Jharel Cotton dazzles as A’s silence Angels

Making his much-anticipated debut Jharel Cotton did not disappoint, shutting down the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and carrying the Oakland Athletics to a 4-1 win Wednesday afternoon.

With the help of some outstanding defense, and a pair of huge absences in the Los Angeles lineup, Cotton claimed his first career win in his first career start. Youngster Alex Meyer could not match his opposite number for the Angels (62-77), taking the loss while lasting just 3-1/3.

With the victory in this their last chance hosting the Halos in 2016, the A’s (60-79) enjoyed their first home series win over their SoCal rivals.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Manager Bob Melvin said that there was a lot to be impressed by with his starter, but said that his ability to avoid any trouble is something special:

“He made it look easy, early on. You expect maybe a walk, a couple of base runners — have to pitch out of a jam early on, before you kinda get settled. That never happened.”

Catcher Stephen Vogt said that he was in awe of the stuff, as well as the mentality, that the rookie brought into his first day as a major leaguer:

“It’s kinda what you look forward to — what you live for: to watch a kid like that go through his debut and just pitch incredibly. He was amazing.”

Following six solid starts with Triple-A Nashville — going 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA — Cotton (W, 1-0, 1.42 ERA) introduced his imposing stuff to the major leagues in impressive manner. Quieting the Angels lineup to the tune of two hits and one run, the 24-year-old right-hander collected three strikeouts, needing 102 pitches to get through 6-1/3 innings.

Helping the hurler settle in early was Jake Smolinski, getting the start in left field despite filling the everyday-center field duties since the All-Star break. Combining an excellent route to the ball, speed and a last-second diving stab, he was able to rob the Halos’ No. 2 hitter Kole Calhoun of a one-out bloop single in the first inning. “Smol” would flag down three fly-ball outs in the frame.

Said Cotton:

“I was kinda nervous, to be honest with you. But I think I got all my jitters out in the bullpen, and a great catch by Smolinski got me hyped up. After that catch … I was gold from there.”

His fellow rookie, third baseman Ryon Healy, projected his defense into the matter in the third — though it came in a much less-flashy fashion.

After circling under an infield pop up to wrangle it in the palm of his glove, rather than the web, Healy was forced to battle the high, gray, cloudless Oakland sky to secure the third out of the inning on another pop-out — this one near the third-base coach’s box.

From there Cotton coasted, limiting solid contact and being faced with just one runner in scoring position. Equally as impressive, though, was his ability to limit free passes — which has been something of an Achilles’s Heel for him in his minor league career — walking two.

Meyer (L, 0-2, 7.71 ERA) and the Los Angeles bullpen are unable to match that brag. Although none of the Angels’ _six_ walked batters came around to score, a pair of walks following a lead-off Marcus Semien single in the fifth set up Yonder Alonso for an RBI knock, giving the A’s and Cotton a touch of insurance.

A touch was all they could get, however, as the bottom of the Oakland order was unable to further capitalize on a bases-loaded, no-out situation.

The skipper revealed the lighthearted mood that often accompanies a win during a tough stretch when he joked about his offense’s continued lack of early hits:

“We had about four hits today, through the fourth. So, at least we’re consistent.”

Seriously, he added of his team’s 14 runners left on base:

“We want to get guys on base, and get opportunities. If that’s a trend, where you’re doing that game after game — leaving guys on is one thing, and we haven’t gotten guys on. We had a good approach up and down the lineup today. … Makes you a little nervous, because you know you can be adding on. But our at-bats, as a whole, today were much better.”

Before his RBI single pushed the lead to 3-0, Alonso used excellent base running to get his A’s on the board.

With one out in the fourth, the veteran first baseman read bloop hit off the bat of Max Muncy, aggressively charging and rounding third before the ball landed safely in the grass in front of Nick Buss. Due to the quick recognition, a slightly off-line throw from the left fielder created all the space Alonso needed to touch home safely. Brett Eibner added an RBI double two pitches later, sending in Muncy.

Cotton dealt with the first adversity of his career when Andrelton Simmons led off the top of the fourth with a single. Helping him escape the mini-jam was the absence of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, normally patrolling the second and third spots in the order. They did not make their way onto the scoreboard until C.J. Cron launched a solo homer (16) in the seventh.

Healy issued an immediate response, with a homer (7) of his own on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the seventh.

After an off-day on Thursday the A’s will get back to work, hosting the Seattle Mariners (70-68) for a three-game weekend set.

Getting the ball for game one of the series will be Daniel Mengden (1-6, 6.66 ERA), who will continue his search for the dominance displayed in the first month of his major league career. The rookie will lock horns with Hisashi Iwakuma (14-11, 4.01 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in six career starts at Oakland.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.