When Jharel Cotton was 7 and hanging around his house in the Virgin Islands watching TV, he said his stepdad told him he needed to get outside
He did as told, ran into a local baseball game, liked what he saw and said he wanted to play, too. On Wednesday, 17 years later, he makes his Major League debut as the starting pitcher for the A’s in the series finale against the Angels.
The 5-11, 195-pound right-hander moved to the Virginia when he was 16 in order to play a higher level of high school baseball and eventually made it to East Carolina University where the Dodgers made him a 20th-round pick in the 2012 draft.
He was making some progress toward to Dodgers rotation this year when he got word that changed everything.
“They told me I was in a trade with Oakland for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick,’’ he said. “I was like, `Oh, no.’ It took me a couple of days, but after that, it was all good.’’
It was almost perfect. In his second start for Triple-A Nashville, he forgot his hat in the dugout, so the game was delayed for a couple of moments while he retrieved it. Then he came within one out of throwing a perfect game, retiring the first 26 batters he faced.
“That was crazy,’’ he said. “It started out a little rocky, leaving my hat, but it was a great game. I had a good time.’’
He laughs that he’s considering leaving his hat in the dugout again for luck, but scouts suggest he won’t need much luck as long as he retains command of the strike zone.
Cotton went on to make six starts in all for the Sounds, going 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA before he got another call, this one telling him he was going to the big leagues. He’ll be the second rookie starter to make his big league debut with Oakland this week and the he’ll be the 12th rookie to start for the A’s this season, tying an Oakland record. In all, he’ll be the night rookie pitcher to debut with Oakland this season.
He comes to the A’s with somewhat above average velocity in his fastball, sitting at 92-94 mph and occasionally touching 95. And he comes with a changeup that scouts like to rave about, coming in at about 70 mph out of the same delivery and angle as the fastball. It’s a tough pitch to pick up.
That’s one reason he’s struck out 155 and walked 39 in 135.2 innings this year at Triple-A for the Dodgers and A’s, the ninth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of all minor leaguers who have thrown 90 or more innings this season according to fangraphs.com.
–Arismendy Alcantara is back with the A’s for the fourth time this season, recalled from Class-A Stockton. Manager Bob Melvin said half-seriously he’d like to get both Arismendy and Raul Alcantara in a game at the same time, certain that no two Alcantaras have been in one team’s starting lineup at the same time in MLB history. It’s not a bad bet. Only two others with that last name have ever played in the big leagues.
–Sonny Gray’s elbow and forearm issues continue to progress only slowly. He’s being allowed to play catch up to 120 feet, but there hasn’t been any time set aside yet for him to get back on a mound.
–There is better news on another starter, Sean Manaea. The left-hander’s back stiffness seems to be easing, and the A’s are talking about him getting back into the A’s rotation before too much longer. When that happens, Melvin hinted that the club might go to a six-man starting rotation rather than the standard five.
–Lefty Ross Detwiler, pulled out of the rotation so he could give the A’s some middle-of-the-game help, will return to the A’s rotation Melvin said, possibly Sunday. The A’s are still deciding if they will go with Raul Alcantara and then Detwiler or go the other way round.
–The A’s honored a group of over a dozen Cal Olympians before the game and the Cal Men’s Octet sang the national anthem while the Cal Band was heard from time to time between innings. Among those honored were: Natan Wegrzycki-Szmczyk, men’s rowing, Poland; Long Gutierrez, men’s swimming, Mexico; Ryan Murphy, men’s swimming, USA (three gold medals); Jacob Pebley, men’s swimming, USA; Josh Prenot, men’s swimming, USA (one silver medal); Tom Shields, men’s swimming, USA (one gold medal); Luca Cupido, men’s water polo, USA; Toni-Ann Williams, women’s gymnastics, Jamaica; Kathleen Baker, women’s swimming, USA (one gold medal, one silver medal); Farida Osman, women’s swimming, Egypt; Abbey Weitzeil, women’s swimming, USA (one gold medal, one silver medal); Caileigh Filmer, women’s rowing, Canada; Anna Illes, women’s water polo, Hungary; Yuri Suguiyama, men’s swimming coach, USA; J.T. Okada, men’s gymnastics coach, South Africa; David Dantes, men’s volleyball coach, USA. Shields and Williams threw out the first pitches, Williams after getting into it by performing a cartwheel.