Cole Irvin continues to pitch like the ace of the Athletics' starting rotation.
In the A's 5-4 win over the Texas Rangers at the Oakland Coliseum on Friday night, Irvin (W, 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, BB, 8 K) lowered his ERA to 3.08, the lowest mark of any starter on the team.
Over his last four outings, Irvin has combined for 27 innings pitched, allowing just five earned runs while striking out 18 batters and walking two. After a shaky start to the season, Irvin's maturation on the mound has been clear to manager Mark Kotsay, who believes the 28-year-old should have been considered for a spot in the All-Star Game.
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"In terms of Cole over the last month -- I brought his name up in terms of an All-Star selection for him -- he's pitched that well all year really," Kotsay told reporters postgame. "And again tonight he goes out, at home and gives us seven innings and really was dominant in that performance. Again, the month has been great for Cole.
"We talked a little bit about it earlier this year with Cole's progression, I think he's done a nice job in his maturation," Kotsay continued. "He does a good job with his on-field preparation and he also does a good job with his off-field preparation which is important. Every fifth day, he goes out and takes the ball and is prepared, but that happens after the start, his preparation starts the next day in the weight room and in the video room; he's done a great job with that."
Irvin's preparation and consistent game plan have been clear to not only his coach but to his teammates behind him on defense.
"It's always fun to watch Cole pitch, he's got that good mentality of 'I'm getting after it every pitch' and he throws every pitch with that consistency and it's just fun to be out there and watch him work and he's got a good tempo to it too," Seth Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area's Brodie Brazil and Bip Roberts on "A's Postgame Live." "He does a phenomenal job and he gives it all every time he's out there."
So what's changed for Irvin?
In recent starts, he's adopted a pregame routine from another big lefty, Arizona Diamondbacks starter and former San Francisco Giant Madison Bumgarner. In speaking with A's catcher Stephen Vogt, Irvin learned about Bumgarner's simple, yet effective routine, which has played a role in Irvin's early intensity in games.
"I was talking with Stephen Vogt and he shared with me a couple things that Madison Bumgarner does before he enters the game and I kind of applied that to my pregame routine," Irvin revealed. "Tried it out in my last start, I liked it, tried it out this start again, liked it again. So I think it's going to be part of it for the next start too.
"I don't know the number, but he throws his last five, six pitches -- it might be 10, I don't know -- as hard as he can at the end of his bullpen, so I've kind of applied that. Only five pitches for me, though. I'm not throwing more than five, I'm trying to save some for the game."
Irvin began Friday's start by retiring the first nine hitters he faced, a testament to the new approach that he adopted to begin each start.
"For me, arm speed is the biggest thing, so I want bat speed and I want my adrenaline to be up in that first inning," Irvin added. "I feel like there's times where I've come from my bullpen, where I'm too, kind of, mum, so it kind of amps me up, gets me in a rhythm."
If there's one big lefty that Irvin could emulate, Bumgarner's a good choice. In his prime, "MadBum" was one of the game's most-feared pitchers and his intensity could be felt as soon as he toed the rubber for each start.
Right now, Irvin's new approach is working and he's starting each game with a similar intensity to that of the 2014 World Series MVP.
As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.