Irvin outdueled in hometown, debuts slider

August 1st, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Saturday afternoon’s homecoming for A’s left-hander was almost perfect.

Making his first career start at Angel Stadium -- the ballpark frequented by the Anaheim native as a child and where he worked as a grounds crew member while attending nearby Servite High School -- Irvin gave his personal cheering section of friends and family members plenty to cheer about.

“For a hometown start, I’m pretty happy with it,” Irvin said. “I had a fan section in so many different areas that I couldn’t count. I was a little nervous after I came in from my bullpen. I definitely had some jelly legs in the first inning, but I got through it.”

After tossing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts, Irvin handed the ball to A’s manager Bob Melvin with one out in the seventh and walked off the mound to a standing ovation from his supporters. The only flaw in Irvin’s return home was a lack of run support, as the A’s offense went scoreless in a 1-0 loss.

“He was great,” Melvin said of Irvin. “You get into the seventh only giving up five hits and one run, that’s usually enough to win a game. I know this was a neat place for him based on his history to pitch here. You take that any time he goes out there.”

Despite the end result being a tough-luck loss, Irvin kept the line moving in what has been an impressive run by the A’s starting rotation. Over Oakland’s last four games, the starters have allowed just one run in 26 1/3 innings.

For Irvin, Saturday brought the integration of a new pitch. After tinkering with a slider grip during a bullpen session in San Diego earlier this week, the left-hander decided to immediately unleash the pitch against the Angels. His first pitch of the game was a slider to David Fletcher, resulting in a groundout to short.

Throwing the slider for 16 of his 95 pitches on Saturday, Irvin said he’ll continue working towards bettering the pitch in the leadup to his next start.

“I’m not hesitant to try something and see if it works,” Irvin said. “Every slider I threw today was the new one. There were some that weren’t as sharp as I wanted, but that comes with time. This bullpen coming up, I’ll throw it all week.”

The A’s expect better days ahead on offense. Newcomers Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison, both of whom were acquired in a trade with the Nationals on Friday, arrived to the club mid-game on Saturday and will be available for Sunday’s series finale. Perhaps that can provide a spark to a slumping A’s lineup, which on Saturday mustered just five hits as it was stymied by Angels starter Jaime Barria and the Los Angeles bullpen.

There was plenty of hard contact for the A’s. Of their 28 balls in play, nine were struck at an exit velocity of at least 100 mph. But situational hitting remained an issue.

Entering the day with the lowest OPS (.521) and batting average (.200) among American League clubs in bases-loaded situations, the A’s again were unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded spot on Saturday, when Mark Canha flied out to end the top of the seventh.

“[Barria] had us a little off-balance,” Melvin said. “We hit some balls hard in key situations. We hit a few balls hard today, but certainly not enough offense. You’d think we’d muster a little bit more today.”

As for Harrison and Gomes, Melvin said he expects both to be in Sunday’s starting lineup.

“Those guys will get their first crack,” Melvin said. “They got here pretty late today, as far as trying to get them in the game. We expect, with these additions, to have a little better offense than we’ve had here recently.”