Black­burn sharp in sea­son de­but, beats Roy­als 4-1

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jerry McDon­ald jm­c­don­ald@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

OAK­LAND » Paul Black­burn looked as good as he ever has and maybe bet­ter.

Surely af­ter a nearly flaw­less six-in­ning per­for­mance in a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Roy­als, the 10th dif­fer­ent starter for the Ath­let­ics this sea­son would ex­plain ex­actly how it was that he was such a cool cus­tomer in his 2018 de­but.

Turns out Black­burn was a ner­vous wreck.

“The last 48 hours have been pretty rough for me,” Black­burn said. “I don’t think I’ve eaten any­thing. Just sit­ting there, stom­ach turn­ing . . . ex­cite­ment, nerves, just get­ting back out there and com­pet­ing with the guys.”

Which came as a sur­prise to Jonathan Lu­croy, the vet­eran catcher who con­sid­ers him­self a pretty good judge of the hu­man con­di­tion.

“Usu­ally I’m pretty good at pick­ing up vibes,” Lu­croy said. “I didn’t get that vibe.”

Black­burn, who was shut down in spring train­ing with a slow-to-heal fore­arm strain, gave up just three hits and threw 67 pitches — 52 of them strikes. He didn’t walk any­body, and in fact never had a three­ball count, to go along with three strike­outs.

The score was tied 1-1 af­ter Black­burn de­parted fol­low­ing the top of the sixth, with the Roy­als get­ting a home run from Al­cides Eco­bar in the sec­ond in­ning and the Ath­let­ics get­ting a tape-mea­sure shot from Matt Ol­son against los­ing pitcher Ja­son Ham­mel (26) in the fourth.

The Brent­wood prod­uct was re­warded by his team­mates in the bot­tom of the sixth, when a dou­ble by Matt Chap­man and sin­gles by Mar­cus Semien and Stephen Pis­cotty drove in three runs to make him the pitcher of record.

Lou Triv­ino, Yus­meiro Petit and Blake Treinen each had a score­less in­ning to fin­ish it off as the A’s im­proved to 32-31, with Treinen get­ting his 14th save. It was over in two hours and 18 min­utes.

There were only 7,903 fans in the stands, and that in­cluded Black­burn’s par­ents, grand­par­ents and fam­ily friends. He was fac­ing the Roy­als, who fell to 21- 42.

Yet Black­burn was more ner­vous than his ma­jor league de­but with the A’s last sea­son or any other start that he can re­mem­ber.

“It’s just like a huge sign of re­lief, I guess, `OK, I can breathe again now,’ “Black­burn said. “I’m not usu­ally like that. I have nerves com­ing into ev­ery start, but not like this was. I think it was ex­cite­ment as well as nerves and want­ing to get back out there.”

Black­burn may have been ner­vous, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t con­fi­dent.

“I be­lieve in my­self,” Black­burn said. “Ev­ery time I’m out there I be­lieve I’m go­ing to get ev­ery­body out. Some­times that’s not the case, some days it is. I felt good the whole re­hab process and throw­ing off the mound and ev­ery­thing. I was ready.”

Black­burn had a cou­ple of prac­tice out­ings in Ari­zona and just one Triple-A re­hab start for Class A Stock­ton. He gave up eight hits in 3 2/3 in­nings.

But the A’s were short of pitch­ing and called him up any­way. Even man­ager Bob Melvin said it a less than ideal ar­range­ment.

“I think it was more faith in what we’ve seen in the past,” Melvin said. “You can’t take a lot of stock of what you see in re­hab . . . but to throw six in­nings like that, it’s way ahead of what we ex­pected.”

Ol­son mar­veled at Black­burn’s com­mand and tempo.

“That was awesome,” Ol­son said. “To be able to come out in a big league game, his first start of the year, and go six with just one mis­take was huge.”

Black­burn be­came the lat­est A’s pitcher to kneel at the al­tar of Lu­croy, who has be­come a key piece in hold­ing to­gether a rav­aged pitch­ing staff.

“Hon­estly, his game plan, it was so in depth, it was jut in­cred­i­ble,” Black­burn said. “I’d heard a lot of great things about him and I trusted him with ev­ery­thing. I didn’t shake off any­thing tonight. Ev­ery time he put a sign down, I had con­vic­tion with ev­ery­thing.”

• Ol­son’s home run, his 13th, came af­ter a 9-for-20 trip with three homers.

• The A’s ex­tended their sea­son-long streak of er­ror­less games to seven, in­clud­ing a spec­tac­u­lar div­ing catch by cen­ter fielder Dustin Fowler off the bat of Ra­mon Tor­res to end the eighth in­ning.

• Catcher Bruce Maxwell was sent to Triple-A Nashville to make room for Black­burn on the ros­ter. Maxwell was bat­ting .182 in 18 games.

• The crowd was the 11th of less than 10,000 since the start of the sea­son.

• Fowler bat­ted lead­off, with Semien dropped into the No. 6 spot. Semien will move back up in the lineup soon, but the A’s would love to see Fowler seize the lead­off role.

“Just chang­ing things up a lit­tle bit,” Melvin said. “Some­times you want to get a guy out of a cer­tain spot and give him a look some­where else. Mar­cus has been such a ver­sa­tile guy for us over the years, whether he’s hit­ting at the bot­tom, in the mid­dle, he can get on base, he can score runs, he can knock in runs too.

“There’s no doubt he’ll be back up to­ward the top of the lineup, prob­a­bly lead­ing off against (Danny) Duffy on Satur­day.”

Semien was 0-for-19 on the A’s five- game trip to Kansas City and Texas but sin­gled his first time up Thurs­day to go along with his run- scor­ing sin­gle in the sixth.

• Reliever San­ti­ago Casilla, off a re­hab as­sign­ment for the Class A Stock­ton Ports in San Jose, could be re­in­stated to the ros­ter as soon as to­day.

• Out­fielder Boog Pow­ell (right knee) was trans­ferred to the 60- day dis­abled list.

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