Albert Pujols won’t soon forget one of his hits from Wednesday’s game with the A’s, and it’s not the Angels’ slugger’s two-run homer off Sonny Gray in the second inning.
Instead it’s the first-inning single Pujols lined directly at the face of A’s shortstop Marcus Semien. The ball came off Pujols’ bat at 109.61 mph according to Statcast, harder than any baseball ever thrown by Nolan Ryan … or anybody else.
It was headed directly at Semien’s head, and it was part quick reaction time and part luck that Semien wasn’t hit in the face.
“I swear I closed my eyes, because I thought that ball hit him in the head,’’ Pujols said after the game, recalling the scary moment. “When I saw that ball bounce, I closed my eyes. I didn’t think it got his glove. That’s probably one of the hardest balls I’ve hit.’’
It was about as hard a ball as Semien, the A’s first-year shortstop, has ever seen.
“(Yoenis) Cespedes hit one about as hard as that right at me,’’ Semien said. “But this one was right at my face.’’
Semien’s reactions were such that he got his glove up to catch the ball only to find that the ball had some sideways movement on it.
“That ball was coming in straight, and then it broke to his right,’’ infield coach Ron Washington said. “That ball was just crushed. I’m only glad that Marcus had the reactions to get his glove there.’’
Semien himself came out of it unharmed but disappointed that he hadn’t made the play. It would have been the first out of what turned out to be a four-run Angels’ inning.
“The thing about Pujols is that his ball is hard to read because his swing is so flat,’’ Semien said. “The ball can move like that one did. But I’ve got to learn to make that play, because we really needed that out, no matter how hard it was hit.’’
–Left-hander Sean Nolin, one of the arms picked up in the Josh Donaldson trade with Toronto over the winter, was promoted from Triple-A Nashville Friday and will start Sunday’s series finale with the Mariners.
Nolin will fill the rotation spot of the recently demoted Cody Martin, who started and lost against the Angels Tuesday. The A’s have hopes that Chris Bassitt will return to the rotation, but he’s recovering from some right lat discomfort and isn’t ready to throw.
Because Nolin missed all of spring training after recovering from sports hernia surgery, A’s manager Bob Melvin hasn’t seen him enough to know exactly what to expect. Nolin made 12 starts and a pair of relief appearances with Triple-A Nashville, going 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.
He throws in the low 90-mph range and isn’t a pure power pitcher, relying on command of the strike zone to attack hitters.
“He was a big part of that trade,’’ the manager said, indicating health was the only reason Nolin hasn’t made it to Oakland until now.
With Nolin pitching Sunday, left Felix Doubront has been pushed back to Monday, when he will face the Astros.
–Stephen Vogt was in the original starting lineup, but had to be scratched because of a sore right elbow. Instead, Tyler Ladendorf went into left field and Mark Canha moved from left to first base.
–Outfielders Sam Fuld and Coco Crisp were on the bench again Friday. Melvin said Fuld (back) is still not ready to play but Crisp (neck) was available for late-inning duty, although not quite ready for a full nine-inning game.
–Bassitt hasn’t resumed throwing yet, Melvin said. The club says his shoulder is structurally sound, but they are “going to be pretty careful with it,’’ he said.
–Disabled starting pitcher Jarrod Parker, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013’s Tommy John surgery, hasn’t started throwing yet, but Melvin said he is getting close to doing so.
–When Nolin starts Sunday, he will be the 28th man to pitch for the A’s this season. That will be a new Oakland record and will tie the franchise record set in Philadelphia (1915) and matched in Kansas City (1955).