Blackburn's All-Star resume hard to ignore

RHP's breakthrough '22 continues with AL-best sixth scoreless outing

July 3rd, 2022

SEATTLE -- 's unexpected rise to success in 2022 has had almost a storybook feel to it. Landing his first career All-Star selection? Now that’s something that would fit the arc of his breakout campaign.

Blackburn continued looking the part as one of the league’s best pitchers in the A’s 2-1 walk-off loss to the Mariners on Saturday afternoon at T-Mobile Park. The right-hander dazzled across 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just four hits and a walk with five strikeouts to mark his sixth scoreless performance of the season. No other starter in the American League has more than five such outings.

Prior to Saturday's contest, manager Mark Kotsay mentioned Blackburn and Frankie Montas as the two A’s most deserving of All-Star consideration. Catcher Stephen Vogt, who worked as Blackburn’s battery mate for the first time in his career Saturday, echoed Kotsay’s sentiments with a ringing endorsement when asked if Blackburn merits a spot in the Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium on July 19.

“He’s been our rock all year,” Vogt said of Blackburn. “Frankie’s been great, too. I can’t not mention him in this. But Paul has been Mr. Consistency. He’s been the guy that we know every single time he’s on the mound, we have a great chance of winning that day. I one hundred percent believe he should be in L.A. here in a couple of weeks.”

Battling what he described as “location” issues early on, Blackburn worked himself into a bases-loaded jam in the second before inducing a groundout of Sam Haggerty to end the frame. Navigating through that serious threat, Blackburn cruised through clear waters the rest of the way. That 4-3 putout of Haggerty in the second was the start of an impressive stretch of 14 consecutive batters Blackburn retired before a one-out double by Cal Raleigh in the seventh ended his day at 87 pitches.

It was a rematch of personal significance for Blackburn, going up once again against George Kirby and a Mariners offense that tagged him for a season-high seven runs and 10 hits over four innings just 11 days ago at the Oakland Coliseum.

“Last time I faced them, it was embarrassing,” Blackburn said. “I just could never get in a groove. Approaching today, I just wanted to do everything I could to keep us in it as long as possible. First couple of innings, I felt like stuff was just flying all over the place for me. I was able to settle in, create some soft contact and get in a rhythm.”

Of course, pitchers are not included in fan voting. If statistics are the factor that will determine Blackburn’s All-Star Game fate, he definitely meets the criteria. Now having allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 16 starts this year, Blackburn lowered his team-leading ERA to 2.90, which ranks 10th-lowest among qualified AL starters. The overall body of work also includes a 1.16 WHIP and .239 opponents’ batting average, both of which rank 14th in the AL.

When it comes to pitching away from Oakland, Blackburn’s dominance is unmatched. His 1.28 ERA (eight earned runs in 56 1/3 innings pitched) in 10 road starts is lowest in MLB.

“Everything has gotten sharper,” Vogt said. “He’s learned how to throw his pitches better. He’s always had the ability to make pitches and command the fastball. But now, everything is sharper than what I remember. He’s really good.”

Still not sold on Blackburn as an All-Star? How about his curveball, which he’s established as one of MLB’s most unhittable pitches? Entering Saturday, opponents were 8-for-58 (.138) against his curve, with 22 strikeouts. It’s the pitch he leaned on most against the Mariners, throwing it 25 times and generating six of his 13 whiffs (swings-and-misses) with it.

When the A’s overhauled their roster back in Spring Training, Kotsay emphasized the opportunity that existed for the many fringe big leaguers on the roster to earn more established roles. Nobody epitomizes that idea better than Blackburn, who has seized his chance after entering the year with a career 5.74 ERA over his previous five seasons with Oakland.

With rosters for the 2022 All-Star Game in Los Angeles set to release on July 10, Blackburn will get at least one more start to make his case. Often basing his success this season on “living in the moment,” however, he’s not too concerned with whether or not he’s included on the AL side. If it comes, it comes.

“If that happens, I’ll be grateful for it,” Blackburn said. “I have no say in what happens with anything like that. I just stay present. I’d rather contribute to what’s going on here and be in the moment with these guys.”