With new pitch in tow, Sears tosses two perfect innings

February 28th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Spring is the time for a pitcher to get in lots of work, tweak new pitches and face various situations in live action.

But less can actually be a good thing when a pitcher is really dealing.

Left-hander threw two perfect innings in his first Spring Training start, amounting to just 19 pitches in Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Guardians. But when 13 of those pitches go for strikes -- including two strikeouts -- Sears isn’t bumming that retiring all six batters he faced meant a short day.

“When you have good outings, take ’em when you get ’em,” Sears said. “I’ll look to use [my pitches] more next time and just continue to try and keep getting it better. I’m not really missing out on much having a quick one.”

While his afternoon was brief, Sears did get a chance to tinker with his emerging sinker. The 28-year-old, who led Oakland with 32 starts in 2023, got his developing sinker into its first game action and threw the pitch three times, inducing a strikeout and a fly out.

“I’ve been feeling pretty confident with it. It’s a new pitch for me,” Sears said. “I’ve never thrown a sinker. I’m just trying to get educated on it from the other guys that throw it and the catchers and results from the hitters on my team whenever I face them live.”

Sears figures to be a bulldog for the A’s staff again this year.

Oakland tied a Major League record last season when it used 24 different starting pitchers, but Sears was the lone pitcher who remained in the rotation from start to finish. Not bad for his first full season in the bigs.

“He’s really worked on a good changeup and making that more part of his game,” A's manager Mark Kotsay said. “The durability aspect -- he made 32 starts last year so I think that’s important to watch how he gets out of the gate.”

One area of focus for Kotsay in 2024 is to keep an eye on what’s going on under Sears’ cap.

“He’s pretty hard on himself. He’s a kid that when he’s out there and maybe makes a good pitch or makes a bad pitch, you can kind of see the reaction in terms of he wants to be perfect,” Kotsay said. “And that’s great, that’s a great attribute, but at the same point, I think he’s got to give himself a little bit of a less hard time in his mindset.”

Elsewhere on the staff, there’s no concern about right-hander Ross Stripling, who had a chipped fingernail on Monday that pushed back his Cactus League debut. Stripling, who also figures to be in the 2024 rotation, was feeling better Tuesday and threw a side session as he looks to quickly bounce back from a day-to-day situation, one Kotsay even hesitated to call a “setback.”

Around the infield

Shortstop Nick Allen continued his hot start to Spring Training, going 2-for-3 with two triples and three RBIs. In three Cactus League games, the 25-year-old has seven total bases, five RBIs, three hits, a walk, a stolen base, a run scored and no strikeouts.

“Nick has really focused on making an adjustment from last season with his swing,” said Kotsay. “He’s worked really hard with our hitting coaches these first 10 days of spring in just trying to stay on top of the baseball.”

Along with their starting shortstop, the A’s got more looks at third base.

Darell Hernaiz, Oakland's No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is primarily a shortstop, but the 22-year-old got the start at the hot corner against Cleveland. After hitting .321 with a .842 OPS in the Minors in 2023 at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Las Vegas, Hernaiz is in the mix with Jordan Diaz, Aledmys Díaz and Abraham Toro for Opening Day roster spots at third.

Hernaiz made a smooth play to his left in the bottom of the first, then added a sacrifice fly that plated Allen in the second. In the fifth, Hernaiz led off the inning with a single and scored on Yohel Pozo’s first home run of Spring Training.

“I’ve known I was going to work into third base for a while,” said Hernaiz, who has played 255 Minor League games at short but only 33 at third. “[I’m] just working as hard as I can at third really to hopefully make the team. There might be an opening, there might not, I don’t really know.”

Right-hander Luis Medina will get the starting nod Wednesday as the A’s host the Giants in Mesa. The staff’s busy day will also see Paul Blackburn, Scott Alexander, Danis Correa, Royber Salinas, Vinny Nittoli, Billy Sullivan, Gerardo Reyes and Francisco Pérez all get time.