Koenig gets 'special' 1st W on Father's Day

A's rookie lefty logs 5 2/3 scoreless frames in home debut with dad, family on hand

June 20th, 2022

OAKLAND -- While Jared Koenig grinded through various independent leagues over his first four years of professional baseball, his father, Greg, was right by his side, providing unwavering support that encouraged him to keep pursuing his big league dream.

So it’s only fitting that on Father’s Day, at the Coliseum, no less, just 70 miles north of Koenig’s hometown of Aptos, he picked up his first Major League win. The A’s rookie left-hander delivered a scoreless gem in front of Greg and several other family members in Sunday’s 4-0 victory over the Royals, which snapped a season-high eight-game home losing streak for Oakland.

“It’s special to do it on Father’s Day,” Koenig said. “I’m happy he was able to be here. I’m sure he was nervous as can be, too. He’s a nervous wreck when it comes to that. It’s awesome to have that support and be able to [get my first win] today of all days.”

At the time of his callup earlier this month, Koenig had been the top-performing pitcher on the Triple-A Las Vegas staff, posting a 2.21 ERA in nine games with 61 strikeouts in 53 innings. His first two starts with Oakland, however, brought less-than-ideal results. He battled command issues and the nerves of pitching in the raucous atmospheres of Atlanta and Boston.

On Sunday, Koenig pitched a lot more true to those reports the A’s were getting on his Minor League success. He tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings, showcasing a five-pitch mix that limited the Royals to just two hits, four walks and plenty of weak contact. The average exit velocity of the 20 balls Kansas City put in play against Koenig was just 86.2 mph.

“His stuff today was exactly who he’s been described as,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “His sinker, he used a lot today. Pitching into the zone with the sinker and getting early-contact outs.

“With his journey, it’s a great reward for him and well deserved.”

The traditional first-win celebratory beer shower inside the A’s clubhouse was extra special for his teammates. They’re all well aware of the journey it took for him to reach this point. Few know the 28-year-old’s tale better than catcher Sean Murphy, who has spent the past few weeks working closely alongside Koenig in between starts to learn his new pitcher.

“He went out there today and was pitching like the way he knows how,” said Murphy, who provided some insurance by slugging a three-run homer in the sixth. “I’m so happy for him. I’m sure everybody knows his story. If you don’t, go find it. It’s awesome. The stuff he did to get here. I’m so glad he got here.”

Holding Kansas City hitless until a leadoff double by MJ Melendez in the fifth, Koenig was efficient in his ability to rack up zeros. He admittedly ran out of some steam in the sixth, which saw him hit a batter and walk another as Koenig departed with the bases loaded after recording the second out of the frame on a flyout by Melendez.

Domingo Acevedo took over and notched a clutch strikeout of Michael A. Taylor to end a serious threat by the Royals and preserve what was only a one-run lead at the time.

The end result was much-needed for Koenig, who at his best is able to command his sinker at the bottom of the zone to help set up his offspeed pitches to put hitters away. Though he did not register a strikeout, Royals hitters went 0-for-10 against his curveball and changeup, which he combined to throw for 30 of his 89 pitches.

“Changeup was probably the best pitch for soft contact today,” Koenig said. “Fastball was good earlier. Later on, I kind of lost it a little bit. I had to grind and make the best pitches I could when I needed to.”

Now that Koenig has his feet under him, the A’s expect more outings like this in his future. But it’ll be hard to top the significance of Sunday.

It was his first career start in the stadium he frequented as a youth to cheer on pitching idols such as Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Of course, those Coliseum trips were accompanied by Greg, who dreamed of such a moment while coaching Jared as a Little Leaguer in Aptos and later at Aptos High. For a first win, it doesn’t get much better than this.

“My whole goal was just to do everything I could in my power to get a chance up here,” Koenig said. “There were definitely thoughts where you didn’t know if you were going to get this day or not. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m able to be successful out here.”