Sears emerging as one of A's top arms

LHP's strong May (3.25 ERA, 25 K's in 5 starts) continues in finale vs. Mariners

May 26th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The A’s have been adamant about not letting their young starting pitchers go a third time through the order. If there was going to be an exception to that rule, however, certainly had a strong case in Thursday's finale against the Mariners.

Taking the mound at T-Mobile Park, Sears efficiently navigated through five innings of one-run ball, his only real blemish coming on a solo home run allowed to Ty France in the second. But with a groundout of J.P. Crawford to end the fifth marking the start of his third time facing Seattle’s lineup and France looming the next inning, manager Mark Kotsay decided to pull the left-hander at just 59 pitches.

“JP was throwing the ball well, but we had a full bullpen lined up,” Kotsay said. “He gave us five good, strong innings. France had homered off him in the first inning. I felt confident in the matchup with [Trevor] May coming in there.”

Inheriting a 2-1 lead to begin the sixth, May quickly gave it away by surrendering a leadoff homer to France, his second of the game. Two innings later, a bases-loaded walk issued by rookie reliever Garrett Acton to Eugenio Suárez put the Mariners ahead for good.

The A’s fell, 3-2, sealing what was a winless road trip against Houston and Seattle over seven games.

Kotsay noted the overall struggles by Oakland’s starting rotation when facing batters a third time as part of the reasoning for Sears’ early exit. It’s why they have decided to start utilizing the “opener strategy" more often this season. Sears, though, has been somewhat of an outlier in that respect.

Coming into Thursday night, Sears fared significantly better when facing batters a second time (.203/.259/.446 slash line over nine starts) and third time (.225/.244/.500) through the order, as opposed to his first time (.301/.358/.493) through.

There was also a history of success that Sears brought into this start, carrying a 0.41 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners and riding a 15-inning scoreless streak against them.

“I was a little taken off guard,” Sears said of Kotsay's decision to take him out of the game so early. “I was ready to go back out for the sixth inning but Kots just wanted to go with the bullpen. I’m always on board for his decisions. That’s his call. I was obviously ready to back out there. I wanted the sixth inning. But that’s his call.”

As much criticism as the A’s might receive for the early hook on Sears, that call was only half of the equation here. There is also the matter of Oakland’s offense, which jumped on Seattle starter Logan Gilbert early courtesy of 's two-run homer in the first but was shut down for just one hit the rest of the way.

“We probably got a little too aggressive offensively by swinging early in counts against Gilbert,” Kotsay said. “This [Mariners] pitching staff is one of the better pitching staffs in the league. We got him early, but you’ve got to add on. End of the day, it’s the offense’s job as well to add on and give us some room and cushion. We didn’t do that this series, and we didn’t win any games.”

While the A’s extended their losing streak to a season-high eight games, Sears did ultimately provide another encouraging performance in what has been a strong run for him as of late. In five starts over the month of May, Sears holds a 3.25 ERA with 25 strikeouts and four walks across 27 2/3 innings.

On Thursday, he held Seattle hitless after the second inning and finished allowing just one run on three hits and no walks. He threw 40 of his 59 pitches for strikes, a majority of which were fastballs, with the heater maxing out at 95 mph.

“I’ve been just trying to stay on my mechanics in between my outings,” Sears said. “Trying to find those little inches that will help my fastball get better. The velo is slowly ticking up a little bit, and when you feel like you can locate it well, it’s all about getting the other pitches going behind it. I feel like I’ve done good with my prep each week, and I’ll just try to continue doing that.”