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A’s manager locks in rotation for start of season

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A’s right-hander Joe Boyle is set to open the season in the Oakland rotation, manager Mark Kotsay told reporters (including John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle) this evening. He’ll be the club’s fifth starter behind veterans Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and Paul Blackburn as well as southpaw JP Sears.

Boyle, 24, was a fifth-round pick by the Reds in the 2020 draft and made his big-league debut with the A’s back in September. The hulking 6-foot-7, 240-pound hurler made the most of a three-start cup of coffee down the stretch in 2023 as he pitched to a sterling 1.69 ERA with a 3.13 FIP across 16 innings of work. In that time, Boyle struck out 25% of batters faced while walking 8.3 percent. Both of those rates were noticeably lower than his minor-league numbers. The right-hander’s powerful arsenal, headlined by a triple-digit fastball, allowed him to breeze through the minor leagues with a career 35.4 percent strikeout rate at the time of his call-up. That being said, he also struggled badly with his control throughout his time in the minors; his MLB debut was the first time he had walked less than 10 percent of the batters he faced at any level since his seven-inning stint in rookie ball back in 2021.

Given the excellent start to his big-league career back in September, it’s perhaps not a shock to see the A’s offer him a chance to claim a more permanent spot in the rotation to open the season. With that being said, Boyle’s work this spring did little to inspire confidence in his ability to maintain his command as a starting pitcher. Boyle posted a worrisome 5.89 ERA across six starts and 18 1/3 innings of work this spring. While spring training stats typically aren’t particularly indicative of regular season performance, the fact that Boyle walked a whopping 15 batters during camp is sure to raise some eyebrows in conjunction with the control issues he demonstrated during his time in the minor leagues.

It’s not the first time in recent years the A’s have offered a high-octane arm with concerns regarding his command a spot in their Opening Day rotation; right-hander Shintaro Fujinami signed with the club out of Japan last winter and four disastrous starts with the club before being moved to the bullpen. Fujinami walked 12 batters while posting a 14.40 ERA in 15 innings of work across those four turns through the rotation, but after his pronounced struggles to begin the season, he managed to settle into a bullpen role with a 3.94 ERA and 3.71 FIP in his final 48 frames last year. Should Boyle falter during his time in the rotation, the A’s could take a similar route and see how he performs in relief if they don’t decide to simply option the youngster to the minors and allow him to continue working on his command as a starter.

On the other hand, if Boyle is able to maintain anything close to his big league debut over a full season in 2024, the deadline deal the A’s swung to acquire him from the Reds in exchange for lefty reliever Sam Moll would be nothing short of a coup. Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Cincinnati Inquirer discussed this evening the circumstances surrounding the deal, adding that the Reds initially rebuffed Oakland’s proposal of Boyle as the return in a Moll trade with A’s GM David Forst acknowledging that Cincinnati declined to include Boyle “a couple of times” before eventually agreeing to the swap.

Had the Reds not come back to the negotiating table, Wittenmeyer notes, it’s possible that Moll could have wound up pitching for the Cubs down the stretch last year. Wittenmeyer reports that the club believed they were close to finalizing their own deal for Moll before Oakland landed Boyle. Moll, 32, enjoyed a dominant stretch run of his own with Cincinnati last fall as he pitched to a microscopic 0.73 ERA in 25 appearances with the Reds following the deal. Moll was slowed by shoulder soreness throughout camp this spring and stands to open the season on the injured list but figures to play a key role in the Cincinnati bullpen this season once healthy alongside the likes of Alexis Diaz and Emilio Pagan.

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