Boyle named A's fifth starter, locking in Opening Day rotation

March 27th, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twenty-four pitchers made at least one start for the A's in 2023, tying a dubious AL/NL record for the most starters used in one season. Needless to say, the club is planning on getting more stability out of its rotation in '24.

Manager Mark Kotsay laid out the A's rotation to open the season ahead of Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Giants at Oracle Park. Following Opening Day starter will be , , and .

Boyle, the A's No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was informed by Kotsay on Monday that he won the fifth starter job and will make his first Opening Day roster. He impressed as a September callup in 2023, allowing four runs (three earned) in 16 innings (three starts) for a 1.69 ERA. He struck out 15 against five walks, a promising sign after he had posted high walk rates throughout his Minor League career.

"Joe's awesome," Blackburn said. "I really enjoy being around him and just watching him work, really. He's very articulate when it comes to just how he goes about his business … and the conversations that he has. And who doesn't like a [6-foot-7] righty that throws 100?"

Given his success in a small big league sample size, Boyle appeared to have the edge over Rule 5 Draft pick Mitch Spence and left-hander Kyle Muller early in spring, but he walked 15 batters in his final four outings and was not as sharp to close out the Cactus League slate. The A's, regardless, opted to go with the upside they saw from the 24-year-old right-hander.

Since Blackburn got the A's final exhibition game start and rain is forecast in the Bay Area on Wednesday, Boyle will go to Arizona to pitch in a Double-A game in order to get work in before his next start, which should come against the Red Sox on Monday at the Coliseum.

Unlike last season, the first four spots in the rotation were relatively solidified entering Spring Training. New additions Wood and Stripling bring experience to anchor the group, while Sears and Blackburn were the A's most consistent starters in 2023.

"In terms of the experience level and those four guys kind of leading the way, it's a better start than what we had last year," Kotsay said. "Nothing against the guys we did start with last year, but there's a lot more experience on the mound."

Blackburn, the longest-tenured member of the rotation, believes Wood and Stripling will help elevate the entire group.

"Just being able to watch them on a day-to-day [basis] and watch them go about their business and why they've played the game for as long as they have," Blackburn said, "I feel like it's just going to bring a lot of great things to this club."

If the A's can improve from last season's unsightly 50-112 record, they'll need the rotation to lead the way.

But it's not only about the pitching. Oakland's clubhouse, as a whole, has a distinctly different energy about it than in 2023. Blackburn, who debuted in '17 and then was a part of the A's teams that made the postseason in three straight seasons from '18-20, sees similarities between then and now.

"It reminds me a lot of how it was my first couple years here," Blackburn said. "Just how guys are in here, with how they interact with each other, how loose it is, how guys mess around with each other. But then when it's time to go to work, it's time to go to work."

The general consensus around the clubhouse is the team has begun to develop a culture that will help the A's bounce back from back-to-back 100-plus-loss seasons. Part of that was experiencing the highs and lows of the big leagues together for the first time, but they also feel like they have set the tone for improvement early on.

"I think a lot of it is the continuation of last year, but then also in Spring Training, I think everyone … worked really hard in the offseason and showed up with a positive attitude and eagerness to work," second baseman Zack Gelof said. "I think every day we showed up with a great mindset to not only learn, but be competitive with each other and try to push ourselves to be better players every day."

It's finally time to put that team mentality to the test in regular-season games.