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Bassitt fabulous in return, but A’s fall to Duffy, Royals

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In two call-ups this season, spanning seven days, right-hander Chris Bassitt had gone without a single appearance with the Athletics.

The 29-year-old was recalled for a third time before Saturday’s game knowing the starting assignment against the Royals was his. Finally, after just over 25 months, Bassitt made his return to the big league mound following 2016 Tommy John surgery, and his return proved worth the wait.

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

His fastball didn’t feature the 95-mph velocity or sink it had prior to his partially torn UCL, but Bassitt’s 92-93 was enough to keep ahead the Kansas City hitters, and his big 70-mph curveball had several swinging from their front foot.

Manager Bob Melvin seemed enamored with his starter’s full compliment of weapons:

“He used all his pitches, he slowed you down with a 70-mile an hour curveball, threw enough sliders and he always has the movement on his fastball. I thought he was really good.”

Bassitt finished holding the Royals (22-43) to three hits and one run while striking out five in his seven innings. But on this Saturday afternoon, that wasn’t good enough to beat Danny Duffy, who stifled the A’s (33-32) for seven strong of his own to claim a 2-0 victory.

In his two previous call-ups, Bassitt (L, 0-1, 1.29 ERA) was nothing more than insurance — a safety net should a game last deep into extra innings — and it made sense.

The big righty struggled at Triple-A Nashville late last season after returning from surgery, posting a 6.21 ERA and 1.513 WHIP in 17 games (two starts), and his 7.11 ERA and 2.21 WHIP in six appearances during Spring Training this season didn’t instill any confidence. Nor did his 6.10 and 1.643 in 10 games (seven starts) this year with the Sounds.

The drop in velocity, though modest, and inability to get minor league outs appeared to mark a nearing end to Bassitt’s career. He said:

“You obviously have doubts … it’s been a long, long time. It’s been a crazy road, and I have a lot of people to thank and a lot of people to give credit to. … There were some dark days. Even this year, there were some dark days.”

But perhaps all he needed was the adrenaline and emotion that come when pitching in a stadium with a third deck of seating because, as he said “Nothing compares to a big league stadium.” And it took an inning or two for the adrenaline to find its way into his right arm — or, perhaps, out as he said his early struggles were the result of his being sped up.

The Royals jumped on everything Bassitt threw in the first inning, getting a hard-hit single up the middle from lead-off man Whit Merrifield in front of back-to-back well-truck flyouts. But after hitting Alex Gordon with a pitch, Bassitt snuck a heater past Hunter Dozier to escape any damage.

It was more of the same from the Royals in the second: a flyout followed by back-to-back line drives to break the scoring seal. But, the Oakland hurler found a bit of a groove following Paulo Orlando‘s RBI single as he retired the next five.

Bassitt got through the top of the fourth down just one. But it wasn’t without a great deal of excitement created in large part by a one-out walk of Alcides Escobar.

With the speedy Escobar at first, Matt Chapman fielded a slow chop off the bat of Ryan Goins and attempted to turn a quick double play. Marcus Semien took the throw from the Oakland third baseman and got the return throw to Matt Olson at first in time to get Goins, but Escobar was ruled safe at second extending the inning.

Orlando, whose single up the middle scored Goins in the second for the game’s first run, sent his own slow roller directly to Semien — and that’s when things got weird.

Semien’s throw sailed wide down the first base line sending Olson leaping to his left. The 6-foot-5 first baseman was able to wrangle the wide throw, and his flailing tag attempt was ruled to have contacted Orlando.

Still, Olson fired home to cut down the overaggressive Escobar speeding home. Kansas City skipper Ned Yost issued a coach’s challenge on both calls. And, after a replay review delay of three minutes and 37 seconds, the decision handed out by the MLB replay officials was safe at first, giving Semien his 11th error, the most by any big league shortstop.

The skipper called Olson’s decision to throw to first despite the out call at first, which would have been the third out of the inning, a really smart play, adding that had he pocketed the ball only to have the call at first overturned whether or not the run would have counted would have come down to umpire’s discretion. Melvin added:

“He’s a real clear-thinking guy, we’ve known that from day one. He wasn’t sure if he got him or not, so he got rid of it in a hurry, and you have to get rid of it in a hurry. … He’s a really good defender, and I think the fact that he’s so smooth sometimes you don’t notice how good of a defender he is.”

Bassitt didn’t allow another base runner, finishing his seven-inning, 93-pitch outing holding Kansas City to three hits and a single run. He also kept free passes to a minimum, walking just one while hitting another.

Duffy (W, 3-6, 5.28 ERA) was up to the task of matching Bassitt, allowing three Oakland hits, two authored by Chapman who finished with a game-high three, in his seven scoreless while striking out 10 and walking three. Because of Duffy’s work, the chips were stacked against the A’s heading into the ninth where Kelvin Herrera (S, 14, 0.72 ERA) was waiting with his ninth-straight scoreless frame.

But just for good measure, Gordon gave the All-Star closer an extra run of wiggle room facing the heart of the Oakland order with a solo homer (5) off Yusmeiro Petit in the top half.

On the scoreboard, Bassitt may have taken a rough loss, but he realizes that it the grand scheme Saturday was a resounding win:

“Today just kinda put [my mentality] where I thought — coming into this year, I knew I was back. I prepared a ton, physically, mentally, everything to get back to this level and compete and give us a chance to win. It’s been a long time coming.”

On Deck

Sean Manaea (5-6, 3.59 ERA) produced his best outing since April his last time out, scattering four hits and two runs over 5-1/3, taking a no decision in Arlington. After posting a 4-2 record and 1.03 ERA to win the American League Pitcher of the Month honors in April, Manaea went 1-4 with a 7.18 ERA in May. He gets his second start of June Sunday in search of a series victory. Rookie reliever Brad Keller (1-2, 2.12 ERA) will make the third spot-start of his career in opposition of the Oakland lefty. In his last time out, Keller held the Angels to one run over 4-1/3 in a losing effort Tuesday.

Notes

In order to clear roster space for Saturday’s starter, Chris Bassitt, the A’s optioned rookie Nick Martini to Triple-A Nashville. Martini appeared in each of the past three games with the A’s going 0-for-9. … Saturday marked the seven-year anniversary of Bob Melvin being taking over the A’s managerial position. In his six-plus seasons as the Oakland skipper, Melvin, a native of Palo Alto, has coached the A’s to a —-570-565—- record and three postseasons berths. … Jed Lowrie, who was among baseball’s most productive hitters through the first month-and-a-half of the season, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Saturday. He has just 18 hits in 94 at-bats (.191) while striking out 25 times and driving in just six runs since May 13.


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.

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