a good start from someone expected to be in the bullpen, joining the rotation after it was clear Jesus Luzardo wouldn’t be ready for a spot following two weeks in quarantine following a coronavirus test.
Bassitt has been a swingman for a while now, though has ended up starting most of his games due to injury. He was 10-5 with a 3.81 ERA over 144 innings, with 25 starts in 28 appearances last season. He led the A’s with 141 strikeouts.
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The A’s have great confidence in Bassitt after past performances, which is why Melvin felt comfortable starting the regular season well despite having Bassitt step into the rotation. That’s why Melvin felt comfortable letting him work out of that difficult fourth inning.The 31-year old most always shows up when called to pitch.
“He pitched great,” Melvin said. “He was only going to go 70 pitches today because he was only at 45 his last time out. He was tired and had to work hard for a couple of innings at the end, but we’ve seen him get to the point that, when he takes the mound, we just feel great. That’s due to the performance and how he has matured and been accepting of a role.”
Bassitt has been good for the A’s no matter when he throws. He worked through some mechanical issues and still posted four shutout innings. His stuff was good and he had firm command, facts apparent when he struck out Mike Trout twice in as many attempts. The first came on a 70 mph, sweeping curveball. The second came on an 83.5 mph changeup.
“Both of my strikeouts of Trout were -- you’re throwing it and thinking, ‘This could go 600 feet,’ " Bassitt said. “When he swings and misses, it’s pretty awesome. I don’t usually throw curveballs and changeups to Trout, but it worked out, I guess.”
Bassitt helped the A’s win three of their first four games including one with a substitute starter. Another one throws on Tuesday, when Daniel Mengden fills in for the injured A.J. Puk. Getting production from the back end of the rotation is of great benefit, though Bassitt gave an ‘atta boy’ to the bullpen. The relief corps threw five shutout innings after Bassitt and have now thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
“I don’t think they could’ve been better,” Bassitt said. “I think that every single guy we’ve thrown out there has been nails. That’s important because the starters aren’t built up to where they need to be. …To have every bullpen arm firing on all cylinders is impressive and shows what’s in store for the future once the starters go longer into games and give these guys a bit of a break.
"Having such quality arms in the ‘pen down the stretch is going to be insanely valuable for us.”