Paul Blackburn was an integral part of the Athletics second-half resurgence last season. In 10 starts, his first on July 1, 2017, he went 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA, with the club winning six of those 10.
Coming into 2018, the Brentwood native was expected to be a part of Oakland’s rotation. But a strained forearm in Spring Training forced him to begin the season on the disabled list. Blackburn finally made his 2018 debut Thursday at the Oakland Coliseum, and he took no time reminding the A’s (32-31) of his dominant capabilities.
Over six innings, Blackburn (W, 1-0, 1.50 ERA) held Kansas City to three hits while striking out three and coaxing 12 ground-ball outs to earn the A’s a 4-1 victory, their third in four meetings with the Royals (21-42) over the past week.
Of the six balls put in the air against the second-year right-hander, three resulted in hits but only one hurt Blackburn.
After falling behind Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar 2-0 in the third, Blackburn left a sinker up at the belt and over the outer half of the plate. Escobar didn’t let the rare mistake pass him by, smashing a solo home run (3) onto the top of the out-of-town scoreboard in left for to open the scoring.
The lead was short-lived. As he did three times last week in Kansas City, Matt Olson delivered the hurt with a long solo homer (13) to knot things up 1-1 in the fourth.
Royals starter Jason Hammel responded to the home run in much the same way as Blackburn, holding the line through the fifth.
In the sixth though, after Blackburn had finished his night having thrown 67 pitches, the Oakland offense took over to get its starter a win.
Following a one-out single by Khris Davis, Hammel (L, 2-6, 5.12 ERA) appeared reluctant to let Olson beat him, walking the slugging first baseman on five pitches. Matt Chapman jumped all over the first pitch he saw, clobbering a 90-mph thigh-high fastball off the wall in left-center field for an RBI double and what would be the winning hit.
The A’s didn’t stop there. Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty followed with line-drive RBI singles to left putting up all the insurance the Oakland bullpen would need.
After getting six from his starter, manager Bob Melvin didn’t need to mess around with his middle relievers, instead going directly to his big three — albeit with a little tweak. Lou Trivino, not Yusmeiro Petit, took the seventh with Petit taking Trivino’s eighth. Regardless of the order in which they worked, the duo each produced their familiar scoreless frame.
Blake Treinen (S, 14, 0.92 ERA) further bolstered his All-Star bid with a ninth that has become all too familiar for A’s foes, striking out one and working a perfect inning.
While the bullpen was, as has come to be expected, shut-down, and the offense continued to cook with Davis in the lineup, Thursday’s win was about Blackburn who had thrown just 3-2/3 innings in one rehab start with Triple-A Nashville before being activated.
For the third time in 11 career MLB appearances, the 24-year-old finished without issuing a walk. He also limited solid contact with what could be viewed as a less-than-impressive 90-mph heater and a sharp slider.
With what Oakland has gotten out of Frankie Montas since he was recalled two weeks ago, along with how solid Trevor Cahill, Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden have been, the A’s could suddenly have a solid rotation to support a potent but inconsistent offense. Melvin could not have asked for more from the return of Blackburn.
The A’s look for a 2-0 advantage in this weekend’s four-game set Friday night when they send Montas (2-0, 0.64 ERA) to the mound for the third time this season, he has allowed just one run and 10 hits in 14 previous innings. Jakob Junis (5-5, 3.62 ERA) will get the starting assignment for Kansas City after surrendering six hits and three runs to these A’s in a losing effort his last time out.
The A’s introduced in-seat beer service Thursday night. Fans 21 years of age or older in the general seating areas are now able to purchase beer from mobile vendors, who will be carrying a variety of 16-ounce aluminum bottles for $9 each. … To clear space on the 40-man roster for Paul Blackburn, who was transferred from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day on April 5, Boog Powell (right knee) was transferred to the 60-day DL. To make room on the 25-man roster, Bruce Maxwell (.182/.207/.309) was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. … The A’s will celebrate Pride Night Friday night at the Oakland Coliseum. As part of the pregame festivities, transgender rights activist and Berkeley resident Gavin Grimm will be recognized on-field. The celebration will also include a pregame party in The Treehouse (beyond the left field bleachers), which will include music, giveaways and Drag Queen Bingo, beginning at 5 p.m.
Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.