MESA, Ariz. — Chris Bassitt will start on Opening Day for the A’s against the Houston Astros, manager Bob Melvin announced on Thursday.
Bassitt is coming off a career year in which he posted a 2.29 ERA over 11 starts for the truncated 2020 season. The 32-year-old starting coming into his own during the 2019 season, when he posted a 3.81 ERA in 25 starts, helping propel the Wild Card-bound A’s team down the stretch.
He’s been just as sharp this spring, putting together a 1.74 ERA over three starts with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
Manager Bob Melvin said his spring performance didn’t factor much into the decision. Bassitt was a clear frontrunner to take the Opening Day starter job from the moment pitchers and catchers reported in February.
“Big shocker, right?” Melvin joked when he announced the news. “Spring training for guys like him — this is the first year he hasn’t had to dig for a starting job — it’s not so much about spring training performance. It’s about what he accomplished last year. And everyone would probably agree he’s the man for the job.”
The right-hander struggled with his role with the A’s since his arrival via the Chicago White Sox in a 2014 trade. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, Bassitt toiled in uncertainty — with a swingman role working out of the bullpen and spot starter — without a solid spot in the rotation. He battled wanting to be a starter with the reality that a starting spot wasn’t immediately there for the taking. Bassitt has said he started to doubt his abilities as a pitcher.
Once he accepted an undefined role in 2019, Bassitt started to thrive and find his confidence. The mental hurdle has contributed to his come-up.
“Just accepting the fact he’s a good major league pitchers,” Melvin said. “There was a time he struggled with being a reliever, a starter, going back and forth. He realized that you earn your stripes. And he earned his stripes.”
With Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk set to join the rotation in 2020, Bassitt was a projected to be a swingman again. But the injury bug bit, and Bassitt was penciled in as a fifth starter when the season began. Since then, not only has he kept his job, but he’s risen to the top of the pack.
Save for the fifth starter spot, which is up for grabs, the rest of the A’s rotation looks just about set, too, for the first 10 games of the season. Bassitt is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then Luzardo will pitch in a simulated game on Saturday, which will allow the A’s a closer look at Puk against hitters in a game. Sean Manaea should be next in the rotation, pitching Sunday, with Frankie Montas scheduled to pitch after. So, the rotation could look like this:
A.J. Puk/Daulton Jefferies/Cole Irvin
With two off days between the end of camp in Arizona and Opening Day, the A’s could switch some pieces around. But Melvin says the “first three or so are pretty easy to figure out.”