Daniel Mengden

How A's starter Daniel Mengden was able to turn his 2019 season around

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USATSI

How A's starter Daniel Mengden was able to turn his 2019 season around

OAKLAND -- Daniel Mengden's first five outings of the season did not go well.

While the A's right-hander posted a respectable 1-1 record, he allowed 13 earned runs in just 23 innings for an ERA of 5.09. Mengden's biggest problem was his command -- the 26-year-old issued 15 walks in those five outings, translating to nearly six walks per nine frames.

Not surprisingly, Mengden was demoted to Triple-A. But he didn't hang his head. Instead, he used the opportunity to improve, particularly his control.

Since returning to the A's late last month, Mengden has won all four of his starts, most recently a 9-2 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday night at the Coliseum. He tossed seven strong innings, allowing just one run on four hits.

Most importantly, Mengden has only walked one batter in 24 innings since getting called back up from Triple-A.

"It's amazing," he said. "I'm not a big punchout guy. I'm not going to blow anybody away all the time, so it's all about staying aggressive and being ahead because when I'm ahead, I'm always in the driver's seat."

A's manager Bob Melvin echoed that sentiment, explaining that Mengden's improved command has completely changed the way he can attack hitters.

"Putting guys on base usually means you're getting behind them," Melvin said. "Now, all of a sudden, you have guys on base and you're trying to pitch around traffic. So I think that's been the key since he's been back."

With Tuesday's win, Mengden improved to 5-1 on the season with a 4.21 ERA, down nearly a full run from a month ago. In addition to commanding his pitches better, he has effectively mixed speeds and locations to keep hitters off balance.

"It's just staying aggressive," Mengden explained. "Getting strike one, and trying to keep them off balance."

Added Melvin: "It's mixing pitches that's important to him and getting ahead. Then he gets way less predictable. When he's behind and now he has to come in with a fastball, he's a little easier to handle. So it all starts with strike one, it all starts with not putting guys on base."

Mengden accomplished that goal Tuesday night, throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 25 batters he faced. In total, he threw 65 strikes, compared to just 31 balls.

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"That's huge for us," said A's third baseman Matt Chapman, who homered and drove in five runs. "Playing defense behind a guy who throws a lot of strikes and works quick, that's all you can ask for. ... (Mengden) is capable of doing really good things on the mound. I've seen it in the minor leagues and seen it at this level too. So to see him get into that groove is really good."

The A's hope Mengden stays in that groove for the rest of the season. As long as he continues to pitch ahead in the count, he should be in great shape.

Daniel Mengden ready to prove himself after starting season in minors

Daniel Mengden ready to prove himself after starting season in minors

OAKLAND — No one wants to start the season in the minor leagues. Especially not someone like Daniel Mengden, who has already achieved some success at the major league level.

Unfortunately, that's the situation the A's 26-year-old right-handed pitcher found himself in back in March. Oakland optioned Mengden to Triple-A Las Vegas and named Aaron Brooks as the No. 5 starter to begin the season.

"I wasn't too happy about it, but it's one of those things where you kind of just suck it up and deal with it," Mengden told NBC Sports California. "I knew I was going to be back eventually. My mindset going down was, what can I do to get better and how can I work on whatever I need to get back up here?"

Mengden performed well in Las Vegas, going 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He was rewarded with a call-up earlier this month and will make his fourth start Wednesday afternoon against the Angels.

"He pitched really well (in Triple-A)," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He pitched well last year. He pitched really well at times the year before. He has the ability to go deep in games. ... It's just about consistency for him because, when he's on, he's really good. He's a younger pitcher still but we like him a lot.

"Hopefully, he pitches well enough to stay because, when he's pitching well, he's about as good as anybody we have."

Last season, Mengden went 7-6 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 22 games, including 17 starts. He put up even better numbers in seven starts the year before, going 3-2 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Mengden's first three outings this year have been a bit of a mixed bag. He struggled with his control in two of the games, walking a combined nine hitters in 9 1/3 innings. Still, he has maintained an ERA of 3.31.

"It's a great opportunity that I have," Mengden said. "I know what I have to do to be successful. It's all about just going out there, getting strike one, and going from there, and having a good plan and executing it."

When Mengden is on his game, you could make the argument that he's the A's best starter, as Melvin noted. In back-to-back starts against Toronto and Arizona last season, Mengden tossed 16 shutout innings, allowing just four hits and one walk. The key for him, as Melvin also pointed out, is consistency.

For now, Mengden is glad to be back in Oakland, and for more than just the obvious reason of being in the majors. The Pacific Coast League in Triple-A is notorious for its hitter-friendly ballparks.

[RELATED: Buchter's a new pitcher following demotion to minors]

"There's nothing better than a good pitcher's park and Oakland might be one of the best, if not the best," Mengden smiled. "Some of the parks (in the PCL) are a little smaller and the ball flies pretty well. We saw some pretty cheap homers down there in Vegas but that's all part of the game. It's part of the ballpark and you have to deal with it."

Now back in the A's rotation, Mengden hopes to avoid those PCL ballparks for the remainder of his career.

A's starting pitchers taming Tigers, rest of American League in May

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AP

A's starting pitchers taming Tigers, rest of American League in May

The A's weakness this season was supposed to be their rotation. Recently, they've bucked that notion.

Daniel Mengden is the latest A's starting pitcher to have a dominant outing. He went seven innings Saturday in Oakland's 4-1 win in Detroit, and only allowed one earned run while striking out five. 

"He's got good stuff, he can mix his pitches really well," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Mengden after the win. "He's a true four-pitch guy."

In the last month, the A's five-man mix of Mengden, Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt and Brett Anderson has been among the best in the American League. 

Mengden followed a career first for Montas. On Friday, Montas pitched into the ninth inning for the first time in his career and struck out a career-high 10 batters. 

"We knew he had a lot of talent in him, but he's taking it to another level right now," Melvin told reporters Friday when asked about Montas' start.

Coming into their four-game road series with the Tigers, the A's had lost three in a row. They're now riding a three-game win streak, thanks to their starting arms. The trio of Bassitt, Montas and Mengden combined to throw 23 2/3 innings while allowing only three earned runs. They also struck out 22 batters and only walked four.

And the A's soon could have more help on the way.

[RELATED: Melvin raves about Montas after longest outing of his career]

Jharel Cotton pitched in his first rehab assignment in Class A for the Stockton Ports on Thursday. Sean Manaea quietly has been throwing bullpens, and top prospect Jesus Luzardo threw his first bullpen Tuesday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Oakland's starting pitchers' ERA now is just outside the top five in the American League. Though they're still in the bottom of the AL West, the A's are trending up, with reinforcements coming down the road.