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Cotton comes within one out of perfection

In second start in A's system, righty fans 12 in one-hitter for Sounds
August 9, 2016

Hitters who see Jharel Cotton sniffling before a start would do well stay home -- and not because they might catch a cold.

"Back in Spring Training, I had a belly virus going on and I felt bad. I came to the park and pitched and threw well, and [Dodgers] pitching coordinator Rick Knapp told me, 'If you feel bad, maybe you'll pitch good,'" the 24-year-old right-hander recalled.

"Well, last night I was feeling sick and I woke up with a cold this morning. I took some DayQuil on an empty stomach, and it was the same thing again. It took my mind off the game itself, so I wasn't anxious or nervous for the game all day because I just wanted to feel better."

After feeling far from ideal for much of Tuesday, Cotton came within one out of a perfect game and wound up with a one-hitter and a career-high 12 strikeouts in Triple-A Nashville's 3-0 win at Round Rock.

"I've calmed down a little bit, but in the moment, it was crazy to be a part of that, especially when I'm the one on the mound doing it," he said. "It was kind of fun, having all my teammates behind me -- that's just the best."

Traded from the Dodgers to the A's with pitchers Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas for Major Leaguers Josh Reddick and Rich Hill in a deadline deal, Cotton was making his second start as Oakland's No. 16 prospect. He improved to 10-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 24 Pacific Coast League games, including 18 starts. He leads the circuit with 136 strikeouts over 112 2/3 innings and recorded the win in the 2016 All-Star Futures Game, despite facing just one batter.

Cotton said he was especially excited to turn in this outing so soon after joining a new organization.

"It means a lot," he said. "They got me for a reason, so I don't want to disappoint them. I wanted to go out and show them that what I've got is playable, and I can pitch."

He also showed the A's what a coachable player he can be, as he credits a tip from Sounds pitching coach Rick Rodriguez with enabling him to be so dominant against the Express.

"In between starts in a bullpen [session], my new pitching coach told me something I could do with my mechanics. That same day, I was back in the hotel working on it and I was working on it the next day in the ballpark," Cotton said. "I was going too fast, not giving myself enough time to catch up, and he told me something that led to more deception and the hitters not being able to pick the ball up out of my hand."

The Virgin Islands-born East Carolina University product threw 73 of 108 pitches for strikes, but he needed 12 of them to get through the last two batters in the sixth, going 3-1 against Kyle Kubitza and 2-2 against Doug Bernier before getting them to bounce out to first baseman Matt Olson.

"My old pitching coach, Matt Herges [of Oklahoma City], gave me a great talk after my messiest outing," Cotton said. "He told me, 'You're not focused enough [when you're in trouble].' I thought about that,and when it was 3-1, I took it pitch by pitch. I never gave in, just kept attacking, and I was able to get them out."

Still, the idea of a perfect game didn't seem real until center fielder and No. 22 A's prospect Jaycob Brugman made a diving catch to end the seventh.

"When Jaycob Brugman made that play, I got a smile on my face," Cotton said. "I said, 'This is about to be real.' That was so exciting when he made that catch."

When Cotton got fifth-ranked Rangers prospect Ronald Guzman to pop out to Olson on the first pitch in the ninth, he could practically taste perfection.

"When he swung first pitch up and in and popped it up, I was like, 'I like this,'" Cotton said, "and then I struck out [Kubitza], and then ... " 

And then. There was a delay of several minutes as Kubitza argued with plate umpire Junior Valentin at the dish and from the dugout. Ejected by Valentin, Kubitza took a lengthy walk across the field to get to the clubhouse. Bernier followed with a triple.

Cotton, who stayed loose by throwing a few pitches to catcher Matt McBride during Kubitza's march, admitted the incident had an impact on him. 

"I feel like it messes with anyone's rhythm. You're on a steady pace and you're blocked right there and have to start over," he said. "But I should have made a better pitch [to Bernier]."

He struck out Drew Robinson to end the game.

"I told myself, 'Just focus, Jharel, get this guy out. Bear down,' because I did not want that guy to score. That would have been disastrous for me," he said. "I was excited after [the strikeout]. My teammates were all congratulating me and giving me high-fives. It was a fun night."

Cotton was staked to a lead in the sixth when A's No. 6 prospect Renato Nunez hit his 20th homer, a two-run shot. McBride went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk.

Second-ranked Rangers prospect Yohander Mendez threw five one-hit innings for the Express, striking out six and walking three while keeping his ERA at 0.00 through three Triple-A starts.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB.