Joe Boyle

Boyle continues A's stellar pitching in tight loss to Nationals

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Right-handed pitcher Joe Boyle continued the Athletics' dominance on the mound in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Oakland Coliseum. 

Despite earning the defeat, Boyle (1-2) collected five strikeouts while only allowing one run and five hits over five innings.

“You know, I thought Boyle was good today,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said after the narrow loss. “Obviously, we know the pitch count is going to get run up with him -- he’s more of a strikeout guy. He had five today and only one walk, which is a good sign. I thought he did his job really well [and] effectively. There were a lot of lefties in [Washington's] lineup today. 

“[Boyle] gave us a chance after five [innings] to just have a one-run deficit. I thought he was really good.”

The 24-year-old starter’s 86-pitch outing brought Oakland’s surrendered run total over its last three games to a mere four and kept the lackluster A’s offense in the hunt. Boyle also lowered his ERA from 8.22 to 5.68.

Boyle predominantly used his heater against the Nationals, averaging 96.8 mph on 58 fastballs. Additionally, he found success when trailing in counts by resorting to breakers.

“Yeah, there was better command today,” Kotsay added. “We saw [Boyle] land the slider a little bit more and use it effectively. Even [when he was] behind in the count, the 2-0 breaking ball was landing.”

Against Washington, Boyle nearly replicated his April 7 performance against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park (W, 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K), which was much better than his dreadful season debut against the Boston Red Sox on April 1 at the Coliseum, in which he allowed seven earned runs just in 2 2/3 innings.

After three starts, Boyle appears to offer Kotsay another trustworthy arm in Oakland’s rotation besides righty Paul Blackburn -- who has yet to allow a run over 19 1/3 innings. 

Yet, the A’s weekend pitching success didn’t stop after Boyle’s day concluded.

Left-handed reliever Kyle Muller shined across three innings, earning five strikeouts while only allowing two hits, with one being a fluke RBI double off the bat of Nationals infielder Luis Garcia Jr. that was miscalculated by A’s centerfielder Max Schuemann, who made his starting debut on Saturday.

“This is a good role for Kyle,” Kotsay said. “He’s had some good outings this season. [He’s] really making a difference right now in his role helping the bullpen out.”

Muller now boasts a strong 2.03 ERA after stacking 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He’s excelling during a “prove-it” year and looks like a shell of the pitcher who had a 1-5 record and 7.60 ERA in 2023.

The 26-year-old's hot start presumably is due to off-season adjustments to his delivery. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder worked with Oakland’s staff to tweak his offering to be more vertically oriented. 

“He worked really hard this offseason,” Kotsay emphasized. “We met early on in the offseason and talked to him about maybe making some changes to the pitch shape, but he wanted to make a change to his arm angle and raise it up. 

“He has done a great job and we’ve seen good results. I tip my cap to Kyle for putting in the work this offseason and showing up.”

Combined, Boyle and Muller sharpened what’s been a reasonable start for Oakland’s somewhat new and improved pitching staff, especially after it used an MLB-record 24 starters a year ago.

Unfortunately for the home team, the A’s eight hits -- which tied their third-highest total in a game during the 2024 MLB season -- weren’t supportive enough, earning Oakland one run after a double from designated hitter Abraham Toro scored shortstop Nick Allen in the seventh.

Left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore simply was too electric for Washinton in front of Oakland’s crowd of 3,330, posting 11 strikeouts while allowing four hits over five innings.

“Gore was pretty nasty today, 11 strikeouts,” Kotsay said. “Really, his fastball -- we call it easy cheese -- but it’s effortless. But that’s 97 [mph]. He keeps it in on righties. The breaking ball was good. We only got one walk.”

The outcome sent the A’s to 6-9 during the 2024 MLB season, while the Nationals improved to 6-8.

“We did a good job getting [Gore] out in five, but the morale of the story is the offense,” Kotsay concluded. “We need to hit better [and] we need to score more runs because the margin for error is very minimal right now.”

Oakland desires answers offensively, but Boyle and Muller continued to pull their weight on the mound.

The winner of Sunday’s 1:07 p.m. PT matinee will claim the series. It could be the A’s third consecutive series victory.

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