Last one, best one: Medina ends '23 on high note

September 28th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a rookie campaign that has been a mixed bag of highs and lows, took the mound for his final start of 2023 in hopes of a strong finish.

Medina cruised for most of Oakland's 2-1 win over the Twins at Target Field on Thursday, retiring 15 of his first 19 batters through five scoreless innings. A self-inflicted jam in the sixth, however, nearly derailed his good work.

Medina opened the sixth by allowing consecutive singles, and then hit Alex Kirilloff with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Following a mound visit from pitching coach Scott Emerson, Medina buckled down and responded by inducing a double play from Matt Wallner and a groundout from Ryan Jeffers, limiting the damage to just one run.

The end result: one run allowed on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts across six innings. It was Medina’s third career quality start and longest outing since July 7 (also six innings) against the Red Sox.

“I think it was one of his best [starts] of the year, really,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “My mindset today was to challenge him. Give him the opportunity in his last start of the year to show us what he’s built and the progress he’s made. Overall, a great way to finish the year.”

Upon returning to the dugout after the sixth, Kotsay pulled Medina aside for a chat before the two embraced.

“I mostly just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to take this start into next year,’” Kotsay said. “How he competed today was an example of the progress he’s made. That sixth inning, he showed us the poise. Early in the year, he probably would have unraveled right there. To get through that situation and make big pitches shows the growth from where he started to where he’s finishing now.”

Medina’s final numbers this season will not jump off the page. Over 23 games (17 starts), the right-hander posted a 5.42 ERA with 106 strikeouts and 57 walks in 109 2/3 innings. Medina’s second half, though, was an encouraging sign of progress.

Dating back to July 18, Medina posted a 4.32 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 25 walks in 50 innings over his final 11 outings (nine starts). The 24-year-old allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine of those games.

“He’s definitely matured,” A’s catcher Shea Langeliers said of Medina. “He’s learning. He’s got that fire and competitive edge. He wants to be the best version of himself every day.”

Medina enjoyed one of the more successful outings of his young career despite experiencing a downtick in velocity, something Kotsay chalked up to the rookie’s largest workload as a professional. Medina’s fastball, which often flirted with triple digits earlier in the year, maxed out at 96.9 mph and averaged 94.6 mph, 1.5 mph below his season average.

Instead, Medina relied on his defense and generated mostly weak contact. The average exit velocity on the 16 balls in play by Twins hitters against Medina was 86.9 mph.

“I was just trying to keep telling him that he’s got really good stuff,” Langeliers said. “He doesn’t have to try to make the pitch extra nasty. Just trust his stuff in the zone and go straight after guys. He did a really good job of that today.”

Having never pitched above Double-A prior to this season as he struggled with command issues, Medina ends 2023 having answered the questions scouts often had about him regarding whether his big arm might be best suited for a relief role in the big leagues. The A’s believe Medina can be a starter at the highest level, and he will get a chance to put it all together next year.

“The experience I’ve gained in this time is big,” Medina said. “Maturity helps you develop better, and that has helped me along the way.”