OAKLAND — For a guy who felt butterflies in his stomach during a shaky warm-up session Wednesday, Jharel Cotton had a funny way of showing it once the top of the first began.
The rookie was the picture of poise during an impressive major league debut, throwing 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball as the A’s beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 on a gorgeous afternoon at the Coliseum.
Cotton showed everything the A’s hoped he would — an excellent assortment of pitches that allowed him to change speeds, move the ball around the strike zone and generally keep the Angels flummoxed.
In return, the 24-year-old Cotton said the day was everything he could have hoped for: A victory in his first opportunity with the club that traded Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers in order to get him and two other promising young right-handers, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. Cotton is the first of those three to join the A’s roster.
He was thrilled to get a loud standing ovation from the smallish crowd of 11,866 after manager Bob Melvin lifted him in the seventh. And he even dug his big league attire, particularly the white cleats that are unique to the A’s.
“It’s some good luck, man,” Cotton said. “Leprechaun colors. Green, white — I love it.”
He admitted to having some nerves while warming up in the bullpen.
“It was not good,” catcher Stephen Vogt acknowledged of that pregame session. “Having never seen him pitch before, you could tell he was a little anxious to get out there.”
Then the game began, and Cotton retired his first nine hitters out of the gate. He threw a fastball that hit 95, and accompanied it with a 12-to-6 curve, a changeup that Vogt said rotates like a screwball and a cutter that he got lots of weak contact on from right-handers.
Cotton became the A’s first pitcher since Porter Vaughan in 1940 to go more than six innings and give up two or fewer hits in his major league debut.
Vogt was particularly impressed with Cotton’s changeup, his go-to pitch.
“He really has good arm speed with it,” Vogt said. “It looks funky coming out. You could see a couple guys as they took one, they were like ‘What was that?’ Anytime you hear that from hitters, that’s a good thing.”
Cotton is just the fourth native of the Virgin Islands to pitch in the majors. Born in St. Thomas, he spent much of his childhood on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands before moving back to St. Thomas. He later moved to Virginia to attend high school and improve his chances for a future in baseball.
After watching Cotton pitch in person for the first time Wednesday, Melvin compared him to an old teammate of his: Former Red Sox right-hander Tom Gordon.
“It's that catapult, over-the-top (delivery),” Melvin said. “It's the downer curveball, it's kind of that deceptive fastball. The delivery's real, real similar. He has a better change than ‘Flash’. But certainly the delivery and the fastball/curveball portion of it are real similar.”
Cotton, a welcoming personality with a quick smile, says he’s heard that comparison often.
“Everybody says that,” he said. “‘You’ve got that Tom Gordon look. You’ve got that dip, and that fastball and that curve ball.’ I don’t know. I mean, I guess I do.”
Cotton gave up his only run on C.J. Cron’s solo homer in the seventh. He’d just crossed the 100-pitch mark when he coaxed a pop-up from Jefry Marte. He noticed his infielders making their way to the mound, then heard the crowd start showing their appreciation as Melvin made his way to the mound to remove him.
Vogt said he and first baseman Yonder Alonso had one piece of advice for Cotton as he left the mound:
“Enjoy this walk.”
Cotton also enjoyed getting back to his locker after the game and seeing the 30 or so text messages from family and friends.
And Melvin enjoyed his first up-close look at a pitcher that the A’s feel can definitely factor into their rotation plans, perhaps as soon as 2017.
"It's a lot of fun because there was some hype that came with him,” Melvin said. “The trade was a big trade. We traded some pretty good players. To get your first look at a guy like that, and for him to pitch as well as he did, especially at home, was very rewarding.”