Irvin unveils new cutter he learned on social media

March 21st, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Spring Training is often the time for pitchers to show off what they’ve been tinkering with during the offseason. For , he returned to camp with a brand new pitch in his arsenal.

Making his Cactus League debut in the A’s 9-9 tie with the Guardians on Sunday at Hohokam Stadium, Irvin unveiled a cutter he decided to learn on his own over the winter. It was a pitch he was able to execute well in a solid first outing as he faced 11 batters and limited Cleveland to one run on five hits across his two innings of work.

“I basically started working on grips when I started playing catch and getting comfortable with it,” Irvin said. “Today, I got in on some guys with it. It was a good pitch. I’m liking it so far.”

How did Irvin learn the pitch? Count him among the growing list of pitchers who have utilized a popular research tool in recent years: YouTube.

Irvin started off his quest to develop a cutter with a video search of Mariano Rivera, who made a Hall of Fame career out of practically throwing that pitch exclusively. He tried out the grip, but the way the ball released from his hand felt too uncomfortable. 

Taking a respite from the Internet, Irvin’s next avenue was to get in touch with teammate . He tried out Jefferies’ cutter grip, and though it felt better than Rivera’s, the comfort level still wasn’t fully to his liking. Going back to his computer, Irvin pulled up an interview with Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes on the Pitching Ninja YouTube channel. He tried out Burnes’ cutter grip. Finally, he found the one.

“That grip right there was exactly what I needed,” Irvin said. “It was something I had early in my throwing [program] and right before camp started I found the rhythm of it. I’ve kept that as my go-to grip. Now, it’s just about finger pressure and making sure I’m out front with it. When I get behind it, it’ll tend to run back. One did today.”

The addition of a cutter is just one of a few new wrinkles to Irvin’s game. He’s also changed the grip of his slider, and through strength training that focused on explosiveness this offseason, his fastball is now coming in a few ticks higher than the 90.8 mph he averaged with it in 2021.

On Sunday, Irvin sat 92-93 mph with his fastball throughout and even hit 94 mph just a few pitches before retiring Amed Rosario for the final out of his start.

“I’m going to throw a little bit harder,” Irvin said. “I found some things that help me stay consistent, velocity-wise. Even when I was at home throwing three innings, I was up to 93-95. … Out of the bullpen I’ve been able to hit 98, so it’s in there. It’s trying to find it and make it consistent throughout seven innings and, hopefully, the whole game.”

Unlike last Spring Training, when he was fighting for a rotation spot, Irvin is now an established member of the A’s starting rotation, which means he can afford to use this spring to work on new things. Still, the competitive mentality he carried through last camp won’t change this time around. In fact, he’s actually looking to intensify that aspect as he enters the regular season.

“I want to be angry out there a lot,” Irvin said. “I’m gonna be a little frustrated if the strike zone isn’t what I think it should be. Not trying to necessarily be a prima donna, but I want to compete and earn a lot of respect this year as a rotation guy.

“I had a good season last year. Now, it’s time to expand on it and get better. That’s the expectation for me and this team: push each other to get better and stronger to maximize our potential.”

McKinney’s first-base case

, who joined the A’s on a Minor League deal earlier this week, is among the group of players vying for the A’s first-base job recently vacated by Matt Olson, who was traded to the Braves. Getting the start at first in his spring debut on Sunday afternoon, the 27-year-old made a strong first impression by going 2-for-2 with three RBIs, including a booming two-run home run onto the berm in left-center field.

“I signed here a couple of days ago, so I was already behind,” McKinney said. “We already have a shortened Spring Training. [A’s manager Mark Kotsay] came up to me and asked if I was ready to go Sunday and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Get as many at-bats as I can get and, obviously, I want to show them what I can do.”

The organization is familiar with McKinney, who was selected 24th overall by Oakland in the 2013 MLB Draft. Traded the following year to the Cubs in the deal that netted the A’s Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, McKinney has moved around quite a bit since then, spending time with six different organizations. His most recent stint in the Majors came in '21 with the Dodgers, filling a valuable utility role that helped him land a spot on their postseason roster.

“It kind of gives you that déjà vu,” said McKinney, who recalled being a roommate to fellow 2013 draftee and current A’s utility man Chad Pinder while playing together in the Minor Leagues. “It feels like old times. It’s just crazy to think about how that was eight or nine years ago now. You realize how fast time goes in life. Just got to enjoy the moment and stay within it.”