Blackburn sets Oakland record for scoreless stretch to start season

Butler hits walk-off single in 10th, gets first homer of 2024

April 13th, 2024

OAKLAND -- After getting a late start to his 2023 campaign due to injury, was excited to get through this spring healthy for a chance to prove he can still be the All-Star pitcher from two years ago.

Three starts into the season, Blackburn sure looks to be in All-Star form. Tossing another 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the A’s 2-1 walk-off victory in 10 innings over the Nationals on Friday night at the Coliseum, the right-hander has yet to allow a run in 19 1/3 innings. The ongoing stretch is now the longest season-opening scoreless streak by a starting pitcher in Oakland history and third-longest in franchise history, trailing only Alex Kellner (21 innings in 1953) and Harry Krause (23 in 1910).

“Paul has done a phenomenal job from day one,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “All these starts that he’s made, he’s just continuing to build momentum for himself. I can’t say enough about tonight.”

Blackburn’s third outing of 2024 was a bit less sharp compared to his first two. Having walked just one batter through his first 13 innings pitched, he issued leadoff walks in the fourth and fifth on Friday night.

In the past, leadoff walks might have spelled doom for Blackburn. Now an experienced veteran in his eighth big league season, the 30-year-old has learned to slow the game down in such moments. In both innings, the leadoff walks were followed by double plays to squelch any threat Washington may have been mounting.

“I’m at a point in my career where the game doesn’t speed up on me,” Blackburn said. “I’m able to dissect and think about what I want to do to each hitter. Thinking about how it feels now compared how it felt my first couple of years, it’s kind of crazy.”

Blackburn added: “My first couple of years, if someone got on base, I felt like I was just on a Ferris wheel spinning around and I wasn’t going to stop. Now I’m able to be out there and feel in control at any point.”

Blackburn’s dominance is really going on a full month. If you count Spring Training, he has not allowed a run in his last 33 innings dating back to a Cactus League outing against the Cubs on March 20. That impressive run is linked to an adjustment Blackburn discovered while throwing in simulated game action on March 15 after a spring game he was supposed to start against the Giants was rained out.

“I threw five innings in a bullpen that day,” Blackburn said. “It gave me a lot of time to just sit down and work on stuff. There was a little mechanical tweak that I made there. Ever since then, I feel like I’ve taken off.”

There’s nothing flashy about how Blackburn is getting it done. His greatest strength is his supreme command of a six-pitch mix that enables him to keep hitters off balance and generate weak contact, much like he did on Friday. Of the 18 balls the Nationals hit in play against him, the average exit velocity was 86.1 mph.

Jesse Winker, who was responsible for two of Washington’s five hits off Blackburn and had the only extra-base hit -- a two-out double in the fourth -- had high praise for Blackburn’s ability to keep hitters guessing.

“He’s outstanding,” Winker said. “He competes so well. … Really, I just wanted to battle him. I try not to think along with him. He can go in and out on you, up-down, he just controls everything. … He’s really good, man.”

provided all the offense for Oakland, first bashing an impressive 445-foot solo blast in the third off Jake Irvin and later driving home the game-winning run in the 10th on a single to left that scored rookie Max Schuemann -- who entered the game in the bottom of the 10th as the automatic runner for his Major League debut -- from second base.

For the A’s, it was their sixth win of the season, a total they did not reach last year until April 30. Three of those victories have come with Blackburn on the mound.

“Paul’s a guy,” Butler said. “It boosts everybody’s confidence when we see him out there dealing the way he does.”