Oakland's Cusick cruising through early AFL outings

October 12th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The first-round Draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2021, right-handed pitcher Ryan Cusick had just 16 innings of pro experience under his belt when he was traded to the A’s in the Matt Olson deal last March. He barely got to show his new organization what he was all about, making seven starts before being shelved with what has largely been reported as an oblique injury but was, in fact, a broken rib.

Forced to the sidelines at the end of May, Cusick didn’t return to Double-A until mid-August and finished with just 43 innings in his first full season, a big reason why the A’s sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get more work in.

“Injuries are always not fun to deal with and I unfortunately had to deal with one for about three or four months,” said Cusick, the A’s No. 13 prospect. “It’s nice to keep sticking to my process and execute one pitch at a time and starting to see the fruits of my labor come to fruition.”

Fruition was an extremely efficient second Fall League start on Wednesday afternoon. Cusick went five strong innings as his Mesa Solar Sox defeated the Peoria Javelinas, 9-2, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out two. Over his two starts, the Wake Forest product has now allowed one earned run in nine innings of work, giving up only five hits in the process.

After struggling with his command when he first returned from injury, Cusick has been pleased with how his familiarity with the strike zone has improved over his two starts this fall. In his first start a week ago, he threw 40 of his 69 pitches for strikes. On Wednesday, he was even better: 43 strikes out of 65 pitches.

“I’m starting to feel back to my normal self,” Cusick said. “I was a strike-thrower in college. I knew I was going to be a strike-thrower going forward. It was just a matter of time.”

Cusick got all the offense he would need to get the win in the second and third innings. Yankees first baseman T.J. Rumfield hit his first home run of the AFL season, a solo shot in the second to put Mesa up, 1-0. Rumfield went 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs and is now 6-for-9 with five RBIs in his last two games. Cusick’s organization-mate Lawrence Butler is swinging an equally hot bat. His line-drive three-run homer to right field in the third gave the Solar Sox a 4-0 lead and the outfielder is now hitting .368 with a pair of homers and nine RBIs.

Cusick was 93-96 mph with his fastball throughout his outing and it was clear he had plenty left in the tank, considering he averaged just 13 pitches per inning. He managed such efficiency while also focusing on tightening up his breaking ball. He used a power curve in college, but had shifted his focus to a slider when he started pro ball, though that transition was put on hold by the injury.

“I definitely took a step in the right direction today,” said Cusick, who threw several effective 83-85 mph sliders in his start. “I started throwing that slider last August, so that was new to me. Getting out in front and extended with a partially broken rib when I was coming back isn’t exactly very easy. Now that it’s fully healed, I started to have some more feel for it. It’s starting to get back where we want.”

Injuries are never something players want to have to do with, but they can be a good test of how players handle adversity and how they come out of it once they are healthy. While Cusick’s numbers with Midland upon his return aren’t pretty, he clearly was shaking off the rust and it took him some time to feel like he was 100 percent. And it’s obvious he learned a lot during his time on the injured list.

“It was something that was tough because I had to take some time off from what I love to do, which is lift weights and throw the baseball,” Cusick said. “It was my first injury, honestly, in my career, where I was out for an extended period of time. It was something I had to learn, but I’m glad I got to watch from the sidelines for a little bit, take all that knowledge and bring it to today.”

He’s hoping to continue to do that during the remainder of his stay in Arizona, looking to keep filling up the strike zone and showing why the Braves targeted him as a first-round pick in the first place. As much as there might be a temptation to also prove to the A’s who he really is, that they were right to acquire him, Cusick brushes that thought aside with quiet confidence.

“It’s not even so much that,” Cusick said. “They know who I am. They traded for me for a reason. They saw me plenty of times when I was my normal self at Spring Training. It’s really just coming out and putting up numbers every single inning.”