Chris Bassitt joked that he wasn’t officially part of the Oakland A’s 2021 starting rotation at the beginning of Spring Training. But at the end, he stands as the A’s Opening Night starter against the Houston Astros on Thursday.
The A’s start the season with a bruising 10-game stretch: four against the division rival Astros, then three against the champion Dodgers series before flying to Houston for a three-game series.
Bob Melvin on the decision to start Bassitt on Thursday:
“Big shocker right? What he accomplished last year…and it’s really not so much about spring training performances, it’s what he accomplished last year. I think everybody would probably agree that he’s probably the man for the job.”
Bassitt (5-2, 2.29 ERA) started 11 of the 60 games in the shortened 2020 season. He allowed only 18 runs in his 63 innings and finished eighth in the AL Cy Young voting last year. He has had quite the journey and was very grateful to hear the news:
“I mean it’s awesome. Opening Night is obviously, or should be, a very special night for everyone. Not just the starter by any means. Making a squad alone is very, very hard to do so I don’t really take that for granted. I think opening night is obviously very cool but I think its more so making the team and being on the team and having this opportunity to play baseball.”
Melvin recalls Bassitt’s smile and his premonition of the news:
“Based on what he accomplished last year, I think he probably would have been surprised if he wasn’t the guy but he smiled, understood, was appreciative, all the above. This kinda starts a different level for Chris Bassitt being an opening day starter.”
Bassitt was drafted in 2011 in the 16th round by the Chicago White Sox, where he spent four seasons in the minors prior to his MLB debut in 2014. He was then traded to the A’s in 2015 where he had five starts with them in 2016, suffered Tommy John, and was in and out of the majors from 2017 to 2019.
Last season was Bassitt’s first full campaign as a starting major league pitcher and, even though it was a shortened season, the change in his confidence is palpable. He thanked his family, the coaching staff and the entire A’s organization for getting him through some “crappy” times:
“I am beyond grateful for just being on this team. I’m not just saying that. I look back 2–3 years ago, after TJ and I questioned if I was ever going to make it back, period. I thought the end of my career was a lot closer than I thought, just because I wasn’t recovering from that injury… I don’t take making a team for granted at all. I know how hard it is to stay in the big leagues so I think opening day is special for everyone that makes the team.”
He went on to explain how things took off for him:
“I just think over the years I tried to control things that I literally couldn’t. Whether it be where I was going the next day, whether I would be sent up or down, I was trying to control everything… and overtime, I basically stopped worrying about almost everything and realized that no matter what I did, I couldn’t control 95% of the crap I was worrying about so why was I spending energy and time on that.”
This year is especially momentous, as Bassitt explains his excitement to have fans back in the Coliseum:
“I think every single person has been missing fans… I think we quickly realized last year that those ballparks are pretty dang boring if you play with no fans… seeing the fans and knowing the right-field crazy people are going to be out there with their signs and horns and stuff like that, I think we are all definitely looking forward to the hectic-ness of the Coliseum.
This is the first time in Bassitt’s career he arrived to Spring Training not looking for a job, which gave him the ability to improve on specific aspects of his game throughout camp. Melvin on the “different” Bassitt he sees this season:
“I think just accepting the fact that he is a good major league pitcher and there was a time that he struggled a little bit with being a reliever, being a starter, going back and forth. Then I think he realized you earn your stripes and he earned his stripes… I think all that plays into what you are seeing is a different Chris Bassitt than maybe in years past.”
Possible Opening Day lineup predictions
- Mark Canha LF
- Matt Chapman 3B
- Matt Olson 1B
- Ramon Laureano CF
- Mitch Moreland DH
- Sean Murphy C
- Elvis Andrus SS
- Stephen Piscotty LF
- Jed Lowrie 2B
- Chris Bassitt RHP
The Astros will start Zack Greinke on Thursday against Bassitt. Jesus Luzardo will start the second game of the four-game series. First pitch is Thursday 7:07 p.m. in Oakland.