Brooks makes most of opportunity in longest outing since 2015

May 16th, 2024

HOUSTON – Facing the likes of stars such as Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez is something was unsure he would ever do again.

Becoming a 33-year-old free agent after spending all of 2023 in the Padres organization at Triple-A El Paso, Brooks went through most of the offseason without an offer. By December, he and his wife, Whitney, had decided that, with three young children to raise, it was time to transition away from his playing career.

“Usually, it’s around December that I sign,” Brooks said. “We just said, ‘Hey, if this is meant to be, it’s meant to be. We’ll move on.’”

Brooks kept working out and maintained his body in pitching shape on the off-chance that a call might come. One February afternoon, Brooks -- still without an offer -- picked up his phone and texted A’s general manager David Forst. The two built a relationship from his previous two stints. Oakland first acquired Brooks along with Sean Manaea from the Royals for Ben Zobrist in 2015, then traded for him again in 2018 after he was designated for assignment by the Brewers.

“I figured there wasn’t much loss in texting him,” Brooks said. “Seeing if there was a job opportunity.”

Forst offered a Minor League deal, which Brooks signed on Feb. 9, less than a week before Spring Training. He reported to Minor League camp and began the season with Triple-A Las Vegas, where the A’s merely expected him to provide depth.

A few months later, Brooks was back on a big league mound for his first Major League start since Sept. 13, 2019. In Wednesday night’s 3-0 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park, the right-hander limited a potent Houston offense to three runs on seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts over seven innings, marking just the fourth time an A’s starter has completed seven innings this season.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Brooks said. “I was a little nervous in that first inning just to get the jitters out and get back out there and wipe the dust off. I think I did pretty well keeping the team in the game.”

Given the depleted state of the rotation, which has seen three of its original five members from Opening Day go down with injuries over the past week, the A’s could not have asked for much more from Brooks. Called up to start in place of an injured Paul Blackburn, he showed off a fastball that maxed out at 94.8 mph and efficiently navigated through seven frames on 84 pitches. He ended his outing by retiring 11 of his final 14 batters.

A Minor Leaguer for most of his 14 professional seasons after getting drafted by the Royals in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Wednesday marked just the fifth time Brooks has completed seven innings over a start in his Major League career. The last time was Oct. 2, 2015, when he went seven innings against the Mariners as a rookie during his first stint with Oakland.

“Aaron threw the ball great,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “That first inning, defense cost him at least one run. Overall, that’s kind of the vintage Brooks I remember with the A’s from before. He does a great job managing the game. He throws strikes.”

Brooks’ baseball journey has taken him a long way since his previous start. Before Wednesday, his big league experience over the past five years consisted of five relief appearances for the Cardinals in 2022. Released by the Orioles in November 2019, he kept his baseball dream alive by pitching for the Kia Tigers of Korea from 2020-21.

“It’s been emotional for us as a family,” Brooks said of the past few years. “To go from potentially out of the game to where we are right now, it’s been a blessing, for sure.”

For the A’s, it was their ninth loss in the past 11 games on a night that saw the offense stymied by Framber Valdez over seven shutout innings. They’re on the brink of getting swept over four games and falling out of third place in the American League West. But at the very least, they may have identified someone in Brooks -- who in 43 1/3 innings pitched in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at Triple-A has yet to allow a home run this season -- that could potentially help this injury-riddled rotation.

“We’ll see how we go forward with Brooksy,” Kotsay said. “You can’t overlook the job he did tonight, especially against a good lineup. He took advantage of his opportunity.”