OAKLAND -- The doors to the A's clubhouse swing open. Inside, music plays, which is typical before a game. Players, team attendants, and coaches go about their business, exchanging pleasantries and chatting. Some players mess around on their iPads.
No one is talking about Ryan Cook's scoreless innings streak. Cook has thrown 22 23 scoreless innings to open the season. As far as anyone can remember, no pitcher on a team's Opening Day roster has done that since 1918. In baseball you have to take the good with the bad -- and there is a lot of bad in a game of failure -- but streaks are apparently sacred. No one will talk about it, even when pressed. "All I know right now is that he's like the nastiest pitcher alive," relief pitcher Jerry Blevins said. "So I don't want to jinx that by talking about numbers or anything."
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Here are some numbers we can talk about: Cook is throwing his fastball an average of 94 MPH with movement. He complements his fastball with a knee-buckling slider that he can throw for strikes. Maybe the supernatural can't stop Cook's streak. Jerry Blevins tends to agree with that sentiment."I don't think you can jinx anyone that is that nasty," Blevins said. Blevins isn't the only member of the team who refuses to talk about Cook's scoreless innings streak. Manager Bob Melvin just shakes his head and smiles when he is asked about it. It seems that most people on (or around) the team know their words have no impact on what Cook is doing. They choose not to risk it anyways, just in case. "I won't talk about it either," reliever Jim Miller said. "It's just one of those things that you just don't talk about it. And you definitely don't talk about it with him." The media has tried to talk about it with Cook, with predictable results. Cook hasn't been in the league long -- he debuted with Arizona last year before being traded to the A's in the off-season-- but he reacts to questions like a veteran. "Yeah, I have high expectations for myself," Cook says. "But also, I am really not concerned with all that kind of stuff. I just try to make pitches down in the zone and hope I get good results.""His pitching has done most of the speaking for him," closer Brian Fuentes said. At 29-years-old, Ryan Cook is hitting his peak with the A's. Aside from the scoreless innings streak, Cook has the lowest BABIP allowed in Major League Baseball. That means .082 percent of balls batted into play against him fall in for a hit. In other words, no hitter is making good contact on his pitches. During his scoreless streak he has 21 strikeouts. "Ryan Cook has been there all year," Melvin said. "As consistent as we've had." Cook has taken over the eighth inning set-up man duties for the A's as of late. He has the potential to be a closer in the making. He hasn't always been this untouchable though. In the past Cook struggled with his command. Last year with the Diamondbacks he had eight walks in 7.2 innings pitched. "I see a lot of progression," Jordan Norberto said. "He is throwing a lot of strikes now, before he was a little bit wild. Now he pounds the strikezone and he is aggressive in the strikezone." Norberto and Cook were in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system together. They were both traded to Oakland from Arizona last year in separate deals. Norberto isn't surprised by Cook's progress. He says Cook is tough to hit because of the movement on his pitchers, and his ability to keep the ball low in the zone.
So what changed? Why is Cook so much better all of a sudden? No one can put a finger on what clicked for Cook. His improved command and the ability to throw strikes to both right and left-handed batters seems to be the reason for his success. Cook attributes some of his growth to the veteran leadership on the team. Primarily the influence Brian Fuentes has had on him."I don't need to help him with his pitching that's for sure," Fuentes said. "It is just more the routine stuff, the everyday things. We talk about hitters and what I do during the game, and just watching the game and things I look for and things of that nature."Cook's streak may be the longest to start the season for a pitcher on the Opening Day roster, but his streak isn't the longest by any stretch for an A's reliever. In 2008, Brad Ziegler, who is now with the Diamondbacks, started his career with 39 13 scoreless innings, a Major League Baseball record. The difference between Cook and Ziegler's streak is that Ziegler wasn't on the Opening Day roster. While Ziegler has the longer streak, he is still impressed with what Cook is doing."My style is drastically different than Ryan's style," Ziegler said. "What he is doing is really special in the sense that he is a power pitcher. In a way, he is doing it all himself. He is trying to miss bats completely, I'm trying to miss the barrel."Ziegler makes it seem that he Cook's streaks are completely different based on the way each pitcher attacks hitters. Ziegler, who has a sidearm delivery, relies on deception and getting hitters to put the ball in play. Cook tries to strike hitters out. As a result Ziegler relied heavily on help from his defense. "I am happy for him," Ziegler said. "I hope he continues the streak for a while."Or at least until June 8, when the A's take on the Diamondbacks. Ziegler joked that he hopes Cook's streak ends in Arizona. Whether Ziegler gets his wish or not, we'll have to pretend that nothing special is happening each time Cook takes the mound. We can tweet it, reference it, and write about it, but never speak about it in his presence.
Because rest assured the baseball gods are watching.