OAKLAND -- Rookie pitchers rarely get to the big leagues and immediately find consistent success, even one with the credentials of Ken Waldichuk, who entered this season rated the A’s top pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline.
For the most part, young arms must work through growing pains. Waldichuk, whose 6.07 ERA entering Saturday night was third worst in the Majors among pitchers with at least 90 innings, has certainly taken his lumps. Over the past month, however, the left-hander has shown encouraging signs of progress.
In Oakland’s 7-2 loss to the Orioles in 10 innings at the Coliseum, Waldichuk kept the game close early by limiting a potent Baltimore offense to two runs on four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings, falling just one out shy of a quality start.
The solid outing continued what has been a nice stretch for Waldichuk. The 25-year-old has posted a 3.24 ERA across his last five games (four starts), with 29 strikeouts and 10 walks dating back to July 25.
“We talk a lot about the young pitchers and the time it takes to come here and have immediate success,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “I think he’s just understanding how to pitch a little bit better. The execution of the pitches [is] starting to get better over the last month. The further Ken has gone along, the more it’s not just about throwing it as hard as you can. It’s about the execution of your pitches. Mixing your pitches. Being able to use the changeup behind in the count. We saw some of that tonight.”
Waldichuk maneuvered around some early command issues as his three walks came in the first three innings, which he said was a result of being too rotational in his delivery.
The fact that he was able to recognize and diagnose the flaw in between innings represents positive growth in what is his first full season in the Majors.
“Being able to make that adjustment is definitely an improvement from where I was earlier in the year,” Waldichuk said. “Especially on days where you try to throw as hard as you can and it doesn’t come out well, experience definitely helps and plays a role in just being able to attack those guys, get ahead and throw the right pitches at the right time.”
There was a point in this season when Waldichuk’s struggles led to him falling out of the rotation and shifting to a relief role. That demotion to the bullpen helped him both reshape his mentality on the mound as well as refine his arsenal of pitches, which on Saturday featured a fastball that maxed out at 96.2 mph and a sweeper that was thrown 28 times, producing seven of his 14 total whiffs.
Waldichuk’s improvements were even evident to his opposing starting pitcher on Saturday night, former teammate Cole Irvin, who held the A’s to one run over five innings in his first start back at the Coliseum since being traded to Baltimore in January.
“His growth has shown a lot more lately than it was early in the year,” Irvin said of Waldichuk. “I pay attention to this ballclub across the way. … I feel like these guys are making the right steps, and Ken is definitely one of those guys that has been throwing the ball really well. He’s going to be a big, big guy for them moving forward.”
Now back in the rotation likely for the rest of the season, Waldichuk is in position for a strong finish in what will be his largest workload of innings pitched at any level of pro ball.
“There’s definitely a learning curve to trying to find a new routine pitching every fifth day rather than every sixth day,” Waldichuk said. “It’s about listening to your body and prioritizing your recovery. Finding something that will make you ready to go every fifth day.”
While the A’s were sunk by Baltimore’s five-run rally in the 10th, there were some bright spots on offense. Aledmys Díaz doubled his season home run total with a pair of solo shots.