Just hours after A’s manager Bob Melvin announced Mike Fiers would start the season on the injured list due to hip inflammation, rotation-hopeful Cole Irvin was absolutely dealing against the Dodgers.
The southpaw racked up 10 strikeouts over six shutout innings. The lone hit he allowed bounced off the first-base bag in the sixth inning, but was wiped out by a double play.
Irvin figures to be one of three pitchers, along with Daulton Jefferies and A.J. Puk, fighting for Fiers’ rotation spot.
“It’ll be tough but that’s the way you want it,” Melvin told reporters in his postgame video conference about the looming roster decision. “You want to see how guys respond at the end when there’s a lot of pressure. He pitched with a lot of pressure on him today. It looks like he’s got a real slow heartbeat."
The team also has to monitor the health of Frankie Montas, who tore his cuticle on Thursday, but will pitch in a simulation game at the Oakland Coliseum next week during a team workout.
Irvin turned in the team’s longest outing of the spring this year and faced a Dodgers lineup that featured plenty of everyday players like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger. He kept them off balance, freezing hitters for eight strikeouts looking, and needing only 76 pitches to get through his evening.
“I know it’s just a spring training game,” Melvin said. “ But when you’re coming down into the end and you’re fighting for a spot, and you run into a lineup like this and pitch in the fashion that he did, that carries a lot of weight.”
Irvin’s stellar outing came three days after Jefferies struck out seven in four scoreless innings, and less than 24 hours before Puk targets four innings pitched in a crucial start that will also help decide the competition.
“There’s not pressure,” Irvin said. “There’s motivation to go as good as the next guy just did and we’re definitely doing that in the locker room in terms of promoting each other and promoting success.”
Irvin has allowed two runs in 18 Cactus League innings with 18 walks and three strikeouts, while Jefferies has given up two runs in 13 innings with 20 strikeouts and three walks allowed.
Irvin and Jefferies may be competing for a roster spot, but they’ve struck up a friendship as throwing partners and even played a round of golf recently. Irvin even joked he'd like to buy a Jefferies No. 66 jersey.
“We’re just enjoying being able to battle,” Irvin said. “It’s not necessarily him against me. It’s more like go out there and shove, do what you’ve been doing. Keep it up.”
Fiers was scheduled to throw a bullpen on Friday but is yet to face live hitters, so he still appears a few weeks away from joining Oakland.