Familiar faces, different places for Phillies-A’s starters

Two pitchers quite familiar with the opposition are scheduled to duel Saturday afternoon when Cole Irvin and the Oakland Athletics meet Kyle Gibson and the host Philadelphia Phillies on the middle day of a three-game interleague series.

Facing a team he’d never pitched against before, Phillies ace Aaron Nola took a one-hitter into the seventh inning Friday in a 9-5, season-opening victory. Kyle Schwarber homered in his Phillies debut against Oakland right-hander Frankie Montas.

The A’s will try a lefty this time around, sending Irvin (10-15, 4.24) to the mound as a No. 2 starter after having been slotted at or near the bottom of the Oakland rotation last season.

But that was in a season that began with the 28-year-old having had just three previous major league starts and ended with him tied for first in the American League in starts (32) while leading in losses (15) and hits allowed (195).

Nonetheless, he’s moved up the Oakland pecking order this year, helping fill the huge voids left by the losses of Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea via trades.

Those three previous starts Cole made before last season? They came in two seasons for the Phillies after having been their fifth-round pick in 2016.

In a season when 13 of his 16 appearances were out of the bullpen, Irvin debuted for the Phillies as a starter in a 6-1 win over the Kansas City Royals in May 2019. J.T. Realmuto was his batterymate that day, and two other guys he’ll face Saturday — Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins — were behind him in right field and first base, respectively.

Having watched the first eight batters in the Philadelphia lineup collect at least one hit apiece, new A’s manager Mark Kotsay did not present Irvin with an encouraging scouting report after the loss.

“Their lineup’s deep,” he said. “You start out with Schwarber. Then (Bryce) Harper, (Nick) Castellanos … (Rhys) Hoskins hitting fifth. … It’s a grind to get through. You have to execute pitches. At the end of the day, they swung the bats well.”

Other than intrasquad scrimmages in spring training, Irvin has never pitched against his old team. He saw Schwarber, then a member of the Chicago Cubs, in his third big-league start; Schwarber had a single and a double in three at-bats in an 8-4 win.

Schwarber’s homer Friday came on the seventh pitch of the bottom of the first. It gave the Phillies a lead they never relinquished, although there were some anxious moments late.

Afterward, Schwarber, signed as a free agent over the winter, seemed prouder of the finish than the start.

“I’m so excited to be here, to be able to spend the next four years here,” he said. “But we just got to go a day at a time and keep grinding.”

Irvin is scheduled to be opposed by veteran Kyle Gibson (10-9, 3.71), a career-long American Leaguer until dealt from the Texas Rangers to the Phillies last July.

He’s made 10 career starts against the A’s, including one last June in which he allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings in an 8-3 win.

Sean Murphy, one of the few holdovers Gibson can expect to face Saturday, homered in that game.

The right-hander will take a 5-3 career record and 4.47 ERA against the A’s into the contest.

–Field Level Media