Kaprielian’s Long and Winding Road Gives a First-Round Flavor to Athletics' Bullpen

More than five years after being a first-round draft pick of the Yankees, often-injured right-hander James Kaprielian made his big-league debut Sunday, His next goal is to show he’s worthy of the promotion.
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The long wait is over for James Kaprielian.

Sunday, five years and two months after he was made the 16 pick in the 2020 Major League Baseball draft out of UCLA, Kaprielian made his big-league debut for the Oakland A’s, throwing two innings in a 15-3 win over the Giants.

There were times when it seemed as if that day would never come.

He took to the mound just eight times in his first four professional seasons due to a series of injuries. He was slowed by an elbow injury in 2016 and on April 18, 2017 he underwent Tommy John surgery. He was still recovering from the surgery when the A’s gambled on his eventual healthy, picking him up in a trade that sent Sonny Gray to the Bronx.

Asked if he was always confident that he would survive the injuries and make it to the big leagues, Kaprielian said there were times when he would sit and think. “I’m doing all the right things. Why isn’t it necessarily going my way?’”

He didn’t make the A’s original 30-man roster in July, even as pitching coach Scott Emerson and manager Bob Melvin were talking up his potential. But when Jordan Weems was shipped to the injured list on Aug. 4., Kaprielian was promoted. He was duly excited, but he didn’t pitch, and his stay lasted just two days, being sent back to the A’s alternative site in San Jose when MLB roster limits were trimmed from 30 to 28 players.

Finally, on Sunday he was brought back when reliever Burch Smith went on the injured list. Managers like to give first-timers a soft landing if possible, and they don’t get much softer than the 13-2 lead with which Kaprielian was gifted. He pitched two innings as the A’s improved to 16-6, the best record in the big leagues.

“You know, I’m just happy it's done I'm happy to be a part of this team,” Kaprielian said. “It's obviously a great group of guys and they have a great culture. This is something I really want to be part of and I want to stick I want to be able to continue to help these guys in any way I can.

“So, feels good to get it done.”

It wasn’t all fun and games. The first batter he faced, Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford, himself a UCLA product, homered. But that was the only hit Kaprielian allowed in two innings, and he retired the last six men he faced in succession. All in all, not bad.

He said being sent down 10 days earlier was “disappointing, but out of my control.”

“All I wanted to do was to prove to these guys that it doesn’t matter where I’m at, I’m going to be ready to pitch,” Kaprielian said. “At the end of the day, I’m here right now, and I’m just glad that this is behind me.”

The homer didn’t seem to get him down.

“Obviously you can’t keep the ERA at zero forever,” he said. “As much as would have liked to have stayed perfect, you have to credit Crawford. He’s an All-Star and I think he put a good swing on a good pitch.”

And the homer didn’t dampen manager Bob Melvin’s enthusiasm for the rookie right-hander.

“He looks fully healthy now, throwing 96 miles per hour,” the manager said. “He’s had a tough road for a while, and he just couldn’t get all the way healthy. There were a few springs where his velo wasn’t there and it looked like maybe he was guarding his shoulder a little bit.

“But now it’s all the way back. So, it’s great to finally get him here.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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