Paul Blackburn

Blackburn anchoring A's rotation, dazzles in win vs. Tigers

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East Bay native Paul Blackburn knew the Athletics' rotation needed a lift, so he delivered.

In Oakland’s 4-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday at Comerica Park, Blackburn tossed six scoreless innings, collecting four strikeouts while only allowing three hits.

“He put us on his back today,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said after the game. “It was a big performance for Paul. He didn’t feel great. He was kind of scuffling with some type of chest stuff and grinded through to give us six innings and exactly what we needed, really.”

The A’s needed everything they got from the laboring Blackburn.

Oakland entered Saturday’s matinee with a minus-30 run differential and a 1-7 record, while other starters like Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Joe Boyle have allowed a combined 21 earned runs over 22 innings.

On Friday, the A’s also frustratingly dropped the series opener, 5-4, in Detroit. 

“I’m going to speak for every starter we have in here,” Blackburn declared. “When you’re going through a little skid like that, you want to be the guy that goes out there and stops it. You want to go out there and put a good outing together, get a win, and be able to flip that momentum a little bit and give a little confidence to some guys in here. 

“I said it in Oakland, and I’ll say it again: the way we’ve played the last 10 games, I don’t think that’s our identity at all.”

Blackburn helped Oakland snap its four-game losing streak, while handing Detroit its second loss of the season. He also helped Kotsay and pitching coach Scott Emerson figure out what’s working rotationally, one season after the A’s tied an MLB record with 24 starters used.

Blackburn built on an impressive season debut where he tossed seven scoreless innings against the Cleveland Guardians last week at the Coliseum. The righty now is fourth on the A’s list of scoreless innings pitched to open a season with 13. Blackburn trails, in order, Brett Anderson (14, 2010), Catfish Hunter (15, 1969) and Matt Keough (16, 1980). Blackburn can move to No. 1 during his next start, presumably against the Washington Nationals on April 12th in Oakland.

While the A’s still have much to figure out over their next 153 games, Kotsay isn’t surprised by Blackburn’s success to start the year.

“Well, we’ve seen it,” Kotsay added. “Obviously, with his [2022 AL] All-Star season, we’ve seen this type of Paul where he’s just able to mix his pitches, keep hitters off balance, utilize the changeup. He had everything. He had the cutter, the four-seamer, front-door two-seamer … Really, a great mix. He’s throwing strikes. He’s competitive.”

Kotsay added that Blackburn’s struggles to end 2023 influenced the pitcher’s hot start in 2024. Blackburn allowed 11 earned runs over his last three nods last season, and both he and Kotsay believe his lack of command was glaring.

The former AL All-Star made it a point to take control against batters and has done so since.

“Over my last five outings -- the two in this regular season and the last three in spring --  I just feel like I’ve been attacking guys and making guys beat me,” Blackburn said. “Anytime you can put zeros on the board and walk away as a team with the win, you know it’s a good outing.

Blackburn had an elite spring, finishing with a 2.04 ERA over 17 2/3 innings. Even better, he holds a 0.00 ERA through two starts this season.

While Blackburn helped earn Oakland the win over Detroit, he credited the A's offense for giving him a lead to start.

“It’s always good to go out there with some kind of a lead … especially in the top of the first inning, get a little bit of momentum, especially with how things have gone for us," Blackburn added.

“[Brent Rooker] absolutely crushed that ball. And he crushed the ball yesterday, too. Good to see him put together some really good at-bats for us and drive the ball like everyone here knows he can.”

Rooker hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Detroit righty Kenta Maeda to give the A’s a 2-0 lead and all the run support they needed. He hit a two-run homer the game prior as well.

After Oakland acquired former San Francisco Giants pitchers Wood and Stripling over the offseason, it was theorized the tandem would take the reigns from incumbent A’s starters like Blackburn and J.P. Sears. 

However, Blackburn has carried the load.

The A’s need him to keep up his stellar play, but Oakland’s pitching staff could use another hand.

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