By Thom Henninger
Something unusual happened in the first inning of Oakland’s 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday. The game started with A’s right-hander Trevor Cahill giving up a bunt single to Angels leadoff man Erick Aybar.
That may not seem out of the ordinary at all, but arguably no starter has had quieter first innings in 2010 than Cahill.
In nine starts, the 22-year-old right-hander has allowed just three hits, two walks and hitting percentages of .107/.167/.107 in the opening frame. He has yet to give up an extra-base hit before recording the first three outs of the game. The on-base and slugging percentages are the lowest among all pitchers who have made at least five starts.
Surprisingly, another pitcher who has made five or more starts has allowed a lower first-inning batting average. Opponents are just 4-for-41 in the opening frame against Boston’s Jon Lester, for an .083 OBA, though the left-hander has given up six first-inning walks.
If outstanding performance in the first inning is an indicator of success over the rest of the game, Cahill would be the poster child for that theory. As a rookie last season, he was 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA and .270 OBA in 32 outings. So far in 2010, Cahill is 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA and .225 OBA.
Other than giving up a handful of walks and extra-base hits over the course of his nine starts, Cahill has been nearly as stingy working through the batting order the first time. The first nine batters of the game have been held to hitting percentages of .178/.247/.315 by the right-hander. His .178 OBA is the 11th-lowest among the 157 major league pitchers who have made at least five starts in 2010. His opponent OBP ranks 13th,
Interestingly, Cahill’s 2009 OBAs in the opening inning and the first time through the lineup compare favorably to his 2010 numbers. The key difference is a higher slugging percentage the first time through the batting order in 2009. He allowed 11 home runs to the first nine batters of the game in his 32 starts last season. He’s given up just two longballs the first time through the order in nine outings this year.
That extra power by opponents early in 2009 contests made a difference in the number of runs allowed by Cahill. Over the first three innings of 32 starts last season, he allowed a total of 47 runs, including both earned and unearned runs. In nine starts this season, he’s given up a total of seven runs in the first three innings.
So far in 2010, a good start has often meant a happy ending for Cahill. If the right-hander continues to shut down opponents in the early going, a breakout season may be on the way.