OAKLAND — Jharel Cotton’s latest battle with the Kansas City Royals obviously didn’t go as smoothly as his previous one.
You’ll recall that April afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, when Cotton took the mound before a jam-packed crowd in the Royals’ home opener and handcuffed them over seven innings, surrendering just two hits.
That led Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to say that Cotton’s stuff reminded him of his own back in the day, a comparison that mushroomed into quite the big story.
Those statements made the A’s rookie gush with pride, and rightly so. But the hype that often swirls around him also has created expectations that don’t always match up with reality.
Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Royals demonstrated how Cotton is still a work-in-progress. He entered the sixth inning having allowed two runs — a solid outing in the works — before loading the bases with one out.
Cotton coaxed a pop-up from Alex Gordon. Then he fell behind 3-0 to No. 9 hitter Cam Gallagher. He fought back to a full count but then caught the inner half of the plate with a pitch Gallagher turned on.
Grand slam — and the A’s wouldn’t recover from that 6-1 deficit.
“It’s frustrating because I couldn’t finish the inning,” Cotton said afterward. “I wanted to get that guy out, that was my chance. I just couldn’t do that. He got a pitch to hit and took advantage of it.”
Before the 2017 season even started, Cotton was the victim of his own small sample size of success. The right-hander looked terrific in five September starts last season, posting a 2.15 ERA and showing command of a variety of pitches.
Suddenly, he was viewed as a potential front-of-the-rotation guy even though the typical bumps in the road inevitably lay ahead, as they do for most rookies. This season has been one of inconsistency, with some success but also plenty of failure.
He was sent to the minors for a short stint in May, then later landed on the disabled list for problems stemming from a blister.
Does he remain in the rotation after Monday’s six-run outing, which increased his ERA to 5.92? His 18 homers allowed are most among American League rookies.
“We’ll see where it goes,” manager Bob Melvin said when asked about Cotton’s status. “We obviously want to challenge him and see how he can do.”
The A’s rotation desperately needs to find some stability. Kendall Graveman showed signs of rounding back into form Sunday, but Sean Manaea is going through a very rough patch himself. Chris Smith has come back down to earth after a string of promising starts. Paul Blackburn, another rookie, has been the steadiest of the bunch lately.
At some point the A’s figure to take another look at Daniel Gossett, who struck out 10 in a sharp outing his last time out for Triple-A Nashville. Cotton made his feelings clear when asked if he maybe could benefit from a break.
“I want to continue to pitch,” he said. “I wanna go out there every five days and pitch for my team. I’ll get out of this funk just by pitching.”