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With all the pitching changes on the Oakland A’s staff that have already occurred this season, you don’t really know who may be called up from one level for good or get a one-time start on the roster.
So when Dan Straily took the mound on Thursday evening to throw his first pitches against hitters at the Triple-A level, even though he had an incredible strikeout-hit ratio, no one, not even Straily, knew quite what to expect.
Straily admitted that maybe he had to shake off a little case of the jitters early in the game.
“I was a little nervous there early on,” said Straily. “It was nice I was able to watch a couple of games, and settled in that way. But going out there and towing the rubber is completely different.”
On a cool, crisp 65-degree evening at Raley Field, the local boys of summer put a whooping on the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, 6-0, in front of 8,521 chilly, happy fans.
After a lead-off single by Grizzlies center fielder Skyler Stromsmoe in the opening frame, Cats pitcher Daniel Straily, who was just called up Wednesday from Double-A Midland, sat down the next three hitters, two of them on strikeouts.
Straily had been mowing them down for Midland before being sent up to the River Cats. In 85.1 innings pitched this season, he struck out 108 batters and only walked 23.
His counterpart, Matt Yourkin, didn’t have the same kind of luck. After getting the first two hitters to fly out to right field, Yourkin walked Chris Carter, gave up a single to Kila Ka’aihue and then a walk to Michael Taylor to load the bases with two outs.
That’s when the hottest hitter of the last six games in the entire Pacific Coast League strode to the plate. Brandon Hicks, who had five home runs and 14 RBI in that span, roped a 1-2 pitch screaming over the left-center field wall for his first grand slam of the season.
“Tonight, I got myself in a hole early with the bases loaded,” said Hicks. “I swung at a couple of pitches in the dirt. I was able to work it back, and I got a good pitch when he made a mistake and I was able to drive it.”
Make that 18 RBI in the last seven games and six home runs in the same seven games!
“I think I’m just putting myself in a good position with my setup and everything and seeing the ball real well,” continued Hicks. “Whenever I got into a hole early in the year, I was a little jumpy and my head was moving a lot and I wasn’t able to see the ball like I am (able to) right now. I think that’s the key.”
Courtesy of Denny’s, everyone in attendance received a coupon for a free grand slam breakfast. Sweet deal!
The Cats would strike again in the fourth when Stephen Parker hit a shot into left-center that looked like it would be caught at the warning track at best. The ball kept going, and drifted over the wall for a two-run bomb that gave Sacramento an early 6-0 lead.
All the while, 23-year-old Straily was mowing them down.
In the second through fifth innings, he faced the minimum number of batters and had six strikeouts along the way, including striking out the side in the third.
In the top of the sixth, home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott ejected Grizzlies starting pitcher Yourkin for yelling at him from the dugout. Yourkin must have known he deserved it, as he walked quietly through the center field wall and to the showers.
By the time Straily was pulled after seven strong, he had only given up three hits, three walks, and struck out eight. Quite an impressive performance for the young man from Redlands, Calif.
“I got to clean it up a little bit, but I got the first one out of the way and I’m very happy with it,” said the 23-year-old.
How did the young man make his way up the ranks so quickly?
“You just keep working hard and everything takes care of itself,” said Straily. “I’m not trying to sound cliche at all. I showed up every day wherever I was at and had a great time. I worked hard and I feel very fortunate to be here this soon.”
The only real Grizzlies threat after Straily was pulled was in the eighth, when Fresno loaded the bases off Cats reliever Pedro Figueroa with one out. Figueroa settled in and retired the next two batters to shut down the Grizz.
Rich Thompson came in the close out the ninth, and sent the fans home happy.
Cats manager Darren Bush has seen a lot of top-flight pitching prospects come through town, but I’m not sure he saw this coming.
“He did a great job,” said Bush. “His first outing in Triple-A, facing a very good team on the other side and he went right at them. You could tell he didn’t have the best stuff that he could have had, but he made the pitches when he needed to in big situations. So, congratulations to him. Outstanding job!”
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