SEATTLE -- Coming off a rough outing against the Mets last week, the objective for JP Sears entering his final outing of 2022 was to deliver a quality performance, and that’s exactly what he accomplished.
Sears, whose rookie campaign began in pinstripes before the A’s acquired him at the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline as one of four prospects from the Yankees in exchange for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino, capped his first season in the Majors with six shutout innings in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
“It was great after he came off just to walk over and see the confidence,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “The outing was great to end the year on. Now he’s got something to build on. Obviously, it’ll be a little while before he gets on the mound again. But this definitely should be a good feeling for him.”
Entering in relief of Adam Oller, who opened the game for Oakland and allowed three runs in a 36-pitch first inning, Sears quickly settled by retiring nine consecutive batters. Limiting Seattle to just two hits and two walks with six strikeouts, the left-hander finishes the year holding a 3.86 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 70 innings over a combined 17 games pitched (11 starts) with the Yankees and A’s.
Despite being a starter throughout his Minor League career, Sears pitched mostly out of the bullpen with New York. However, A’s general manager David Forst made it clear to Sears upon his arrival that the club viewed him as an important piece of its starting rotation for this season and beyond.
Pitching solely as a starter with the A’s, Sears hit the typical peaks and valleys most rookies face. After going 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA on his first five starts with Oakland, Sears followed with a 10.43 ERA over his next four starts.
“I had some ups early and some rough outings here later,” Sears said. “But that’s how baseball is. I’m definitely pleased with the year and for good health. I’m looking forward to the offseason with just trying to enhance some pitches and fine-tune some things.”
During that earlier run of success, Sears often was able to pitch to contact and work favorable counts, much like Saturday. He came up with a couple of clutch double play balls in the fifth and seventh while also firing first-pitch strikes to 11 of his 20 batters faced. Of Seattle’s 12 balls hit in play against Sears, the average exit velocity was 86.9 mph.
“I had all three pitches working pretty well today,” Sears said. “Slider worked really well for me today. I threw it for strikes and inside for chase. I pitched behind that today and just tried to fill up the zone to at least get through six innings. I was happy with how it went.”
Prior to him joining the club, the A’s got an up-close look at how dominant Sears can look at his best. Making a spot start for the Yankees against them on June 28, Sears stymied Oakland through 5 2/3 scoreless innings on just 78 pitches.
The A’s were impressed with that June performance, and they remain encouraged by what they’ve seen out of him in green and gold.
“Sears didn’t disappoint,” Kotsay said. “All these [pitchers] are young and the inexperience is going to show itself. You know they’re going to incrementally get better and more confident the more they pitch. He’s had some outings that didn’t go so well here, but he’s learned from them and progressed. We saw that today.”
Entering 2023, Sears will likely find himself with a spot somewhere in the middle of the A’s rotation. As he designs a plan with the coaching staff for offseason training back home in Charleston, S.C., his list of goals will include finding a better quality of his fastball by improving the spin and location of the pitch.
“I’ve always kind of pitched off [the fastball] in my career and there’s times when I’ve gotten away with just throwing it all across the zone,” Sears said. “Now in the big leagues, it’s more about commanding it and knowing when to use it. Using it the right way. That’ll be one of my focuses. Also just looking to improve on some mechanics and stuff like that. I’m excited about getting better and looking forward to next year.”