Athletics

Rewind: Cotton settles in and delivers in his A's debut

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Rewind: Cotton settles in and delivers in his A's debut

OAKLAND — For a guy who felt butterflies in his stomach during a shaky warm-up session Wednesday, Jharel Cotton had a funny way of showing it once the top of the first began.

The rookie was the picture of poise during an impressive major league debut, throwing 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball as the A’s beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 on a gorgeous afternoon at the Coliseum.

Cotton showed everything the A’s hoped he would — an excellent assortment of pitches that allowed him to change speeds, move the ball around the strike zone and generally keep the Angels flummoxed.

In return, the 24-year-old Cotton said the day was everything he could have hoped for: A victory in his first opportunity with the club that traded Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers in order to get him and two other promising young right-handers, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. Cotton is the first of those three to join the A’s roster.

He was thrilled to get a loud standing ovation from the smallish crowd of 11,866 after manager Bob Melvin lifted him in the seventh. And he even dug his big league attire, particularly the white cleats that are unique to the A’s.

“It’s some good luck, man,” Cotton said. “Leprechaun colors. Green, white — I love it.”

[STIGLICH: Instant Replay: Cotton solid in debut, A's take series vs Angels]

He admitted to having some nerves while warming up in the bullpen.

“It was not good,” catcher Stephen Vogt acknowledged of that pregame session. “Having never seen him pitch before, you could tell he was a little anxious to get out there.”

Then the game began, and Cotton retired his first nine hitters out of the gate. He threw a fastball that hit 95, and accompanied it with a 12-to-6 curve, a changeup that Vogt said rotates like a screwball and a cutter that he got lots of weak contact on from right-handers.

Cotton became the A’s first pitcher since Porter Vaughan in 1940 to go more than six innings and give up two or fewer hits in his major league debut.

Vogt was particularly impressed with Cotton’s changeup, his go-to pitch.

“He really has good arm speed with it,” Vogt said. “It looks funky coming out. You could see a couple guys as they took one, they were like ‘What was that?’ Anytime you hear that from hitters, that’s a good thing.”

Cotton is just the fourth native of the Virgin Islands to pitch in the majors. Born in St. Thomas, he spent much of his childhood on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands before moving back to St. Thomas. He later moved to Virginia to attend high school and improve his chances for a future in baseball.

After watching Cotton pitch in person for the first time Wednesday, Melvin compared him to an old teammate of his: Former Red Sox right-hander Tom Gordon.

“It's that catapult, over-the-top (delivery),” Melvin said. “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.”

Cotton, a welcoming personality with a quick smile, says he’s heard that comparison often.

“Everybody says that,” he said. “‘You’ve got that Tom Gordon look. You’ve got that dip, and that fastball and that curve ball.’ I don’t know. I mean, I guess I do.”

Cotton gave up his only run on C.J. Cron’s solo homer in the seventh. He’d just crossed the 100-pitch mark when he coaxed a pop-up from Jefry Marte. He noticed his infielders making their way to the mound, then heard the crowd start showing their appreciation as Melvin made his way to the mound to remove him.

Vogt said he and first baseman Yonder Alonso had one piece of advice for Cotton as he left the mound:

“Enjoy this walk.”

Cotton also enjoyed getting back to his locker after the game and seeing the 30 or so text messages from family and friends.

And Melvin enjoyed his first up-close look at a pitcher that the A’s feel can definitely factor into their rotation plans, perhaps as soon as 2017.

"It's a lot of fun because there was some hype that came with him,” Melvin said. “The trade was a big trade. We traded some pretty good players. To get your first look at a guy like that, and for him to pitch as well as he did, especially at home, was very rewarding.”

MLB rumors: A's looking at San Jose Giants stadium as alternate site

MLB rumors: A's looking at San Jose Giants stadium as alternate site

The A's might get to use San Jose after all.

Years after the A's unsuccessfully tried to move to the South Bay, they could send their pool players there to work out.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reported Tuesday night, citing two sources, that the A's are looking at Excite Ballpark, the home of the San Jose Giants, the High-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Excite Ballpark is approximately 40 minutes south of the Coliseum, so if the A's need to get a player to Oakland quickly, it's the best option.

