Rookie battery of Medina, Soderstrom shows glimpse of future

July 24th, 2023

OAKLAND -- capped what was yet another solid outing of five innings of one-run ball against the defending World Series champions with a strikeout of Corey Julks to end the fifth, continuing what has been a run as arguably the A’s top pitcher over the past month.

One inning later, -- Oakland’s No. 1 prospect and the No. 33 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline -- delivered his first big league RBI in a big spot with two outs in the sixth, sending a go-ahead single into center field that was tagged 105.2 mph off the bat.

Though the A’s were upended late in Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the Astros at the Coliseum, the rookie battery of Medina and Soderstrom provided a glimpse of what the A’s believe is a bright future beyond what continues to be a difficult 2023 rebuilding campaign in terms of wins and losses.

For Medina, Sunday’s outing of one run allowed on a career-low two hits and three walks with six strikeouts marked his fourth start in which he has allowed one or fewer runs since June 20. Over that stretch, the 24-year-old right-hander holds a 2.90 ERA in six games pitched with 33 strikeouts and 18 walks in 31 innings.

The successful outing came despite a rocky beginning. Following Kyle Tucker’s one-out single in the first, A’s manager Mark Kotsay sensed some miscommunication going on between the pair, who were working together for the first time at the Major League level. After sending pitching coach Scott Emerson to the mound for a meeting, Medina struck out Alex Bregman and retired José Abreu to end an early Houston threat.

By the end of it, Medina’s only real blemish was a solo homer surrendered to Yainer Diaz in the fifth.

“I sent [Emerson] out early, and I think [Medina] locked back in at that point,” Kotsay said. “He worked through it and I thought he did well. He gave us a chance to win the game. … Tyler hasn’t caught him much, so Luis had an idea of a game plan. It’s part of that process for those two to get to know each other a little bit. They’ll be fine and move forward.”

For Soderstrom, the RBI single snapped a 16 at-bat hitless streak. 

“It felt good to finally break through and help us take the lead there,” Soderstrom said. “Now I just have to try to keep it going and keep putting good at-bats together.”

It is not uncommon for young hitters to encounter struggles early in their Major League careers as pitchers adjust by identifying strengths and weaknesses. For as touted as Soderstrom’s hitting abilities were upon his arrival to Oakland, the 21-year-old catcher/first baseman is not immune to such challenges.

“These young guys come here with a spotlight on them to a certain extent because they are talented prospects that are looked at as part of the future,” Kotsay said. “It’s a limited sample size. He can easily turn things around in a matter of a game or two. 

“I think what we’re seeing in terms of Tyler, the league knows he can hit a fastball. They’ve been pitching him a little bit backwards right now and taking advantage of that aggressiveness. It’s just a matter of making adjustments and selecting the right pitch to swing at.”

Based on Kotsay’s assessment, Sunday’s hit represents a sign of progress for Soderstrom, as it came on a first-pitch knuckle-curve from Hunter Brown.

With two months left, Medina and Soderstrom, who had worked together a few times earlier this year with Triple-A Las Vegas, will have plenty of time to acclimate with each other at the highest level. If both develop in the manner that the A’s hope, the two will end the year headlining a group of young players who are expected to help the club take a big step forward in the upcoming season.

“We’ve had a good relationship since the Minor Leagues,” Medina said. “Soderstrom is really intelligent. He’s a tremendous catcher and hitter. It was another experience for us here in the big leagues. It’s great to reunite with him up here and to see him playing in the big leagues now.”