OAKLAND — In a drab performance that will be forgotten as the games begin to tick away, the A’s on Wednesday at least got to see a pitching tandem they hope will be a part of their future foundation.
Frankie Montas entered in the fifth inning for his A’s debut, relieving starter Jharel Cotton, who wasn’t his sharpest but holds promise as part of Oakland’s young starting pitching core. Montas threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to provide a highlight in Oakland’s 5-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels.
The outing had significance for Montas. He and Cotton came over from the Dodgers together last summer in the trade-deadline move that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick out of Oakland (the A’s also landed minor league righty Grant Holmes in the deal).
From that standpoint, Montas and Cotton always will be linked. On Tuesday night, Montas bummed a ride home from the Coliseum and told Cotton he’d be ready in the bullpen if needed Wednesday.
“I was like, ‘I got your back, just in case. I got you,’” Montas said after Wednesday’s game. “Thank God that I got to save those runs for him.”
Montas, 24, entered with runners on the corners and coaxed a double-play liner from C.J. Cron to end the fifth. By then, the damage had been done off Cotton — five runs, though three of them came off mostly soft contact in the second.
Things didn’t go great on his night individually, but Cotton was happy to see Montas succeed after the hard-throwing reliever made the A’s 25-man roster with an excellent spring. Cotton and Montas grew tight last season before the trade while Montas was rehabbing a rib injury with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
“I was talking to him all the time during the spring, going ‘Dude, you’re gonna make the squad,’” Cotton said. “He’s one of my good buddies, and I wanted him to make the squad. He did really well in spring and came out and showed what he has today. He is a big leaguer. It’s pretty cool to have him around.”
Cotton, 25, entered the season with just five big league starts under his belt. But with Sonny Gray sidelined, he opens the season as the A’s No. 3 starter. He gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings Wednesday, but he can take some satisfaction from striking out Mike Trout in his first two battles ever against the two-time MVP. He threw Trout a variety of pitches in a first-inning whiff. In the third. Cotton jumped ahead 0-2 and challenged Trout with a 94 mile-per-hour fastball that the five-time All-Star swung through.
“I made a good pitch. I threw it up into his non-hit zone,” Cotton said.
Where might that be?
“I guess it’s up,” he said. “Hopefully … Hopefully it works next time.”
Montas made the roster as a multi-inning reliever, so chewing up 2 2/3 innings in a game the A’s were trailing saved manager Bob Melvin from burning through more relievers. But Melvin said before the game that, with John Axford hitting the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder strain, Montas enters the mix as a late-inning option when the A’s have a lead.
Montas appears ready for whatever duty after appearing in just seven minor league games last season because of two separate rib fractures. Wednesday marked his first major league game since 2015, when he debuted with the White Sox.
Both he and Cotton appeared in Baseball America’s preseason top 10 list of A’s prospects — Cotton at No. 4 and Montas No. 5.
“It was good to pitch again in a big league stadium,” Montas said. “It feels awesome.”