Athletics Analysis

Blackburn providing stability to A's shaky starting rotation

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Paul Blackburn, as expected, is providing a young Athletics rotation with a much-needed boost.

Blackburn began the 2023 MLB season on the injured list with a fingernail avulsion, making his first start on May 29 and since providing the A's with some semblance of stability atop the rotation.

The 29-year-old pitched 5 1/3 innings in the A's 2-1 win over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at the Oakland Coliseum, surrendering four hits, one earned run and one walk while striking out five batters.

Blackburn threw 90 pitches, 55 for strikes. He mixed and matched well, keeping Yankees batters off balance with a fairly even distribution of sliders (18), cutters (18), sinkers (17), four-seam fastballs (16), curveballs (11) and changeups (10).

"That was kind of our plan going in there, try and keep them off balance and just kind of attacking," Blackburn told reporters after the game. "The first couple innings it was tough for me to just get my fastball in the zone. But after that, those couple innings there, I was able to settle down and create some early soft contact and kind of get in a rhythm."

Blackburn was an All-Star for the A's last season, posting ERAs of 1.35 and 2.62 in April and May of 2022 before crashing back down to Earth in the second half of the season after dealing with elbow and finger injuries.

After recording his first win of the 2023 season, Blackburn now is 1-0 with a 3.77 ERA and has thrown 35 strikeouts to just eight walks in 31 innings pitched. Every fifth day, he provides his teammates with a boost on the mound.

"It's confidence, you can smell it on him the second he walks through the door on his start days," Seth Brown told NBC Sports California's Chris Townsend and Dave Stewart on "A's Postgame Live." "So when he toes it out there, he's a competitor and it's fun to watch him pitch when he's out there. You know you're going to get all he's got out there every day. It just makes you want to grind harder, because he's giving it his all out there every day. As a teammate and as a position player I got to give it all for this guy."

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The A's starting rotation finished the month of April with a horrendous 8.51 ERA followed by a better 5.47 ERA in May and a much-improved 4.75 ERA in the month of June. Blackburn, in six starts -- four of which he surrendered two or fewer runs -- certainly has provided a boost to the starting rotation.

"I think getting Paul back provides some stability," A's manager Mark Kotsay said postgame. "Paul is a guy that can go out and manage a game really well, even if he doesn't have his best stuff. That brings -- not just to the starting pitching, but to the bullpen -- it brings a little bit of ease to their minds to know this guy's going to go five, six innings and we're going to be in a game.

"Paul's definitely done a great job since he's been back, and it was good to get him his first win."

The A's rotation is young and mostly inexperienced. It likely will finish the season as one of, if not the worst group in the league. There is no dramatic turnaround coming, but with Blackburn leading the way, there could be encouraging signs for the future.

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