The A's originally wanted to use Banner Island Ballpark, the home of their High-A affiliate in Stockton, but as Slusser reports, the rising number of coronavirus cases in San Joaquin County is a growing concern.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Banner Island Ballpark is an hour east of the Oakland Coliseum.

Last Friday, A's general manager David Forst addressed the issue of an alternate site for the players that don't make the 30-man Opening Day roster.

“That has not been easy,” Forst told reporters. “We’re working on that. We have a lot of players and staff members waiting by the phone anxious to hear when they’re leaving and when they’re going. I’m spending a lot of time working on that, as are a lot of other people.”

[RELATED: A's home-field advantage won't be same]

Forst also mentioned the ever-evolving situation with the coronavirus, and how it factors into the decision of where to send the players and coaches.

“Stockton is in the mix,” Forst said. “Anywhere we’ve looked around here, the situation with the virus is a factor. San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County -- we’ve looked around Alameda County -- how each county is handling things and their particular orders come into play when we’re looking into alternate sites.”

The A's are set to open the 2020 MLB season on July 24 against the Los Angeles Angels, so Forst and the front office still have a little time to sort through the options and lock in an alternate site.

Marcus Semien embraces leadership role to keep A's safe amid coronavirus

Marcus Semien embraces leadership role to keep A's safe amid coronavirus

Marcus Semien reached out to general manager David Forst before the A’s started their three-week training camp at Oakland Coliseum.

The shortstop told his GM that he’s going to take a leadership role in making sure A's players are staying as safe as possible during baseball’s return to work.

Semien is a Bay Area native and a full-time resident here. He sees how seriously people are taking the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and wants to make sure the A’s act the same way. It’s not just about keeping 42 finely tuned athletes healthy. It’s about more vulnerable parts of the A’s staff still going about their business.

Forst came away thoroughly impressed. Semien talked about setting a good example, and at times being a traffic cop.

“There are a lot of ways you can do it., especially amongst the group,” Semien said in a Tuesday video conference. “We talked today about it, reminding people that if you see someone not following the protocols, I have no problem reminding someone to put a mask on. It’s not me trying to be a stickler. Everybody understands why it’s important. With the testing system that we have, it’s known that we don’t get results right away. That means you have to do everything you can to be safe at all times.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Major League Baseball’s testing system has already caused some hiccups. The A’s full squad couldn’t get on the field Sunday because they’re intake results got delayed over the Fourth of July holiday. They had to wait until Monday night to take the field while results were processed. There were a bunch of elite ball players waiting in the parking lot for the green light to start work

“There was a possibility that we could get sent home if we didn’t get the results in, but we told [A”s manager Bob Melvin] that we would wait to hear what they were,” Semien said. “For everybody who is negative, we were able to get in the building. It was a little later than we wanted to do it, but I’m glad we got the work in last night so we could have a good day today.”

The A’s played a simulated game Tuesday afternoon, and Semien had a groundout, a double off the wall and a single up the middle. It was clear he enjoyed just talking baseball as MLB tries to return to work while trying to keep infections to a minimum.

The game should be the same between the foul lines, though Semien gladly accepts the additional responsibility. He’ll try to match the career-year of 2019 on the field while increasing his leadership role at a time when he needs it most.

“It’s a tough one, and it’s why I’m going to be as safe as I can be. I’m not just going to be thinking about myself,” Semien said. “I’m thinking about teammates, coaches, my family. That’s something that we have to live with off the field anyway. We get to do what we love and go back to work. We’re all in good spirits because of that. The testing thing, I’m hearing it could get better. It’s still early in the process and I knew there would be some hiccups along the way. As long as we can minimize the positive tests, it’ll get better over time.”

[RELATED: Diekman says MLB coronavirus testing delays 'just can't happen']

Forst is thankful to have someone like that in the clubhouse to make sure everyone’s adhering as closely as possible to the safety protocols.

“Everybody is in this together,” Forst said. “That was something that Marcus relayed to me unsolicited and I really appreciated that, and I trust that he'll lead those conversations with teammates and that we'll have other guys step up and do the same thing."