OAKLAND — On each of the seven occasions Andrew Triggs returned to the minor leagues last season, the right-hander’s first stop was always his parent’s garage in Nashville, Tenn.
That’s where he’d keep his belongings while up with the Oakland Athletics, and their house was where he’d stay while pitching for the Triple-A Sounds, with whom he shares a hometown.
“I was really lucky,” Triggs said of his geographical fortune, insisting he was happy just to keep getting the call.
“It was a lot easier for me than it might have been for most guys,” he added.
Between April 25 and August 5, the A’s recalled Triggs eight times, optioned him to Triple-A on seven occasions and once placed him on the 15-day disabled list. His eight stints are believed to be the most of any A’s player in a single season.
This year, Triggs — now installed in Oakland’s rotation — has pitched his way into the team’s record books. The 28-year-old has started the year by firing 17.2 innings without allowing an earned run, setting an Oakland mark for the longest streak to open a season.
“I’ll tell you what, based on his history, it’s not something that you would expect,” manager Bob Melvin admitted. “But he’s done a great job for us. I mean, he’s pitching as well as anyone in the American League at this point.”
Triggs deflected when the topic of his streak was raised, instead praising the defenders behind him like Rajai Davis, who produced a full-extension catch in Triggs’ second start on April 13 in Kansas City.
“It’s really neat,” Triggs said on Wednesday, after setting the record the night before. “I’m glad we were able to win last night … but you can chalk that [streak] up to so many different things. I’m glad the season’s going well. I feel like my stuff’s in the right place, but I was unaware until somebody told me [after my most recent start].”
It’s something of an accident that Triggs is even in this situation. During his back-and-forth summer of 2016, he made his first start on June 18 in what amounted to a bullpen game in which he was asked to go as far as he could on 50 pitches.
His second start — nearly two months later on Aug. 11 — only came about because Sonny Gray had recently landed on the DL. Triggs responded to his emergency assignment by delivering a 2.97 ERA across four starts.
While a back injury cut his season short on Sept. 3, the reliever-turned-starter had already done enough to pique the interest of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst.
“[It was] our front office,” Melvin said when asked to explain how Triggs found a long-term home in the rotation.
“It was David and Billy,” Melvin continued. “Their projections were, last year based on what we saw in long relief and limited starts, that going into this season, it looked like there was a ton of competition for the last couple of spots, but he was going to have to lose it. So going into this year, they projected him to be in the rotation.”
The idea that Beane and Forst would uncover a potential rotation gem in the bullpen makes sense considering it was also something of an accident that Triggs ended up as a reliever in the first place.
Triggs had been the No. 1 starter at USC, but by the time the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 19th round of the 2012 draft, he’d already thrown 105.2 innings for the Trojans. So the Royals sent him to the pen, and he immediately thrived — especially when it came to inducing ground balls.
In 2013, his first full season as a professional, Triggs recorded a 72 percent ground-ball rate for the Royals’ High-A affiliate. The general threshold for classifying a ground-ball pitcher is 50 percent.
Along with his knack for inducing weak contact and limiting extra-base hits, Triggs also posted a 2.54 ERA and a 9.4 strikeout-per-nine ratio. A season later, he graduated to the upper minors and saved 20 games between Double and Triple-A.
Standing in front of his locker in the Oakland clubhouse, the even-keeled Triggs explained that he never had designs of becoming a late-game ace or rotation fixture.
“I had no role at this level that I had my heart set on,” Triggs said. “I just wanted to get here and get an opportunity to stick.”
With a four-pitch repertoire — the standard tool kit for a starter — Triggs has what it takes to keep rolling in the A’s rotation.
Thanks to his sidewinding delivery, Triggs’ breaking balls fly across the plate like a frisbee, biting toward the dirt at the last moment. Due to his arm slot, he wields a curveball that acts like a slider and a slider that behaves like a cutter.
Triggs also throws a changeup and a two-seamer, the latter of which Melvin views as essential to his ongoing success.
“He’s got a lot of movement on his fastball,” Melvin said. “As long as he can pitch to both sides of the plate with it, he’s got a chance. At this point, I don’t have enough superlatives to use for him.”MLB