SEATTLE -- For whatever reason, things just hadn’t been able to line up for James Kaprielian this season. Some outings were certainly worthy of a victory, he just didn’t get the proper run support. Other times, his struggles with command wasted solid performances by the A’s offense.
On Friday night, it all finally came together. The right-hander produced one of his finest starts of the year and was supplied just enough on the offensive side for a 3-1 victory over the Mariners at T-Mobile Park. In what was his 12th start of the season, Kaprielian tossed six innings of one-run ball, striking out four and landing in the win column for the first time since Sept. 18, 2021.
“What a great performance from him,” manager Mark Kotsay said of Kaprielian. “He battled. Really encouraging to just see that from Kap, from the body language to his intensity from pitch one.”
Retiring 10 of his first 11 batters faced, Kaprielian went into the fourth inning holding Seattle hitless until Eugenio Suárez grounded a one-out single into left field. The only adversity he faced really didn’t come until the sixth, when a one-out triple surrendered to Julio Rodríguez was later followed by a double and a walk to cut Oakland’s lead to just one run. It was at that point that Kaprielian showed his mettle.
Granted an opportunity from Kotsay to escape his self-induced jam with two outs and the possible game-tying and go-ahead runs on first and second, Kaprielian began a showdown against Abraham Toro with a 96.2 mph fastball that registered as his second-fastest pitch of the contest on what was his 79th pitch of the night. From there, Toro fouled off the next four pitches he saw. Digging deep on his 84th and final pitch, Kaprielian executed a changeup low in the zone that Toro swung through to end the inning and mark the first time this season that Kaprielian navigated six full innings in a start.
“Kap had thrown the ball great up to that point,” Kotsay said. “We felt good about giving him that chance to get through that inning and get that out there.”
There were a couple of notable elements leading to Kaprielian’s success. First was his aggressiveness. Of the 23 batters he faced, Kaprielian fired 17 first-pitch strikes. Often getting ahead in the count enabled him to integrate more of his offspeed pitches, facilitating his second standout component of the night: the curveball.
Kaprielian threw the curve 19 times Friday night, by far the most he’s thrown in a single start this year. He leaned on the pitch in the few instances he did find himself behind in the count and generated mostly weak contact, with hitters averaging an exit velocity of 85.6 mph on the seven curveballs that were hit in play.
“We used [the curveball] at times on 1-0 counts instead of going to the changeup sometimes,” Kaprielian said. “Other times, threw it just to get ahead in the count. They’ve got some guys over there who are aggressive early and [the curveball] allowed them to stay on their heels a bit.”
It was against these same Mariners a little over a week ago that Kaprielian experienced a resurgence of his old self. Following that June 21 start at the Coliseum in which he racked up a season-high seven strikeouts, Kaprielian detailed a fix he discovered after receiving advice from Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi and Kaprielian's rotation mate Paul Blackburn.
Since that promising outing, Kaprielian has continued to build. Each start, the A’s have seen him inch closer to the form he displayed as a rookie in 2021, when he graduated from being one of the more highly-regarded prospects in Oakland’s system. Starts like Friday’s are what Kaprielian’s teammates believe he can deliver on a consistent basis, while at his best.
“He’s very talented,” said catcher Sean Murphy, who finished a triple shy of the cycle with three hits, including a booming solo shot to right in the seventh. “If he pitches with that confidence, goes out there and trusts his stuff, he can be a very, very good pitcher.”
Often his own worst critic, Kaprielian will be the first to tell you the current 5.43 ERA he holds is not where he wants to be. These past couple of weeks, however, have provided him with a belief that he’s finally turned a corner.
“I’m just starting to find what I need to do to continue to be consistent on the mound, and it’s showing,” Kaprielian said. “I’m an intense competitor. I think everyone in this clubhouse knows that. I want the ball.
“When my back is against the wall, continue to compete. I’m always going to do that for this team.”