RHP Tarnok embraces competition for roster spot

February 26th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Given his lack of extensive Major League experience, likely has an uphill climb this spring in a crowded battle for the final two spots in the A’s starting rotation.

More performances like Saturday's, however, might improve his chances in a hurry.

Piggybacking the Cactus League opener in tandem with left-hander , another pitcher in competition for one of those starting jobs, Tarnok efficiently worked through two scoreless innings of relief with two strikeouts in Oakland’s 12-7 win over the D-backs.

Of his 25 pitches, Tarnok missed plenty of bats and produced off-balance swings on both of his strikeouts. His punchout of Jordan Lawlar in the third ended with an 83 mph changeup, a pitch he focused on improving last year in the Braves’ Minor League system. The pitch was a big key to his success at Triple-A after a slow start to his 2022 campaign, which led to a brief call to the Majors with Atlanta last August.

“I’m definitely going to keep throwing a lot of them now, just to try to get that feel for the season,” Tarnok said. “Good to get that work in. I felt great. Nice and loose. Got the nerves out of the way. We’re good.”

Allowing his first two batters faced to reach base inadvertently gave Tarnok a chance to show the A’s big league staff what he can do with traffic on the basepaths. After a single by Alek Thomas in the third set up runners at first and second with no outs, Tarnok flawlessly finished his outing by retiring his final six batters.

“Freddy threw the ball really well,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “For his first outing, he commanded the zone pretty well. Mixed his pitches. Some life to the heater. I like what Freddy did today. ... We’ll see how this thing shapes up for him.”

One advantage Tarnok might bring into Cactus League play is his experience with the pitch timer. Having pitched with the clock in the Minor Leagues over the past couple of years, there wasn’t much of an adjustment to dealing with the 15- and 20-second timers on Saturday. Tarnok is also a fast worker, in general, pitching solely out of the stretch dating back to his senior year in high school, when he converted into a full-time pitcher.

“I’ve been pretty used to it," Tarnok said. “It helps with having the PitchCom now. We don’t have to wait on signs. As the ball is coming back to me, [the catcher] can call what pitch I want as I’m walking back to the mound. You make things work.”

Making his first appearance in an A’s uniform as one of the prospects acquired from Atlanta in the Sean Murphy deal in December, Tarnok came as advertised. In addition to the improved changeup, he flashed a strong loopy curveball and sat 95-96 mph with his fastball throughout his outing.

The A’s haven’t ruled out the possibility of Tarnok starting out the year in their bullpen, where his stuff might play even better over shorter stints. For now, he’ll continue to build up as a starter, embracing the opportunity to compete with the bevy of young and talented A’s pitchers looking to win a job.

“It makes everybody work hard and keeps everybody on their toes,” Tarnok said of the rotation battle. “It creates good competition. It’s good for us.”

Sears works on pace

Sears came into camp aware that he would need to speed up his actions on the mound under the new MLB rules. He was pleased with those adjustments for most of his outing, though he did have some close calls on a few instances, including one that resulted in a costly mistake.

Realizing the timer was nearing expiration while facing Gabriel Moreno in the second, Sears hastily came set and delivered a hanging slider that was tagged for a solo home run.

Sears developed a new grip for his slider this offseason to add more of a sweeping action to the pitch. But in that moment of panic, he reverted back to his old grip and threw it without much conviction.

Despite the one lapse, Sears isn’t too concerned about the pitch timer becoming an issue.

“There were probably three or four pitches where I was definitely a little rushed,” Sears said. “I feel like we’ll get asked that question a lot and you’ll get the same answer a lot, just like times when a hitter feels rushed. But we’ll adjust to it and I’ll be fine.”