Acton's gift for mom on Mother's Day? A perfect MLB debut

May 15th, 2023

OAKLAND -- As far as Mother’s Day presents go, it does not get much better than the present gifted to his mom, Janette, on Sunday afternoon.

With his mother in attendance, Acton was summoned out of the A’s bullpen for his Major League debut in the sixth inning of Sunday afternoon’s 11-3 loss to the Rangers at the Coliseum. Oakland’s No. 29 prospect worked out of a one-out jam created by starter by retiring his first two batters faced to keep the deficit at two runs. Sent back out for the seventh, Acton retired the top of Texas’ lineup in order, including a strikeout of Marcus Semien on a 95.5 mph fastball, to finish 1 2/3 perfect frames with two strikeouts.

“He looked so confident and calm out there,” said Sears, who allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. “Coming in there, that’s a tough debut. Tight game with two runners on. That’s awesome for him. On Mother’s Day, too. That’s a good gift for his mom and his family. Super happy for him.”

Acton’s contract was officially selected by the A’s on Sunday morning, though the right-hander was notified of his impending first call to the Majors on Saturday afternoon.

With his mother set to fly in from Lemont, Ill., for the weekend, Acton visited the Las Vegas Aviators’ team store at Las Vegas Ballpark prior to Saturday’s game to purchase a hat for her. Upon Acton’s return to the clubhouse, Triple-A manager Fran Riordan broke the news.

“Fran knew that I’d gone to the team store to buy my mom a Mother’s Day hat, so he brought me back in and asked me what I’d gotten her,” Acton said. “He told me that I’m going to need to get her an A’s one instead of a Vegas hat and they’d need to start looking into some flights to Oakland. It was really exciting.”

With a struggling A’s bullpen that entered the day with an MLB-worst 6.72 ERA and was largely responsible for Sunday’s loss as three different relievers combined to allow eight runs in the eighth, there was a lot to like about Acton’s potential. Displaying a two-pitch mix, he consistently pounded the zone with strikes, showing off a fastball that maxed out at 97.1 mph and averaged 96 mph throughout.

“My heart rate was definitely going up,” Acton said of his emotions prior to making his debut. “I knew the situation was coming up where I might need to go in. It was really exciting, though. I felt like I was able to slow myself down and just focus on the moment, be in the present. I’m very lucky that I had a bunch of the older vets talk to me earlier today. They were just telling me it’s the same game -- 60 feet, six inches. I was just trying to keep that in mind while I was out there.”

Acton’s journey to the big leagues was a bit unorthodox. Drafted by the White Sox as a 35th-round pick in 2016 out of Lemont (Ill.) High School, he opted to take the college route instead. Attending Saint Louis University as a freshman and Parkland College as a sophomore, Acton then transferred to Illinois, where he set a school record with 19 saves and recorded a 2.18 ERA over 30 appearances in ‘19. Despite being named a Perfect Game First Team All-American, Acton went unselected in the 2020 MLB Draft.

In contact with a few different teams after the Draft, Acton received the most frequent communication from A’s scout Derek Lee, who made it clear to him that the club was interested.

Signing with Oakland as an undrafted free agent about four days after the Draft, Acton entered the organization relatively unheralded but quickly made an impact once he debuted as a professional in 2021. He quickly rose through the system, getting time at Double-A and Triple-A in ‘22. After going 5-1 with a 4.01 ERA and one save over 16 relief outings with Triple-A Las Vegas this season, the A’s felt it was time to reward the 24-year-old Acton.

“In terms of bringing Garrett here, from a bullpen standpoint, he’s probably one of the better Triple-A performers this season,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He’s earned this opportunity to come up here and get a chance to solidify himself down in that bullpen."