Kaprielian has no injury concerns after shortest start of career

Right-hander has trouble shaking off rust in 2022 debut for A's

May 2nd, 2022

OAKLAND -- The A’s certainly expect better days ahead for James Kaprielian than the one he had on Sunday afternoon.

After missing the entirety of Spring Training due to AC joint irritation, Kaprielian took the mound for his first start of 2022 and battled through command issues. The end result was a 7-3 A’s loss against the Guardians at the Coliseum to conclude a three-game sweep, marking Cleveland’s first series sweep in Oakland since April 2000.

Building up to a full workload with three Minor League rehab starts over the past couple of weeks, Kaprielian departed with no outs in the third inning with just 57 pitches thrown after walking the bases loaded. The right-hander was charged with four runs on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts over two-plus innings.

There were some positives to come out of Kaprielian’s outing. His fastball to finish off a strikeout of Owen Miller in the first clocked in at 95 mph, well above the 93 mph he averaged with his heater in 2021. He also showed off the slider he’d been altering during his rehab starts and used it as the put-away pitch on a strikeout of Franmil Reyes to begin the second inning.

But though Kaprielian limited Cleveland to one run in the second, manager Mark Kotsay sensed the 28 pitches it took to complete the frame might have taken a toll. Once Kaprielian went back out for the third, things unraveled. He loaded the bases with three consecutive walks, throwing 12 of his 13 pitches in the inning for balls.

“In that [third] inning with the three walks, he just didn’t look right,” Kotsay said. “It just looked like he was really laboring and didn’t really have a feel for being able to command the fastball in the zone. That sums it up.”

Given Kaprielian’s past injury history, the short outing could have briefly sparked concern over the health of his arm. After the game, though, Kaprielian said he felt fine physically, chalking up his rough outing to a lack of execution with his pitches.

“No [injury] issues at all. Just a poor performance on my part,” Kaprielian said. “I just didn’t make the adjustment when I needed to. I felt good out there. But 12 or 13 pitches in the third were balls, and that can’t happen. I have to do a better job of getting into better counts.”

Kaprielian’s credit built up in a solid rookie season in 2021 that saw him go 8-5 with a 4.07 ERA in 24 games, affording him some leeway. Heading into 2022, Oakland’s expectation was that he would emerge as one of the anchors of the pitching staff. One start does not change this belief.

In preparation for his next outing -- likely coming this weekend during a three-game road series in Minnesota -- Kaprielian will review the little tape that is available from what was the shortest start of his career and search for areas in which he can improve.

“You have to look at it,” Kaprielian said. “I’m going to go back and look at my mechanics. Not overanalyze anything, but go in there and get to work with [pitching coach Scott Emerson] to see what I can do to make that adjustment sooner, as opposed to not making it at all.”

Trailing 7-0 after six innings, the A’s showed late life with a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth that included a pair of RBI doubles by Christian Bethancourt and Kevin Smith. Overall, however, Oakland’s offense remains in a slump, having scored two runs or fewer in eight of its last 12 games as it prepares to welcome the Rays into town for a three-game series on Monday,

“Going into today, I thought we had good energy,” Kotsay said. “But we fell behind late, which puts more pressure on our offense. We showed a little fight at the end in the ninth, which I was happy about. But overall, just a tough series.”