SEATTLE — Regardless of the pleasantly surprising newcomers that have emerged within the A’s relief corps, manager Mark Kotsay knows his bullpen can’t be at full strength until Lou Trivino is at his best again.
Getting Trivino right is an objective for Kotsay. That’s why when A.J. Puk pitched himself into a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the sixth inning of Monday night’s 7-6 loss to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park — Oakland’s 13th straight loss to Seattle, which matches the club’s longest losing streak against a single team since moving to California in 1968 — the first-year skipper did not hesitate to bring in the right-hander for the pivotal matchup.
Facing Mariners super prospect Julio Rodríguez, who had already crushed an impressive opposite-field three-run homer off A’s starter Zach Logue earlier in the game, Trivino did himself no favors by giving the young star a favorable count with two straight balls out of the zone to begin the at-bat. Gathering himself on the mound for a few seconds on the 2-0 count, Trivino came back with two straight fastballs at 96.1 mph that were fouled off before fooling Rodríguez with an off-balance swing on a looping 80.5 mph curveball for strike three, escaping the jam created by Puk and keeping the deficit at one run for the A’s.
“Lou’s done that a couple of times now,” Kotsay said. “He’s got confidence coming into that situation and he’s been successful getting us out of a jam. To see him go back out and complete that inning, there’s a lot of confidence out there. I definitely liked what I saw from Lou tonight.”
Trivino’s rocky season to this point has seen far more downs than ups. Essentially losing the closer role to rookie standout Dany Jiménez while he was on the COVID-19 injured list last month, his rock bottom came in his first outing back from that list on May 3, when his ERA ballooned to an ugly 12.46 as the Rays tagged him for a season-high five runs allowed in 2/3 of an inning.
Since that rough night, Trivino has had to earn his way back into high-leverage spots. The process has not been smooth, but the past few weeks have brought promising signs, Monday included. Following that escape job in the sixth, he retired all three batters he faced in the seventh, capping what was his fifth scoreless appearance over his last six outings.
Monday’s performance was similar to a big spot Trivino impressively worked against the Angels on May 14. In a game the A’s ultimately won on Luis Barrera’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth, Trivino helped set up the victory by entering in a tough spot with runners in scoring position and striking out Mike Trout to end the threat and keep the A’s within striking distance.
“I haven’t felt horrible all year,” Trivino said. “Honestly, I feel better than I did last year. It’s just that sometimes when it rains, it pours. But it’s just nice to get into a big situation and get that big out, then get through the next inning cleanly. It’s good to just keep building that momentum.”
As his struggles have grown this season, Trivino has become somewhat a target on social media for frustrated A’s fans. The reliever said he learned long ago not to delve into what’s being said about him online, though he is aware of the backlash. His main focus is getting himself back to being the pitcher he’s shown he can be in the past
Pounding the zone like he did Monday, in an outing that saw 14 of his 21 pitches go for strikes and showing off a power sinking fastball that maxed out at 96.1 mph to complement a deceptive curveball that finished off both of his strikeouts, is another step in the right direction.
“It’s nice to be able to go in that situation and get the job done,” Trivino said. “Sometimes it’s been a little trying, not only for me but for Kots and fans. It’s been very annoying. I can only control what I can control. Hopefully, I build that momentum and go on a scoreless streak here.”