Estes wows A's with Hudson-like performance

Kotsay reminded of 2004 All-Star teammate as No. 11 prospect takes perfect game into 7th

June 6th, 2024

OAKLAND -- Early on in the A's 2-1 win over the Mariners on Wednesday, a highlight video on the Coliseum scoreboard showcased a brilliant shutout thrown by Tim Hudson against the Blue Jays in the very same stadium exactly 20 years to the date.

Manager Mark Kotsay had a premier vantage point of that outing. He was the starting center fielder for the A’s that day, getting a clear view of one of two shutouts by Hudson that season in what was an All-Star campaign for the right-hander.

Watching his young starter rack up zeros as the night unfolded evoked flashbacks for Kotsay of his former ace teammate. Like Hudson, Estes is not an imposing presence at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, nor does he possess an overpowering fastball. But what made Hudson great was his “bulldog” mentality on the mound, similar to the competitive drive the A’s have quickly grown to love about Estes, their No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

“The aggressiveness with his fastball and attacking hitters,” Kotsay said of Estes. “Huddy was that style of pitcher.”

Estes may not have matched Hudson’s gem from 20 years prior, though he did manage to flirt with history in what was by far the best outing of his young career. Making his seventh Major League start, the 22-year-old righty carried a perfect game into the seventh inning before yielding a leadoff double to Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford.

Unfazed by the perfecto breakup, Estes bounced back to retire Josh Rojas on a flyout one batter later before getting pulled with one out to cap 6 1/3 scoreless frames with Hudson-like efficiency, retiring 19 of 20 batters faced on just 78 pitches.

“He’s such a competitor,” Kotsay said. “In that situation, it’s tough to go get the ball from him. But Julio [Rodríguez] had squared a ball up to center earlier [in the game], so there’s no sense in leaving him in. … Overall, the game that Joey threw out there was outstanding.”

Wednesday was as close to perfection as an A’s rookie has come since Brett Anderson was perfect for 6 2/3 innings against the Angels on July 19, 2009. It was a strong bid by Estes for the 25th perfect game in AL/NL history and first since Dallas Braden on May 9, 2010, but not something he really gave much thought to as a possibility at any point.

“Not that I remember,” Estes said when asked if there was a moment in the game where he realized he had a perfect game going. “I was just going out there and doing my job. I noticed once they got the hit.”

Estes, who struck out five, received a standing ovation from the Oakland crowd and every single one of his teammates as he walked back to the home dugout. It wasn’t perfection, but it certainly made an impression, even on the opposing side.

"His fastball was really good, and he just had a good plan of mixing," Crawford said of Estes. "He was just on tonight."

Estes leaned on that fastball heavily, throwing the four-seamer 46 times. Topping out at 94.9 mph on Wednesday, Estes’ fastball is enhanced by his ability to command it along with the rest of his pitches. Against Seattle, he reached three-ball counts just three times and fired a total of 15 first-pitch strikes, enabling him to generate quick outs and maintain an economical pitch count.

"He’s got that mentality that he believes in his fastball, and rightfully so,” said A’s catcher Shea Langeliers. “He locates it well. His arm slot allows him to get good vertical movement on it. The metrics are good on his heater. … I love the mentality of him being aggressive with his heater."

Estes’ first career scoreless performance lowered his ERA to 4.67, a number that is a bit inflated from a career-worst outing in Houston on May 16 in which he was tagged for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Through his other four starts this season, Wednesday night included, Estes has allowed just six earned runs in 23 1/3 innings (2.31 ERA) with two walks and 21 strikeouts.

It’s far too early to determine if Estes can reach and maintain Hudson-level success with the A’s, but on this night, he showed that he's more than capable of dominating at the highest level.

"You don’t want to jump to a Tim Hudson-type guy, but that literally was on my mind tonight watching him pitch,” Kotsay said. “Sitting back watching [Estes] tonight reminded me of that."