'He did his job really well': How Boyle showed growth vs. Nats

April 14th, 2024

OAKLAND -- Even though worked five shutout innings in an A’s victory over the Tigers last week, manager Mark Kotsay tempered his praise for the scoreless performance.

“He’s got to do a better job getting ahead of hitters,” Kotsay said of Boyle that day. “Getting into the strike zone early in the count and controlling that 0-0 or 1-1 count.”

Boyle, ranked Oakland’s No. 9 prospect by MLB Pipeline, was living dangerously throughout that start at Comerica Park. Despite managing to keep Detroit off the board, he walked three batters, hit another and threw more balls (44) than strikes (43). On one hand, pitching around the constant traffic on the basepaths was a testament to his resolve. But such erratic command is not a recipe for sustained success.

So, while Boyle surrendered a run in Saturday’s 3-1 A’s loss to the Nationals at the Coliseum, the outing represented an improvement for the rookie right-hander. He was around the zone much more often, throwing 51 of 86 pitches for strikes, and allowed just one walk across five innings of one-run ball.

“Boyle was good today,” Kotsay said. “Only one walk, which is a good sign. He did his job really well and effectively. There were a lot of lefties in that [Nationals] lineup today, and he gave us a chance [to win] after five.”

When a pitcher can rev up the velocity like Boyle, whose fastball maxed out at 98 mph on Saturday, all it really takes to be effective is to be around the zone with the heater. He did that plenty against Washington, his 58 fastballs marking the most he has ever thrown in a single outing in his young Major League career, which only consists of six starts.

Leaning mostly on the fastball and slider, a pair of offerings that accounted for all but five of the pitches he threw against Washington, Boyle generated mostly weak contact. Of the 14 balls hit in play against him by the Nationals, the average exit velocity was just 82.3 mph. The only real damage came off the bat of CJ Abrams, who smacked an RBI triple off Boyle in the third that registered 101.2 mph off the bat.

“Compared to last outing, today was an improvement,” Boyle said. “As far as the overall trajectory of my career progress, it was an improvement. It was competitive the whole time. … The fastball-slider combo was working, so I just stuck with it.”

Boyle continued the string of good pitching from a stretch that saw the A’s win five of their previous six games entering Saturday. Over that stretch, A’s starting pitchers had allowed just eight runs in 33 2/3 innings. Including today, Oakland's entire pitching staff has allowed 14 earned runs across 63 innings (2.00 ERA) over the last seven games.

“We are trending upwards as a staff,” Boyle said. “After that first [week] for all the guys in the rotation, we all settled in and are building off each other. I think the competitive environment will start showing up amongst the pitchers, which will be a good thing. It’s good to be around a lot of guys who are throwing the ball well and building off each other.”

A continuation of the good pitching will perhaps lead to better overall results on days where the A’s do not have to face MacKenzie Gore, who matched his career-high 11 strikeouts and held them scoreless across five innings. With Oakland’s lone run scoring on Abraham Toro’s double in the seventh, the offense has now scored four runs or fewer in 14 of its first 15 games.

Getting runners on base was not a problem, as the A’s collected eight hits. The issue was cashing in on those opportunities. They finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

“We did a good job getting [Gore] out in five,” Kotsay said. “But the moral of the story is we need to hit better and score more runs, because the margin for error is minimal right now.”