Sears latest A's starter to flash 'bulldog' stuff

May 4th, 2023

OAKLAND -- The A’s have yet to have a starting pitcher record a win through 31 games this season. It’s the longest season-opening stretch of a team not having a starter pick up a win in Major League history, and most of it has been the product of a rotation that carries the worst ERA in MLB. The results over the past week, however, have not been due to lack of performance.

Take Wednesday night for instance. There was not much more could do to set up the A’s for a victory. The left-hander shut down the Mariners over six scoreless innings and departed with a two-run lead. But as Oakland’s rotation has seemingly found its stride, the bullpen has fallen into a rut, which continued in a 7-2 loss to Seattle in 10 innings at the Coliseum.

Following Sears’ exit, the Mariners cut the deficit to one run in the seventh on Jose Caballero’s RBI single against Domingo Acevedo. Later, Zach Jackson ensured the winless streak by A’s starters would continue as he surrendered a game-tying solo shot to AJ Pollock with one out in the ninth. Seattle went on to pull away with five runs off Adam Oller in the 10th.

“Unfortunately, on the back end, we just haven’t been able to close it down,” manager Mark Kotsay said of the A’s bullpen, which blew a save for a fourth consecutive game and is now 3-for-12 in save opportunities this season. “This game is challenging. We can sit here and say it over and over. But we’ve got to do something. Something has to happen for us to get out of this.”

Getting out of what has been the worst start to a season in franchise history starts with better pitching, which has at least been evident on the starting side.

Though the A’s entered play Wednesday with the worst starting rotation ERA in baseball at 8.09, Sears’ stellar outing marked the fourth straight game in which an A’s starter has left the game with a lead.  fired seven hitless innings on Tuesday. allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings on Sunday, while  tossed five innings of one-run ball on Saturday.

“I think it’s definitely contagious,” Sears said of the recent success by the starters. “All of us are trying to match the other. Really be competitive out there and do our best to put our team in a position to win. That’s been the case a lot more the past week or so, and we’re going to try to keep it up.”

Something about the Mariners seems to bring the best out of Sears. In four career games (three starts) against Seattle, the left-hander holds a 0.41 ERA (one earned run in 22 innings pitched) with 23 strikeouts.

On Wednesday, Sears’ seven-strikeout shutout performance came with some grit. He pitched with traffic on the basepaths in five of his six innings, allowing four hits and two walks, yet managed to get out of some tough jams throughout. His most impressive escape job came in the third, when he responded to a situation of runners on second and third with no outs by striking out Julio Rodríguez and Ty France back to back and retiring Jarred Kelenic on a flyout.

“Outstanding job by Sears,” Kotsay said. “JP is just continuing to get better and better. He’s improving every start. For me, watching him pitch tonight, you’ve got to love the intensity. There’s a bulldog in there from this kid. … You couldn’t ask for a better start from him.”

With the starting rotation now showing progress, the attention now shifts to improving a bullpen that now leads the Majors with nine blown saves. At some point, the expectation is that both aspects will start to click. For now, Wednesday’s late loss ensured the A’s their 10th consecutive series loss to begin the season.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said A’s catcher Shea Langeliers. “It just seems like nothing is going our way right now. Our starting pitchers have done a really good job the last few days. It’s frustrating, but on to the next day.”