NEW YORK — Keep peeling away the layers of Jharel Cotton’s start Saturday, and there are several different ways to view it.
The A’s rookie pitched into the sixth inning despite enduring big-time command issues and giving up a run in the first.
He took a no-hitter into the sixth despite not having the feel for his best pitch, the changeup.
He was on the verge of completing six mostly dominant innings before losing a handle on things in the sixth, allowing a two-out rally that culminated with Matt Holliday’s two-run homer. That blast wound up being the difference in Oakland’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.
It was an eventful 5 2/3-inning outing for Cotton in his return from the minors. He admitted he was very aware he had a no-hitter going, though it also must have registered that with his pitch count at 88 entering the sixth, he wasn’t going to get a chance to complete history.
“I wanted to just go out there and get (through) the sixth inning with no hits,” Cotton said. “I guess I thought about it too much and it just bit me.”
Taking the mound for his first big league start since being optioned to Triple-A on May 11, Cotton was also making his first start at Yankee Stadium. He couldn’t find the strike zone in the first, allowing a walk, a hit batsman and a wild pitch that led to Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly and an early lead for New York.
But then he settled down and found a groove, retiring 15 out of 16 hitters for a stretch from the first all the way until the sixth. That was all the more impressive given that Cotton did not have the effective changeup that’s usually the centerpiece to his game plan.
Catcher Josh Phegley said he was encouraged by Cotton’s effort in his first start back from Triple-A.
“He was kind of sporadic at the beginning, so I was just calling a lot of cutters because that was our strike pitch,” Phegley said. “You’d like to have the changeup because it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. But he’s got the stuff to do without one of his pitches and still compete and put us in a good position.”
The game turned when Cotton couldn’t slam the door in the sixth after retiring the first two hitters. He walked Gary Sanchez and then caught too much plate with a 1-0 cutter to Holliday, who signed a one-year $13 million contract with New York in the offseason. He drilled a two-run homer to left-center, and Cotton was lifted after Castro singled on his next batter.
“I didn’t want to walk that guy,” Cotton said. “You don’t wanna put guys on base with free passes and I did that, and it came back to haunt me.”
With Cotton’s pitch count crossing 100 in the sixth, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had no second thoughts about not going to his bullpen earlier. Cotton was charged with three runs on just two hits with three walks and five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
“I was fine with him to get through the inning. That probably would have been it,” Melvin said. “You don’t take a guy out just because he’s got 100 pitches. He was pitching well.”
Cotton will be an important factor for the A’s moving forward given the injuries to starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, with the former going on the 10-day disabled list Saturday and the latter expected to join him in the next day or two.