MESA, Ariz. — After watching Jharel Cotton shine in his major league debut in September, A’s manager Bob Melvin said the young right-hander reminded him of former All-Star reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon.
It was none other than Gordon himself who Cotton received some long-distance tutoring from over the winter.
Gordon and Cotton both are represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, and Cotton’s agent, Nate Heisler, put the two in touch.
Coming off his impressive cameo with the A’s in September, Cotton seems to have all but locked up a spot in Oakland’s rotation. But his goal this spring is to hone his 12-to-6 curve ball. Enter Gordon, who fooled hitters with the same pitch over a 21-year career that ended in 2009 at age 41.
“We talked during the offseason,” Cotton shared on the latest A’s Insider Podcast. “He was in Florida —I was trying to get him to come up to Michigan, but it’s too cold in Michigan. I’ve been chatting back and forth sending videos and he’s been sending me some drills to work on with the curve ball.”
Like Cotton, Gordon was an undersized right-hander. In fact, at 5-foot-9, he was smaller than Cotton, who’s listed at 5-11. Melvin played alongside Gordon in 1992 with the Kansas City Royals, and he drew the comparison in his first afternoon watching Cotton in September.
“It's that catapult, over-the-top (delivery),” Melvin said then. “It's the downer curveball, it's kind of that deceptive fastball. The delivery's real, real similar. He has a better change than ‘Flash’. But certainly the delivery and the fastball/curveball portion of it are real similar.”
As a young pitcher growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cotton said he experimented with nearly 10 different pitches, including a very brief flirtation with a knuckler. Against major league hitters, he relies primarily on a fastball that runs up to the mid-90’s, a changeup that rotates like a screwball, a curve ball and cutter. But it’s the curve that Cotton, 25, is looking to perfect.
“I want to try to get it to bounce when I want it to bounce, be in the zone when I want it to be in the zone. And of course, try to make it sharper and get the loop out of it as much as I can,” Cotton said.
The right-hander said nothing replaces the in-person instruction he gets from A’s pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Scott Emerson. But he’s hoping Gordon might make it out to an A’s game this season so the two can talk pitching face-to-face. The feedback so far has been quite positive.
“He told me, for the most part, I repeated my mechanics,” Cotton said. “He was like, ‘You shouldn’t change anything, because your mechanics may be a little funky but that’s your special sauce. … Leave it the way it is and just go out there and pitch.’”