All-Star Blackburn experimenting with new weapon

March 6th, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- Coming off an All-Star 2022 campaign, is entering a season with a secure rotation spot for the first time in his career. He is utilizing that luxury by treating Spring Training as a testing ground in an effort to enhance his overall game.

A major goal for Blackburn in 2023 is to add more variety to his repertoire by increasing the usage of his changeup against right-handed hitters. That was his main focus in his Cactus League debut, a 12-4 loss to the Reds on Sunday at Las Vegas Ballpark as part of Big League Weekend.

Blackburn’s emphasis on the changeup comes from being limited in his ability to practice throwing all his pitches through most of the offseason, as he was returning from a finger injury that ended his season early last August. Restricted to only fastballs and changeups in his throwing sessions, Blackburn began to tinker with different ways to throw and utilize his offspeed pitch.

The changeup was always a pitch that Blackburn felt he didn’t use enough. In '22, he threw just 43 changeups to right-handed batters. While last season was a breakout year, upping the usage of his changeup is something Blackburn thinks can help him reach a higher level as a pitcher.

“It gives me another weapon,” Blackburn said. “If I’m able to throw sinkers and changeups in, that’s going to open up everything for me. It’s another weapon that I can use. Going forward, being able to throw more changeups to righties will open up a cutter and curveball for me. It’s not just, as soon as I get two strikes, here comes the curveball.”

The curveball developed into an excellent putaway pitch for Blackburn last season. Still maintaining a good feel for the curve, he intentionally threw it only once over his 43 pitches against the Reds, opting instead to experiment with his plan to throw more changeups inside on righties.

Allowing six runs on five hits with two walks and striking out one batter in one-plus innings, Blackburn acknowledged that his changeup plan is still a work in progress.

“I threw a lot of them, but I just threw them straight into the ground,” Blackburn said. “I threw a couple of good ones that got a couple of swings and misses. That’s been my focus in [bullpens] and everything, too. Throwing more changeups right-on-right. I feel like the movement is there. Now it’s just getting that consistency back, of just getting it in the zone.”

The importance of spring results is minimal, especially in Blackburn’s case. Sunday was his first competitive outing since Aug. 4. He knew there was some rust that would need to be shaken off. With over three weeks and several more spring outings to go before Opening Night, there’s plenty of time for Blackburn to get to where he wants to be.

“I’m glad I got that first one out of the way,” Blackburn said. “It’s been like seven months [since pitching in a game]. I wish it went a little better. But it was good to get back out there and just experience the [pitch] clock and all that. … Just get my feet wet. I came out healthy, so that’s all that really matters right now.”

Medina touches 100
A’s No. 14 prospect Luis Medina, one of four players acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino at the Trade Deadline last season, has long been heralded for his electric arm. On Sunday, the right-hander got a chance to show off that blazing fastball.

Working two scoreless innings of relief with two walks and two strikeouts, Medina dazzled in the third. In addition to reaching 100 mph during the inning, he also displayed impressive variance in his pitch speeds, striking out Alex McGarry on a bending 83 mph curveball then ringing up Jonathan India on a 99 mph fastball one batter later.

Medina will not break camp with the A’s, as he was among the club’s first round of roster cuts announced Sunday afternoon, but his effort left a good impression on manager Mark Kotsay.

“He looked good,” Kotsay said. “Walked the leadoff guy, but after that, he got in the zone. The stuff is there. The stuff is real. He threw enough strikes today to be successful.”