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Stumble Against Astros Turned Bassitt's Season Around; Athletics Go with him in Game 1 Monday

The reward for Chris Bassitt having morphed into the Oakland Athletics best starter is a Game 1 start in the American League Division Series against Houston Monday in Dodger Stadium. The low point of his season was a loss to the Astros, but the last time he faced them, he threw seven shutout innings.

Back on Aug. 29, the A’s were back on the field for a doubleheader against Houston in the wake of a couple of days off.

The down time came after A’s, playing in Arlington against the Texas Rangers and then the Astros, playing at home against Oakland, each opted to sit out a day in protest as part of a nationwide reaction to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Chris Bassitt, who was supposed to start the Thursday game against the Rangers, started the first game of the doubleheader in Minute Maid Park. It did not go well.

He pitched three innings, gave up four runs on six hits, including a three-run Kyle Tucker homer in the first inning that put Houston ahead to stay in what would be a 4-2 Astros win.

It turned out to be both the worst start of the season for Bassitt and the best thing that could have happened to him. Before that game, he’d been good, 2-1, 2.97 ERA. After it he was great, 3-0, 0-34. During it, he was, by his own estimation, bad.

Now he starts Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Astros Monday at 1:07 p.m. at Dodger Stadium as the fanless pandemic playoff surge ahead.

“I’ve harped on preparation. I think my preparation for every single start this year has been extremely good except for that one in Houston,” Bassitt said Sunday after he and Sean Manaea were named the A’s starters for the first two games of the best-of-five series. “I was supposed to start in Texas, I was prepared for Texas. We had the protest and I got pushed back to Houston and I just wasn’t prepared for Houston mentally.

“But I also wasn’t prepared for Houston physically. After I git shut down in Texas and after the trip to Houston, I’m not going to say I didn’t care about it by any means, I obviously did. My brain and my body were just in so many different places that I just had a bad start.”

Aug. 29 was a bad night for the A’s all around. They lost both games against the Astros – two of just three losses in a year when Oakland was 7-3 overall against Houston – and late that night the A’s got the word that pitcher Daniel Mengden had tested positive for COVID-19. The A’s wouldn’t play on Sunday, and in fact would not play until the following Friday. Sept. 4.

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With all that down time, Bassitt threw bullpen sessions about every other day. He worked on his pitches. He worked on his focus. He worked on correcting his release point. And he’s never been the same. He’s been the best he’s ever been. His next start was against the Astros in Oakland, and he threw seven scoreless innings.

“I was able to kind of reset after those couple days because we had the COVID situation,” Bassitt said. That kind of saved me; I was able to restart mentally, physically and everything else, and ever since then I’ve been on a kind of a roll.”

In addition to the 3-0 record in the final four starts of the season, Bassitt pitched the first of two elimination games for the A’s against the White Sox. On Wednesday, he threw seven scoreless innings, although he was charged with a run after a runner he’d put on base around to score.

The guy who was supposed to be the sixth man in a five-man starting rotation has become the A’s best starter. Manager Bob Melvin went to Bassitt after the White Sox series was behind them and asked if Bassitt wanted an extra day off. He didn’t, so Bassitt is going on four days’ rest on Monday.

“He wanted to stay on turn; he likes the routine of every five days,” Melvin said. “And it’s nice to pitch him in Game 1, it’s a nice reward for him, for him to have pitched the way he pitched, and as well as he did in his one postseason start.”

The Astros were the three-time American League West Division winners before the A’s dethroned them this year. They’ve beaten Bassitt once, back on his worst game. He’s beaten them once, to start his September to remember.

This time around, Bassitt said, they’re just another team he’s tasked to beat.

“]’m just trying to be myself; I’m not really worried about what they can do,” Bassitt said. “Honestly, I know what they can do as a lineup. I know how good their hitters are. But again, I’m just trying to be myself. I’m not thinking much about what they can do.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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