Paul Blackburn holds Red Sox to one point in A win

BOSTON — The American League’s ERA rankings show a number of guys making a strong case for a 2022 All-Star Game bid. Alek Manoah, Shane McClanahan, Nestor Cortes, Justin Verlander.

Just a few rows below them is a pitcher who is quietly having a season that could put his name in All-Star conversation. With a 2.26 ERA, Oakland starter Paul Blackburn ranks seventh in the AL. The right-hander is tied for 11th in walks (17) and is ranked 13th in WHIP (1.07).

In Thursday’s final against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Blackburn went 6-2 after holding a powerful Boston formation to just one run over their 5 1/3 innings as the A’s held on for a 4-3 victory.

“For us, I mean, he’s been great,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We see Paul as a workaholic for us this year so far. He continues to improve, I think, throughout the season. And that’s all you can ask for. He put himself in a position to be [put] in the conversation as a top starter, and he’s earned it right now.

The eight hits Blackburn allowed marked a season high, but they also paint a picture of how effectively the right-hander can work in traffic jams. After awarding a first-pitch header to Jarren Duran, Blackburn worked around traffic fairly steadily throughout his outing.

Three of Blackburn’s hits allowed came on the ground, tying their season high (June 4, also against the Red Sox). On Thursday, Blackburn’s ground ball rate was 51.8% against the MLB average of 43.7%. And of the 133 pitchers in MLB who had allowed more than 50 rushers, Blackburn’s .129 batting average on those balls (13 for 101) was the fifth-lowest.

“I feel like before I was trying to be too perfect on every pitch I threw,” Blackburn said. “Especially when guys were coming down to base, I was trying to be perfect and that was leading me to bad accounts, bad situations, marches, and then things snowballing on me. And this year, I really tried to slow down the game as much as possible and to make quality pitches and not necessarily perfect pitches, but quality pitches. And that’s just one of the things that’s helped me this year, honestly, just slowing down the game and being myself.

It’s been a long journey for Blackburn, who was drafted by the Cubs in 2012 and broke into the big leagues in 2017. The right-hander missed the second half of the 2018 season due to injury and then spent 2019 and 20 to bounce between majors and minors. Last season he threw a 5.87 ERA over nine starts, and this year it all comes together.

“In the past, I struggled so much. And going into this year, I really used the mindset of, ‘What do I really have to lose?’ “, Blackburn said. “And that kind of helped me stay [clear-minded]. I don’t look at the numbers, I don’t look at that. I go out there and throw it step by step and, you know, at the end of the year, I hope I look up and I’m happy with where I am, honestly.

Blackburn took to the mound on Thursday after their best outing of the season, knocking out the Guardians in an eight-inning outing at Cleveland on June 10. Six days prior, Blackburn got his first taste of the Red Sox in Oakland. The right-hander went four innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks on 73 pitches.

Although his 2.26 ERA proves Blackburn are efficient across the board, he has fared much better on the road this season. At Oakland, Blackburn has a 4.39 ERA in five starts. On the road: He’s 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA.

“There’s just something about walking into a place and calming down a crowd,” Blackburn said. “I don’t know, it’s just what I’ve always liked. Just playing here, I know the fans here are crazy, I know it’s a huge baseball town. I know they’re gonna fill this place, I know people are gonna tweet me in the bullpen as soon as I walk in there.

“And [it’s] just being able to hear those little comments and basically proving people wrong. Pitching on the road is just a different beast in this game. And I feel like if you’re able to calm down a crowd, that’s one of the best feelings in this game.”

About Jerry Richter

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