OAKLAND, Calif. — Catcher Stephen Vogt came to the mound and offered a congratulatory embrace to Jharel Cotton, then gave the young pitcher one last bit of advice for the afternoon: “Hey, just enjoy this walk right now.”
The entire infield hustled in to celebrate Cotton’s memorable major league debut Wednesday, and he showed the last-place Oakland Athletics a glimpse of a promising future when they beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1.
For all the nerves during a lousy pregame bullpen session, the 24-year-old right-hander (1-0) sure looked poised from the moment he stepped on the rubber in the first. Cotton impressed with four pitches, dazzling with his changeup, showing strong command of his fastball and mixing in some solid curveballs and sliders to keep the Angels guessing.
“It could not be any better,” he said. “Of course my dream is to get to the big leagues. I’m here now, my dream came true. I got to pitch in front of the Oakland A’s fans and I’m happy I did a great job and showed them I can pitch up here in the big leagues.”
Cotton allowed one run and two hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking two in a 102-pitch performance. He got the ball as a keepsake, a pie in the face from every player and had 30 text messages to greet him from thrilled family and friends.
When his day was done, Cotton jogged off the mound in the seventh and stopped to tip his cap for the sparse crowd on an unseasonably warm September afternoon.
“That was a great ovation. Our fans, weren’t too many out there today but they were our loyal ones,” Vogt said. “They always have our back and they always cheer loud for us. He deserved better today. But they gave him a great ovation and we’re so thankful for our fans that showed up today.”
Born on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cotton became the fourth pitcher in big league history born in the Virgin Islands. He came to the A’s from the Dodgers at the trade deadline in a deal that sent Josh Reddick to Los Angeles. He nearly tossed a one-hitter in his second start for Triple-A Nashville, giving the Oakland front office a preview of his potential at the next level.
C.J. Cron homered on a 3-2 pitch leading off the seventh with a drive that tipped off the glove of center fielder Brett Eibner, someone manager Bob Melvin wanted to evaluate at the position.
The Angels couldn’t muster much offense the way Cotton was brilliantly mixing pitches.
“We didn’t get too many good looks at him,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
Eibner hit an RBI double and Yonder Alonso and Max Muncy added run-scoring singles to back Cotton.
Ryan Madson, Oakland’s third reliever, finished for his 29th save.
Alex Meyer (0-2) struck out five but walked four in 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run on one hit.
He became the 14th different Angels starting pitcher this season.
Cotton was the second A’s starter to make his major league debut in three days, following Raul Alcantara’s struggle on Monday.
It also marked the second time in Oakland history the A’s had five starters make their major league debuts in one season, also in 1978. Using the 27th pitcher of the season, the A’s matched the second-most to appear in a year — also 1977 and 2009 — behind 30 in 2015.
“It didn’t look like anything really fazed him,” Melvin said of Cotton. “He’s got the stuff.”
Angels: RHP Matt Shoemaker flew home to Southern California from Seattle, three days after taking a line drive to the head and undergoing surgery to stop bleeding on his brain. … INF Yunel Escobar (left wrist) was scheduled to hit Wednesday. “He feels better,” Scioscia said. “We’ll turn him loose in batting practice and see how he is Friday.” … C Geovany Soto (right knee) continues to progress slowly. He’ll be re-evaluated when the Angels return home this weekend.
Athletics: With the pitching struggles, the A’s are looking at going with a six-man rotation. LHP Sean Manaea, who left his Aug. 29 start at Houston with a sore back, has recovered well and is likely to make a start during the team’s road trip next week to Kansas City and Texas.
Angels: LHP Tyler Skaggs (3-3) starts Friday looking to win his third straight outing on the heels of a three-start skid. He will face Texas for the first time since July 13, 2014.
Athletics: After an off day, RHP Daniel Mengden (1-6) starts Friday against the Seattle Mariners trying to snap his 0-5 record at home in the Oakland Coliseum.